As sad a fact as it may be, the newspaper staff photographer is fast becoming an endangered species. I’ve recently spoken to several current and former newspaper staffers contemplating the move to wedding photography, and I thought I’d share some of the advice I’ve offered.
1. Name it and claim it.
Don’t be shy about calling yourself a wedding photographer, and claiming wedding photography as your specialty. Nine years ago, I made the transition from newspaper photographer to freelance work; my first mistake was lack of focus. My Web site displayed photographs featuring a variety of subjects, and this confused couples who were seeking out a wedding photographer. By changing my Web site to show almost exclusively my wedding work, I became much more successful in attracting new business.
2. Find your client sweet spot.
After a couple of years of shooting weddings, I realized that there were certain clients I enjoyed photographing more than others. These couples usually had similar backgrounds, worked in the same professions, enjoyed the same hobbies — even drove the same kinds of cars! And I realized that I had a lot in common with these couples, too. This has helped me to develop a target market and to know which wedding couples are the best prospects for my business.
3. Identify your target venues.
One of the first things you should do as a fledgling wedding photographer is to identify several venues where you would like to work. By their nature, locations tend to attract certain clients for certain reasons. Obviously, the more expensive and exclusive the location, the more the couple can afford in photography. But not all locations welcome newcomers. You may need to establish your presence in the marketplace before working at the best venues. It takes patience and perseverance, but once you’re welcomed into a great location, you will see the referrals and other benefits almost immediately.
4. Start out small.
Newspaper photographers often don’t own their own equipment. If you’ve been laid off, first find out if you can purchase your gear from the company at a reasonable price. If you can’t, I would encourage you to be frugal in your purchases. Maxing out your credit cards is not a good way to kick off a new business venture. Put together a comprehensive equipment list, figure out what you can afford right now — and start small. Cash flow is king. If you manage your cash flow well, you’ll be better able to manage a business cycle that is often up one minute and down the next.
5. Focus on your finished product.
I’ve learned over time that my finished product is the best way to distinguish my business from that of other photographers. We make books for our clients that differentiate our product from the standard wedding albums — and that lead to referrals and repeat business. Shoot-and-burn photographers are a dime a dozen. While they may appear to be profitable at first, there is very little residual income in this approach — and no guarantee that a couple will display your photographs in a way that will earn you future business.
6. Start a conversation online.
Wedding couples are often first-time photography buyers; they don’t have a lot to help them make a decision about who they should hire. One of the best ways to reach out to prospective clients is to create a Web site with a blog, where you can start a conversation with them. A blog enables you to introduce yourself, personally and professionally. It’s a wonderful way to show couples that you’re a lot like them. If a couple sees that you share common interests — and they can also see themselves in your pictures — then your odds of booking their wedding are high.