How I Became a Wedding Photographer

January 21, 2020

My journey to becoming a wedding photographer has been a long one.

It’s been the kind of hike where I didn’t actually have a destination as I left the trailhead, but I kept taking different paths based on what looked like it might lead me to nice views. And after some serious stretches of elevation gain, getting lost along the way, scrambling up rocks, and having to pull out my microspikes to get across the icy patches, here I am.

Making bad hiking metaphors, and working in the dream job I never actually know I wanted.

But I know how much I’ve learned along the way, and I’m hoping some of it can be helpful to you, too.

So if you want to learn how I went from charging $25 from boudoir sessions for my friends to making six figures as a wedding photographer, keep reading!

Wedding photographer and couple during winter elopement in Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve never considered myself a creative person. I was the kid who’d groan every time I was asked to draw, paint, or create anything in school. I thought I was bad at art, like that’s a thing.

Then when I moved to the U.S. in 2010, I bought an entry level DSLR, and started taking photos for my blog as a way to keep my friends and family back in Norway up to date no my life.

And my photos were bad, by my current standards.

But I got tons of practice in that first year, because I brought my camera everywhere. 

By 2012, my friends were asking me to take photos of them. And I was charging $25-100 for portrait sessions, not believing my luck that I could make money doing something as easy as taking photos. (I know, I’m rolling my eyes too.)

At the same time, I was working as an aerial dance instructor at a local studio. I started photographing our student showcases, taking photos of our classes, and eventually doing portrait sessions for students and instructors alike.

In 2013, I officially started my business as Nina Reed Photography.

I did boudoir sessions, family portraits, dance and yoga photos, performances – anything and everything that I could get my hands on. I decided to drop out of college and go all in on my business, but picked up a nannying job on the side. Because let’s be real, those $100 photo shoots weren’t paying the bills.

In 2015, I joined a local photography studio share, quit my nannying job, and went all in on my business. I started building a reputation in the pole and aerial dance community, and was traveling around the country to photograph competitions and events. I did my first international trip, with photo shoots in Iceland and Norway. It was pretty much the coolest thing I’d ever done – and who cares if my income didn’t quite cover my travel expenses?

In 2016, I did a total of 301 photo shoots in five countries and seven states, photographed world championships in Prague and competitions in Norway and Sweden … and made a whooping $20,000 – before travel expenses.

I knew something had to change. I was at the top of a game that there was no way of winning.

And at the end of 2016, I found my answer.

One of my friends from aerial dance asked me to do an anniversary session for her and her husband. She knew I’d never done anything like it before, but I had photographed her in studio so many times that she trusted me. We met up in a field outside Boulder at sunrise on the last day of 2016, and I. freaking. loved. it.

A few weeks later, in January 2017, I was a bridesmaid at my friend Cat’s wedding at Dunton Hot Springs – aka my number one favorite epic wedding venue in all of Colorado. I brought my camera, and took photos before the official photographers showed up for the day. (Don’t worry – I did not Uncle Bob the wedding.)

But chatting with her photographers that day, who were so nice for putting up with my rookie questions, I realized that wedding photography might be way more fun than I’d ever pictured.

And so I went all in. I decided to start a new photography business (because I didn’t want potential clients to see my dance photos and judge me for them), and become a wedding photographer.

I knew I’d never get anywhere without a decent portfolio, and so I started photographing my friends for “engagement sessions.” I built a new website, started an Instagram profile, and went to as many local networking events for photographers as I could find.

At one of these events in the spring of 2017, I met Shanna. She let me come along to second shoot for her at a wedding where the couple hadn’t booked a second, so I could get some practice. And at the same time, I was using Facebook groups like Denver Photo Betties to comment on every single second shooter needed post I could find. 

And because I already had a decent website, and enough couples portraits to show that I kinda knew what I was doing, I started booking second shooter gigs. In the summer of 2017, I second shot 17 weddings for 14 different photographers. I also managed to book two elopements of my own via Craigslist ads, and really hit the jackpot with one of them: the couple wanted to elope in a hot air ballon!

That was the first elopement I ever shot on my own, and the photos got me published in Rocky Mountain Bride, and on the list of Artists of the Year by LooksLikeFilm. 

I booked a few more weddings off Craigslist. I kept photographing friends for free as often as possible, to get more practice and build my portfolio. And for 2018, I booked 33 weddings and elopements of my own, in addition to second shooting 9 more. 

I like setting big goals. The kind of goals that seem completely unrealistic until suddenly one day you’ve reached them. 

My big goal for 2018 was six figure revenue in my first full year of photographing weddings. And I did it. 

So I set the bar higher for 2019, and wrote “SIX FIGURE PROFIT” in all caps in my note books. And I reached that goal, too.

Now here I am, at the beginning of 2020. I’ve photographed over 100 weddings and elopements in the past three years. I’ve reached every booking and financial goal I’ve set for myself. And while I’m still “new” to this industry, the journey to get here has been a long one. 

I freaking love my job as a wedding photographer. 

But before I was ever a photographer, I worked as a pre-K teacher in Norway. Then as an aerial dance teacher in Boulder. Education has always been in my blood. 

And I’m really excited to focus more on education for photographers in the coming year. 

Because getting started as a wedding photographer does not have to be difficult. I truly don’t believe that I’m more talented than anyone else who tries this thing. I just knew where to focus my energy, and what tasks to prioritize to grow my business quickly. 

And I have 100% faith that you can do that too.