Van Middleton – Australia
I’m a wedding photographer based out of Northern NSW. I originally studied to be a journalist, and spent most of my 20s traveling around the world. I tried my hand at photography as a career when I returned home to Australia and haven’t looked back!
What inspired you to start your photography business?
I was always into photography, but mostly as a hobby. I always knew that I wanted to do something creative for work, and I knew I wanted to work for myself. Wedding photography struck me as the best way to do both.
Tell us about your photography business?
I’ve been shooting since around 2010. So a little over 10 years. I’ve probably averaged about 50-60 weddings per year over that period, so I’m probably at around 600 weddings or so. I don’t have any staff for my wedding photography business, but I do also now own an editing studio where I have about a dozen editors, and other admin staff. This business grew from my need for editing help to keep me sane!
What inspires you artistically when you shoot weddings or couples?
Lovely locations, moody weather, couples who don’t sweat the details but want to enjoy their wedding day.
Tell us about your studio or home office setup?
Nothing to write home about! I have a little desk and computer strategically placed so I can watch a bit of TV while I work!
What does a typical non-wedding workday for you look like?
Non-wedding workdays tend to mean kid days. I’ve got two daughters and my wife works as a teacher, so I do a lot of school drop-offs and pickups, as well as soccer training, taekwondo, girl scouts, gymnastics, chess club daycare, playgroup etc. #dadlife. I do manage to get a sneaky surf in here and there, and I’m looking forward to borders opening again so I can sneak off to Indonesia for some real downtime.
What is a typical wedding day for you?
A typical wedding day for me starts in the morning checking and cleaning gear and packing. Then I usually start shooting around midday, and finish about 8.30 at night. 8 hours is the magic number of hours for me, which generally covers getting ready through to some dance-floor action. The most common weddings I shoot are for about 70-100 people, for couples who have flown up from Sydney or Melbourne to Byron Bay. But I also shoot in Brisbane and Sydney and before the spicy cough shut the borders, sometimes in Bali and Fiji. The type of client is always different!
Can you list the camera gear you bring to a wedding?
I shoot with a couple of sony A7iiis and 4 lenses: a 24, 35, 50 and 85. But 95% of my shots are on my 50 1.2 GM and 35 1.8. I also bring a pelican case with a bunch of random gear that I sometimes use after dark: flashes, trigger, a tripod, light-stand, clamp & arm, LED wand, mini smoke machine, tilt-shift adapter and lens, spare camera & batteries.
For me, less is more when it comes to gear. I’d be happy to shoot with a single full-frame mirrorless with a solid 35mm lens. Everything else is a want, not a need.
Nor do I really care what brand I use, as long as it is mirrorless. Everything is so good these days, the gear never gets in the way anymore.
What is your process for culling and editing your images?
I outsource using my company, Wildernis. They do my culling and editing. I have a library of presets, but generally stick to a couple of my own faithful looks.
How do most of your couples find you? And how do you market your business?
I’m not great at marketing. I do my obligatory Instagram posts and I’m part of a few directories, but otherwise, I rely on recommendations and referrals. I do need to be more active on social media though, and it’s one of my goals moving forward.
How do you go about getting couples to relax in front of the camera?
There’s no magic bullet, but I like to start shooting early in the day to get them used to me, give them plenty of positive feedback, and begin portraits with some really easy shots, like holding hands and walking. I’m pretty personable and relaxed, so generally some friendly banter and positivity, as well as a bit of guidance and things usually work out.
What has been your best business purchase in recent years?
Probably my gallery host, pic-time. It’s allowed me to automate print-sales and it’s a beautiful interface.
Comparing your business from when you started to now, what has been the main thing that allowed you to succeed?
Hard work. Striving to get a killer photo at every single wedding. Pushing myself creatively on every job and never settling for good enough. Scouting religiously, and really pushing myself to improve and create unique photos.
What do you consider the main differences between those people who have been successful in the industry and those who have failed?
Hard work, again. People who put the effort in generally succeed. And effort across the business, from marketing to learning the craft, to working hard on the day, to working hard after the shoot. I was a terrible wedding photographer when I started, but I pushed myself constantly, and this led me to make a success of it. There are no magic formulas.
What’s the best piece of photography business advice you’ve ever been given?
Help others. This might seem counterintuitive, but I’ve seen a lot of failure in the industry from photographers that are not good at sharing or collaborating, and who are precious when it comes to their work. A good example is tagging vendors and letting smaller businesses & venues share your photos. I make my money from my clients: I share my photos with other people in the industry because they will share my name with more clients. And because I want to network in a positive way. Likewise, I share knowledge and info whenever it is asked of me, and I’ve grown a fairly large following of appreciative people because of this. This has led me to a lot of opportunities shooting other photographer’s weddings and a few other related perks. It also helped me when I started my new outsourcing business. 90% of my clients know me personally or have had some sort of contact with me in the past, either seeking advice or following me on socials. Without these connections in the industry I’d be almost without work.
What’s the most common rookie mistake when it comes to starting a photography business? What advice would you give them?
Quitting their day job to go full-time too early. There’s no need to rush. Hang onto your other income source: it will take a lot of pressure off. Clients can sense desperation – don’t put yourself in a place where you have to succeed. Treat it as an opportunity, and be excited about that opportunity, but don’t put yourself under pressure.
Also (related): don’t calculate what to charge based on what sort of money you need to run your business. This doesn’t make sense. Clients aren’t going to choose to pay you more because you owe money on your car loan and new camera. Figure out what you can charge according to what your experience level is and your competition. Be honest about your portfolio and your skills. Charge accordingly. Grow and build and learn and charge more as you can.
What are your top 3 wedding venues or destinations?
I love Deux Belettes in Byron Bay. The Calile Hotel in Brisbane is a nice venue too. Otherwise anything in Fiji, so I can take the couple up into the mountains for some magic time.
Do you have any bucket list locations you want to shoot?
I’d love to shoot in Italy, both in Venice and the Dolomites. I had a pre-wedding shoot lined up there but Covid hit and dashed our plans. I’d love to go back. Also: Scotland & the Faroe Isles.