"It's a side of me that loves documenting people and telling their stories . . ."
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, and what do you do?
I am a wedding photographer in Chapel Hill, NC, living with my husband who is a 4th year medical student at UNC - Chapel Hill. I am the owner at Emily March Photography.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB?
I like to think I approach wedding photography differently from the other people in my industry. I am very much a people person, and the reason why I chose this profession is because of the relationship I get to have with people. I think I am a part of a moment that is incredibly intimate and powerful in a couple’s life.
As I have gotten more into photography I have fallen in love with the fact that I get to witness a couples’ first day of marriage. It really is a privilege to document that and give them something to cherish and be able to give something they can show their children and children’s children.
I love that I get to show up to a wedding day as their friend and not just another wedding vendor, because I am in communication with them from the moment they contact me months before the big day to when I deliver their photos. As a photographer I enjoy relationship building and gaining their trust in making them feel comfortable in front of the camera. Ultimately, I am giving them pictures that they feel amazing in, but also reflect their personalities. The images represent what their big day stood for in their lives!
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Most shoots are during the evenings or weekends, outside of normal business hours. So usually my 9-5 work day is not spent taking pictures. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer at home. The majority of my day is spent responding to emails, reviewing and organizing my budget, maintaining contact with my clients to make sure their questions are answered, editing photos, organizing shoots, and miscellaneous housekeeping items like cleaning my equipment. Outside of taking pictures, I am making sure they are being seen by people who need to see them and making sure it’s done quickly.
What aspects of your job do you like/dislike?
I love photography, and I have the ability to do something that I could do as a hobby. That love continues to motivate my work. I also love meeting people all the time - my clients and their families and friends. I enjoy getting excited with them through the process and being creative. I rely on that creative outlet to take detailed shots during a wedding and being able to tell a story with it. I also love the service aspect of being a photographer: calming down a bride and providing peace of mind to her on her big day.
The aspects that I don’t love are often dealing with the things that are not related to the creative side of me! I am by nature a creative person, and as such, I don't often enjoy dealing with the numbers, which are obviously important for the business side of things. I have grown to love it over the past few years, and I have found ways to make keeping a budget a creative process. However, I still do not enjoy filing taxes.
I think in any creative or artistic endeavor, your work is extremely personal and when creating something new, there is room for criticism. I have to accept that fact and that not everyone is going to love my work. I have learned that you can not please everyone. I really have to focus on making both the client’s expectations and my expectations clear from the beginning to prevent conflict.
When did you know this is what you wanted to do? Why did you want to pursue this career?
I knew spring of my junior year of college. I loved taking pictures, and for a long time I had this idea that if you were a professional photographer you must be working for National Geographic or a newspaper. Beyond that, I didn’t know there were other avenues for photography.
During my junior year as a student in the Journalism school at UNC - Chapel Hill, I interned with a wedding magazine because I really admired the editor. It exposed me to this entire industry that I had never thought about before.
I loved that it matched the creative side of me, which was showing up more in college. It is a side of me that loves documenting people and telling their stories, which appeals to the the hopeless romantic in me. These different sides fused together and created the perfect job. That is when I knew I wanted to pursue wedding photography. That following summer I started my own business.
What kind of equipment do you have, and how has that changed since you started?
Canon 5D Mark iii - $3099
Canon 7D - $999
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens - $1999
Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens - $1479
Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens - $1549
Canon 430ex ii speedlites - $299 each
Contax 645 kit - $4000
Sekonic L-358 light meter - $150-$300 depending where you buy
The prices above are current prices I found online. You can sometimes find things cheaper if they’re used, on eBay, etc. All the Canon things can be found on B&H Photo/Video. They are a great place to look for gear and to get a feel for pricing. Finding a good Contax kit can be hard, but I buy all my film gear from Contax Rental.
The company I rent from is lensrentals.com. Also, another big piece of advice just in general, is to pay cash for everything. Going into debt for your small business is usually not the best idea. While it’s great to have awesome gear, it’s better for the long-term health of your business to not be in debt. I don’t use any credit cards and have only bought gear when I had enough cash in a checking account to pay for it. Renting can unfortunately be pricey over the long haul and can be a pain, but it’s worth it to suck it up for a year instead of charging a $2k lens to a credit card when you don’t have the money to pay the bill.
What is the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
The biggest misconception is that all we do is take pictures. About 5% of my time is spent taking pictures! After you take those pictures, you have to edit them, call the client, deliver them, go to post office, and go to the bank if you accept checks.
As a photographer you have all those daily tasks that any business owner would have, such as accounting, sales, and emails! Emails from clients, email from potential clients, clients that love you, clients that are angry with you, clients from other vendors, and vendor requests for partnering in a shoot. Tons and tons of emails.
And on top of that, running a functional website. Rebranding takes months when you are working on changing the aesthetic of your website. For instance, how do you make a color pallette and logo fit your business mission? That can be difficult to convey to people. When readers get to your blog are they immediately smitten with you because of how it feels? That happens within seconds of readers viewing the homepage and if done correctly can lead to potential clients. Blogging takes hours. Reducing photos to a smaller amount and resizing them, uploading photos, and writing text.
Also managing social media accounts! If I shoot a bridal session for an hour, it takes about 2-3 weeks to get pictures back to them. After ordering prints, email communication, uploading photos to a gallery, and blogging then I can deliver my final product. A wedding that takes 8-9 hours to shoot, usually take 4-6 weeks to finish.
When I am taking pictures with a client, I am not thinking about the work that follows it. The small mundane tasks are so worth it because for the few hours that I am on my feet working at a wedding I am in paradise. It is bliss! It is completely worth it to spend another 6 weeks staring at the same couples’ faces because witnessing their wedding was so amazing.
What is the work/family/life balance like?
My husband is in medical school, so my perspective is a bit different than other photographers. I would say it's a great balance because I have control over my schedule, and it is nice knowing that if I need to make a change, my schedule is extremely flexible. I dictate my work hours so that if I want to go for a run in the middle of the day I can. It has provided a great lifestyle; for example, if my husband gets home early I’m not stuck at an office. I can spend that time with him and readjust my schedule to work at another time.
The down side is that I do work a lot of weekends and evenings. That not something you think about too much but guess what?! People get married on Saturdays! It is pretty much an all day event, and if you have to consider traveling, it becomes a weekend event. I will usually stay up until 1-2 am making sure everything all photos are backed up on my computer and are safely secured before I can sleep well.
My professional schedule gets booked WAY in advance so that can interfere with my personal schedule. Sometimes I miss my own friends’ weddings because I was already booked. When everyone else isn’t working you are, but the beauty of why that is okay for me is because I love what I do. Most people wouldn’t necessarily chose to work on Saturdays unless its something they love to do and are passionate about.
What is the salary like?
I am self-employed, so every dollar I make is split between professional and personal accounts. This varies between photographers. Some set a salary for themselves no matter how much they earned that month. I take a certain percentage of everything my business earns each month and that is our income. I save the balance for taxes and other business/equipment expenses. We know how much money we need each month, and we budget accordingly.
I could not live off of the money I earned when I first started my business, so I worked a few part-time jobs in order to pay rent. The money I made the first year was kept in the business. It wasn't until the next year that I was able to set aside personal income. It took about 2.5 years for me to be earning enough to support myself full-time.
My company’s revenue doubled between my second and third year from 2014-2015. I am incredibly blessed, and I was in a season of life with many engaged friends graduating college. I had an awesome first round of weddings, and those clients came with great referrals. That allowed me to maintain a profitable business.
Wedding photography is very seasonal, so most of our income is earned between April and November. Unless someone is getting married in January, we see a very sharp decrease in income until the next April. If you want to start a business that is profitable, I suggest budgeting to be able to build a business that is profitable. This comes from buying lenses, cameras, etc. As you charge more, you need to give more. Own gear that represents a brand and business that is doing well. Remember, when owning your own business you have to account for equipment maintenance, advertising, travel expenses, and business insurance.
I had no business experience prior to starting Emily March Photography, but it has been that much more motivating/necessary to focus on the business aspect because I now have personal financial goals. If you are charging well and running your business efficiently, you can profit. It has been so fun to watch my business grow.
What would you tell someone who wanted to pursue your career?
To claim to do anything professionally, you need the skills and portfolio. When you first start out you should be charging $300 for a wedding, not $3,000. Making sure you know how to shoot in manual is obviously important and also making sure you know how you want your photos to look. It is easy to get swept up in other photographers’ styles, and it is very important to find your own voice.
People are hiring you for what you put out there, not what you WANT to put out there. So early on, set expectations, understand what clients you want to work for. I wished I had thought about that earlier and had been prepared to say “no” when necessary. It is hard to turn down a paying client, but it’s not worth it to accept a client that is not a good fit for your brand or your sanity. Additionally, make sure you have proper legal filings that are associated with running a business. Ultimately, it takes a little bit of that ‘jumping off a cliff feeling’ and accepting that there will be failure along the way, but it will be okay.
What are your long term goals with your career and business?
My goals have changed a lot since I started. My biggest goal was to go full time, and then when I did that, I thought, “What is next?” Shooting in film is an expensive investment but something that I think is really rewarding and satisfying. I would love to pursue shooting in film and be more exclusive with the technique and also travel more outside of the country for my work. I absolutely love to travel and taking pictures in the Dominican Republic, Italy, or Paris . . . swoon. Lastly, I would love to be able to be a full-time mom and business owner whenever that season of life rolls around. Being able to manage my workload to have time for raising children and still being profitable would be ideal.
Any other stories or anecdotes that you would like to add?
I witness lots of people falling to catch the bouquet. But, the sweetest thing is if I can get a hug from the mom of the bride after the wedding. That seals the deal!