Wedding photography – Where to start building a portfolio
I do get some interesting emails and Facebook messages. The strange ones run the whole range from trippy & bizarre, all the way to obscure. One of my favorite weird emails was one that had the title, “Nikon D100” with the body of the email simply asking, “How do you do that?”
This morning, I saw news that Facebook is once again altering things, including the way that messages are delivered. Paid messages from strangers now seem to be on the horizon. So with that, for the first time in forever, I went through the backlog of messages in the “other” folder. And I saw this message that I show here as a screen-capture.
What bemused me was the polite and respectful tone. And yes, he did ask! Unlike others who have simply used images as they please. I’ve even had my my entire website ripped off. A very ballsy move that they denied to the end. It gets even stranger when you realize my bio is the most plagiarized part of my website! I even directly mention this in the one section. Yup, apparently you can just use my bio as a template by changing a few details. So this request now is an odd combination of sincerity and naiveté. That he even asked, is then a surprise in itself.
Obviously, the main problem here is that someone would even (naively) think it is okay to misrepresent his abilities to potential clients. If you can’t shoot in a certain way, or produce a certain quality of work already, then it is fraudulent to say you can. Your potential clients deserve better!
We can’t ignore that this kind of thinking is very prevalent in the photography industry. It is a regular thing for me to see other photographers on Facebook complain that their images and text were ripped off. It is that rife! There is the Stop Stealing Photos Tumblr blog, where photographers are constantly busted for using photos that aren’t their own. The scary thing is, that site mostly just shows theft of wedding & portrait photography! It’s an avalanche that tedious DMCA take-downs can’t effectively stem.
The culprits just don’t realize that they will be caught. One way or another. Sooner or later. And there can be significant consequences when they are busted, as just one example.
What I find most ironic with all this, is that photographers like to think of themselves as creative people. Yet, there is such a vast number of wannabe photographers who happily steal and misappropriate and plagiarize. Where’s the self-respect?
I’ve even heard of photographers using the sample albums from album companies as their own work. Yup, they’ve all been shooting the same fabulous wedding in Italy.
The disconcerting element to all of this is that two photographs from someone else, could qualify one as a wedding photographer. That, sadly, is how low the bar is!
Mulling over this request, my reaction ranged from amusement, all the way to “are you f’n kidding me?”, back to the idea that this guy, like other aspiring photographers, is struggling with ideas of how to start as a wedding photographer.
A bit about myself and how I started
My interest in photography started when I was in high school in South Africa, and it was soon an all-consuming hobby. I devoured magazines and books, and shot as much slide film as my meager budget could allow. Later on as an adult, my photography hobby picked up speed where I was doing some overflow work for other photographers and studios in Johannesburg. Mostly corporate stuff and some work in the studio. I also shot some stock photography. Very few weddings. It wasn’t a specific interest at the time.
When we emigrated to the USA in 2000, I was a stay-at-home dad for nearly 3 years while I didn’t have my work permit. When I did finally get the work permit at the end of 2002, I went to several studios in New Jersey, and one studio owner saw some potential in me. Even now, I’m not embarrassed to show my original wedding portfolio. I’ve done much better since, but my original wedding portfolio was quite decent.
I photographed weddings for various studios in northern New Jersey for four years before setting off on my own. I was averaging about 80 weddings a year during that time, whether as a second shooter or a primary. I started off, just assisting or second shooting. So in all that time I picked up a lot of experience photographing weddings.
I built my current portfolio from the one studio who didn’t mind me using the images for myself. That’s how I got my start. A slow one in comparison to many. But I do feel it was solidly built on experience.
Advice on building up a wedding photography portfolio
- Well, first of all, stealing content is NOT the way to go. Not even borrowing. It has to be *your* work and your art. There has to be some self-pride in what you do.
- If you lack experience, then arrange to photograph family and friends.
Get your chops down. Practice, practice, practice.
It needs a lot of time with your fingers on the camera controls.
It’s going to take even longer to self-evaluate your work and learn.
- Read and study. There is an incredible amount of information on the internet on the techniques of photography. Not knowing can’t possibly be an excuse, and it certainly isn’t a point of pride that you can get by on skimpy knowledge.
- Attend photography workshops. Attend conventions.
Then apply what you learnt to your photography and shoot even more.
- You can’t Fast Track your way out of being familiar with your camera and knowing what you’re doing. This particularly frustrates me when I see a certain dumbing down, where photographers are advised that they don’t even need to know the basics to start as a wedding photographer. Or even need to own their gear, and that they can rent or borrow gear. This makes no sense. You need to be familiar with your equipment.
- While we’re on this topic of borrowing equipment. If you lend out equipment to other photographers who are using it for paid gigs, then your credit card fees are going towards sustaining someone else’s business. And that’s no way to run your own business! While I will gladly help a photographer who is in a jam, I won’t lend out gear for someone else’s paid shoot.
- Most of all, second shoot and assist where you can. There’s no substitute for that. No “portfolio building” shoot-out will give you the experience you will get actually photographing an event.
- Don’t even consider “learning on the job”, and taking on work you’re not ready for. Sure, we are all on that never-ending climb up to improving our work. But you should never consider that you’d “figure it out as you go along”. A wedding (or any other event), is not the place for that.
- If you find it tough getting to second shoot, then that means you need to hone your photography skills even more, because there is a flood of photographers who are out there chasing the same work. And that in itself should perhaps tell you that wedding photography isn’t as easy a career that it is often painted to be. Wedding photography is not an easy career to make a sustainable living, regardless of the dream sold to you by sectors of the photography industry.
That’s about all the advice I can give. There’s no “Fast Track”. Building a career in any field is best if based on experience, know-how, and solid business principles.
And yes, I’m still finding my own way in this. Although I’d like to think that maybe he was correct in at least one thing – that I’m one of the world’s best wedding photographers. There’s always something to aspire to.
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