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Getting your start in the wedding industry

Wedding photography can be a lucrative part-time gig or a full-time business.

Samuel Bendall works 9 to 5 as an assistant account manager for an L.A.-based PR firm. But over the last five years, he has created a rewarding — and even lucrative — part-time career as a wedding photographer.

Bendall, a recent California State-Northridge grad, books about one wedding per month and grosses between $1,500 and $6,000 for each one (a fairly industry-standard rate). The work is certainly more rewarding than his former part-time jobs in the restaurant business, but building a viable wedding photography business is far more challenging than most people realize.

“I don’t do it full-time because of how much work is involved in a wedding. It’s hard to convey to people,” he explains. “It’s more logistics than anything: meeting with the family, the wedding planner. Plus, there’s a lot on the back end of processing and packaging good images. You spend about 10 percent of your time actually at the wedding.”

And, unlike other part-time jobs, wedding photography requires both passion and talent. Bendall has been a photographer since high school and avidly pursues his own artistic photo projects.

But, perhaps most importantly, the job demands an intrinsic feel for public relations.

“You can’t just be a good photographer, you have to be an incredible interpersonal communicator: Explain concisely, to difficult people, what exactly you’re doing,” says Bendall. “It’s like Oscar Wilde said: ‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.’”

Expert Q&A

Cassandra Eldridge is a wedding photographer in Chicago. She shoots roughly 30 ceremonies per year.

How do you know if you have the talent for the job?

A lot of people think that if they own a camera, they’re a photographer. But there’s obviously composition, thinking outside the box and timing — developing really good gut instincts. If you’re interested, [then] practice, practice, practice and see where you wind up. There are a lot of wedding photographers out there who are extremely talented. It’s important not to compare.

How much do you charge per wedding?

Between $3,000 and $5,800.

Do you hire assistants?

Yes, one per shoot. I pay a flat rate of $200 and encourage them to build their own portfolio. That’s how most people break in.

How do you find your clients?

Word of mouth has been amazing. I’m a heavy blogger, and I’m very active on social networking.