I just finished my first year as a full time wedding photographer! ... back in December 2018. I had five weddings that month and a busy start to the New Year too so this post is coming at you a few months later than planned. I am so excited to share the real stuff behind my first year full time.
A little backstory, I have been photographing since 2012, photographed my first weddings and began my business officially in 2013. I photographed weddings and portraits as a side job throughout college and a few years after. I had photographed just over 30 weddings, and was in the middle of planning my own wedding when my fiancé, now husband, and I, decided that everything lined up and that I should take wedding photography full time. So as of December 2017 I was officially all in. I had little idea what this would look like exactly. I set the right goals, but small goals at that. I spent most of the Winter building the behind the scenes side of my business working on my website, updating contracts and communication templates, and started advertising any way I could. God completely blew my plans for my business out of the water. It's not all about the numbers but this stat just makes it obvious. My goal when starting business was to photograph 15 weddings in 2018... I photographed 32. That still blows me away, that 32 amazing couples trusted me with their wedding day memories! Wow! If you're reading this and you were one of my clients in 2018 THANK YOU, you made my first year SO wonderful. So here are the things I learned in the first year as a full time wedding photographer. The good, the not so good, its all there.
1. Over communication does not exist
Well let's phrase that as "polite over communication does not exist".. I don't bombard my clients with multiple texts all hours of the day/night. I work to communicate respectfully. I do my best to keep my communication to normal business hours. I have yet to have a client ask me to communicate less. If there were any times that a wedding or session caught me off guard it is just something I wish I had communicated with the couple about in advance. Example: The client wanted a large group photo of everyone who attended the wedding. - I wish I would've talked with the client before so I could have had my wide angle lens ready and a location picked out before it was time to take that photo. I kind of see it as our job as wedding photographers/vendors to anticipate the clients' needs or questions before they even have them. Obviously I can't predict every question, but if I know that couples generally struggle with knowing how much time to set aside for portraits, why wouldn't I just send them that information right after they book so they know I'm thinking ahead for them and they don't need to worry?! Clients are not likely to view communication negatively because it just means that I am taking time to think about them. It means that I am taking the same care and preparations for them as I have every other wedding that they've seen me photograph, and that they are more than just a job to me. Timely communication is best, and (polite) over communication does not exist.
2. Relaxed wedding days are BUILT on plans
Do you want a relaxed wedding day? Do you want to be carefree and enjoy every moment? As a photographer, do you want to photograph a relaxed wedding day? There's one secret... PLAN. Well, to the client there might be two secrets, hire professionals who can help you, and to plan. But for photographers, it is our job to help our clients get the most out of their wedding days. I love talking with new clients, making up a mock timeline and talking about all the options of how they can use their day. The more I learned to communicate with my client about all the details from family photo lists to when they were planning to sign the marriage license, the easier every wedding became for me. I could show up with my timeline and confidence that I could role with the punches of the wedding day because I knew exactly what my clients wanted and we had a plan! That doesn't mean that everything goes as planned, but in making plans you end up finding out what is most important to your clients and that helps you know how to work around changes. The better prepared I am, the better I can prepare my wedding clients and they get to relax and actually enjoy their wedding day!
3. Have Confidence!
I can tell you the main difference between sessions I feel like I rocked and sessions that just rocked me. It had nothing to do with my clients, or the location, or the light. It was MY confidence. When I showed up shaken up a bit, my lack of confidence did not let my clients really relax around me and the camera. However, when I showed up for a session, or wedding with confidence I was able to do my best job. Being confident doesn't mean being overbearing or rude or bossy. For me it shows when I can tell my clients exactly how to pose, where to stand, and give them direction clearly and confidently with joy. When clients see my confidence they can relax and actually enjoy the time they have together taking portraits, that means more fun laughs and organic movement in photos instead of stiff or forced smiles. They get to think about why they're there, not "What do I do with my hands?" I love encouraging my clients during the session, this isn't something I even consciously do, it just happens as I'm taking their portraits. I tell them how cute they are together, how much they're rocking this session, and we talk about how cool it is that they're getting married. My confidence in myself as a person and as a professional photographer grew and transformed how I present myself this year.
4. I don't really like to travel
So not many people say that.. wanderlust is the big thing. I have travelled a lot. I've visited 5 countries and even spend six months in India after I graduated college and traveled all over that country and others during that time as well. Being a destination wedding photographer is everyone's dream right? I totally thought it was mine. Until I photographed three destination weddings this year. These weddings weren't even that far for me, I was able to drive to every one and just stay a few nights. And I am not saying that I didn't enjoy these weddings, don't think that for a second! The weddings and people were SO wonderful, and I got to see and photograph in some of the most gorgeous places. But I realized that every time I said yes to a far away wedding that was me saying no to 3-4 days at home with my husband. I don't know if its the newly wed in me, or just the homebody in me, but that is actually a big deal. So the big change for me this year was in perspective, that not everyone's dream had to be mine. I would probably prefer to have weddings that are less than an hour drive away every weekend than have a wedding that takes me away from home for several days. I think its okay to know what I like and can handle. Traveling a lot, like last fall when I had 3 destination weddings almost back to back, just increased my stress and I didn't like being away from home that often. Now I know that it's okay to be selective in what I say yes to, and that it's okay to have a different dream.
5. Burnout is normal, but I'm not meant to stay there
I photographed every weekend and 3-5 weekdays every week from May through October. I said yes to almost everything my first year, and did not save much time for myself. I learned that I need to put as much effort into scheduling time to rest as scheduling work. So of course by the time Fall craziness hit, when everyone wants portraits in the two weeks that Colorado actually has Fall colors before the snow takes it away, I thought I was going crazy. I was tired all the time, editing to all hours of the night, and started to dread getting ready to go to a session. I even had to start saying no to new sessions, which was a new thing for me. After a few weeks of feeling lonely, tired, and kind of sad I realized that I needed to make the change. I could keep over scheduling myself and not taking any breaks, or I could prioritize time to rest and recover. Wedding season kind of wipes you out. You completely invest yourself into each wedding day and you need time to refuel; I just needed to learn to give myself that time to refuel. Self care is something I hadn't thought much about before this year. It doesn't mean being completely selfish, I see self care as giving myself time with God everyday, taking time to exercise, eat well, time with my husband and a weekly date night, and saving some time for my family and friends too.
6. I need hobbies (and community)
Part of what fueled my burnout last Fall was that I literally ONLY worked... ever. If you asked me what I did that week I would be lying if I said anything other than work or sleep. I made it a surprisingly long time before that got to me. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job. I worked by myself at home on my computer during the days, would photograph and meet a few people in the evenings for an hour, and then go back home to work on my computer more. It leaves a lot of time for comparison which really is the thief of joy. I remember in college I did so much better in my classes when I had other activities that I had to plan for. It was like keeping a full schedule kept me going and not procrastinating. I think the same thing is true for me now. So I began working out 5-6 times a week, started a bible study program that helps me get out and meet other ladies each week, and have made time to network with other professionals in the wedding industry too. I know that we were made to work, but we weren't made to only work always. We were made for community and fun too. I am still learning what brings me joy and rest, and it is so fun to find out.
7. Keep track of your tax information!
As organized as I am, I still struggle to hang on to the right receipts. But now as I am deep into my taxes from my first year full time, I can confidently say that being on top of taxes is a necessity for business! This means everything from tracking your sales tax collected to your coffee with client receipts and especially your miles! One application that saved my life this year was Quickbooks Self Employed. It keeps all of my transactions and I can easily mark and categorize business expenses, track my profits, and it records all of my drives so I can easily keep track of all of the miles I drove for work. (Which was over 23k last year alone!) I am so glad I set up the app and tracked everything the way I did last year. I have a couple small changes I am making to be better organized this year, but for making it through my first year full time taxes haven't been that hectic at all! Other than all the money I pay to the government.. but I knew that was coming! haha.
So in the first full time year I photographed 32 weddings and 87 sessions. Through it all I learned A TON and it was really the best year ever. I'm excited to keep taking what I learned into 2019! If you're reading this and you're in that waiting time of wondering when you will go full time I hope this is encouraging, and can hopefully help you avoid some of the mistakes I fell into this year. It's hard work but so worth it! Here are some fun captures me at work last year!
Thanks for following my journey and visiting the blog!