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Top 10 Tips for a New Toronto Wedding Photographer

Top 10 Tips for A New Toronto Wedding Photographer

Who am I to give you advice? Well, I am a McGill MBA with over a decade of corporate experience, turned a Toronto wedding photographer. Without further ado, let's jump into this. 

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1. Practice on a Regular Basis

I wish I came up with this brilliant advice. The truth is, Roberto Valenzuela was the one who insisted that I practice every day. Most wedding photographers only practice on the wedding day, unlike any other professionals. Can you imagine what happened if Michael Jordan only played when he was paid? What kind of professional photographer only practice on the bride and groom's special day?

Perfect practice makes perfect. Make sure you learn new techniques and practice them until they become second nature. You definitely don't want to miss moments because you don't know your equipment. 

Do you want to know a secret? Once you master the technical side of wedding photography, you will be able to unleash your creativity and generate works of art!

Here is another secret. When I started, I sucked! Big Time! Everyone did...I remember talking with a successful wedding photographer in Toronto and he confessed that for the first two years he had no idea what he was doing.

Are your spouse and kids bored of you trying new techniques on them? Then advertise free engagement photography services on Kijiji. I did so many free engagement sessions and photo shoots it's not even funny! Every weekend I would travel to Richmond Hill, Markham, Scarborough and even remote areas in Southern Ontario to shoot a wedding ceremony. Most of the time I would not even recuperate my costs. 

But it gets better! For one engagement session in Distillery District I even offered to cover 50% of the photography permit...and a free wedding album if they hired me to document their special day. Which they did not.

After all, who would risk ruining their big day photos by hiring a newbie in the Toronto wedding photography arena. 

Here is the truth: I shot my first 10 weddings for free and I would travel around the Greater Toronto Area to photograph people who were willing to model for me. 

But you know the best part? I created great images and the free photo shoots brought me a destination wedding.

I remember on the wedding day in Mexico, I was so stressed out, that for a second I forgot to take my lens cap off... But who cared?  For me, the most important thing was to get out of the Greater Toronto Area and create great work. 

Then, out of nowhere, I got lucky again! One of the bridesmaids was planning her Markham wedding and her photographer cancelled on her. I got a last minute call and documented her special day. She even ordered a wedding album! Not too shabby...

After that, I submitted some of my images to blogs and they published them. 

2. Learn Lighting and Posing

If you think about it, today everybody is a photographer. Yes, that new iPhone takes damn good photos! But here is the kicker. A professional photographer has a great understanding of light and she can pose any bride and groom to look good. Uncle Joe or the next guy with a camera lack that knowledge.

Just take a look at the Toronto wedding photography landscape. You will see the most successful photographers master posing and lighting. 

For the first two years I read every posing and lighting book I could find. 

But it gets better! I just scratched the surface and to be successful, you need to kick serious ass when it comes to posing and lighting. 

If you have to think about it, you have work to do! After all, the bride and groom hire us to capture the best moments of their life, not to learn how to shoot on their dime. 

Here are a few books I highly recommend if you want to improve your craft. 

Picture Perfect Practice by Roberto Valenzuela

Picture Perfect Posing by Roberto Valenzuela

Picture Perfect Lighting by Roberto Valenzuela

The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design For Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman

Yes, I know I recommended three books by Roberto Valenzuela. Well, I am not getting a kickback, just want to return the favour. He gave me amazing advice when I was starting my journey.

3. Invest in Education, Not in Gear

Despite what the camera manufacturers tell you, more gear does not make you a better photographer! Obviously, you don't believe me, but here is the kicker. I spent over $60,000 on equipment and I still sucked. Really bad!

If you look at the best photographers worldwide, they shoot two camera bodies and 2-3 lenses. Knowing your gear helps you create great images, while having a lot of equipment slows you down. 

Do you know something? Once I started shooting with only 2-3 lenses I could focus more on the couple and guests and forget the gear. I was seeing in 35mm and 85mm frames and learned to anticipate moments. After all, photography is not about fancy cameras but about emotions. "If it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that is a good picture." - Eddie Adams, Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer

4. Adopt A Photography Style You Love

Good artists copy, great artists steal! Find a distinctive style you love and stick with it. 

If you don't want to follow the trends, that is great! You will develop a unique style and create your own niche. 

Don't follow the California dreamy (overexposed) style just because blogs favour it. Some clients like the darker look of photos if that is your style. Here is a successful photography and videography studio that embraced a darker style

5. Become a Preferred Vendor of a Wedding Venue

The wedding venues preferred vendors' list is the Holy Grail of wedding photography in Toronto. Here is the deal! Many couples want to save time and hire the vendors the banquet hall recommend. 

If you know someone working at a banquet hall, you are lucky! You might think this is crazy, but there are venues in Southern Ontario that do over 400 weddings a year. That is a lot of potential referrals for you. 

I personally know a lifestyle photographer who started doing 80 marriages a year just by becoming a preferred vendor.

6. Be Active on Social Media

The other day, Ryan Schembri was confessing on CreativeLive he booked 64 weddings as a result of posting a wedding on Instagram. Do you see how huge this is?

I have to follow my own advice here. Honestly, I rarely post, even after I shot the perfect wedding photos. But stay with me. Make sure you read the next secret on my list.

7. You Are a Business Person, Not Only an Artist

Do you shoot nuptials, newborns, pets, boudoir or lifestyle photography? It does't matter! 

Run your business like it is a business! Most successful studios in the Greater Toronto Area shoot average photos (sorry, that is true) but excel in marketing and other business areas. On the other hand, I am blown away by the photos of virtually unknown artists who - sadly - go under because they lack business experience.

You should spend about 90% of your time growing the business and the rest on photography. Yes, you will need more than 24 hours a day. 

You know the secret? Learn to "sleep faster" as Arnold Schwarzenegger put it. 

For the first four years in business I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I was also being a father and a husband. 

I am not bragging, just presenting the facts. To be successful in this crazy business, "you need to be a businessman from Monday to Friday and a photographer on the weekends." Jerry Ghionis

8. Help Others

The reason I am writing this article is to help you, the new artist. If it weren't for my predecessors who shared their knowledge, I wouldn't have learned anything. 

When you gain enough knowledge, teach others by mentoring them or through blog posts.

9. Be Selective

You need to know your target market and more important, focus on it like an eagle on its prey. 

Trust me, I know it is hard. You have a couple who chose you just because they are looking for a cheap photographer . How do you say no, when you have to pay your bills?

Here is the deal: if they don't like your work, do them a favour and tell them you are not a good fit. In the long run it will help you a lot. 

10. Master Photoshop and Lightroom

Yes, I know. You should get it right in camera. This is what the old school photojournalists tell you. 

I totally agree, but...you need an edge. Sometimes you don't have the time to get it right in camera and 2 minutes in Photoshop can create that magic photo your bride will love.

Also, mastering post production will help you reduce the time you spend editing and focus more on your business (Remember Tip #7. You are A Business Person, Not Only an Artist). It took me four years to learn this lesson, so you are very welcome!

I trust that this short article will help you avoid making the same mistakes I made when I started. Enjoy and keep shooting!

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