Ed Pulella: A Walkthrough of an Engagement Photographer’s Niche

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All images by Ed Pulella. Used with permission.

Photographer Ed Pulella is a Wedding and Engagement Photographer–he was raised in Italy and moved to California. “I’ve always had more interests and hobbies than I could handle, but photography is one of the few that I stuck with and kept working on over the years.” he tells us.

Ed’s story of how he became an engagement photographer is one of the most brilliant that we’ve heard and shows incredible business savvy–one of the best skills that a wedding photographer could have. But he also cares tremendously about his subjects and the work that he puts out.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you go started as a photographer.

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Ed: My first camera was my parents’ cheap point and shoot that I borrowed from them and eventually claimed for myself. That was about 11 years ago. After pushing the little thing to its limit, I bought my first DSLR (a Rebel XSi) and fell in love with photography all over again. I would take it everywhere I went and take pictures of anything that caught my attention. I was going to an acting school at the time, so it wasn’t hard for me to find people who wanted to be in front of a camera, as everyone was looking for headshots. I decided to give it a try and started taking headshots for friends. That was the first time I used my skills for anything more than personal satisfaction, but I was still a long way away from where I am today.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into shooting weddings and engagements?

Ed: Aside from photography, I always enjoyed shooting video, whether it be a short film that I wrote with my friends, a music video, or just random footage from a road trip. A friend of mine (Seth Miller of Floataway Studios) knew this and asked if I would like to be a third shooter for a couple of weddings they had lined up. I had never shot a wedding before, but it sounded like fun, so I agreed.

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I had never had so much fun or felt as fulfilled during and after a shoot. Being around people in love, witnessing one of the biggest days of their lives, and more importantly being able to document it for them was such a wonderful experience. I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to use my skills to make other people happy, so I decided to give this wedding photography thing a try. I haven’t looked back and I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon.

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Phoblographer: Talk us through the business side of this: there is usually an initial meeting to discuss planning, rates, creative visions, etc. But what are some of the sales tips that you can give readers?

Ed: The initial meeting is incredibly important. You not only have to sell your skills and your products, but yourself. If a couple hates your personality they’re most likely not going to book you, regardless of how beautiful your photos look or how many free prints you offer them. Be friendly, if you meet at your house/office make sure to offer them a drink or a snack and make everything look nice and tidy. Be memorable but don’t be too pushy. We all want to book that wedding, but nobody likes being forced to buy something. Don’t be that guy.

Be professional. It shouldn’t even be said, but I’ve read many horror stories about photographers not getting back to their clients, taking days to reply to emails, disappearing for months after a wedding, and so on. If you do that, people will find out and you will lose clients before they even look at your portfolio.

Don’t over promise and don’t sell yourself short. If you think you may be able to deliver your photos within 2 weeks, say you will deliver them in a month. When your clients receive them 3 weeks later you’ll look like you worked hard to meet their expectations, rather than look like someone who can’t stick to their word. And don’t offer your skills for cheap in an attempt to book more. Yes, it may happen, but it won’t take long before you either realize that you can’t cover your expenses (there are more than you may think), or you start feeling like it’s not worth it and decide to quit.

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Lastly, I’d like to answer a question I see people asking all the time: how do I get started/get my name out there? I didn’t have anything that could show my skills in wedding or engagement photography, and as you may know, couples aren’t going to hire you based on your promise that you can take good photos of them. So I posted a casting call on LA Casting (if you’re not in LA, Craigslist or Model Mayhem work just as well) looking for recently engaged couples or models who would be okay with acting like one. I received dozens of submissions (all from real couples), picked a handful and took photos of them free of charge. They got a copy of the photos for themselves, I got enough photos to kickstart my portfolio. Once I had that, I contacted local photographers and looked through Facebook groups until I found a few who needed a second shooter. Interestingly enough, one of the couples I photographed in the beginning ended up booking me for their wedding a few months later, and some of the photographers still send their clients my way when they’re booked and can’t do the shoot themselves.

“Don’t over promise and don’t sell yourself short.”

Phoblographer: In your mind, what makes for the single absolute most perfect engagement photo?

Ed: Other than a perfect location, beautiful lighting and a great composition, I think the one thing that absolutely makes a photo is a couple that looks like they’re in love. If they don’t trust you and they feel uncomfortable around you, it will show. You can use the best lens and camera on the market, shoot at the most exclusive location with the most beautiful light and have them wear amazing clothes, but if they aren’t having fun they’ll end up looking like two amateur models who were paid to hug each other in front of a camera. You don’t want that, and they certainly don’t want that either. On the other hand, take a couple in love and you’ll likely get great photos even when you’re pointing your camera at their feet. With that said, I love shooting outdoors, in warm natural light and with a couple who can’t get enough of each other.

Phoblographer: What’s it like posing couples and explaining your creative vision to them? Not everyone always understands that stuff.

“I think the one thing that absolutely makes a photo is a couple that looks like they’re in love.”

Ed: Understandably so. Posing is something I always struggled with too, but I think I’ve figured out a simple way to deal with it: I let my couples do most of the work for me. Before I start to take photos I always tell my clients that the most important thing for me is that they have a good time and enjoy each other as if they were out on a date.

I tell them not to worry about striking poses for me and to just be particularly affectionate, I’ll take care of the rest. I also ask them questions, but tell them to look at each other rather than me when answering them. For example, I will ask one of them to tell me what made them fall in love with the other. There is no easier way to get some genuine smiles out of them.

Depending on the setting, I’ll occasionally bring props or toys for my couples to play with (blankets, drinks, balloons, badminton sets). It really helps them loosen up and feel like they can be themselves around me, which always results in better photos.

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Phoblographer: Where do you feel most of your inspiration comes from?

Ed: Other photographers are a huge source of inspiration for me, my Instagram feed is always full of wedding and engagement photos, as well as “regular” portraits, food photography and landscapes. The goal isn’t to replicate them, but to push myself to become as good as the people I look up to. I’ve found inspiration in drawings, illustrations, paintings, books and music too. Inspiration really does come when you least expect it, keep your eyes and ears open, just because a medium doesn’t seem to have anything to do with photography at first glance doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find inspiration in it.

Phoblographer: How important do you think wardrobe is to an engagement?

Ed: It’s very important, but I never force a certain style on my clients. As you’ve probably figured out by now, my main goal during a shoot is that my clients feel comfortable and have fun. If I tell them to wear something that they hate and that doesn’t make them feel attractive, that’s what they’re going to look like in it. I don’t want that.

I give them guidelines, for example I ask them to pick natural tones and pastel colors over crazy patterns and flashy colors. I also ask that they wear clothes that complement each other’s (if the girl is wearing pants and a blouse, the guy shouldn’t be wearing a suit and tie).

Simply put, I ask them that they pick something they like and makes them look good, as long as it doesn’t steal focus from their faces.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use.

Ed: I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and III. Plenty of prime lenses covering a wide focal range, although if I could shoot an entire event with my 50mm I absolutely would. I know it would make it easier to use zoom lenses, but I just love the look and feel of primes. I shoot in natural light as much as I can so I always have a reflector with me, but I also have flashes and video lights for nighttime shots (particularly at weddings). I also bring about 160GB worth of memory cards, plenty of batteries, bandages (they help), a couple of granola bars, a small ONA camera bag to hold a couple lenses and batteries while I’m shooting, a bigger one to hold the rest of my equipment that I leave in a safe place, plenty of business cards and a second shirt in case of spills.

“Lastly, I’d like to answer a question I see people asking all the time: how do I get started/get my name out there? I didn’t have anything that could show my skills in wedding or engagement photography, and as you may know, couples aren’t going to hire you based on your promise that you can take good photos of them. So I posted a casting call on LA Casting (if you’re not in LA, Craigslist or Model Mayhem work just as well) looking for recently engaged couples or models who would be okay with acting like one. I received dozens of submissions (all from real couples), picked a handful and took photos of them free of charge. They got a copy of the photos for themselves, I got enough photos to kickstart my portfolio.”