How to Become a Wedding Photographer—In-Depth Guide with Case Studies [New for 2024]

Want to start a wedding photography business?

I’ve been a photographer for over 10 years and have shot over 300 weddings, consistently earning six figures for several years. 

In this guide, I’ll explain how I started my wedding photography business with nothing at all and share tips for getting started yourself.

Let’s dive in.


Becoming a successful wedding photographer can take years and hundreds of hours of work. 

But the payoff can be huge. 

Right now, I make six figures a year as a professional wedding photographer in Guatemala. (I’m from Spain and my wife Mishka, who helped build our business, is from the U.S.—we’ll cover our story farther down in this article.)

And I’m not unique. Making six figures is a completely realistic goal for wedding photographers all over the world.

A photo that won me a “Rising Star” recognition from Rangefinder Magazine a few years back

I know you might be thinking: This sounds great, but I need work today.

Don’t worry. If you’re just getting started, there is work you can get right away. Of course, it won’t pay as much, but it can provide a way for you to build a portfolio and start your path toward making more. 

Here’s everything we cover in this guide on how to become a wedding photographer:


Is Wedding Photography for You?

Wedding photography isn’t just about taking and editing pictures. In fact, most days it’s about 50% photos and 50% customer service.

After all, this is one of the most important days of your clients’ lives, and each person reacts differently to the expectations and overwhelming feelings of that moment. 

Some days, you have to be a kind of psychologist and manage the couple’s stress, encouraging them, making jokes, and doing whatever it takes to help them be present in the moment.

This is all to say that photographing a wedding is a huge responsibility, and it requires a high level of maturity, compassion, and understanding.

So as you’re getting started, I encourage you to ask yourself: Why do you want to do wedding photography? Is it because you enjoy taking portraits? Is it for the money? 

It’s important to ask because, in my experience, wedding photography just isn’t for everyone. 

Establishing yourself in this industry usually takes time, and I don’t recommend pursuing wedding photography just to make money.

Do you feel a passion and a calling to immortalize those important and unrepeatable moments among human beings that occur at a wedding? If not, this job can be tough and draining in the long run, and it’s the human interaction and that calling to put your talent at the service of others that keeps those of us who have been in it for a long time still doing it.

One other question to ask yourself: Are you good at social interactions? This last point is extremely important—but shyness doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. I’m pretty shy myself, and it’s something I’ve had to work on and overcome in my role as a wedding photographer.

I’m not trying to intimidate anyone here. 

But I am encouraging you to really take a moment and reflect on your motivations. 

If you feel called to build a career capturing these important days for people then by all means—go for it! I did it, and I know you can do it too.

What Does a Wedding Photographer Do? 

For me, weddings present the perfect combination of artistic freedom, human connection, and meaning. 

In your role as a wedding photographer, you can have a really positive impact on people’s lives by immortalizing their important day in images and videos they’ll be revisiting for the rest of their lives, sharing them with kids and grandkids who don’t even exist yet.

My main drive and inspiration for being a wedding photographer is to capture those real moments that happen once-in-a-lifetime between families and close friends. 

We pay really close attention to how people interact with each other, on things like the type of hug a friend is giving to the bride.

Is it a quick “Hi, thanks for inviting me, bye” type of hug, or does the hug last a few seconds and then they look each other in the eye with big smiles? 

If it’s the latter, we’ll keep that person in mind for the rest of the wedding, and make sure we take more photos of them. Chances are the couple cares a lot about that person and they will be happy to see more photos of them in their gallery. 

Paying careful attention like this is part of your job as a wedding photographer. In a way, it’s your main job.

And that’s pretty amazing, when you think about it.

All this, and it can also be a really lucrative business. 

Photos You Should Capture as a Wedding Photographer

As a wedding photographer, you’re responsible for documenting all aspects of the wedding day, including:

  • The bride and groom getting ready
  • The couple and their families in portraits
  • The details of the décor
  • The spontaneous emotions of the guests
  • The ceremony and exchange of vows, including the first kiss
  • The reception
  • The first dance and other unique moments, like toasts or cutting the cake
  • The send-off
  • The venue and surrounding landscape or cityscape

Other Things a Wedding Photographer Does

A wedding photographer does more than just take photos. 

They capture unique moments from one of the most important days in a person’s life, and turn them into lifelong memories. And doing this requires a lot of customer service and support, as I mentioned above, not to mention a lot of other things that may not seem immediately obvious.

As a wedding photographer, you need to understand lighting and composition on the fly so you can get the best shots of candid moments, as well as being skilled enough for post-processing the images to reflect the day’s beauty and emotions.

But that’s just the beginning. Here are the main tasks wedding photographers need to be prepared to do:

  • Directing shots. Providing direction to compose group photos, manage lighting, and pose the couple, ensuring a variety of shots that look both natural and flattering. This is a major part of the job, and requires you to have really strong interpersonal skills so you can get people where you need them—and then get them to smile and pose.
  • Storytelling. The photographer must capture the day’s narrative, highlighting the love story, the shared glances, the laughter, and also the tears of joy.
  • Managing time. They need to keep a keen eye on the day’s schedule, balancing the need for quality photos with the couple’s desire to enjoy their day.
  • Editing. Post-processing is a big part of a wedding photographer’s job, refining the raw images into a polished final product that reflects their style and the couple’s wishes.
  • Client relations. Building rapport with the couple, understanding their vision, and communicating clearly throughout the process are essential to successful wedding photography.
  • Scouting venues. In addition to taking photos the day of the wedding, you may also be asked to help the couple manifest their vision for the wedding, which means you could be tapped to scout locations before the big day.

How to Become a Wedding Photographer: 4 Key Steps

We’ve covered the basics—why you want to do this work and what the work entails.

Now let’s get into the main focus of this guide. Here are the steps you need to follow to becoming a wedding photographer:

  1. Build your skills
  2. Build your portfolio
  3. Get clients
  4. Shoot your first wedding

Step 1: Build Your Skills

A successful wedding photographer needs a blend of artistic and technical skills. 

Here are the skills you need to hone to become a wedding photographer:

  • Photography skills. You need to be proficient in camera settings, lighting techniques, and composition. 
  • Editing skills. Mastery in photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop is essential, enabling you to enhance images, correct colors, and add artistic touches. These skills ensure the final photographs match your creative vision and meet client expectations.
  • Creative skills. To become a high-end wedding photographer you’ll need a unique creative vision. As you improve and charge more, your style will become your signature, and people will be able to recognize your wedding photography without having to see a watermark. But don’t worry about this at first—just be playful, and keep an eye out for the types of photos you like shooting, taking mental notes to prepare yourself for establishing your look in the future. 
  • Interpersonal skills. As a wedding photographer you’re not just capturing images. You’re also interacting with couples, guests, and vendors. Being personable and professional helps you get the shots you need, and it also helps you build a trustworthy reputation.
  • Business skills. Business acumen is essential. Understanding the basics of marketing, finance, and customer service can set you apart in a competitive market. But you don’t need these skills right away. Just keep in mind that you’ll want to build them over time.

Step 2: Build Your Wedding Photography Portfolio

Your portfolio is your visual resume. It’s the first thing potential clients will want to see when they’re deciding whether to hire you.

In building your portfolio, make sure to include a variety of types of shots to show your range: Candid, posed, details, landscapes, and drone shots are a good start. Participating in styled shoots can also help you build a diverse portfolio.

Here’s how to build your wedding photography portfolio:

  • Do styled shoots. Collaborating on styled shoots with vendors can provide material for your portfolio while building industry connections.
  • Volunteer. Have a friend getting married? Volunteer to shoot photos for them for free or at a reduced rate. Do the same for work portraits, family portraits, or other types of photography too to help build out diversity in your portfolio.
  • Intern and apprentice. Volunteering can get you experience—but it won’t get you guidance. Interning and apprenticing will get you experience with expert mentorships, letting you learn from established photographers so you can see how they do things while also helping you build a network that may be useful down the road.
  • Be an assistant. Then be a third, second, and associate. Do this by writing to a bunch of photographers you like from your area (or be willing to travel to work with them, if you can). Ask to have coffee with them, assist them for free, show yourself focused and motivated. 
  • Look for inspiration. When we started and were hired for our first wedding there wasn’t as much wedding photography content on the internet as there is now. But I did extensive searches on Google of photographers who inspired me, and I found Jonas Peterson and Nirav Patel, who had a more documentary approach and narrated the story of the day naturally. Also, I bought a complete guide on how to photograph weddings. Search for the work of photographers whose work inspires you to get a sense for what you want to do and the kinds of shots you want in your portfolio—look on Google, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and anywhere else you might encounter photos you like. And don’t just look at wedding photography—look for other types, as well as art in other mediums like the work of graphic designers or classic painters, noticing how they use light and other techniques that you can use in your own work.

Throughout the work you do to build your portfolio, make sure to focus on the niche and/or type of client you want. Keep that ideal client very much in mind in your work, so you can show them what you like and what they can expect to get if they hire you.

3. Get Clients

Getting clients is crucial for turning your passion into a profitable wedding photography business. 

Below are things you should do to get wedding photography clients. I’ve ordered them according to priority—meaning, I recommend doing the first thing first, the second thing second, and so on.

  • Word-of-mouth. By far one of the best ways to get your first clients. Start by leveraging the power of word-of-mouth—ask friends, family, and colleagues (if you have a 9-5 job) if they want to hire you, and encourage them to recommend you to people they know. 
  • Build a website. Create a professional website showcasing your portfolio. Having a website is like hanging a digital shingle on the door of your business. People recommending you can share your URL with potential clients, and you can share it with people you meet too.
  • Get business cards. This way people can find your website, and they can contact you. It also allows you to easily share your contact info as you start to network.
  • Network. Connect with wedding planners, venue managers, and other vendors. Attend wedding fairs and industry meetings to introduce yourself and your work. Partnerships with these professionals can lead to referrals and are often crucial in the wedding industry.
  • Do SEO. SEO = Search Engine Optimization. It’s how someone searching for “wedding photography Guatemala” finds me, and it’s how someone making a similar search for your area could find you. SEO can seem intimidating, but you can implement some basic best practices to get a lot of the benefits. See this guide to help you get started.
  • Start an Instagram account. Instagram is a great place to showcase your work. You could get potential clients from your Instagram followers, but it may take some time to build a following big enough for that. In the short term, the account acts as another place you and other people can send potential clients to see your work, just like your website.

Shoot Your First Wedding

When are you ready to shoot your first wedding? 

It’s easy for imposter syndrome to make you keep pushing the moment back. But you have to overcome that fear and get started. 

At some point, you’ll need to decide that you’ve developed your skills enough, you know your equipment, and you know enough about lighting and posing—and you’ll just need to dive in.

Before the wedding:

  • Preparation. Go to the venue at the same time of day as the ceremony to see what the space and light look like.
  • Communication. Talk to the key players in the wedding: The wedding planner, the videographer, the DJ, the decorator, and anyone else involved in planning the wedding. Each of them will have different areas that relate to your work, and it’s important to both establish a relationship with them and to understand how their work might impact yours.
  • Create a shot list. Talk to the couple to make sure you understand what they want, but also use your own knowledge and expertise.

The day of the wedding:

  • Equipment checklist. Double-check your gear before the big day. Bring multiple cameras, lenses suitable for various lighting conditions, extra batteries, and memory cards. Consider renting or borrowing additional equipment if needed.
  • Arrive early. Being early allows you to scout the location one more time, plan your shots, and set up necessary equipment without rushing. Use this time to capture detailed shots of the venue, decorations, and attire before guests arrive.
  • Stay organized but flexible. Keep your shot list handy but be ready to adapt. Weddings can be unpredictable and being able to quickly adjust your plans is crucial.
  • Get in there. Don’t be afraid to insert yourself to get the shots you need. This includes the ceremony, first dance, or just candid moments throughout the wedding.
  • Capture a mix of photos. Focus on getting a balanced mix of candid shots and posed photos. Pay attention to the emotions and interactions between guests, not just the couple (but make sure the couple is thoroughly captured).

Wedding Photographer Salary

OK, I know I said being a wedding photographer isn’t just about making money.

But the truth is that you can make a lot of money doing it. 

How much exactly? Let’s take a look.

How Much Do Wedding Photographers Make?

The earning potential for wedding photographers can range significantly. 

Beginners might start earning around $30,000 annually, while experienced photographers can earn well into six figures. 

Several elements impact how much you may make, including:

  • Where you work. In metropolitan areas or regions with a higher cost of living, photographers often charge more.
  • Experience level. As you gain more experience and recognition, your earning potential increases.
  • Wedding season and frequency. The number of weddings you shoot per year and the peak wedding season duration in your area also play a role.
  • Niche market: Specializing in a particular style or type of wedding can sometimes let you charge more. Having special offerings like aerial drone shots can help, too. 

How to Price Your Wedding Photography

Setting the right prices is a balancing act between your skill level, market rates, and costs. 

Here are some tips:

  • Use your cost of living. Calculate your cost of living to know the minimum costs you must cover, then add a profit margin. Divide that by the number of hours/weddings you want to do to get a sense for how much to charge per wedding.
  • Research the market. Understand what other wedding photographers in your area are charging. This gives you a benchmark—but always consider your unique offering, and feel free to charge more if you think you can.
  • Factor in costs. Include all business expenses like equipment, editing software, travel, insurance, and marketing in your pricing.
  • Adjust as you grow. As your skills and portfolio improve, revisit your pricing. Increasing your rates is a part of growing your business.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Wedding Photography

How much money is needed to start a wedding photography business?

Starting costs vary, but most wedding photographers have similar initial expenses. Key investments include professional camera gear, software subscriptions, and insurance, with an estimated starting budget of around $10,000 (but you can start for about half that if you need to). Regular annual costs can be about $2,000​​.

What about accounting and finances?

Accounting in wedding photography involves tracking expenses, understanding tax laws, and managing income. If you start making a living as a photographer it’s a good idea to talk to an accountant at least once. I also recommend using an accounting program like Quickbooks for financial management. Key tips include having a separate business bank account and credit card, logging all transactions, and using apps like MileIQ for tracking mileage​​.

Do I need business insurance?

Yes, business insurance is crucial. General Liability Insurance covers equipment, and Professional Liability Insurance covers your work. Insurance is often mandatory for working at certain venues and protects against unforeseen incidents​​.

Is it important to have contracts?

Absolutely. Contracts should outline service costs, additional fees, cancellation policies, delivery timelines, and contingencies for unexpected events. They protect both you and the client and clarify expectations​​.

Should I set up as an LLC or sole proprietor?

It depends. If you’re just getting started you may be fine working as a sole proprietor. The benefit of an LLC is that it separates your personal assets from any business liabilities, so that if someone sues you they can only go after your LLC’s assets, not yours. However, LLCs aren’t for everyone—check out our guide on making the decision for guidance on making the choice.

What camera and lenses do I need?

Professional-level gear is essential. Start with a reliable camera body like the Canon 5D Mark III or IV and essential lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2, EF 70-200mm f/2.8L, and others that cover a range of focal lengths​​.

My Story: How I Moved to Guatemala and Built a 6 Figure Wedding Photography Business

Right now, I am one of the leading wedding photography businesses in Guatemala.

My wife and I run the business together. We’ve won multiple awards and we’re usually booked a year in advance or more. And when you search “Guatemala wedding photographer” we’re one of the first results you’ll find.

seo-wedding-photography-guatemala

But when I first got started I didn’t know anything about running a business, and I didn’t know anything about wedding photography.

How I Got Started

When I first started doing photography I took photos of everything I came across.

My brother loved capturing sunsets and long-exposure night photos in southern Spain. I started doing landscape photography with him, joining him on long “photo-trips,” and along the way he taught me how to use a camera. (Side note: Landscapes are a great way to learn the exposure triangle comprising aperture, shutter speed and ISO.)

My passion and interest for photography continued and I began to focus on documenting my life and travels, putting together personal projects with a social focus—one about the people I encountered during the time I lived in Brazil and another about a giant-kite festival in Guatemala.

A picture from my trip to Brazil

These projects made me want to become a photo-journalist and NGO photographer, and I started volunteering for some organizations while gaining experience, honing my skills and building a portfolio. 

But I didn’t have much of a business or client base, and I still wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to make a living.

How I Got into Wedding Photography

About ten years ago, before my wife and I got married, we were living in Guatemala, on Lake Atitlán, working at a hotel called Isla Verde.

Aldous Huxley once called Lake Atitlán the most beautiful lake in the world—it is a really stunning place.

On a whim one day, we decided to do a pretend wedding shoot. We were interested in shooting weddings, and we wanted to dip our toes in the water of shooting a bride and seeing if we could use the pictures to get our first wedding client.

So Mishka put on a wedding dress that the owner of the hotel had bought for Halloween at the Paca (a Paca is like a GoodWill in the U.S.—a place that sells second-hand clothes).

We did a quick photo session on one of the docks near the hotel, and then we published the photos on my website.

A picture from our fake wedding photo shoot

And here’s the key thing: we titled the photos Wedding Photographer Lake Atitlán.

Only a couple of months later, a bride contacted us to shoot their wedding. She had Googled Wedding Photographer Lake Atitlán—and our pictures came up!

This was really incredible for us. Because we had correctly key worded a photo that we’d shot using an old wedding dress, we now had a real wedding client. And that was the start of our career in wedding photography.

How We Went from Our First Client to Six Figures

Our journey to making six figures as wedding photographers didn’t happen overnight.

It took a long time—about four years—to get there.

But by staying the course, working hard, and steadily raising our prices we were able to do it.

One of the key things that helped us grow our business and raise our prices was to identify our unique style. For me, this came from those early experiences as an NGO photographer, documenting real stories in an honest way. When I was doing that work, I thought I might want to be a photojournalist. But then the opportunity to do wedding photography came my way, and that was the path I ended up taking.

Over time, I realized I wanted to shoot weddings the same way I had shot for NGOs, in a realistic style that captured the honesty of the moment.

And that style has come to define our work.

[Wedding photo]

Beyond creating a unique style, I was able to steadily raise my rates every year by doing these key things:

  • Cultivating relationships with wedding planners and other key people in the wedding industry in Antigua, Guatemala, where we’re based.
  • Ensuring word-of-mouth recommendations from clients by giving them the very best experience and photos we can.
  • Continuing to establish and maintain our SEO presence, so people find us organically.
  • Building our Instagram presence so people find us.
  • Submitting our work to awards to build our profile and credibility in the industry.

By establishing yourself you can raise your rates. And, over time, you can raise them a lot. 

And eventually you can make it to six figures.

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