by Guest Contributor Hailey Tash
In my final years as a college student, I began thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. I’ve always been more of a creative person, so the idea of getting a 9-5 job seemed really stifling. I had always loved to read and write, so during my junior year of college I switched my major to English. I also took my camera out on weekends for fun.
In November of 2010, my future sister-in-law’s sister got engaged and asked me to do her engagement photos. She had seen some photos I’d done of my brother and her sister, and wanted to know if she could hire me. I was hesitant at first. I’d never done any paid jobs before. However, I told myself that she obviously liked my work, or she wouldn’t have contacted me. I decided to officially start my business and set up a Facebook fan page. At the time, I thought it’d be a fun part-time job while I finished my degree.
My fan base continued to grow, and I ran contests and sought out senior representatives to get my name out there even more. Wedding photography hadn’t even crossed my mind. Then I received an email that winter that changed the game for me. A colleague of my mother’s was getting married in the summer of 2011 and wanted to know if she could hire me to shoot her wedding. I decided to go for it and charged her very little since, at the time, I had no wedding experience. I created a blogsite through ProPhoto to showcase my work, and I immediately set up some bridal shoots to start a portfolio. Then I received a few more inquiries. I shot my very first wedding with absolutely no second-shooting experience and I was terrified. The couple was very happy with the photos, but if I could go back I would have shadowed at least one photographer first.
When I got engaged that spring, I asked my wedding photographer if I could second shoot with her. It was incredible! She was so helpful and allowed me to use all of my images any way I pleased (which is rare, I know). I was then approached by a former portrait client who already had a wedding photographer, but offered to set up some second-shooting of her wedding for me. These two experiences were great. Both photographers’ guidance helped me to triple my bookings for the next year.
Now, I’m almost entirely through my second wedding season, and I have several weddings already on the books for 2013 with inquiries coming in constantly. I’m still learning about how to better my business, but there are a few things I’ve found invaluable when trying to transition into wedding photography:
1) Educate yourself. This is so important in your early days as a photographer. I attended workshops held by local photographers, as well as some great online ones. During slow season I practically live on CreativeLive. It’s an amazing resource for photographers, and you can do it from home. Technology is always changing, and you can always improve, so set aside time and money to invest in education.
2) Network. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other photographers. I am constantly attending gatherings to network with other photographers. I’ve also contacted everyone from successful photographers in my state (Maine) to Jasmine Star for tips. If there’s someone local whose work you adore, ask them to coffee. You’d be surprised at how willing to help other photographers can be. Plus, they might ask you to second-shoot or send referrals your way once you build up your business! This leads to my next point…
3) Second shoot. After you’ve reached out to some photographers in your area, ask if you can tag along to second shoot at a wedding. Even if they don’t want you to shoot, you may get the chance to assist and see them in action! This will help you figure out how you need to approach a wedding day.
4) Reach out to engaged acquaintances. When you’re first starting out, you need to land that first wedding somehow. After you’ve gained experience second shooting, and you feel comfortable venturing out on your own, spread the word. Do you have a former friend from college who recently got engaged? Ask if you can do their engagement photos, and mention that you’ve been working with other photographers to build a portfolio. They may want someone with more experience, but if you’ve been second shooting you can direct them to your portfolio and let them decide for themselves. I’ve found that a good percentage of my clients who initially contacted me about engagement shoots also booked me for their wedding. Most people want a cohesive style, so if you can lock in the engagement session that’s a big step. Also, consider having at least one package with the engagement session included. I offer this in my highest package and I always suggest this to couples when they contact me about an engagement shoot.
5) Create an eye-catching website to showcase your best work, and become familiar with SEO. Ask a professional photographer who has some experience to help you present your best work. Ask them what works, and what doesn’t. Sometimes you’re too emotionally attached to your own work to make the best decision. I played around a lot with the opening slideshow on my site before I found the right combination to draw attention (remember, you only have about seven seconds to keep someone on your page. Put your best work first.)
SEO is incredibly important. Having a great website is nothing if nobody can find it. Make sure you use very specific wording in blog posts and site titles so that your site comes up in online searches. There’s lots of information online about how to do this.
6) Submit! One of the best ways to get your name out there is to submit your work! Do your research and find magazines and blogs that you think you’d be a good fit with. They have them for every niche. You won’t always get accepted, but when you do it will feel incredible. Plus, you can use that publication to sell yourself to future clients.
7) Don’t give up. I decided to go full-time in early March, and the timing was horrible! It was the middle of slow season, but it felt like the right time personally for me. For at least a month there was silence. I’d obsessively check my email every day and assume I’d made the wrong decision when it was empty. I considered taking another part-time job, but my now husband told me, “You want this. You’re doing this.” So, I stuck it out. I’m so glad I did because by the beginning of May the emails started picking up significantly. I’ve finally reached the point where I am comfortable doing this full-time, and I have absolutely no regrets.
About Hailey Tash: I am a Maine wedding, engagement, and senior portrait photographer located in Central Maine. I began my business in November 2010, and went full-time in March 2012. I absolutely love working with natural light! We have some pretty fabulous locations here in Maine, so I love to travel all over for each and every amazing wedding. I get so inspired watching love stories unfold in front of my camera. I’m doing what I love, and it never feels like work!