Today's post is an excerpt from the book How to Create a High-Profit Photography Business in Any Market (2nd ed.). It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.
Like many other photographers, one of my first paid assignments was photographing a wedding. For those getting into the photography business, weddings are generally the first step, as all you need is a camera, a flash unit, and hopefully a backup system.
On the other hand, it’s not unusual for a photographer to stop doing weddings once they have enough other work to keep the studio busy. I find it rather strange that weddings are the first thing many photographers start with, but it is also the first thing many of them stop doing. For some photographers, it’s almost like a badge of honor to be able to say, “I no longer photograph weddings.”
Weddings are not for everyone, that’s for sure. Why do some photographers love doing weddings, while others quit the moment they have enough other work? Having excellent photography skills is only a small part of being a successful wedding photographer. In this section, I will explain what works for us.
Wedding photography is a common entry point for those looking to dive into photography as a career.
THE TYPE OF CLIENT
As I have mentioned throughout this text, you need to determine the type of client you want to attract. Whether you are doing fire hall/VFW-hall weddings or country club and high-end hotel weddings will be determined by many factors. Price, photography skills, studio décor, phone skills, and service will all play a big part in the type of clients you attract. Don’t forget: you must have a very pleasant, likeable personality to convince the bride you are just the person she is looking for. If she doesn’t like you, she’ll never book the wedding with you, regardless of how beautiful the photography is.
Almost all wedding bookings start with the telephone. Of course, we already know that good telephone skills are essential—not only for weddings but across the board. You simply must have a person with excellent skills on the telephone.
When a bridal client calls, the first question they usually ask is how much you charge to photograph a wedding. I believe they don’t know what else to ask, so they start out with the price question. Many times they will ask for a price before they even know if you are available!
We’ll assume that you are not a low-end wedding photographer and that the prices you are charging are for the average to higher-end client. The best way to deal with a wedding call is to engage the caller with questions about their upcoming wedding. Our end of the conversation with our prospective wedding clients goes something like this: “Congratulations, Lisa, on your upcoming wedding. What is the date? Where are you getting married? Where will the reception be held?”
By engaging the caller with questions, you can determine if they are going to be interested in your services. If they are calling in response to your Yellow Pages ad, chances are they will select a wedding photographer based on price and nothing else. They are looking for what I call the “BBD” (bigger, better deal). Quality and service are not important—they just want the cheapest photographer they can find.
On the other hand, when a bride calls and does not ask about pricing but wants to come into your studio to view your work and meet with you, chances are she is serious about professional wedding photography. Her main concern is not price but quality—and your reputation. These are the clients you want.
When the client comes into the studio, show them two or three completed albums. We use flush-mounted albums from Capri Albums from New York for our studio samples. They are very upscale and beautiful. While the client is viewing the albums, point out what makes your photography worth your higher prices. Photo examples of excellent posing and natural lighting should be present in your studio sample albums. After all, if the client can’t see what makes your pictures different from a lower-cost studio’s images, then there is no reason for them to pay the difference. Since all brides are different, find out what type of photography the client likes best and focus on the work that suits her tastes.
Showing prospective clients samples of your work from past weddings is important for helping them to determine whether or not your style suits their tastes.
If the bride decides she wants to book you, be certain that she fully understands all of your payment procedures and policies. Try to keep it all very simple. Clients get uneasy about any transaction they don’t fully understand. On a related note, be sure to take notes on anything that you will need to know on the wedding day. Issues such as divorced or deceased parents are things that you should be aware of ahead of time.
We require approximately 15 to 20 percent of the total price as a deposit or retainer to hold the date. Any refunds are handled on an individual basis depending upon the circumstances, and I can honestly say that, at our studio, cancellations are rare.
About a week prior to the wedding we call the bride to confirm everything. We remind her of the times that have been agreed upon and emphasize to her that being on time will make everything less stressful. The key to a good day with a bride is giving her as much information as you can. You know from experience about how long everything will take and how to make things run smoothly.
Often, my assistant takes a shot like this from the balcony. Shooting with an assistant during the ceremony is important, since you can't be in two places at once.
THE WEDDING DAY
I photograph weddings with an assistant. You certainly can do it on your own, but why knock yourself out? My assistant works on the candid photos while I concentrate on the posed ones. It’s a good combination and a good way to offer a better product.
Before the Ceremony. On the day of the wedding, my assistant and I arrive approximately fifteen minutes before the agreed-upon time, dressed in black tuxedos. The vehicle that we arrive in has been cleaned, and we look totally professional. Image is everything!
When we arrive at our first destination of the day, I look for areas where I can photograph the bride with window light. Use your flash as little as possible: this will separate your work from the competition.
The Ceremony. During the ceremony, having an assistant gives you the opportunity to photograph the wedding from different areas of the couple’s venue. We have some beautiful photographs where the bride and groom are coming down the aisle after the ceremony—I shoot images from their level, and my assistant takes the same shots from up in the balcony. I just don’t think it’s possible to cover a wedding as well with one person as you can with two.
After the Ceremony. After the ceremony, we generally do the posed photographs of the family members. I find it best to start with the grandparents, then photograph the parents and family members, and then handle any other special groups the bride and groom may want photographed. We finish this sequence with photographs of the bride and groom. Keeping things moving and being quick is the key. Depending on the size of the wedding party, you should be able to do all of the groups and bride and groom shots in about forty-five minutes.
After the ceremony, many couples want to go to an outdoor location for more photographs. To make your outdoor photographs look their very best, be sure to use a long lens so that the backgrounds will be out of focus. This will make the bride and groom really stand out.
The Reception. Once you get to the reception, most of the hard work is behind you. Most receptions last at least three to four hours, and we usually stay most of the evening, since our pricing is set up to cover a ten- to twelve-hour day. Many studios charge by the amount of time the bride has booked. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with that practice, I have never charged that way; I think it would just cause problems—after all, anyone who has done their fair share of weddings knows that things usually do not go as planned time-wise. I don’t want to have to approach the bride during the reception and remind her that she only booked us for the eight-hour coverage, so we will be leaving shortly.
I know of one photographer who stays for only the first thirty minutes of the reception. Of course, the bride knows all of this beforehand, and the photographer arranges for her to get everything over in the first thirty minutes—the toast, dancing with dad, cutting the cake, you name it—just so he can go home early! If it’s working for him, great. I know one thing for sure: if my daughter went shopping for a wedding photographer and he told her he would be leaving the reception after thirty minutes, he wouldn’t be hired.
I recommend that you have available several different types of lenses to use during the wedding day. Use lenses that the amateurs at the wedding probably don’t own; using a very long lens or a fish-eye lens, for instance, will make your photographs look different than all the rest. You do not want your pictures to look like they were taken by the guests. Creating unique photographs will pay dividends later when the bride orders her final album.
One way that we ensure that our images stand out from the rest is by using double lighting. Double lighting requires two flashes, a radio transmitter, radio receiver, and a light stand (or better still, an assistant). To create this look, simply hook up your on-camera flash to a radio flash transmitter. Your second flash, which can be up to one hundred feet away, should be wired to the radio flash receiver. When you push the button on your camera and your transmitter is turned on, it fires the flash on the camera and sends a signal to the receiver, and the second flash goes off as well. Having an assistant hold the light and move it around is better than putting it on a light stand. You can create some really neat effects using this system. You can backlight a couple at a reception or light a large hall, which can be difficult with just one flash. You control both lights from the camera and can fire just one or both, simultaneously. Most major camera stores carry the equipment needed to double light. Be aware that achieving good results will take practice and a thorough understanding of your flash equipment. One final tip: be sure that both of your flash units have the same output. This will make things much simpler.
AFTER THE WEDDING DAY
Good service is just as important as good photography in the wedding business. Regardless of how you are showing your images, they should have their proofs or CD/DVD within three weeks. Once the order is placed, be sure to deliver it within twelve weeks.
Wedding photography can be very lucrative if it’s properly priced. Unfortunately, the wedding industry is filled with photographers who give us all a bad name. If you are going to be a serious player, you need to learn as much as you possibly can about posing, lighting, and customer service. To make serious money, everything must be top notch in your operation. You want people to be proud when they say, almost bragging, “Williams Photography is photographing my wedding!” Building a reputation takes time, but it will be well worth it. Whatever pricing strategy you decide on, it’s a good idea to have a statement on your wedding contracts noting that your current prices are not good forever. I have had wedding clients come in five years after their wedding to order pictures.
In my experience, you’ll have more problems with wedding clients than any other demographic—and most of the time, it’s the parents (who were never in the studio before the wedding to discuss prices, procedures, and delivery times) who cause the problems. If the bride and groom both have divorced parents, you can actually be dealing with four, five, or even six individuals, each with their opinions on what you should be charging! Be sure to have everything in writing.