Tips + Techniques

Making the Leap to Full-Time Wedding Photography

October 8, 2019

By Kenny Kim

Photo © Zach Brake Photography

Kenny Kim (center, crouched and shooting with camera) doing what he grew to realize was his passion.

Over 13 years ago, I fell in love with wedding photography. I had a desk job as a graphic designer at the time, but my passion led me to switch my career and shoot weddings on the weekends. Looking back, it was the best decision I made. But it was also one of the most challenging; I had no formal training in the photography field and did not have a clue as to how I was actually going to set up a business as a wedding photographer.

I vividly recall the moment back in 2006 when I made the decision to make the career switch, only to ask myself afterwards, Uh oh, so now what do I do? My exhaustive research led me to a Barnes & Noble bookstore where I stood clueless in front of the latest wedding magazine section, hoping to gain some inspiration and direction on what to do to launch my career. I realized that there were not too many helpful resources out there; I had to figure things out the hard way, based on what I already knew, thus creating some unorthodox methods to start this business.

[A Simple Guide to Steering Your Creative Business in the Right Direction]

My four years studying in college provided me the proper training and foundation to start my career in the world of graphic design. It even offered an opportunity to work as an intern at a design firm to practice my skills before putting myself out there to work professionally. But with wedding photography, the switch was much more rapid. I dove right in and had to figure out how to float to stay alive. I had to learn quickly, signing up for numerous wedding workshops, attending photography conferences throughout the country and asking tons of questions to fellow photographers online.

During my research period, I learned the importance of running a business and marketing. I had to devise a marketing strategy to promote my work and gain future clients. Social media was just being introduced at that time and I also recognized the importance of harnessing its power to incorporate into a business.

Learning by trial and error was a reoccurring theme. Because of my unusual entry to this industry, it took me several years before I began feeling comfortable calling myself a “professional” wedding photographer in front of my peers. Yet somehow, this rabbit hole led me down to becoming a photographer who specialized in destination weddings. Thirteen years later, I am still here. I have managed to survive and thrive in this business—as a matter of fact, this past year was my best yet.

Earlier in my career, my fellow peers recognized my unique entry to photography and have since given me a platform to share my journey through speaking engagements at numerous conventions and workshops—WPPI, Imaging USA, PhotoPlus, etc. Many people shared about how they were encouraged and empathized with my testimony because they came from similar backgrounds.

[An Unconventional Start to Becoming Six-Figure Wedding Photographers]

It turns out that many people went through similar steps to enter into this profession. So if I can share some advice to those that are out there still on the fence about switching their career to wedding photography full-time, it would be these:

Take what you already know and incorporate it into your business.

Having a degree in graphic design taught me about the essential elements—the line, the shape, the color, the texture, the value and the space—all of which translates to composing a great photograph. The only difference is that I am using a different tool to create it.

What is your background? Is it business-oriented? I often envy those that come from this world because you immediately recognize that wedding photography is all about business and that you need a solid plan to survive.

In fact, people that have a solid business plan are the ones that are still in it. I’ve met many industry friends over the years that have moved on to other things because their passion for photography eventually faded and poor planning burned them out. No matter what life experiences you’ve had prior to entering this field, use that to your advantage. These are the sets of skills that will make you unique.

Find a photographer you can learn from but also provide benefit to.

This is called mentorship. But a good mentorship is never a one-way street. You need to provide something that is valuable to them as well. While you may think you do not have much to offer, this is where your previous career comes in handy.

When I first started, there were two photographers that I looked up to (and still do today): Mike Colón and Bob Davis. I found out one day that they were teaming up to do a national photography tour! More than their amazing photography skills, I really wanted to learn what it was like to be in the everyday shoes of successful wedding photographers.

I reached out and offered my skills as a web designer (it was my concentration in graphic design) to help them promote their tours by creating blog entries that recapped all the city stops they made. Photographers that were interested in attending their workshops started following this blog and with every stop, the anticipation to want to attend this tour grew more, attracting more people to sign up.

I also offered to carry their bags and setup the equipment at each stops. Rather than asking them for any compensation, I offered to do all this at my own expense if I could just learn by spending time with them. Thankfully, they accepted my offer and in return, I got one month of priceless education that still impacts me today.

I want to take this opportunity to share some of these “unorthodox marketing methods” through articles to come. These tips were not learned from reading a textbook; they’re just lessons I learned in my life’s journey. Some expected topics include:

  • How to become a better wedding photographer without taking a single click on your camera
  • The secret to why I attend wedding rehearsals
  • Why you need to build a wedding “after party” and why people will come to it
  • Social media marketing without buying Facebook or Instagram ads
  • The most important question you can ask at a wedding
  • Finding destination wedding clients locally
  • Travel hacks for destination wedding photographers

Do you have a specific question or topic related to wedding marketing tips that you want me to share? Send me a DM on Instagram @kenny_kim or through Facebook, and I will do my best to answer them directly. If I think that your question will benefit others, I might even share it in a future monthly article.

Put down your camera and get your pens ready. We are going to make a wedding photographer out of you!

Kenny Kim has grown his internationally recognized studio since 2006. He is a regular face at WPPI and also the author of two books (published by Wiley Press), comprehensive must-reads for beginning wedding photographers.


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