How do I set myself up as a photographer?

5th June, 2010

Dear Economist,

I consider myself a good documentary photographer, but my full-time job is in another field. I want to start a career in wedding photography, so I need to build a portfolio. But how?

I tried to offer a cut-rate service that basically covers the production cost. No luck.

My theory is: this is a glamorous business, like Hollywood. If you are the client, you probably won’t worry about cost unless you’re on a shoestring. You won’t trust a new start-up on a unique event. If you are on a shoestring, you probably won’t look at a professional photographer’s price list.

I have considered offering myself as a free assistant or second shooter. But as you may notice, wedding photographers are like plumbers – they have quite a local base. I doubt they would want to help out a competitor in their own back yard. So how do I get started?

Camera for hire

Dear Camera for hire,

Actually, your business is more like hedge fund management or heart surgery. Nobody goes for a cut-price heart surgeon.

You really have two options. One is to take photographs at friends’ weddings. You don’t need permission from a rival photographer, you just need permission from a friend.

But I have a more radical suggestion. To win business you need to demonstrate confidence in your expertise. Tell prospective clients that you will pay them for the privilege of taking photos at their wedding, and that you’re confident you’ll make money anyway because they will want to buy your prints. Not only does this scheme give them some compensation if you prove to be an amateurish snapper, but more importantly it sends a signal of your self-confidence. A true incompetent would never be able to afford such a deal. I only hope you are as good as you say you are.

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