News + Features

How to Make the Leap from Weddings to Commercial Photography 

June 8, 2023

By Abbey Pleviak

Justin Haugen is a Tuscon, Arizona photographer who worked in wedding photography for two decades before making the leap into full-time commercial photography. In this episode of The Portrait System Podcast, he speaks with host Nikki Closser about how he got into shooting weddings and how and why he made the switch to commercial photography. 


From a young age, Haugen wanted to be a graphic designer, and he learned photography to give him something to work with in his designs. As a full-time graphic designer, Haugen also filled in for photographers where he worked and shot weddings as a side hustle. Then suddenly, he got the push to go full-time into weddings when he was laid off from his job. So, how did he get back into the corporate sphere after shooting weddings for so long? Haugen chocks it up to serendipity and being open to opportunities as they come up. 

Haugen says no amount of marketing could have gotten him the commercial photography clients he has today. His second biggest client is actually the same company that laid him off ten years ago. At the time Haugen felt upset to be let go, but he didn’t burn any bridges. He stayed in touch with co-workers, including his former boss, and he paid attention to what was going on at the company. As often happens in corporations, sometimes they suffer financially, and when they do their workforce is the first place they cut. Watching the photography staff dwindle from four to zero, he saw the opening and put in a bid for contract work that was accepted. 

[Read: Photo Industry Report Suggest Photographers are Persevering]

Haugen’s other major client came to him by referral. Haugen runs a Facebook group for Arizona photographers, so he is well connected with other area photographers. One of them was head-hunted on social media by a corporation. Since he was out of the country teaching workshops in Iceland, he referred them to Haugen, and the rest is history. 

Haugen has been gradually shifting his workload to more commercial photography and less weddings, and he is now finishing the edits on his very last wedding shoot. To expand his commercial work, Haugen has his eye on another corporation where he has an inside contact. He has heard that they are also downsizing their workforce, so Haugen is preparing a proposal to also do contract work for them. 

Haugen says, “I think if there’s any advice to take away . . . it’s that you never know where opportunity will present itself, and you have to just be ready to promote yourself . . . and be somebody’s solution because you never know where people will need you to fill in.” 

© The Portrait System

Learn more about Justin Haugen on his soon-to-be-rebranded website, catch up with him at the Tamron Booth at The Portrait Masters Conference, and check him out on the High ISO Podcast on the Sharpen YouTube Channel or wherever you stream your podcasts. 

The Portrait System Podcast helps portrait photographers navigate the world of photography, business, money, and much more. Hosted by Nikki Closser, the podcast is powered by The Portrait System, a comprehensive, online educational platform that teaches all aspects of running a successful portrait photography studio.