Before he even started John Branch IV Photography, John Branch IV, the mastermind behind the wedding photography brand, was always drawn to the world of photography. But that’s not all! He also had another skill up his sleeve even before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey – the art of delivering top-notch customer service. Impressed and intrigued? We were too! The good news is that in this featured photographer story, he talks about exactly how he did that. From his early days exploring photography as a hobby to becoming a successful, full-time wedding photographer and educator, John’s expertise shines through in every aspect.
In this interview, we dive deep into John’s fascinating background, where he shares his unconventional route to photography success and lets us in on some top-tier photography business and marketing advice. Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming your way: John’s golden advice for aspiring full-time photographers is to stay focused on their day jobs, even if they dislike them! So hold on a little longer while continuously learning new things, and trust John when he says, “There is much to be learned from these experiences.” Excited for more? Keep reading!
Joining The Wedding Photography Domain
ShootDotEdit: Tell us about your story. How did John Branch IV Photography begin? And how did you transition into being a full-time wedding photographer?
John: I didn’t have any official training in photography. I actually majored in music production and sound design at Berklee College of Music. While at Berklee, I was interested in photography, and it was something that I kind of just messed around with, and I thought it was really cool. The first camera I bought was Canon PowerShot G11, which could shoot in RAW.
After meeting my wife in Boston and moving to New York, I started working for Squarespace. We got pregnant with our first child, and at that time, she said she wanted to stay with the kids. So, I was thinking I should probably get another job, and she told me not to. She encouraged me to start a business. That’s really when I was like, “Hmm… photograph. Maybe I can make this work.”
I took a year to learn and understand photography before starting paid sessions. I worked part-time for about 4 years while also working at Squarespace, and then I went full-time as a photographer when I moved back to South Carolina, my hometown, about 4-5 years ago.
ShootDotEdit: Berklee College of Music. That’s a big deal when it comes to music. So from music production to wedding photography, can you walk us through the journey of establishing your business as John Branch IV Photography? How did you get it off the ground?
John: While working at Squarespace, I already had a website, but I didn’t have many images. To find work, I utilized other services. Not to stretch the story, but when I was in audio, I tried to start an audio business, and I had adopted the mindset of doing free work to establish myself, which eventually resulted in me being known as the “free audio work guy”.
So, when I ventured into photography, I made a personal commitment not to work for free unless it was something I decided to do. I used platforms like Groupon and Thumbtack initially. My very first paid session was an engagement session I secured through Groupon. I did a few more Groupon sessions, although I don’t recommend it due to the HUGE cut they take. However, it was helpful in building my portfolio.
Similarly, with Thumbtack, I focused on engagement sessions to potentially book weddings, which eventually led to my first wedding booking. It progressed from there, and a couple of years later, I found a mentor and started second shooting. Prior to that, I had already completed nearly 10 weddings without any second shooting experience, which I wouldn’t recommend.
ShootDotEdit: So would you recommend aspiring photographers to start their journey by second shooting right from the beginning?
John: Many people emphasize the importance of second shooting, but I don’t think I necessarily believe that fully either. My advice is typically to start by second shooting, especially for larger weddings. However, once you feel confident with your camera, take on small weddings. These could be intimate ceremonies in backyards, garden weddings, or just the ceremony. As far as pay, they won’t pay as much, but that’s not the point. The goal is to gain experience and become more comfortable.
Taking on smaller weddings by yourself is perfectly fine, but second shooting larger weddings helps you become accustomed to the flow of the day. Over time, these two experiences will merge, providing you with a well-rounded skill set and the confidence to handle bigger weddings.
ShootDotEdit: And how did you go about choosing who you wanted to second shoot with?
John: I had the fortunate opportunity of connecting with an exceptional wedding photographer named Phil Porto, who became my mentor. Initially, I joined his business as an associate, starting off as a second shooter alongside him. As part of his company, I began capturing weddings. One of the incredible aspects of working with him was that he allowed me to include the portfolio work from those weddings in my own portfolio.
ShootDotEdit: Are there certain things that one should keep in mind while choosing who they want to second shoot with?
John: While opinions and approaches may differ, connect with someone who’ll support your growth as a photographer and who won’t view you as a competition taking away potential clients. I’m not trying to be mean, but there are plenty of weddings happening, and the market can accommodate all of us.
Ideally, find a photographer who shares a similar mindset. For instance, if you second shoot for me, I’m open to you using the photos unless there’s a specific non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in place. It’s important to maintain some distance from the couple and not overstep by tagging them in everything, as the main photographer holds that responsibility. Lastly, the primary role of a second shooter is to support the main photographer rather than solely focusing on building your portfolio.
Suggested Read: The Ultimate Second Shooter Wedding Photo Checklist
Social Media Marketing Plan And Strategy
ShootDotEdit: Now that you’ve established yourself in the wedding photography industry, how do you fuel your business? What do you do to keep getting that continuous flow of leads and customers?
John: This is something I consider a weak point for me, and it’s an ongoing challenge that I constantly strive to improve upon. I want to be transparent about it because I remember when I was a new photographer entering the world of wedding photography, I would look at other photographers and wonder, “Wow! How do they do all these things?” I like to put an ounce of truth in there; it’s not easy.
From the beginning, I’ve approached it primarily from a social media perspective, especially now with the significant changes that have occurred in the past decade. Instagram, in particular, has evolved drastically since I started.
I’ve found that showcasing my work and putting myself out there on social media has consistently attracted more clients. Additionally, word of mouth has played a role, although perhaps not as much as I would have liked. Sometimes, I would work with a couple, and they would say, “Oh, we love everything about you,” but then I would never hear from them or their friends. It’s confusing sometimes, like, “I thought you loved me!”
ShootDotEdit: We’re sure they still love you, John! So, you said you approach marketing from a social media standpoint. What’s your style of content creation, and what have you learned about how to attract ideal clients?
John: When it comes to how to find ideal clients, a big part of my strategy revolves around consistently creating and sharing content. I ensure that I’m properly tagged, not just with hashtags but also with my name, the venue, and on my website. This approach helps improve search engine optimization (SEO) over time. And this way, before you know it, someone might stumble upon a wedding I captured at a specific venue and reach out, saying, “Hey, I saw your amazing work at that venue and would love to inquire about a date.”
Interestingly, my YouTube channel has become the primary driver of my marketing efforts, which still blows my mind. I believe that authentically showcasing yourself and your work is key – no need for fancy stuff. Nowadays, people may feel pressured to create elaborate Reels, TikTok videos, or YouTube Shorts, but simply showing yourself and your work is enough to make a strong impression.
ShootDotEdit: Many beginners feel intimidated when it comes to putting out content. Could you unpack your approach to creating and sharing content, and how you overcome any hesitations or concerns along the way?
John: I’ve always had an interesting relationship with social media. I’ve never cared about algorithms. My approach is to focus on creating quality content that is meaningful to me and my couples. I don’t post very often on Instagram. I believe in curating my posts and making sure they have value. So, my advice to anyone feeling intimidated by social media is to not worry about algorithms and posting frequency. Instead, focus on creating meaningful content that resonates with you and your target audience.
ShootDotEdit: That’s a good one! Can you elaborate on what “meaningful” means to you?
John: I believe there are multiple ways to define “meaningful”. In the context of a photography business, we’re trying to sell ourselves because, let’s face it, the business won’t thrive without generating income. But what I’ve observed is that the majority of photographers genuinely care about their couples. So, you’re also trying to portray that you care about being the “third wheel” of the couple. On a wedding day, you become the third wheel of the couple, albeit temporarily. This means that in addition to showcasing your technical skills, you also strive to convey the message that your role goes beyond mere documentation; you truly care about capturing the essence of the couple’s special day. You’re selling not just your services but also your values and the genuine passion you have for what you do.
ShootDotEdit: Besides couples, the content you create also speaks to aspiring photographers. Is there anything specific that you keep in mind when you create content for your social media platforms – for both audiences?
John: It’s hard to put into words, but one thing I really try to embody is how much I care for others. It’s important to me to share my blessings and experiences in photography with others, which is why I put out those super long behind-the-scenes footage. I want people to feel like they’re right there with me, experiencing a full wedding day as if they were my second photographer. And guess what? It’s all for free! Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t ever sell a course or something down the line, but I genuinely love teaching and helping others.
In weddings, I have a deeper purpose. I’ve never been a fan of the statistics of divorce. Now again, there’s a time, place, and reason, so I’m not saying people should not get divorced. But if I can somehow contribute to a couple’s lasting happiness, I’m all for it. I want my photos to reflect something bigger than just pretty pictures or making money. I want to be present at weddings, like a real person who genuinely cares about the couple.
One of the most challenging aspects of attracting your photography ideal clients is embracing who you are and staying true to what you genuinely want, even if it means turning away potential clients. Personally, I’ve faced this challenge myself, and I’ve learned that it’s important to prioritize alignment in values over simply booking every couple that comes my way.
ShootDotEdit: So, how does this go? What’s the conversation like when you turn away a couple who really wanted you to shoot their big day?
John: I believe in delivering the message with kindness and respect; definitely not a blunt, “No, I will never work with you!”. Instead, I let our meetings guide the conversation and help me understand who they are. It’s during these interactions that I determine if we align with each other’s values. If it becomes clear that we don’t see eye to eye or if our styles are too far apart, I believe in being honest and transparent. I explain to them why I might not be the perfect fit, emphasizing that their wedding day should be amazing, and if I’m not the best choice for them, they shouldn’t use me. Luckily, I’ve never had it backfire!
Suggested Read: How To Get Your Photography Noticed By Ideal Clients
Approach To Pricing Photography Services
ShootDotEdit: Pricing. Tell us about your approach, and how do you create a wedding photography pricing list that doesn’t make potential clients run the other way?
John: Well, I must admit that my approach might be the worst, but price what you need for your business. You have the freedom to charge whatever you want. When someone once asked me how to justify a price, I said that there’s no justification. It’s not mean or bad; it’s just the truth. Consider your experience and set a reasonable hourly rate based on how much money you need to make. If there’s travel involved, charge for that too. Add a sprinkle of extra charm for each service. Let’s say an album is valued at $300; you might set it at $500 within your package. This way, you’re covering the average wedding photography cost.
ShootDotEdit: Can your clients choose to upgrade, downgrade, or stick with a package? We’re curious to learn about how you accommodate different preferences and make the experience customized for each client.
John: I prefer not to dive straight into money talk because I want to keep the conversation less transactional. Instead, as we discuss their wedding day and their vision, I get a good sense of what they’re looking for, which helps me gauge the appropriate pricing for their package. Toward the end of the conversation, I might say something like, “Great! It sounds like our normal package will be a perfect fit for your special day. I’ll send you the proposal later for you to review.” Sometimes, they might respond with, “Cool, sounds like we won’t need any extras.” If there’s a discussion about a second photographer, I usually discuss the pros and cons of those options and adjust the pricing accordingly.
Suggested Read: Pricing Your Photography: A Wedding Photographer’s Guide
The Vendors That Keep John Branch IV Photography Organized
ShootDotEdit: Really amazing stuff so far, John! Now, let’s shift our focus to the tools that power your business. Beyond gear, what software or resources do you utilize to keep your business running smoothly and maintain its momentum?
John: My goodness, there are so many! I think one of my absolute lifesavers is HoneyBook, my trusty client management system. With the number of couples I work with, I couldn’t keep up without a proper client management system.
Next, would clearly be Lightroom to edit my photos. It’s practically a photography staple. And when it comes to building wedding albums, SmartAlbums has been a game-changer. It’s lightning-fast, thanks to the wonders of AI. I ask my couple to pick 35 photos for their album, they make their selections, and then I throw those beauties into SmartAlbums. BOOM! Just like that, the album takes shape. A quick check, and voila! We have a gorgeous album ready to go. As far as galleries are concerned, Pic-Time is a game-changer. Planning and organization are not my strongest suit, but thankfully, these programs come to the rescue.
ShootDotEdit: Okay great, we got SmartAlbums, Lightroom, and HoneyBook. Any finance stuff?
John: You know what’s funny? I used to despise math when I was growing up, but somehow I’ve developed a love for numbers now. And one tool that has become my financial sidekick is YNAB, also known as You Need A Budget. This little gem helps me manage my money like a pro. It’s a rather manual process, where I have to dive into the nitty-gritty myself, but strangely enough, it works like a charm. I also made a YouTube video about it. I absolutely love YNAB!
ShootDotEdit: You mentioned albums earlier. Is there a favorite album company you love?
John: Oh, yes! RedTree Albums – I’m a HUUUGE fan. Before discovering RedTree, I used to rely on Artifact Uprising. Now, for those just starting out and can’t splurge so much on albums because they’re not charging a fortune for weddings yet, Artifact Uprising is a fantastic place to begin.
Suggested Read: Top 5 Tips For Vendor Referrals
John’s Must-Have Photography Gear
ShootDotEdit: We’re itching to know about your gear, John! What are you currently shooting with, and if you could only bring three lenses to a wedding, what would they be?
John: I shoot with FujiFilm! I’m one of the few. There are not a lot of FujiFilm wedding photographers. For lenses, first up is the 23mm f/1.4, which is a fantastic crop sensor lens. It gives that classic 35mm focal length. Another go-to lens is the 33mm f/1.4, which gives a focal length similar to a 50mm lens. And last but not least, I can’t forget to mention the incredible 56mm f/1.2 lens. It’s a new one, and let me tell you, it’s simply amazing.
ShootDotEdit: That is awesome! What about bags? Any preferences there?
John: I’ve been a loyal fan of Holdfast ever since I started my wedding photography journey. One of my favorite accessories from them is the Double Strap Money Maker. Another gem from them is a bag called Sightseer, which, unfortunately they no longer make. I treasure mine and hope it stays in one piece for as long as possible. It positions perfectly at the lower back, allowing me to effortlessly reach for my essentials. It’s amazing how much it can hold!
Suggested Read: The Minimalist’s Guide To Wedding Photography Gear
Expert Advice For Beginners
ShootDotEdit: Based on what you’ve learned from your own unconventional route to success as a wedding photographer, what are some tips that you would share with an aspiring wedding photographer to start their business?
John: There are two main areas to focus on. The first is honing your core photography skills and mastering the technical aspects of the trade. The second is developing your customer service abilities, which is particularly crucial in the service-based nature of wedding photography. Even if you’re not specifically a photographer but rather a planner or florist, you will still find yourself in a customer service position.
I always talk about street photography as a great way to practice wedding photography. Although it may not replicate the timing of a wedding day, it allows you to get familiarized with and anticipate a moment before it happens. Just like you can’t ask a passerby on the street to recreate a perfect moment, you can’t ask a mother and daughter to redo a heartfelt hug.
Many of us may find ourselves in day jobs that we dislike. However, it’s important to recognize that there is so much to be learned from these experiences. For example, during my 5 years working at Apple and then as a customer service team lead at Squarespace, I gained a wealth of knowledge that significantly benefited my wedding photography career. I recently had to write a lengthy email to a bride who was a little bit distraught over the wedding day; these experiences no longer throw me off balance as I handled such situations at Squarespace, where I had to address unhappy customers.
ShootDotEdit: What about people who don’t have a job in customer service? How can they prepare for the customer and business side of things?
John: I believe gaining experience from various sources is valuable, and a significant part of that is serving others in any way possible. Additionally, there’s an abundance of educational resources available such as workshops, YouTube tutorials, and more.
Suggested Read: How To Book More Weddings As A Second Shooter
John’s Role As A Wedding Photography Educator
ShootDotEdit: Is your role as an educator an additional aspect of your business, or is it more of a personal passion or hobby?
John: It’s pretty much an additional leg of the business. A big chunk of it is on YouTube. I’ve also created a few courses, and there are more in the pipeline that I’ll be working on soon. These days, a considerable portion of my time as a full-time photographer is dedicated to YouTube and teaching others. Interestingly, YouTube has been doing so well that I’ve actually scaled back on the number of weddings I take.
ShootDotEdit: Hey, congratulations! That sounds really great. Tell us about some of the topics that you’re really passionate about teaching.
John: Absolutely! You can hear it in the stuff I’ve already talked about now. But one of the BIGGEST focuses is not just photography itself but being a creative entrepreneur. I’m passionate about guiding and assisting others with running their photography businesses. This includes aspects such as mastering customer service skills, knowing how to respond to couples, and even understanding when it’s appropriate to say “no” to a client. These are lessons that one learns the hard way. So, I want to help others avoid the hardships I encountered along the way.
John Branch IV’s journey from a photography enthusiast to a full-time wedding pro and educator is nothing short of inspiring. His passion for photography, combined with his commitment to delivering exceptional customer service, sets him apart! John’s story reminds us that pursuing our passions often requires patience and perseverance. And his advice to aspiring photographers to stay focused on their day jobs, even if they are not initially fulfilling, serves as a powerful reminder that every experience can contribute to growth and development.
John, you’ve truly been an inspiration to us all! Your insights and experiences have not only been informative but also incredibly empowering. We’ve learned so much from your journey. Thank you for being a guiding light to all aspiring entrepreneurs and photographers and reminding them that with dedication, creativity, transparency, and a dash of fun, they, too, can achieve greatness in their own photography endeavors. Keep shining your light and sharing your wisdom. We’re always rooting for you.
At ShootDotEdit, we are committed to helping you grow your wedding photography business. And to help you with that, we lessen your post-production workload with our professional photo editing services that match your style. To learn more about how we can help, check out our pricing plans.