If we were friends, which we are, and you asked me how to make a living filming weddings, this is what I would tell you. This is my advice in about ten minutes, take it however you like.
I’m a videographer and designer from Cleveland Ohio, and I’ve filmed and shot photos of a few weddings in my day.
First off, you should know weddings are not an easy, overnight success type of work. It’s the complete opposite, it’s a very time-consuming and exhausting way to make money, but after you manage to shoot a few weddings and get the rhythm of shooting down, telling each couple's unique story will become easier, and these skills will carry over into other forms of storytelling as well.
I will assume you have some kind of knowledge of shooting weddings and how they work. This isn’t going to be a step-by-step guide to shooting weddings. If you don’t know how to do that though, I have a wedding shoot planned for later this year, where they agreed that I can film behind-the-scenes, and I’ll take you guys along for the shoot, so be sure to subscribe to see that video when it comes out.
First, we’ll go get into the numbers, then I’ll give you some notes about shooting weddings that I’ve learned over the years.
These numbers will skew based on your experience and skill level, where you live, your equipment, how many shooters you have, but these are the general numbers you would need to hit to make a living on an average salary in the USA, just so you know what you're getting yourself into. Then for fun, we’ll go into making 100,000 per year.
According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the average salary in the US is about $58,000. This seems high for beginners in certain areas but also low for big cities like New York or LA. You can adjust these numbers, but we're going with this.
If you can use a camera but have no experience shooting weddings, I would be someone's second shooter for a discounted rate or free - but if that's not an option, I would find a family member or friend that's getting married but doesn't have the budget for a wedding video, and shoot it for free. You’ll learn more from this than any YouTube video you could ever watch. And since you’re not charging anything this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of weddings, especially if you’re not familiar with the process of the day. The best part about this technique, and one of the biggest stressors that keep people from shooting weddings, is that if you mess up part of the video, it’s not a big deal. The couple probably won't notice since they aren't paying for the video. It’s a bonus for them.
If you’re charging for work, you need to be confident you can deliver results worth paying for. While you may not be earning cash, you’re gaining experience that will benefit your future weddings while also doing a favor for a friend.
Assuming you can work your camera and can successfully shoot an entire wedding, a solid starting point for a beginner to charge for a wedding is around $1000-$2000. If you would charge an average of $1500 and wanted to make the average American salary, you would have to shoot 38.6 weddings a year. Almost a wedding a week to make the average US salary.
Moving up, if you’re an intermediate wedding shooter, charging $1500 to $4000 per wedding, averaging $2250, you’d have to shoot 26 weddings per year, or about one every other week, to make the average US salary.
When you start to get to the higher-end weddings, you can start to charge anywhere from $4000 to $7000 in my area, so let’s say you average $5500 per wedding. To make an average US salary, you’d need to shoot 10 and a half weddings per year.
Just for fun, if you’re a legend and charge 5 to 10 thousand, with an average of $7000 per wedding, you’d only need to shoot about 8 weddings per year!
Now, let’s have some fun and do the math on making 100k per year.
Our beginner would need to shoot 66.6 weddings per year to reach 100k.
Our intermediate shooter would need 44.4 weddings per year for 100,000 dollars.
Our high-end shooter would need 19 weddings per year.
And the legend would need just over 14 weddings per year to make 100,000.
Now obviously, this is going to vary based on where you live, your experience, amount of shooters, travel, and expenses, but the great part about shooting weddings is that once you have a portfolio and level up your skills, you can charge more and you don’t have to shoot as many weddings to make a living wage.
There is a lot of upfront work and learning, but it pays off in the later years. You’re also likely to dance around those price brackets based on what your couples want as well. If you’re a higher-end shooter but have too much work to take on another wedding yourself, you can be a second shooter for a few weddings to make up the difference. Typically the second shooter is only there for the day of, not for pre-production or editing, but makes less money. It’s a balancing act depending on your workload.
I want to be fully transparent here; the early days of filming weddings are overwhelming and a complete grind. At least for me, they were. You’ll likely need to purchase some gear when first starting out. Filming the day of is overwhelming, to say the least. And you’re going to be sacrificing a lot of weekends to shoot for 8 to 12 hours at a time. And you have to do preproduction with the couples to learn about them. Then you have to edit, which is a beast of its own.
Here are some rapid-fire notes that you need to know about weddings.
Pre-production is one of the most essential parts of shooting weddings. Do not walk into a wedding without knowing the day of schedule, what makes that specific wedding special so you’ll know to highlight it, and what the couple wants to emphasize or not show at all, and the final product will be much more meaningful to the couple.
One superpower of knowing the schedule is that you can keep everything on time. Vocalizing how much time you have left on the current shoot, like the first look for example, knowing travel times, and kind of wearing the wedding planner’s hat without stepping on their toes will help the shoot and the day move along as intended. This is more work, but if you stay on top of it, it’s really not that much work - this is something that higher-end shooters do to help command more of a premium price as well.
Shooting the wedding becomes enjoyable when you have a mental model of what your video will already look like. When you’re running around shooting everything, then trying to find the story in the edit, your video is already in trouble. Capture the right, meaningful things, and the video will feel like it was tailor-made for them because it was.
Editing will also be faster and easier since you have the video outline in your head. You’re just assembling the edit instead of trying to find the video in the edit. This will save you multiple hours per video.
Despite the saying that “gear doesn't matter”, in the wedding world, it totally does. Photo is pretty simple gear-wise, but video requires a ton of gear that you know how to use, like the back of your hand. You’ll need multiple cameras, lenses, an audio recorder, lavs, tripods, gimbals, monopods, lights, stands, and batteries. If you’re interested in a wedding gear video, let me know and I can dive deeper into that.
When you step up to higher-end shoots, you’ll need to hire a second shooter, which will eat into your profits, but raising the price may bump you out of your couples’ budget. Second or even third shooters are a must on higher-end shoots, but small-budget shoots can get away with you flying a camera on a gimbal with other cameras on a tripod.
A few quick notes about handling money from weddings, sometimes people don't pay for a long time. Have payment terms in your contract, this will protect everyone, because some clients want to pay all up front, while others delay payment for weeks or months. Your initial meetings should help you gauge your couples, but things happen so be sure you're prepared for anything.
Transparency with your services and pricing is important so everyone is on the same page and they know exactly what they're getting and how much they are paying for it.
Another thing to consider is that you have to pay taxes on this money, so make sure to save 30ish percent. Look this up for your specific region. As a disclaimer, this is not financial advice. But save money for taxes or you're going to have a bad time.
The next money note I have is, when you find a client, they typically won't turn into paying work for at least a year. You can and should charge a deposit upfront to save their date but make sure to manage your money wisely.
This is more obvious with experienced shooters, but beginners often overlook this next note. But this may be one of the most important notes, and that is to have a contract to protect both you and your couples. They need to know what happens if you flake out on them. Or if they flake out on you. Payment terms. Dates. Times. What happens if things change on their end. Or your end. Unforeseen things happen, and you both need to be protected.
Another tough part of weddings is that you have to find clients. This is true with any creative work, but with weddings the competition is pretty fierce if the couple has a budget. Word of mouth and referrals are the king and queen in my opinion for finding the best clients. Having an active Instagram and website to show your work and have a way to contact you to schedule a meeting is a must. So spend lots of time getting those two right, and any other platforms that newly engaged couples are on, like the knot or your local wedding Facebook groups.
If you’re struggling to find clients or make a portfolio, offer free or discounted shoots to make your portfolio look as good as possible. Networking with other photographers, wedding coordinators, venues, and industry professionals can also get you some clients, but you’ll likely need a good relationship to get the referral, then a solid website and social media presence for couples to reach out and book a meeting.
If you’re still not getting clients, but feel like you're doing good work, ask yourself, what makes you different from other shooters? Do you have a unique style? Are you a story-driven documentary-style shooter? Or are you all aesthetic and no story? Find what makes you unique and lean into it. Trying different things can help set you apart.
When I found out how much you could make shooting weddings, I thought I had struck gold. I thought this was going to be a piece of cake.
Then reality hit me in the face after I filmed my first wedding and learned how difficult and exhausting it is. It is a lot of work, and you have to stay ahead of the curve. Things go wrong, and you have to act accordingly, all while telling the story of the bride and groom. These moments only happen once in a lifetime for them, so nailing the shot is the only option. Doing the meetings and research upfront. Prepping your gear. Shooting the actual wedding. Then editing and deliverables. It’s a very exhausting but fulfilling job.
After that first wedding, I knew filming weddings would not be my only source of income due to the stress and exhaustion that comes with weddings. However, I still like filming a few weddings per year because they are a great time and fun to film, but for me, I couldn’t do this every weekend.
That's the beauty of the creative space, there are so many different shoots to do, I shoot a variety of things from weddings, talking heads, brand videos, product videos, about videos, features and benefits, and they all have their pros and cons.
I'm a designer from Cleveland, Ohio and love to shoot photos & videos. I made my first website in 2004 to show friends photos & videos (before YouTube/Flickr/Instagram were things) and have been shooting and designing ever since! I have a deep passion for making and helping others create.
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