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Becoming A D.C. Photographer


Washington, D.C. is one of the most cut-throat, competitive, career-driven cities in America. The only two that come close in my mind are New York City and Los Angeles. Moving here was an immensely scary thing. But after two and a half years, I’ve seen a lot change in myself and my business – for the better. Here’s my story of becoming a D.C. photographer, in a place full of amazing photographers.

Moving to D.C.

I moved to D.C. for a job… no not photography. If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you know I work in digital marketing. Nearly a year after I graduated college, I landed a job at a small boutique writing firm in Georgetown. I had no connections here outside of that job offer – no friends, no church, no family. Just my trusty camera with me and a dream for something a little more.

Washington, D.C. Capitol dome; D.C. wedding photographer

And believe it or not, I had no idea I’d become a D.C. photographer when I got here. I did not start taking paying clients until after I arrived. It was here in the DMV where I realized my trusty little camera had a lot of dream-making power.

Before I knew it, a few sessions for friends turned in to a few sessions for strangers who became friends… and Emily Nicole Photography was born in January 2019 with a vision to specialize in weddings.

Breaking Into the D.C. Wedding Industry

This area does not need another D.C. photographer – especially wedding photographers. It can be discouraging to try and build a business in a city that doesn’t seem to need you. But if I’ve learned one thing in business, it’s that the scarcity mentality is a myth we tell ourselves. In a big city like this, there are more brides and future brides than there ever will be photographers.

So how does someone just arrive in a busy metropolitan and start a wedding business? Use your resources. Take advantage of how saturated the market is with like-minded entrepreneurs and get to know people. Here’s how I did just that to earn seven weddings in my first year alone:

  1. Be yourself. The biggest lesson I learned from some of my favorite photographers is that being authentically you in your business goes a LONG way. And it’s so true! Showing people more of my life on Instagram, in my blog, and in face-to-face interactions with clients has gained me more business, more engagements, and more real connections with the people I’ve served. People love hiring people they connect with. And I love booking clients I enjoy working for. It’s a win-win to show the world who you truly are, even the quirky things about you (like how I own too many houseplants and have a cat with the most human name possible… my little Ryan).
  2. Second shoot for photographers you admire. Send Instagram DM’s, emails, Facebook messages, whatever you can to tell your fellow business-owners you admire their work and would love to learn from them. Sometimes that means an unpaid second shooting job or two just to gain experience, but it’s worth it to find those people willing to take you under their wing and give you some hands-on time at a wedding. Meet them via Facebook groups or Honeybook forums.
  3. Ask your new friends questions. Find a community with those people, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how they got started, what they do to stay active in the area, and who they know that they can connect you to. Still working on building that community? Reach out to me! I’d love to chat with you more about how my business started.
  4. Photograph everything. Get into the habit of brigning your camera along when you explore your new city. Get to know the area, and blog about your new adventures! By blogging about all the local sites on your website, you are building SEO rankings – meaning, those locally-known keywords are now being associated with your business according to Google.
  5. Treat every client like luxury-level clients. You may just be starting out, charging $50/portrait session or less than $1000 wedding services, but you won’t stay there forever. Regardless, the thing that gets you further is offering a superb client experience, no matter how much or how little they’ve paid you. Every client deserves the best, because they took a chance on your business to help you grow and to place their family photos/their wedding in your hands.
  6. Start small, and be patient. You won’t know everything on day one. You can’t try every marketing tactic there is in week one. These things take time and discipline, something I’m STILL working on. Two years of business is still very early in the game. Be patient and don’t get discouraged. Keep steadily working at it!

A Message to My Fellow Beginner D.C. Photographer

If you’re just starting out, or trying to decide if you should, I applaud you!! Take that chance and give it your best shot. Whether you’re a fellow D.C. photographer like me, or you’re one in Richmond, Atlanta, New York City, or any other big city in the U.S., these little strategies I mentioned could help you even in the most saturated markets. It doesn’t produce results overnight, but keep faithfully executing the above for 6 months, and watch how things start to change and grow.

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