Interview with a Wedding Photographer: Conner Allen

If you're interested in wedding photography as a career, here's what you need to know.

Conner Allen is a Pacific Northwest-based wedding photographer. At the age of 19, he secured a feature in F-Stoppers for his surrealist portrait photography. Now Conner, age 25, supports himself solely through his wedding photography clients – both local and abroad.

Conner's work is bright and airy, showcasing a mastery of natural light to maximize atmosphere – in some cases quite literally, as haze and fog become recurring elements in Conner's compositions. His quick intimacy with new clients helps to create images that defy the innate voyeurism of photography – instead of simply watching these couples enjoy the happiest moment of their lives, Conner's photos invite us to take a seat, grab a drink, and celebrate along with them.

Conner generously sat down with Shark & Palm to share creative insights and business advice for aspiring wedding photographers.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

Hi Conner. How did you get your start as a wedding photographer?

I was actually planning on going to school to become an art curator when a friend asked me to photograph their wedding in exchange for a camera. They were so sweet about it. I was really scared but knew just about everyone in the wedding and they were very sweet about me taking my time with figuring out what I wanted to shoot.

Which of your wedding photographs are you most proud of?

This is one of my favorite photos right now.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

There was something about this day, the way the sun was shining, the wind... I really don't know why it's a favorite right now. It instantly brings me back to the wedding day. It's not even that the photo is amazing technically, or special, it just makes me happy – and thats my favorite part about it. I just look at it, and say "Yes! I am proud I got that shot". I feel like it captures a small part of that day before the rush of the ceremony and reception.

When did you know to quit your day job and pursue this full-time?

I didn't really know at the time, I was just getting busier and busier. I was shooting a lot more, and it was more of a "shoot, I am going to be on the road for a full month for photography, I should probably quit my job." realization. And I look back from time to time, thinking "What was I doing?", but it's gone well so far!

What advice can you give to new wedding photographers about their pricing structures?

Start high – it doesn't hurt. Plus, if you're still working a day job, you have less to lose! 

I mean, that's probably bad advice, because I didn't do that – I did the opposite. I shot weddings for cheap, and even some for free while learning. But I didn't really learn much from them, and it caused me to work much harder to no avail. It was when I started upping my prices that I really started the feeling of growing.

I really only have a small bit of advice: do what makes you feel comfortable, and then add from there. You are worth so much more then you think.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

What is your invoicing process?

I start with a pricing guide. Once a price is agreed upon, we move to contract, then to invoice. The invoice includes the key parts of the contract, such as artistic direction, cancelation, and a few other points.

Do you have any secondary streams of income from your photography?

I do some minor editing jobs for a few clients around the states. 

What's your culling and editing workflow? 

Normally for a wedding I shoot 3 to 4,000 photos. I then import to Lightroom and do a quick cull down to a collection for the wedding. I then color correct, straighten and crop, and use Photoshop to fix some minor things. I normally spend 20-60 hours doing this per wedding.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

What's in your camera bag?

I shoot 2 Nikon D750's with a MoneyMaker camera strap system and Sigma's 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm Art collection lens line. I use a Macbook Pro with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. And my trusty Subaru outback gets me everywhere!

What's your wedding photography true horror story?

I was once shooting a wedding where I was off shooting detail shots. I left my bag in a room, and I came back to my 24mm lens destroyed. I never found out what happened. It was covered by insurance but it's still one of the scariest things to happen to me.

Who do you think is the best photographer in the wedding industry right now?

Oh man. I'm not sure, I would almost say its a three way tie. I am obsessed with Jordan Voth, James Frost, and the DuRalls.

I have to ask: taking nice photos of pretty people is a no-brainer. But how do you shoot flattering wedding photos for people who may not be conventionally attractive?

I embrace the love they show. I like how Susan Sontag put it, “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own.” I really feel like some people who are not conventionally the most photogenic create the best portraits, because you honestly feel the love.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

What's the absolute best advice you can give to somebody with wedding photography aspirations and zero experience?

Start shooting! Shoots lots! Never be afraid to ask questions. Just keep wanting to improve!

Finally, list three things you couldn't do your job as a wedding photographer without.

I have to start by saying music. It makes me feel way more confident in working, and when with clients, I love turning music on while shooting. I cry a lot at the points of weddings with dancing with loved ones; I get way too invested in a situation if my jam is on. It's something I feel like needs to be part of everything i shoot. Especially after a long wedding day, when the music starts, it brings me back from the brink.

Second, my MoneyMaker camera strap is my favorite piece of gear I may have ever had. It makes those long wedding days way easier! It keeps everything at my finger tips and I love it to death.

And lastly my amazing clients. I really do have some of the best clients. I always want to talk about them. They feel like family. After all is said and done, I get to spend some of their most important moments with them, and one of my favorite things is that I have a ton of return clients. I love watching their lives: from engagement, to wedding, to maternity, to family sessions... watching a family bloom is one of my favorite things.

 Photo by Conner Allen.

Photo by Conner Allen.

Here's the best gear for professional wedding photography, according to Conner Allen:

Thanks so much for your time, Conner. We'd like our readers to know that Conner Allen is bookable for weddings and portrait sessions. Reach out via email to chat with him directly.

Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.