Getting Started in the Wedding Business
February 6, 2004 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I've heard that making Wedding Creative Stuff is this crazy ripoff conjob, and I'm all for getting into that. Invites, photography, videography, it's a goldmine! I'm pretty stocked equipment wise with Prosumer-level cameras and video equipment, and I'm a designer by trade. Question is, how do I start out? Should I do some friends' and family weddings for free? Do I have to get cushy with Wedding Planners? And do people really pay so much for the crap I usually see because they're naive or do I have to pull some Car Salesman trickery (i.e. "You only get the photos if you purchase this custom binded book")?
posted by Stan Chin to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Should I do some friends' and family weddings for free?

Hi Friend:
Can you make it to Maine in August?
posted by anathema at 9:38 AM on February 6, 2004

If you can generate just a little bit of word of mouth, you can make a fortune getting referrals. The woman who did photos for my wedding last May was referred by some friends who'd gotten married a year before, and we've since directed three or four more weddings her way. We're boosters of hers because she did a good job, didn't screw us over, and was pleasant to deal with.

So, um, do a few for cheap and make sure you do a good job and are easy to deal with. Word should get out, and you'll be in like Flynn.
posted by COBRA! at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2004

Yes. Yes. I heartily applaud your implication that wedding creative work is perpetrated by noisome, untalented hacks slurping and snuffling at the trough of True Love. FWIW, my only experience here is from observation and (once) being a groom. (And I'm sure there is some small percentage of gifted underachievers working this scam.)

My sense is networking is your entree. Not just wedding planners but churchfolk, musicians, tuxedo rental places...anybody else who thinks you can help them should be willing to cut you in. Also, referrals...Offer some kind of crap bonus to people who turn you on to their marrying friends...maybe another $3.99 Aristo-Hyde Memory Trove they can stick their honeymoon beach snapshots in.

You don't even have to do friends' weddings for free...they can pay you. Just call it your "wedding gift"... and your pockets are immediately fattened by the amount of whatever you would have otherwise spent at Crate & Barrel.

The best part of this is the candid shots you'll accumulate of breasts falling out of ill-fitting maid-of-honor gowns. That's a bonus you can't put a price on (unless you throw them up on a website with a paypal button.)

Hope these thoughts are helpful. Best of luck in your new venture!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2004

If you have no examples of prior weddings you did, who is going to hire you for thousands of dollars? So you need to do some free, at no risk to the couple, so you can build up a portfolio. OTOH, you could just put your services out there for a very low rate, hoping to attract the bargain-hunters. Not the best clientele to deal with though.

Personally, weddings scare the crap out of me. Too much pressure to be perfect from people who are very emotionally invested. And who don't like you because they think you're ripping them off. Which you are.
posted by smackfu at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2004

Stan, my ex- is a wedding photographer. Last I heard, he gets $1000 per wedding, plus expenses, which includes travel if needed, film, batteries and processing, etc. This gets cheaper for clients after the move to digital. He gives the clients their negatives because it's such a pain to fulfill print orders, so it's not such a bad deal, comparatively. Does a really good job, and spends a full day - from pre-wedding shots of the bride to the whole reception. Lots of candids in addition to formal shots.

Weddings are usually on Saturdays, so you have to be willing to give up a significant part of your weekend during the nicest time of the year. You have to have a nice, conservative, unobtrusive suit. You need a portfolio showing an example of your work, so volunteer to do a wedding or 3 for cheap/free. Put up a simple web page and create a brochure and business cards. Photo magazines have ads for albums, and photo insert pages, so you can help clients put together a nice album.

Word of mouth is great advertising. You'll know you did a great job if you get referrals. Make pals with other photographers so that you get referrals when they're booked. Oddly enough, Bubba (the ex-) had clients who didn't respect him because he was too cheap back when he charged a lot less. It can be fun and profitable, and you don't have to be cheesy or sleazy, unless you really want.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2004

Weddings are usually on Saturdays, so you have to be willing to give up a significant part of your weekend during the nicest time of the year.

Amen to that. I've been a freelance musician for years (weddings, among other things), and this simple fact still sucks.
posted by Sangre Azul at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2004

Candids, candids, candids. I had the photo editor from my college paper shoot my wedding. He didn't have the lighting rigs to shoot perfect soft-focus glamous shot portraits, but the portraits we got were very nice. The cream of the crop, though, were the candids. He trailed us throughout the whole kit and caboodle and shot terrific behind-the-scenes stuff. Selling yourself as someone with that kind of journalistic eye to get those good moments would be, to me, a great service to promote.

Giving away the negatives would be another notch on your belt. I think keeping wedding negatives is really a mark against a lot of pro photogs.
posted by blueshammer at 10:59 AM on February 6, 2004

Shoot a friend's wedding first. Make sure you know your equipment extremely well and have back-ups. Sound can make or unmake a coverage. Make your portfolio/sample video as close to perfect as possible. No "trickeries" - they'll come back to you in the form of malfunctioning mics and collapsing tripods. There are very good wedding video fora out there. Check them out; they've learned the lessons for you.

I've done "photojournalistic" style wedding shoots for a while, mostly in B/W and video. My best lesson: after your first couple of events, you have to get paid. If you do it right, its fun. Good luck!
posted by azul at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone, I'll be putting together a business plan for going through with this in the next month or so. The most attractive thing about this for me is actually the weekend factor, which I don't mind at all, since most of my weekends are spent in a cafe zoning out. That and I figure I need to begin getting some Return on Investment on all my equipment.

And bridesmaids aren't bad incentives. Kidding.

Not really.
posted by Stan Chin at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2004

I did a couple of friends' weddings for exactly this reason (build a portfolio), and I just found it way too stressful for me, even though both turned out really well and had some very nice artistic informal shots (like the bridal party getting their hair and makeup done and a really nice "diving up into the wedding dress" shot of the bride getting dressed (she was wearing a slip and bra so while it was sexy, it wasn't, you know, the Superbowl halftime show). Given that I've seen WAY-less-than-impressive "pro" jobs done for ridiculous amounts of money, I see no reason why a competent photographer can't easily get in on the action. And yeah, give them the negs if you shoot film, keeping them is a very slimy tactic as far as I'm concerned.
posted by biscotti at 11:27 AM on February 6, 2004

Do weddings for friends either for free, or for cheap. You can only get good at it by getting experience and it shouldn't be too hard to find a friend willing to save some money and trust in their buddy to do a good job. After you have a couple under your belt, I'm sure you'd be ready to start taking on jobs. Start cheap and grow your rates as your experience builds and you feel more confident that you can deliver a good product in any situation.

And I just want to say that I agree with your assessment of the industry. In almost all my dealings with wedding type folks from my own wedding and others I've been to and participated in, it really does seem like one giant scam. Actually, I'll take that back -- I think the wedding industry is riding on a huge, huge bubble and things seem to cost 10x what they should, and the people attracted to that kind of money aren't worth the costs.
posted by mathowie at 11:35 AM on February 6, 2004

I think the wedding industry is riding on a huge, huge bubble and things seem to cost 10x what they should, and the people attracted to that kind of money aren't worth the costs.

Well put.
posted by blueshammer at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2004

Too much pressure to be perfect from people who are very emotionally invested.

Amen to that. I'd suggest whatever work you do (friends or not) get the terms and fees in writing.
posted by btwillig at 12:13 PM on February 6, 2004

Success in the wedding invitation business, too, is contingent on a strong eye for both modern and traditional design, and a strong portfolio of previous work.

Know the components (invitations, save-the-date cards, RSVP cards, thank you cards, etc.), familiarize yourself with papers and card stocks and techniques for working with and printing on them. Find (preferably) local resources for offset, screen, and/or letterpress printing. Find a local calligrapher, a watercolor artist, an illustrator, or someone who can emulate them digitally.

Build a portfolio, either for real or fictitious couples, think of an attractive way to display your samples, and get a booth at the nearest Spring Wedding show. Have business cards with your professional site address on them, where people may see further samples and request meetings with you.

(If you want to turn a few heads, and live in an area where you can get away with it, display some invites you've designed for gay or lesbian couples. You'll definitely stand out among the typical frilly lace-and-ribbon crowd.)

Last, but perhaps most importantly, neither charge an arm and a leg nor take a loss: figure your time, effort, materials, and printing costs into every invitation. There are designers and companies churning out Hallmark-quality pap for $10 a pop. If you can offer quality unique, personalized, hand-made invites for half that price, you'll still be making a significant profit and will astound the weary couples who've been shopping around for eons.
posted by Danelope at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2004

professional photographers do not give away negatives for copyright and portfolio reasons and for reasons which are referred to as "moral rights".

moral rights are control over how your work is presented and reproduced. do you really want a poorly printed, badly cropped print of your negative out there with your name on it? (your name will get attached to it, particularly with something like a wedding photo. "oh, that's you, in a wedding dress. who was your photographer?" no-one is going to answer that the poor composition is a result of their weird idea of cropping, not the photographer's ability to frame a shot)

i've never been outraged by a professional photographer's retention of the negative. now, the ability to get reprints later and the cost of reprints later is another story.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:16 PM on February 6, 2004

This is the best ask.metafilter thread ever.
posted by mecran01 at 2:49 PM on February 6, 2004

Also, don't fuck up the pictures. A good friend of mine offered to take the pictures at another friend's wedding to break into the wedding biz (he was a photojournalist). The engaged couple were ecstatic over the potential savings . . . until the negatives showed up, and it turned out there was a problem with the camera or the film. Almost no shots survived.

They are no longer friends.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 3:55 PM on February 6, 2004

i've never been outraged by a professional photographer's retention of the negative.

I don't know about professional photographers, but when I do a work for hire, the client gets all the rights to the work. That's why it's called a work for hire. I cannot understand why wedding photography would not be considered a work for hire, given 1) who's paying for it and 2) who the subject of the work is, but apparently wedding photographers do not consider it such. This is why wedding photographers suck.
posted by kindall at 4:26 PM on February 6, 2004

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