There has been a lot of pressure on wedding photographers over the last few years, with the reduction in cost of equipment with prosumer-level DSLR cameras and easier access and marketing to potential customers through social media, craigslist, gumtree and other classified ad platforms. Even with people relying on their friends and family to capture most of celebrations with their point and shoots or mobile phone cameras (especially with services like instagram and their popular filters/effects), professional wedding photographers are facing changing demands and a financial squeeze.
Here’s 11 simple ways to improve your earnings from wedding shoots:
First step: Whine less
If you’re first instinct after reading this post (or any other about any type of commercial photography) is to comment on how unfair it is that the market is saturated with ‘weekend warriors’ or other negative terms, don’t bother, don’t waste your time.
Wedding photography is a marketplace, marketplaces are capitalist, capitalism is not fair, markets change… Get over it and move forward to constructive thoughts that will help your business. The people who do well in changing markets don’t waste time worrying about how it used to be, they shut up and get on with dealing how it is now.
Expand what you shoot and how you shoot it
Don’t just turn up on the day of wedding, shoot the ceremony, then leave… Focus on the surrounding events of the day, the preparation and dressing of the bride and groom, the meal and the family, the after-party, even if just the arrival of the extra guests and the first dance.
Also arrange for the engagement shoot, or separate studio sessions of the bachelor and bachelorette with dressing up, make-up and other enhancements to give the couple memories of themselves before they tied the knot. Post-wedding shoots also offer a lot for newly wedded couple, morning-after shots showing the afterglow of the wedding night are a popular move lately, even if shot long after the wedding. Remember a good wedding photographer need not be forgotten soon after the wedding day, there are countless happy memories to be captured for a young married couple.
Be more creative
So many wedding photographers are stuck in their existing style of images, usually the ‘classic’ shots of the couple walking down the aisle, or standing at the altar. Walking on a beach or riverbank, through gardens or parks near the venue and the family and friend group-shots are all common (and must-have) images.
There’s so much more you can capture beyond what your DSLR produces as-standard, consider filters and alternative lenses, different setups, and take a good look at the environment you’re shooting in to find those areas which uniquely capture the venue, the time of year, the town/city you’re in and even landmarks you might take for granted as a local may be items the new couple would want to keep for a long-term memory.
Offer value-added print-services
Typical wedding photo print offerings include a couple of large prints for the new couple, for their family, an album and maybe some wallet-sizes. You can however ‘enrich’ this typical offering by including various other options (even if they’re a little gimmicky) such as mugs, hats, cellphone covers, mousepads, keyrings (great as fillers for the guests gift-bags), cigarette tins and lighters, you can even go-extreme and get thongs printed
There are tons of places online where you can get these printed and delivered direct; I use Custom Dropshipper (through my own store), they have a huge range and their prices are insanely cheap, though I don’t use them for the high-end prints their widgets/gadgets and extras are excellent. You can even get a customised usb-drive, memory stick printed with the wedding details or a photo of the couple and deliver any digital prints on that.
Shoot many more weddings
Want to make more money? Of course you do, probably the most obvious way is to actually shoot more weddings. This may sound easy, but finding them can be difficult especially if you live in a big city where there is a lot of competition… take advantage of the classifieds boards yourself and build your price list so it’s flexible. Have a low-end offering for people without a large wedding budget with plenty of room for expansion and customisation for those more affluent customers.
The major issue of course with shooting more weddings is processing the images (it takes a lot longer to adjust and retouch the images from a shoot than it does to actually shoot them on the day), take advantage of photo retouching services to increase the number of photos you can handle, and to reduce the time it takes to deliver your images to the newly married couple.
Most couples don’t want to wait months for their wedding pictures, leverage the low cost and flexibility of picWorkflow to get your images done and delivered in perfect condition AND quickly. From as little as one dollar an image for basic processing versus perhaps 20 minutes to an hour of your time, you can hugely increase the number of images you can handle and how fast you can deliver.
Build your reputation for word-of-mouth referrals
There are a few ways to improve your reputation as a wedding photographer, and garner those word-of-mouth referrals which are so important to your business:
- Be friendly, nobody wants a miserable lurker at their wedding. Wear a smile on the day, and follow-up with the couple on the progress of their images.
- Be professional, just because you’re not actually IN the pictures, doesn’t mean you can turn up to shoot in a t-shirt and jeans. Dress the part to fit in with their wedding party.
- Put something nice in with the bill, even if it’s just a note saying “I was delighted to be a part of your big day” or “Congratulations, you guys make such a lovely couple” (even if they both look like trolls ), make them feel special and you’ll sure find them returning less issues with retouching surcharges or other fees.
- Put something a little extra in the deliverables, if they wanted an 18×12 but could only afford the 16, if it only costs you a couple of extra bucks include an 18 anyway with a little card saying it’s an extra gift. Not only will they remember the extra gesture and pass on your name to friends, but will have a little story to go with it about how nice you were.
- Have business cards to give out at the wedding in-case anyone else takes a liking to you and asks about your services. Don’t go shoving them in everyone’s face, but leave a couple on the bar or other heavily trafficked spots just so people can pick one up.
- When it comes to the group-shots, be a take-charge guy (or girl), or at least recruit someone from their family to shout some orders at the family and get everyone organised. Particularly try to recruit the patriarch or matriarch to get things organised, after the ceremony everyone is going to want to get to the food as fast as possible and if you can get those group shots done before anyone even notices their stomach is rumbling they’ll remember you.
Consider images from each shoot for stock
Do you have hundreds of images of the venue, the table or the meals, the flowers or other event accessories… anything not needing a model or property release, get them selling on stock, selling microstock is pretty easy (if you can shoot a good quality image) and makes for a nice little earner to see you through the slow winters.
Have a query from a couple on a tight budget and feeling like you’d get their business if you were selling at a slightly lower price point? If they’re reasonably good looking (at least to guy/girl next door standard, i.e. not trolls) then offer a small discount if they’ll sign a model release each. It’s rather unreasonable to extend this to friends and family but if you can get some good images of the young couple in their fine-and-fancies to sell for stock, you can make up that difference easily. There are a lot of wedding images of couples on microstock, but not a lot of really good ones.
Leverage social media (properly)
There’s a lot of fear about social media among photographers, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or been told variations of “the customer asked me to remove my watermark from the facebook photos so they can print them”.
Stop being afraid of facebook, twitter, pinterest and others… use them to your advantage. First off you should be getting a handful of images up on facebook immediately (literally on the day if possible, or within a couple of days at the most).
Setup a facebook page for your business, and focus on uploading at least 1 or 2 of just the bride and groom, and a handful of the friends and family group shots (resized to at-most 1024 pixels on the longest side) within this first couple of days. Tag the bride and groom yourself, and make sure you have setup the permissions so they can tag their family and friends. Each of these images should have a clear but subtle watermark, ideally designed so it sits in the image unobtrusively.
Try to think like this… if they want to print the social-media images themselves, would they feel the need to ask you to remove the watermark? If so, it’s too intrusive. Essentially, you want their friends and family who wouldn’t otherwise buy the professional-level prints you offer to have the option of using the facebook photos, but without minding that they’re printing them with your name on, but if in future they (or anyone else) wonders who shot them your name is visible. Essentially your watermark should sit in ‘copyspace’ within the image, not directly over the main elements.
Social media presents you with an opportunity to connect with, and stay in touch with more customers (and potential customers) than ever before. Take control of that opportunity.
Raise your prices
Wedding photographers aren’t usually the best ‘business-minded people’ around, mostly tending towards the creative side of things, but to do well you have to be wary of not undervaluing your work. Most people understand that “you get what you pay for” and this is essentially why professional photographers shouldn’t be worrying about the new competition, make it clear to your potential customers that you provide a premium service… and that your prices are a reflection of that. If you really are a ‘good’ photographer your work will stand up to the high price and people will be happy to pay it.
Don’t reduce your prices, increase them, and make the price really worth it. Customers will almost always ask for a discount so build this into your pricing structure, offer addons, and most-importantly offer opt-outs for people who want lower pricing and support them in your business.
With a flexible structure you begin to learn not only what customers really want from you, but also what they don’t want. Consider this along with which offerings/products/packages make the higher margins for you, then focus on selling those. A really good wedding photographer can make some offering for almost any budget, you need to learn to do this too.
Improve your website
If your website has thousands of images of every wedding you’ve ever shot and every other personal photo you’ve ever taken, it’s failing you… if it has just 6 images (or if you don’t have a website at all, shame on you), it’s failing you…
Your website should be clean, clear of distractions, and contain no more than 50-80 of the best wedding photos you’ve ever shot. Don’t include your stock portfolio, your travel/holiday images, or photos of your own friends, family, breakfast, house. Include only those images which show-off best how you shoot a wedding. Break them down into simple categories ideally inline with the various packages you offer and one-or-two examples of the extras you can provide.
Every page should have your name (or business name) at the top along with your phone number and email address. It should be at something like bobs-wedding-photos.com (this will also help with search engines), NEVER use a gmail, hotmail, yahoo or other bulk-provider email address. All your images should have a subtle watermark as described above, and should have some text captions describing when, where, who, how each image was shot (again useful for search engines, but also for humans to read). It should have a plain off-white or off-black background and be quick to load (don’t use flash) and easy to navigate.
I also suggest including a blog so you can write about your recent weddings or other shoots and update it at least once a week with a short post (If you can’t update it, don’t bother with the blog part). I’m quite liking Tumblr for this type of thing lately since it’s free, it’s easy to setup, it doesn’t intrude on your site’s design, you can point your own domain name at it, and you can either buy a photo-friendly theme for a few bucks or have your own designed. I customised my own theme for a few images from my microstock portfolio in less than an hour. Tumblr’s social integration also makes it easy to ‘follow’ people and have people ‘follow’ you.
Don’t compete… Be the leader!
The days when all you needed to make a living as a wedding photographer was a decent camera and a good eye are over, they’re long gone and are never coming back. If you really want to be a wedding photographer now you’re going to have to change, or get left behind.
There really is no competition between true professionals and the typical ‘craigslist photographer’ I hear everyone whining about. Stop competing for business… You can already offer more, be better, and make customers come to you because if you’re really going to make it you need to be more than someone with a ‘decent camera and a good eye’, be a professional, be a leader!