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Wedding photography is a fierce sport. Ferocious technical skill and a jam-packed mental playbook are the fundamentals you’ll need just to step foot on the field. And, of course, a well-defined, signature style keeps any star in the mind of the public. But what truly wins games, separating the pros from the fauxs, is a sharp business mind. With an eye on the long game, top wedding photographers are continually balancing shifting priorities to meet—and surpass—client expectations while maintaining a successful personal branding strategy and ever-changing advertising models.

We caught up with five powerhouse professionals who have found success with an international client base to let us in on some of their most successful methods for advertising, booking and maintaining their businesses. (And we scored their gear list, too!) So read on—this is stuff for the highlight reel.

Next Exit Photography | CAT AND ADI BENNER | www.nextexitphotography.com

Sometimes quirky, sometimes romantic, the wedding imagery created by husband-and-wife duo Cat and Adi Benner of Next Exit Photography always has a sense of authenticity that lets you into the quirks, sparks and personalities of each individual couple. Documentary-style photographer Adi met Cat through Cat’s Los Angeles wedding planning firm. The combination of the two’s ability to put couples at ease while catching intimate editorial moments has led Next Exit Photography to be recognized worldwide and become a five-time winner of the Best of The Knot Award.

What’s the single most important business advice you’ve learned through your wedding photography experience?

What’s most important to your clients is the real you. That’s what they need to fall in love with in order to sign your contract. From Google to national blogs, WeddingWire, Yelp and The Knot, brides are hitting almost every resource they can during their research phase, so by the time they email you, they should already want you. Selling pretty pictures isn’t enough. Trust is when your client looks through your website or blog or Facebook, and sees the consistency and professionalism that fills them up as much as the emotive images that you chose to share.

What has been the most vital piece of promotion you’ve invested in?

Frankly, we’ve never invested much in paid advertising. We’ve found that investing our time and commitment, rather than our dollars, has had a higher return.

What method has led to your greatest success in booking clients?

Fantastic relationships and proven results with past clients, along with partner wedding planners and local venues, have always been and continue to be our best source of referrals and bookings.

Cat And Adi Benner’s Gear
Nikon D4S Nikon D3S Nikon D3 Nikon D700 AF-S NIKKOR 35mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S NIKKOR 50mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S NIKKOR 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm ƒ/2 D AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 12-24mm ƒ/4G IF-ED AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm ƒ/2.8D IF-ED AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II 10.5mm ƒ/2.8G ED DX Fisheye NIKKOR
Nikon Speedlights and accessories Profoto ComPact-R 600 kit Transmitters and receivers, various brands Softboxes and umbrellas

What are your top-three tips for creating a positive working relationship with your clients?

1) Underpromise and overdeliver.
2) Make your clients feel like they’re part of your family.
3) Try not to say "No." Focus on "Let’s try."

What’s your "must-capture" wedding moment?

We aim to capture the most spontaneous and genuine interactions of the wedding day. True emotion, captured, is what it’s all about.

Do you shoot wedding video along with still photography?

No, we prefer to focus on what we’re best at—taking pictures.

What has been your most effective use of social media to support your business?

Posting "teaser" Facebook galleries has created real-time referrals. After our edit, but before we send the whole gallery to our client—and assuming we have permission—we post a selection of our favorites to Facebook, tag our clients and watch the images circle the globe.

Brian Dorsey Studios | BRIAN DORSEY | www.briandorseystudios.com

Brian Dorsey is based out of New York City, but travels throughout Europe, South America and the Caribbean for weddings and events. While always striving to make the wedding couple and family more comfortable, he’s excited to tackle new challenges, too. Dorsey is also a regular contributor to New York Magazine, Town & Country and The Knot. His big-hit back-pocket wedding skill: He can tie a bow tie!

What’s the single most important business advice you’ve learned through your wedding photography experience?

If you treat your clients exactly as you would want them to treat you if you were hiring them, you can never go wrong. We don’t sell anything we wouldn’t want ourselves.

What has been the most vital piece of promotion you’ve invested in?

We handmake our portfolios and marketing materials in-house. It’s a huge expense, in terms of time and money, but once someone is interested enough to meet with you, you need to really "wow" them in person.

What method has led to your greatest success in booking clients?

We’re open and honest, and come at things from the perspective of consultants rather than salespeople. We try to understand what a client’s needs are and help them achieve them, even when it means we do less business.

What are your top-three tips for creating a positive working relationship with your clients?

1) Never, ever lose your cool, even when everything is working against you. If the wedding planner tells you at the last second that your half-hour scheduled portrait time has been reduced to three minutes and has to be done in a cardboard box, it just means we’ve been challenged to quickly create an amazing cardboard box picture. That’s fun.

Brian Dorsey’s Gear
"My own shooting style f
ocuses on grabbing real-life moments, which means a lot of subject movement and split-second timing. I always find myself going with the pieces that are simplest and allow me to work the fastest. Give me a couple of Canon EOS-1D Xs, a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 IS, and I’m happy. The new Canon 600EX flashes are a godsend when you need to quickly set up lighting for those family formals."

2) Make sure you’re working to meet your client’s needs on the wedding day, not yours. Keep in mind that this is their wedding day. Our client’s experience of their day should be far more important than requiring their involvement in creating great photographs.

3) The answer is always "Yes."

What’s your "must-capture" wedding moment?

The most important shot of the day for me is the one that timelessly preserves a moment of connection between the couple. Those moments can come at anytime in the day and they’re fleeting, so you always have to be on the lookout, ready to grab it. That’s the shot that will be the most important to them as a couple in the years ahead.

Morgan Lynn Photography | MORGAN LYNN | www.morganlynnphotography.com

Houston-based Morgan Lynn started photographing weddings when she was 18 years old. After receiving her BA in Fine Arts/Photography from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Morgan continued to shoot as Morgan Lynn Photography. In 2010, Morgan Lynn Photography became a husband-and-wife team, with Morgan’s husband Amir joining the business. The couple shoots worldwide.

What’s the single most important business advice you’ve learned through your wedding photography experience?

Creating amazing photos for your clients should be your first priority as a wedding photographer! Astonishing your clients goes a long way in building a business for the long term in the way people view your brand and talk about you in the community.

What has been the most vital piece of promotion you’ve invested in?

We’ve been fortunate to not have had to make any significant advertising investments because our word-of-mouth business is so strong. Therefore, taking the time to deliver quality work and excellent customer service have been our most vital business investment. From a branding perspective, the most significant investment we’ve made was updating our presentation materials, including stationery and packaging, to be consistent with the sophisticated, high-end look and feel we aspire to have in our studio.

What method has led to your greatest success in booking clients?

Hands down, our focus on exceeding client expectations during their experience working with us has been the most successful method of booking clients and expanding our business. When we deliver great work and great service, the booking takes care of itself. But no matter how great, the work needs to be seen. Ensuring that we’re taking the time to put our best photos forward through social media, the blog and website, we set ourselves up for positive word-of-mouth referrals.

What are your top-three tips for creating a positive working relationship with your clients?

Aside from delivering great work:
1) Client attentiveness, such as responding to emails, questions etc., in a timely manner. We’re a small boutique studio, so being available and responsive is even more important for us in order to connect with our clients on a personal level and earn their trust.
2) Friendliness. Sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked. Genuine likability goes a long way to support a positive working relationship.
3) Professionalism. Give thorough information about services, check grammar/spelling with all written correspondence, dress appropriately at portrait sessions and wedding events, be respectful and polite, etc. Nothing hurts your business reputation more than unprofessional behavior. Think before you speak and act. You’re constantly representing your brand.

Morgan Lynn’s Gear
Nikon professional system, including the D4, D3S and D800 AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm ƒ/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II AF-S NIKKOR 85mm ƒ/1.4G AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G ED Nikon SB-910 Speedlights Elinchrom Quadra Ranger set with modifiers Roscolux gels
"The 24-70mm is my primary lens of choice, and I almost always have it on one of my cameras throughout a wedding day. The focal range is incredibly versatile and allows me to react to nearly any situation, especially useful in tighter corners when I need to capture a wider scene. The zoom allows me to remain mostly inconspicuous, which is important for us at weddings."

What’s your "must-capture" wedding moment?

I try not to build up a single moment as a "must-capture" moment because it affects the way I shoot at weddings. We never miss the traditional wedding moments, but these aren’t necessarily what make a wedding day special. Treating the entire day as though any moment could be a potential "must capture" keeps us on our toes and leads to genuinely unique photos.

Do you shoot wedding video along with still photography?

We only shoot still photography. We’ve considered shooting video and appreciate its value to our clients, but we prefer to focus on what we’re most passionate about. It’s a challenge to tell a story in one single photograph and we thrive on that during the wedding day.

What has been your most effective use of social media to support your business?

We honestly don’t utilize social media as effectively as we could. We do, however, make a point to share our work and professional accomplishments as much as possible. In many ways, simply sharing our travel adventures and personal milestones on Facebook and Instagram gives our clients a chance to connect with us on a more personal level.

Eleven Weddings | CHIP LITHERLAND | www.elevenweddings.com

Chip Litherland met his wife Elaine while in Las Vegas betting 11 on roulette. When he hit big, he spent the money wooing Elaine, leading to their own Vegas wedding and two daughters. Litherland brings this full spirit to Sarasota, Fla.-based Eleven Weddings Photography, named after his winning bet on 11. With a photojournalistic style, he’s always keeping his eyes open and camera ready.

What’s the single most important business advice you’ve learned through your wedding photography experience?

The best advice I can give is to be yourself, shoot how you shoo
t, and just be authentic. Brides and grooms are paying a ton of money to have you there, so you owe it to them to deliver an amazing experience for them by making it easy and fun while at the same time remaining professional. It’s a delicate balance, but I always try to be up front with my style and how I work and remain true to that.

What has been the most vital piece of promotion you’ve invested in?

One thing I always do on the back end is deliver a good edit of 25 to 50 images within 24 hours, no matter what. I’m trying to beat their friends’ terrible iPhone photos and make sure they have good pictures to share on social media the next day. It buys me a few weeks for the rest of the images and creates instant gratification and a ton of viral marketing right away. Most people are really surprised to get them the next day, and their friends and family on Facebook see that, too. That lays the groundwork for future gigs.

What method has led to your greatest success in booking clients?

I like to deliver a really unique blend of vibrant imagery that sticks to my style and has fundamental roots in photojournalism. I had no idea that photojournalism was a "style" in wedding photography; it’s just what I do. I’m addicted to pictures that just ooze color. I’ve really stopped looking at other wedding photography and bridal blogs, and just continue to try to better myself visually.

What are your top-three tips for creating a positive working relationship with your clients?

1) Solve problems before they become one. I always plan ahead, scout locations, figure out what I want to do and when, and make sure it fits into their schedule. Simplify everything and stay organized, but be able to roll with the punches if things change.

2) Stick to the vision that got you booked in the first place and push it at every wedding. Nothing can be worse than forcing a style into your portfolio, then not being able to produce it when the wedding comes. Know your vision and stay true to it. If your bride wants traditional and you’re not that, then send her on to someone who does that.

3) Have fun. You spend more time with the bride and groom on the biggest day of their lives, and being able to have fun while remaining professional is key. Don’t make the day about you. Being able to get a hug from the bride at the end of the night and a family bragging how great you were to work with is the best thing in the world.

Chip Litherland’s Gear
2 Canon EOS-1D X bodies Canon EOS 5D Mark III for remotes and backup Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II Sigma 50mm ƒ/1.4 Art Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 Art Canon 600EX Speedlites PocketWizard transmitters Canon transmitter Bolt battery packs
"I carry a Think Tank Retrospective 5 bag alongside my Think Tank roller with a bunch of toys in it, like a small toy prism, broken stained glass, Justin clamp and a handful of video LED lights I’ll handhold and use for portraits and playing around with light. I always carry mints and gum—less for me and more for sharing with bridesmaids—and leave room to carry stuff for the bride like her makeup and tissues, if she needs it. Trust me, that last part is a great trick to keeping the customer service experience awesome."

What’s your "must-capture" wedding moment?

Every wedding is different. I don’t have a "must-capture" moment or a "signature picture." I generally let the day unfold as it does and try to make my pictures as unique as each couple I photograph.

Do you shoot wedding video along with still photography?

I don’t shoot video right now, as I want to focus all my energy into making the best-quality photos.

What has been your most effective use of social media to support your business?

My 24-hour turnaround on a gallery the next morning is, by far, the most effective means of social media. I always put up a blog post the next day on my blog and supplement that with a Facebook gallery I post on their walls. It generates a ton of traffic to my site and also surprises family members when they get the photos that quick. Obviously, using their wedding hashtag—they always have one now—and tagging them helps.

Tremaine Photography | ALEXANDRA TREMAINE | www.tremainephotography.com

Regardless of her subject matter, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico-based photographer Alexandra Tremaine follows the credo "Capture the world in a simple, yet beautiful way." With a Professional Photography degree from Brooks Institute of Photography, Tremaine is technical and precise, yet her ability to be playful, connected and to embrace the unexpected is what gives her images their unique tone. In addition to her wedding photography, Tremaine contributes editorial and lifestyle images to clients like Yahoo!, Golf Digest and Jupiter Images.

What’s the single most important business advice you’ve learned through your wedding photography experience?

If I had to narrow it down, it would be to be friends with your competition. You can help each other out in so many different ways, from pep talks to tech talks, from assisting to editing, from inspiration to collaborations, and the list goes on. I’ve recently moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, and the first thing I did, months in advance, was to get in touch with the local wedding photographers. You never know when you’ll get a referral or might need an assistant. The industry is large enough for everyone; no one person can photograph more than one wedding a day.

What has been the most vital piece of promotion you’ve invested in?

Word of mouth is, by far, the best promotional advice. I’ve received more clients through word of mouth than any other way. Facebook is wonderful, as well. The life of a single photo on Facebook can be seen and shared and discovered by thousands of people. I’ve run Facebook ads, which have been helpful, but the new "promote my page" tool on Facebook recently doubled my Facebook likes.

What method has led to your greatest success in booking clients?

I show my true personality and speak honestly about my career as a photographer. Usually, I tell them about the first wedding I ever photographed, where I had a full-out panic attack in between the ceremony and reception. I had to lie down on the floor and take deep breaths—don’t worry I had privacy! I believe that clients like this candor, especially when I describe how I’ve become so confident photographing weddings. While the pressure and responsibility are still there, now all I get is excitement for their day. I talk about the energy of the wedding day and how dealing with pre-ceremony nerves and anticipation is a big part of what I do.

What are your top-three tips for creating a positive
working relationship with your clients?

1) Be interested in getting to know your couple, both as individuals and together as a unit. How did they meet, what was the engagement like?

2) Work with them on their needs and create a wedding-day package that’s perfect for them. I tell my clients to use my packages as a template, but to tell me exactly what they want in a package.

3) Be prompt with responding to emails and phone calls, even if it’s to tell them that you’ll email them a more lengthy email later because at the moment you’re swamped.

What’s your "must-capture" wedding moment?

The romantics are, by far, my favorite part of my day, as I get full creative control to capture stunning photos of this couple that will last a lifetime. I usually tell them that this is their private time together and walk away for a few minutes and let them do their thing. From afar, I’ll take a wide photograph of the couple in their setting, then go back in for different and more personal photos. Sometimes I only have 10 minutes for this, but I shoot fast and move fast, and it’s important for me that the couple gets back to their party.

Do you shoot wedding video along with still photography?

I only offer still photography. I already photograph so many different genres that adding video would prove all my professors right: "Don’t be a jack of all and a master of none." I love weddings and portraits because I can make a difference in people’s lives, and it feeds my soul.

Alexandra Tremaine’s Gear
2 Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs
Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L II
Canon EF 50mm ƒ/1.2L
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L
Canon EF 100mm ƒ/2.8L Macro
2 Canon 580EX II Speedlites

What has been your most effective use of social media to support your business?

To be honest, social media and I have been on a downward cycle recently, as I’ve been after a more meaningful and present existence. However, I know its vitality to my business and the track record I’ve had shows that Facebook is the most effective social-media tool. If it’s not an ad or a page post, it’s friends recommending me on another friend’s posts looking for a photographer. They plug in my website and it comes up with a nice thumbnail, people click and some email me, while others might save my name for later. You never know.

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