Photography can be seen as a notoriously hard industry to get into, you’ve either ‘got it’ or you don’t and there have never been more people calling themselves professional wedding photographers, so it seems as though it’s a really tough time to launch a photography business in the world today.
And it isn’t just about taking pictures, there’s a lot of hard work and a long process behind those beautiful images of your big day. Anyone can buy a camera and make a website, but what does it really take to become a successful wedding photographer? I caught up with the 2011 British Journal of Photography Wedding Photographer of the Year Lisa Devlin to find out.
Tell us a little about how you started out in photography?
I always had cameras, from 110 to a disk camera and even a Polaroid that made tiny little stickers. My Mum bought me an SLR for my 18th birthday, and not long after I moved to England for Art College. I thought I would never get the hang of the technical side of photography so didn’t think of it as a career path.
I did keep shooting though and signed up for night school in photography. The teacher told me he believed I had ‘The Eye’, he said I had a great sense of composition and light and that the technical stuff would come; but I was still not convinced. It was actually while I was doing work experience as a fashion stylist on one of Kate Moss’s very early shoots for The Face magazine, that it hit me right between the eyes.
I started to watch the photographer… It was Mario Sorrenti and he was mostly bouncing around available light and was shooting 35mm. When I left the studio that day, I set out to combine my two favourite passions – photography and music.
Do you have any formal qualifications?
No – I went to the photography class and explained that I wanted do a degree in photography, the teacher told me that if I wanted to be a Music Photographer then I had to ‘Get my ass to London and start making contacts’. This could be the best bit of advice I have ever had.
By the time the other people who had been on my art foundation course were finishing their degrees, I had three years’ experience under my belt, an agent and a portfolio full of images including Eric Clapton, Simply Red and Van Morrison. Photography is all about your body of work and it being seen by the right people.
In such a competitive business, how is it that you set yourself apart? Has this changed at all since starting?
A strong portfolio is the foundation of a strong photography business; you also need to be good at marketing. It is highly likely that not one photographer who is considered at the top of their game does not apply themselves to marketing in a creative way. When I switched to shooting weddings in 2000, I stood out because most photographers were still shooting very stilted and staged wedding photography.
I shot in an editorial style and was pretty booked up from my first year in business. Today is a very different market though; there are a lot of very talented photographers specialising in weddings, so a consistent brand and social media presence is really important. I run my own PR campaigns and maintain a proper marketing plan, including advertising.
What’s your top advice for those looking to get into wedding photography?
Embrace the market and find your own unique voice by starting with your USP. I would say stop looking at what everyone else is doing and figure out what your Unique Selling Proposition is. Use this as your starting point for everything including how you shoot, what you shoot and what your particular brand is.
I run Photography Farm in the UK which kicks off the New Year with Farm Week. This is five days of workshops from some of the greatest wedding photographers in the world. Some are very established and well known; others are relatively new but have managed to stand out in the current market for various reasons.
What are the key pieces of equipment that a budding wedding photographer needs? Any editing software?
Spend as much as you can on a full frame DSLR and be prepared to invest in lenses that open up to at least F2. Wedding days will challenge you with all kinds of lighting situations, and you will not cope with lower light with a kit lens that won’t go below F5.6 or F4.
We use Aperture (mac only) to process the files, make any basic adjustments and then convert to JPG. Lightroom is more or less the same and has some great added features such as lens correction, plus there are more sets of pre-sets available.
Then you will also need Photoshop which has never been more affordable thanks to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. I use Photoshop for any retouching that needs doing and I use my own Actions to create the colour and Black & White finishes on my images. I have spent the last year building a comprehensive online resource for wedding photographers – The Barn, with full workflow tutorials, as well as practical shooting tips, and the things that I do most in Photoshop.