Ballpark Estimate: $300 to $32,000 for classes or $52,000 to $90,000 for a degree
If you can picture yourself as a wedding photographer, you may wonder how to turn your vision into reality. The fact is that there are many different ways to establish yourself as a professional in this exiting (but also very high stress!) field. Regardless of what route you take, though, just keep in mind that you will need to be passionate about what you do in order to achieve the very best results.
Not Just a Job
Whether you want to be a wedding photographer full time or prefer to explore this more as a part-time gig, when you accept a job shooting a wedding, you are actually making a serious commitment, saying “I do” to stand by the bridal couple and help them capture the very heart of their special day.
A Big Responsibility
A wedding photographer needs to have an eye for telling a story visually and getting just the right shots. You should also have a strong entrepreneurial bent, since you will need to approach photography not just as art but also as a way to make a living. That’s why you need to be flexible and also persistent, since there are no second chances should something go wrong. In fact, while most other jobs can make allowances for errors, bad weather and days when you are feeling ill, wedding photographers have to be at the top of their game all of the time, rain or shine, sick or well. In addition, if, you experience technical difficulties, camera equipment malfunctions or have something happen to your film or its exposure, you can’t go back and get a second chance.
Most wedding photographers account for this by having doubles of their most important equipment and even taking photos with two different cameras so they have backups of everything. Finally, remember that most weddings take place on the weekends, so if you become successful in this field, you will need to plan your own social schedule accordingly. This can be a lot to put up with, but your satisfaction with the results can make it all well worth it in the end.
A Large Time Allotment
While most people know that covering a wedding requires the photographer to be completely “on” on the day of the event, it is a much less known fact is that there is also significant behind-the-scenes work that exists. You will want to factor this in when determining the amount of time you will dedicate to each job. For instance, you may need to take engagement photos and bridal portraits, attend the rehearsal dinner and meet once (or multiple times) with the couple to determine what wedding shots they would like you to get and in what style. In addition, you will need to process your work after the wedding has come and gone, and provide proofs from which the couple can select the photos they want. Some photographers not only print the final photo order but also compile it into a special bridal album and albums for the parents of the bride and groom and members of the wedding party. All of this can be time consuming. Therefore, when you are determining the number of hours to allot to your career, you should take all of these factors into account. Of course if your talent ends up being in high demand, your hard work will pay off in the amount of money you will be able to command.
If Your Shoe Fits
If the beauty of a wedding and the depth of emotion it brings out is more than enough to make up for the level of time and responsibility you will need to invest in this endeavor, then you just may have what it takes to establish yourself as an expert in this field.
Training Comes in Many Shapes
There is no “right” way to become a wedding photographer. Some people are able to establish themselves without needing to invest in much professional training. If you have an innate talent for shooting exceptionally artistic photographs that can tell a heartfelt story, along with an easy-going temperament that does well in stressful situations and isn’t easily rattled or upset, then you could just be a natural. There are indeed wedding photographers like this who got their start by simply dabbling in the field as a hobby, taking photographs for family, friends and colleagues until they made a name for themselves and now have turned this endeavor into a professional career.
More likely, though, you will need to take some training courses to get up to date on the latest photography techniques and styles and get an understanding of how to blend into the background of the event so you can get meaningful candid shots of the bride and groom and their guests.
For instance, if you want to learn the fundamentals of photography and have a solid base from which to grow, you may want to take the traditional route and get your training from a respected photography, graphics design or arts program. Many accredited colleges, universities and art and graphic design schools offer a range of options for their students in order to enable them to get a good solid background in the fundamentals, including photo composition, lighting, digital effects, editing and telling a visual story in the most dramatic and effective way. Formal education also offers many students a valuable chance to explore different specialty areas so they can distinguish themselves from much of the competition. Further, with a degree in photography, you will be able to put your expertise to work in a variety of different fine arts and commercial settings.
If you are working fulltime though and can’t afford the expense of becoming a student again, then you may end up building up your portfolio by volunteering to take photographs of your friends’ events. In addition, you can find a wealth of short seminars, online course, classes available on DVD and guides and books that give you an introduction into this exciting and fast paced field.
What It Costs
If you decide to go the most traditional route, you will probably want to get some type of professional training in photography, whether it be through a certificate program, continuing education courses or a degree. There are dozens of schools and other settings that can be easily accessible. Photography Schools provides a list of some of the programs that exist.
One option some photographers recommend is taking mail order courses from working professionals through a school like Better Photo, which allows you to complete the coursework at home over a two-month time span. The cost to take an introductory class on wedding photography is around $300.
For a little bit more of an investment, you could also consider the New York Institute of Photography based in New York City. This school runs a correspondence program accredited by the Distance Education Training Council (DETC). The cost for an in-depth class is about $1,000 and students can work on the lesson plans at their own pace, within reason.
If you prefer to take your classes in person, you could look into the Oklahoma School of Photography. For a cost of about $9,500, students can get a solid overview of the field from the expert staff and learn the fundamentals, which they can apply to create your own portfolio.
Another option is the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Massachusetts. This intense program, which takes 10 months to complete, offers students a chance to learn the art of photography, understand how to master the latest digital equipment and become savvy at managing the business side of the field so they can turn their talent into a paying career. The tuition will set you back almost $32,000.
The Art Institute of Colorado, Denver, offers an associate’s degree in photography for just over $52,000, while a bachelor’s degree in the field from the same school will set you back about $90,000. In return for the financial commitment, students can select to focus on the area of the field that best meets their interests and their career goals.
If you can’t swing the expense or time commitment required to complete of any of these training programs, you may want to buy a DVD that offers you a basic introduction to photography skills and techniques. You can find many options online for under $100.
In addition to the cost of education, the experts also remind perspective wedding photographers that they will also need to buy some high quality equipment to do their job well. In fact, you may need to spend close to $10,000 dollars to get the cameras and lenses you will need to get started (keep in mind that a good camera can run you about $5,000 and professional grade lenses can be another $2,500 or so for each one). In addition, many wedding photographers actually spend much, much more than this on their tools. One professional wedding photographer estimates that he brings about $25,000 in equipment to each wedding he attends. This is a large investment, especially when you consider that this means you may need to funnel much of your annual profits back into the business for the first few years. But of course the payoff can be well worth over the long term, especially if you find that you truly love what you do.