Life after Journalism: Chad Pilster

When I was in my first semester at San Jose State, I was given an assignment to interview a photojournalist and learn a bit about their background and how they broke in to the field.  I had always meant to continue to add interviews of other photographers, but hadn’t gotten around to it (except for one interview, which was later lost when the recorder I used blew up).  Today, I pick things up where I left off, literally, with a second interview with Chad Pilster.

In the time between posts, Chad has left Daytona Beach News-Journal.  Like many journalists, Chad has used the skills that he developed while working at a newspaper to reinvent himself, in his case, as a wedding photographer.  About a month ago I had the chance to catch up with him again, and discuss what it was like to enter the freelance world and run his own business.

How did transitioning into wedding photography compare to breaking in to photojournalism in terms of finding work?

It’s a whole different world. Much of the competition in wedding photography is not because many are good photographers, but because they are great marketers. Every time I sit down with a potential client it’s a job interview. I need to show them why I am going to do the best job for them, why I am different from everyone else and why they should pay me what I think I’m worth.

It seems like lately wedding photography has gained some respect, so this has caused more bad photographers to be whittled out or dropping their prices. This also means the competition is getting stiffer. Also with the internet, couples are realizing what quality photography is and they are looking harder to find it.

When I moved into the wedding market, one of the many reasons that I decided not to do editorial freelance was marketing to the editors. Many of the editors are in New York and require me to travel there and show off a book and then I’m competing with a very high level of photographers. Couples getting married are everywhere and there are many less expensive ways to reach them. They then understand what good photography is worth and are willing to pay you for it! Then they are so much more appreciative in the end when you come back with the final product.

So what I’m getting at, is that it never meant much to get my name out there with photojournalism, even though it was on every picture. With wedding photography getting your name out there is how you survive in the business. This first year has been about getting my name out there.

Instead of sending out 100 portfolios, now I reach out to thousands of people and bring them to see my one portfolio, blog or Facebook page. If it touches them, then they contact me.

Has your approach or style changed in going from newspaper photojournalism to wedding photography?

In newspaper photojournalism it’s about making one image or a few images to tell the entire story. In wedding photography you have 10s to hundreds to thousands of images to tell the story in. It really allows you to open up and show off your style. It also allows you to tell the stories that newspapers don’t seem to have room for anymore.

I don’t believe that my style has changed, I believe that this has just given me a greater opportunity to open my wings and show what I can do.

My editor to my blog, and any other photos I use in my marketing, is myself. My clients are also my editors when they choose what images they want for their album, when they order prints or even when they decide that my photography is the right style for them when they hire me.

One thing I always tell people when putting a portfolio together for an editorial job is to put in the photos that represent you. You will make a LOT of good photos in your career, but you need to put the photos that represent you best into your portfolio. You are not going the jobs that make you happy if you just put in photos that look good, but you don’t have a passion for shooting.

What has been the most difficult aspect of transitioning in to a new business?

Lot’s and lot’s of learning!

Starting anew from almost scratch, figuring out how to market, learning to run a business, and spreading my name in an industry where almost no one knows who I am.

I’m glad I had done a few weddings in the couple years prior to my job ending at the newspaper. This actually gave me something to start with, but even so booking weddings

I’ve run a photography business since I was in high school, I freelanced for a little bit in St. Louis when I lived in an apartment, but I own a home now and have to make a good amount of income to survive. I had a choice when I left the newspaper to completely give up on photography and try for another profession, but I couldn’t find anything else that I really had a passion for which could pay the bills. Now I’ve dived head on into the wedding photography industry and I don’t believe there is any turning back.

I hope to eventually shoot some editorial projects on the side, but I enjoy weddings and they are going to be my mainstay.

Often, students from schools such as SJSU, which put a heavy emphasis on newspaper photojournalism, lack a great deal of business sense. What are some of the most important business aspects of photography that students who are thinking about shooting weddings, editorial work, freelancing, etc. should know?

Only do what you enjoy doing. If you don’t like to edit or tone your images send them off to someone like There are a few things you can’t hand off, but most of them you can and then you just pass the cost onto your clients. Outsource what you don’t want to do.

NPPA’s cost of doing business calculator at
If you aren’t charging enough to live on your own and pay the bills, then your business won’t survive. Also look at each of the items in this calculator

Customer service! It only takes one customer to complain about you to undo 10 that raved about you.

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get clients, but you have to have clients first to refer you.

Marketing (This includes social media such as blogging, Twitter and Facebook). Learn what ROI is. Network with everyone.

Separate your personal from your business expenses. Sit down and talk to a CPA. Almost everything you do can be deducted from business expenses when you are running a business.

Keep on learning. Go to workshops.

Give yourself a raise every year.

Look into ShootQ at (if you want to give me credit for the referral then go to
They are like having someone else manage your studio.

Get your own website. Make it look good. Use it’s domain for your email, it looks more professional (Domains are $10 a year on the high side!)

There will be a lot of people out there who say they know how to market, but do your research before going with anyone.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’ll get you started.

Are there any resources, online or otherwise, that have proved invaluable to you?

I did a ton of research on marketing to editorial so early on I was reading,, and they are still great reads.

Now I look at wedding specific blogs. I also follow many of them on Twitter.

A great book is The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Seth Godin has a ton of awesome things to say too. Both have blogs and are on Twitter. Listen to what they have to say.

A few of the the things that I use that I don’t think i could live without.
When I was editing 10 images, Photoshop was perfect, but now I’m editing hundreds. Lightroom has been invaluable.

PWDLabs does all of my printing and albums. I just upload the images, and never have to worry about fulfilling orders. They can also do my editing and toning too if I need them to.

James Shaffer does my album design. I could do it myself, but he’s faster and does an amazing job!

You can find Chad on Twitter @chadpil, follow my blog at or become a fan of our Facebook page. Our website is

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