How 1 Free Wedding Led to 22 Paid Weddings

One November evening, I told the Hubs that I was going to help a friend shoot a 50th birthday party using my Dad's old Canon SLR - that would be a film camera.  When I got back from the event, he asked me how it went and I told him that I was going to start my own photography company shooting events. Like the supportive husband he is, he gave me the side eye and just went with it.

For Christmas, the in-laws gave me a gift card to purchase my first Digital SLR (DSLR) which I did.  I scoured Ebay for the best package deals and I found myself a Canon Rebel with a bunch of accessories that I thought I needed, but really never used after that first month. 

With a camera in hand, I needed to build a portfolio.  I did take photos of my cousin's wedding with someone's point and shoot and, at the time, even did their "formal portraits" with said point and shoot.  That was at least two years before getting my Rebel. So, I asked my cousin for copies of her wedding so I can use it to market myself, then I went to the trusty-ish Craigslist. I posted ads in every category I could looking for models and offering to shoot 1 wedding for free. After a few days, I started to get nervous.  I mean, I didn't have a website because I had zero images to post and I was practically begging people on Craigslist if I can take their photos - how online stalker vibey was that? But, thankfully, someone took the bait and I met the nicest lady who was getting married for the second time.  They were an older couple, both with kids and they were on a very tight budget. She said, she was thinking of having one of the older kids take photos so anything I could do, she would love. And that was my in.

Being this would be my first wedding, not only was I absolutely freaking out on the inside because I was still learning how to use the camera but this was someone's wedding. WEDDING. In the parking lot of the very humble veterans hall, I pumped myself up and told myself that I could totes do this.  With my head straight, I put the little "how to use" camera settings cheat sheet in my back pocket and went inside.

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There, I met the sweetest, most gentle bride and her very polite pre-teen son. As weddings go, it was hectic and somewhat chaotic. And, it was beautiful to watch. So I started shooting. It may not have been the ideal backdrop with wood paneling everywhere the eye could see; it may have been hot and crowded in the space provided; it may not have had the best lighting; it did, however, have the main characters of a love story who absolutely made my first job easy by living in the moment.  Living in their moment of love, joy, and kindness.  There was no mistaking who's day this was and amongst the chaos and wood paneling, love was most definitely the elephant in the room.

With these photos, I was able to create a few ads in the following months, I was hired 22 times.  Each wedding got a little bigger than the last with each venue getting a bit fancier than the last.  That 1 free wedding in a veterans hall in my home town of Sacramento took me to chic barn weddings a few hours away from home to posh beach resort weddings in Southern California. With a cheat sheet in my back pocket and my little Rebel in hand, we gained some miles and experience that I wouldn't trade for anything else.  My husband's side eye disappeared and weekends turned into mini get-aways. That 1 free wedding led to 22 paid weddings in my first year. That 1 free wedding opened up a career as a wedding and events photographer for the next 6 years. That 1 free wedding turned out to be pretty dang priceless. So, if you’re wondering whether or not you should do a free wedding, I can’t tell you to do it but I also can’t tell you that you shouldn’t.

Keep going friend. You’re getting close!

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