This week is a celebration of sorts. It's the anniversary of me going full time into the business of wedding photography. It's three years ago that I quit my previous job and in turn pursue a career in photography. I don't know if it was pure naiveté, blind faith or simple ignorance that made me think I could make the transition. It was already a super competitive market, especially here in Devon, which includes some quality photographers. But now, I can look back and evaluate what I've done, what worked, what didn't and the lessons learnt. But most importantly, be thankful that it paid off!
I am 100% a wedding photographer cliche. A guy who worked a job, and who happened to have built up quite a collection of photography gear on the side, and then had a mid-life crisis at the age of 30. You know the kind. Working those 40-50 hour weeks in a job that you sort of fell into. A job for the most part you enjoy and work with some lovely people, but you return home at 6pm, put your 2 year old to bed, wake up the next day and repeat. This for sure is not an original story thus far.
So like many, I began to wonder, can I provide for my family whilst also working a job that I find really fulfilling, challenging, fun? With the support of my family the 'jump' was made. I was already comfortable with the camera, but I still had plenty to learn about the business side of things, so I attended some conferences and workshops. More equipment was purchased and the website was growing, all of course with the underlying feeling "is this all going to work out?". However, the bookings started to come in...
Lessons & Realities
No. 1, no matter how much you prepare for the switch, you will never be 100% ready. There are only some things you can learn from experience. Which leads onto lesson no. 2, only certain people can survive and enjoy this job. I've seen other professionals state that they could never work in weddings, they're all about the sports or landscapes or working with models etc.. I understand that, but I really think that every wedding has something different to offer, and therefore capture. It's interesting every time.
Perception is a funny thing. Looking at a final product, of any kind really, and wondering/assuming/guessing how it came to be. Despite what you may see online, with endless images of beautiful people in stunning locations, I wouldn't classify this as a glamorous job. What the photos don't show is the research beforehand. They don't show the outfit change in the venue car park and they don't show the dashboard as a picnic table, before rushing back to capture the speeches. But that's fine by me, I've never been one for glamour anyway :-)
Sure, I've bought some more equipment along the way, but I've also streamlined my camera bag. Moving from zoom to prime lenses is just one example. But after dozens of weddings you get a good idea of what works for you, what style you're aiming for and what the most effective and reliable way of achieving that 'look' is.
However, the biggest lesson learnt so far is that you don't have to conform to tradition. There were plenty of wedding photographers around before I decided to throw my hat in, and from my point of view at least, most seemed to have a similar approach to the day. But I was lucky enough to pick a 'masterclass' at a photography conference one day that opened my eyes, held by another UK photographer, Kevin Mullins. There is absolutely a market for documentary wedding photography, a style which I love to focus on and I haven't looked back. Just because you think 'the market' needs you to offer 'X', you don't have to. Just provide what you enjoy creating. Everything from photos, pricing, editing etc... can be done in a way YOU want.
More of the same please! The last three years have been a brilliant experience. I've been extremely lucky to work with some amazing people on their wedding day. Some were friends that knew what journey I was making, whilst the majority were total strangers who found me online or were referred to me, and put their trust in me to photograph such a significant day in their lives. This is always something I will always find a humbling experience.
Trust me, the 40 hour weeks haven't gone away. This job keeps you busy, but what I have now is flexibility. Sure, I'm busy for 12 hours on a Saturday. But I can pick my daughter up from school on a Tuesday afternoon, and there's been huge advantages for the arrival of our second daughter, Zoe.
So, why am I writing this? For a couple reasons I guess. For those brides who really do their research on a photographer. It's nice to be clear about how I got here. But if you're considering a similar career change then I can only give you my experience. Which is to say it's a rollercoaster of emotions. It's unnerving and extremely fulfilling at the same time. Do what's right for you.
That competitive market I mentioned, well I now consider some of those photographers friends. As too some of the brides and grooms I've photographed. My first solo wedding is still one my wedding highlights and I want to keep aiming for that, a career of personal and professional highlights. Long may it continue!