When I first started my photography business, I did a LOT of weddings.
I was so excited that I could make $1,000-3,000 in one weekend – I felt like I had finally made it! I was in the game, and the game was good.
There were a lot of things I enjoyed about the wedding business. The love the couples had for each other, happy family occasions, the glam of it all… not to mention how motivating it was to have a successful photography business.
But eventually, my business grew to a point where I was shooting 2-3 weddings at a weekend. With the help of the associate photographers, I had to bring on board. We were doing about 60 weddings per year. On paper, being such a “successful” wedding photographer was a dream come true… until it started to take a toll on my body and mind.
I found it really hard to keep up with the physical demands of shooting such long days while holding two 10lb cameras and hustling to make sure I didn’t miss a beat.
I developed grip issues and shoulder problems, and though getting a weekly massage was now justified, it got to the point where I would have a “wedding hangover” the next day, where I could barely get out of bed because I was so sore and depleted. My body was failing me, and I knew I couldn’t keep this up forever. Something had to give!
After years of this cycle, I decided there HAD to be a better way to run my photography business. But part of me was afraid. I’d spent so long hustling and devoted so much of my life to growing a successful wedding business. I didn’t know if I’d be able to achieve the same success and make the same money if I gave up weddings. But eventually, the toll became so great on my body and mind that I didn’t care about the money anymore – it just had to be done. I was going to have to find a way to make it work.
In 2008, a turning point came. I attended a die-hard, guerrilla-style business workshop that opened my eyes to the possibility of running a successful photo studio.
Finally saw a way out of the wedding industry, and portrait photography was my ticket.
I spent the next year and a half finishing out my wedding contracts while simultaneously beginning to build my portrait business.
Now, it’s important to mention that my success as a portrait photographer didn’t happen overnight. I made the switch in 2009 during the housing market crash and the economy collapse. Definitely not the best timing, but I made it work!
While I was building this new business, I surrounded myself with people who were already successful in their portrait photography and who were making a living doing what I dreamed of. I quickly realized that there ARE people who can have successful photography businesses WITHOUT doing weddings. And if they could do it, so could I!
I invested a lot of time, money and energy into education, mentorships, and 1:1 experiences with others in the business. Seeing how my mentors found success helped me model my business after theirs, and eventually, my profits exceeded my wedding business days – moving past the $200,000/year mark.
All that was left was discovering the one missing ingredient that would boost my sales and success as a portrait photographer: selling artwork. When I decided to focus on providing a customized experience for my clients that included artwork packages, my income soared. Not only that, but helping people get beautiful images that they LOVED in their homes was just as, if not more, emotionally rewarding than shooting weddings!
If you take away nothing else from this blog, remember this:
YOU HAVE TO FIND A PATH THAT’S BOTH ENJOYABLE AND SUSTAINABLE.
When I realized weddings weren’t working for my body, I had to honor that. And during that first year as a portrait photographer, I learned that I really didn’t like shooting at locations I’m unfamiliar with, nor did I like shooting hairless cats or people on their motorcycles (true stories). And that’s okay! Acknowledging where my heart was in the business helped me learn what I wanted for my brand and find the place where my love for the craft and my business intersect.
For all the wedding photographers out there dealing with wedding burnout, there ARE other ways you can be in this business and still be successful. And you don’t have to work long hours, hustle every day, and work all your weekends away to do it.
Find what you love and make it sustainable. And most importantly, listen to yourself.
If it’s time to make the switch out of the wedding biz, you CAN do it (and still make money)! My business is a living example.