It’s not easy to be a wedding photographer. While the fees look tempting — with rates usually ranging from around $1,500 to about $4,500 or more, depending on the number of hours on site, the number of prints ordered and the type of album delivered — the workload is heavy, the shooting difficult and, most important of all, the competition intense. To stand out from the crowd and build a successful business out of wedding photography, a photographer needs six irresistible attributes:
Couples will look at dozens of wedding portfolios before they come to a decision. They’ll spot the really poor photographers — the ones whose albums contain half-shaded brides and cheesy false coloring — but unless they’re seasoned photographers themselves, they’ll struggle to tell one talented photographer from another.
That’s why personality is so important for a wedding photographer. Clients aren’t just buying a set of pictures; they’re also inviting someone to be present at the most important day in their lives, giving them authority to interact with their guests, and hoping that they’ll understand the joy of the occasion.
A solid portfolio is vital, but it’s often the photographer’s personality that closes the deal.
Wedding photographers usually find that clients reach them in two ways: through an optimized website that turns up well in search engines; and through referrals. Happy clients who pass on praise to friends and relatives are an invaluable part of most successful wedding photography businesses. They allow the photographer to project trust, to spread his or her name and to start any consultation in the knowledge that the couple already thinks well of them.
For past clients, referrals are a great way to help a friend cross one item off a wedding preparation to-do list; for wedding photographers, they’re a steady stream of new jobs.
Low-cost camera equipment has created a whole new class of photographers: enthusiasts with talent and skill looking to earn a little extra income in their spare time. Some of those photographers can produce great images (and sometimes at low cost) but not all act professionally.
That means having a portfolio of images to show during the consultation, being aware of appropriate prices and what exactly those prices include, and being authoritative but polite and friendly when interacting with guests. It means attending the wedding to shoot, not eat (and certainly not drink), having the necessary insurance coverage, and knowing too that you can provide an alternative photographer if something turns up and you can’t make the day.
The job of a wedding photographer isn’t just to take the pictures of the occasion; it’s to take away all the worry of the day’s photography so that the bride and groom can focus on the vows and the joy. That kind of professionalism is invaluable.
And professionalism includes perfectionism. Between making an appointment for the consultation and delivering the final albums lies a great deal of work for a wedding photographer. Each of those stages, from preparing the portfolio to the post-production of the pictures, provides opportunities to cut corners. It’s tempting, for example, to shoot first and clean up later in Photoshop, or to skip some of the editing and hope that a client can’t tell the difference between a good image and a perfect one.
But clients are paying for great wedding photographs, and these are only produced by photographers who pay attention to the details, learn their trade and never take the easy route when more time means better results.
Wedding photography costs clients a lot of money because it costs wedding photographers a lot of time. Successful photographers know that time is needed to get as close as possible to a perfect wedding album.
For clients, the work of wedding photographers can all look pretty similar. There are the formals, the details, the candid shots of the bride putting on her make-up, the action scenes of the guests dancing and the shots of the confetti raining down outside the church. Weddings all contain the same events, which can make the photos taken at them difficult to distinguish at first glance. That’s one of the reasons that referrals are so important when it comes to narrowing down the choice and picking a prospect.
But it also means that a photographer who can produce a unique approach can quickly steal a march on his or her competitors and win some extra jobs.
Denis Reggie, the photographer credited with creating wedding photojournalism -- a style that attempts to capture naturalistic, documentary images of a wedding -- has gone on to build a career that’s included shooting the nuptials of Kennedys and celebrities. It’s a style that’s also spawned Trash The Dress photography, a new kind of shoot that takes place after the wedding and puts the bride, with the dress, in rough locations, including lakes, the sea and deserts.
Being different is always a risk, but photographers who can pull it off will find that it can make them hard to turn down for brides looking for more than the usual wedding album.
It would be great if all of these five things together were enough to attract interest and turn leads into clients. But they’re not. Wedding photographers also have to push.
They have to explain what clients will get for their money, knock down objections and be ready to negotiate. That means upselling too. When most couples find that they spend more than their wedding budget, wedding photographers have an incentive and an opportunity to push the value of their most expensive packages, even to clients who have said they want to spend less. Whether they manage to make those sales will depend entirely on their power of persuasion.
Wedding photography is a challenging field. It’s a field that relies on great images to achieve success, but it depends on a lot more than that. To build a successful wedding photography business requires character, recommendations, sincerity, attention to detail, creativity, and sale-skills. Pack all those qualities together, and you’ll be irresistible too.
(Scott Baradell is the editor of “The Successful Wedding Photographer,New Media Entertainment, Ltd., which is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. You can find him online at http://blogs.photopreneur.com)