How to Get Your First Paying Client - Jai Long

For Wedding Photographers

With so many talented photographers out there hustling to make their break, the wedding photography industry is getting more competitive with each passing day. Couples are being overwhelmed by all the available choices, spending days researching online to find the right person for their day.

So if you’re new to the industry, it’s no surprise that you might be doubting your abilities or worrying if there’s enough room for you at the table. Without a solid portfolio, you’re probably stressing about how you can get your foot in the door by securing your first lead. You want to prove to yourself (and all the naysayers) that you have what it takes to build a successful career in wedding photography. All you need is that first paying client!

I feel you…trust me, I’ve been there. Looking back on the time when I was first starting out, I can’t believe the number of mistakes I made. I was a second shooter at my first ever wedding and accidentally shot the entire day in JPEG instead of raws. Needless to say, I was immediately fired. When I finally got my first paying client at $500, I had no idea what I was doing. Rather than staying for the whole day, I left at the start of their reception, thinking that the wedding was “over”. But hey, no one’s perfect and we all learn and grow from our mistakes, right?

I know how scary it can feel when you’re just starting out. That’s why I invited Joy Zamora onto the ‘Make Your Break’ podcast to brainstorm and chat about how we did it back in the day and how you can get your first lead!

Our 12 biggest tips and ideas for getting your first lead

While I’ve collated the main points from our chat below, you’ll quickly notice a common theme – get out of your comfort zone and go out there to find your dream clients. They’re not going to come knocking on your door, begging you to shoot their wedding if they don’t know you exist. Rather than sitting at home, stressing over launching a perfect website or attracting more Instagram followers, find out how you can get in front of them. Life happens in the real world, not in the safety of your home.

how to get your first lead

Every day is a new day to take action on new opportunities, you just need to make them happen. You’ve got nothing to lose! If anything, you’ll be finessing your people and sales skills every time you get uncomfortable and put yourself out there.

1. Don’t make things easy for yourself

The day you decided to become a wedding photographer is the day you chose to pursue your passion and create a new lifestyle. Nursing your creativity, you need to push yourself to stay hungry and inspired. Taking the easy route is the quickest way to lose sight of your ‘why’ and purpose.

Sometimes, you need to deliberately corner yourself so you can fight your way out of there. For example, if you’re relying on the security of your “day job” or part-time job, you’ll never treat wedding photography as a real business. Having a backup will keep you playing it safe in your comfort zone and you’ll never explore your full potential.

2. Be disruptive by setting new trends

There’s a huge competition in the wedding photography industry and you’ll never stand out if you’re just following the trends. Do whatever you can to create something new and unexpected. Become the new trendsetter. Experiment and have fun with it!

As I always say, “Don’t let something in your industry surprise your business. Instead, surprise your industry.”

3. Work on your social skills so you can truly connect with people

At the end of the day, people will book you because they want to work with YOU – not because of your portfolio or how many Instagram followers you have. Grow your network like you’re spreading a spiderweb.

Be nice and focus on building real, meaningful connections with people, rather than selling your services. Become a master problem solver and they’ll see your value.

4. Find the people who are at the centre of the community

Think of the people in your community who have the most conversations or are the most widely connected. Whether it’s your hairdresser or the barista at your local cafe, these are people whose jobs revolve around interacting with other people.

They’re the ones who know everybody so tell them what you do! Give them your business card or ask them how you can help them spread the word about your business. Their next customer might be someone who’s newly engaged and looking for a wedding photographer.

5. Edit in public places

This may sound silly but people are naturally curious beings. Change things up by working in a cafe or a public space for a day. As you’re editing photos, people might strike up a conversation because they’re curious about what you’re working on.

You can even put a sticker on your laptop that says something attention-grabbing like “Hey, talk to me!” or “I’m a wedding photographer, wanna chat?”

6. Connect with wedding venues

Wedding venues need photos to promote their space AND they want to have trusted photographer recommendations to share with their couples. Drive around to all the different venues and introduce yourself in person to the venue’s team. Ask them how you can provide them value or how you can help them better serve their couples.

7. Attend wedding photography workshops and conferences

Workshops and events aren’t just for levelling up your knowledge. Often it’s the in-between moments where you chat and network with the other attendees that count! It’s a great way to meet like-minded people and open yourself up to new opportunities.

8. Join community groups on Facebook

Besides wedding or photography related Facebook groups, you can join local community groups to expand your network. Whether it’s a buy, swap, sell group or a group for local parents, the more you spread awareness about your business, the more you’ll get in front of the right people. They might not be looking for your services but they may be able to refer you to a family member, friend or colleague.

9. Offer to second shoot for more experienced photographers

Taking the first step to shoot a wedding on your own can be scary, especially if you have no idea what to expect. Connect with more experienced photographers and offer to second shoot weddings for them so you can gain first-hand experience and learn from them.

10. Submit your work to magazines and blogs

Create work that you’re proud of and submit it to wedding magazines and blogs. Don’t be disheartened if your submission gets rejected. Keep submitting because all you need is one ‘yes’. If you want 1 feature, submit your work to 10 publications. A single feature can lead to 10 enquiries.

11. Join online wedding directories

This one can be a bit of a hit and miss, depending on which wedding directory you’re joining. If you’re desperate to gain visibility and earn some money, wedding directories are a starting place as they often rank high on Google. While you may have to field a lot of “low quality” enquiries, you’ll still be getting the opportunity to expand your portfolio and online presence.

12. Organise styled shoots

Your photography style will evolve as you grow. If you want to create work that’s on-trend or if you’re looking to set a new trend, styled shoots are a great way to experiment with new styles.

On the other hand, if you’ve never booked a destination wedding, you can organise an epic styled shoot overseas to help you attract more of those clients. You can also offer to shoot a dream destination wedding for free. A free shoot can attract paying clients in the future.

Do it for the passion, not the money

Never get complacent – your clients are not responsible for paying your bills. You aren’t entitled to their money. And the fact is, there are plenty of easier ways to make money.

Keep nurturing your commitment to self-growth and showing up with relentlessness. That’s how you’ll build a sustainable business where you can keep making money from doing what you love.

Don’t give up, you’ve got this!

P.S. If you haven’t watched my Jack Short documentary yet, make sure you head over to my homepage and watch it for extra motivation!


Joy zamora Joy Zamora is a destination wedding photographer and educator.

Follow him on Instagram @darkmaito

Learn more about his course: https://theprocess.es/ (for Spanish-speaking creatives)

how to get your first paying client

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Jai Long

Mar 29

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How to Get Your First Paying Client

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