Wedding Photography.... where are we at?
I have been thinking about this subject for quite some time so thought I would put fingers on keyboard and write a few thoughts.
I started shooting weddings professionally in 2001 with my first full year of business in 2002. Together with my wife & business partner Kristie we headed out into an unknown world, the world of Weddings. Shooting on film , slidefilm there were no second chances, no option to look at the back of the camera, exposure had to be spot on or else!
ISO? The only ISO we had was the speed of the film we put into the camera, sometimes pushing the same roll in camera so as to not waste the film! Ahhh, how things have changed.
No-one asks now what CF or SD cards you use, its all about the camera! Back then, it was all about the film you put into the camera and what you could do with it. Processing was a good 10 day wait to get it back from the lab! No instant gratification from the LCD screen. Yes I may sound like an old fart but I think it was great to have this as a photographic upbringing as it were as it makes me appreciate what we have at our disposal now. That said I am also very wary of what we have now and how it can be used to make ‘bad’ pictures better.
So 17 years later what have I learnt?
The industry has changed as all things do , some things for the better , some not so. The ever increasing technology of our phones makes what was once a professional pursuit now available to the masses. Everyone is a photographer these days and nowhere more so than at weddings! You only have to take a step back when the bride & groom walk down the aisle to see how much this has changed peoples ability to document things & to immediately share it with the world maybe instead of enjoying and being ‘in’ the moment.
Should we be bothered?
Yes & No is my answer. I’m a firm believer that there will always be a place for wedding photographers who can offer something that the client cannot reproduce from a phone or tablet. The problem as I see it is with the clients & their ability to differentiate between good and bad. I feel this line has become blurred over the years and having to prove that your ‘worth it’ is becoming a more common place conversation. A lot of our clients just get it.
What is high end?
I would say we are in the high end bracket of what UK Wedding Photographers are charging. Somewhere that has taken us over 18 years to get to. Yes the competition is thinner but it doesn’t mean its any less difficult as there are fewer photographers going after fewer jobs! The middle market is where a lot of photographers place themselves financially. There are more of them , yet the client market is bigger. So it’s horses for courses I guess! The pressure may be on a little more at the higher end of the market. We are not the cheapest out there yet we aren’t the most expensive either, ( don’t forget that a lot of photographers talk the talk when it comes to pricing these days- not daring to undermine their stature by telling the truth! )
It depends upon client budget and if the client has put priority onto images. To be able to work under time pressure mostly is the biggest difference between high end and a more normal ( budget wise ) wedding. on average we get around 30 mins per wedding to do all the images. Group shots, big group, bridal party & couple shots. Now & then we will get a little longer, sometimes not even this amount of time. So we have to think fast , on our feet as we are only trying to do the best for the client when time is precious. I honestly still think that photography is cheap , even at the higher end of the market for what the expectation is from the client and what the photographer has to deliver.
How much should you charge?
Most ‘high end photographers’ that I know will start around £3k-£4k charging up to £5k-£7k. With some overall sales reaching double figures. If you think that the average price spent on a wedding dress is around £1300.00 & shoes £50-£600 +. That budget alone is not far off what I would say on average the middle market photographer is charging ( or should be ! - around £1500.00 ) Of course there is the question of VAT also. This can make or break businesses and should be very carefully thought about indeed. If you are just going over then best to get back under! If you are going over then keep going otherwise its not worth it. If you’re VAT registered then you will either have to add it on top or have it included into your price. Some wedding planners take a cut also - from 10%-20% so this would have to be factored in also. Albums, if you supply can range form £50 ( budget ) to £700 ( high end ) so again that has to be factored in to your charging structure. So when clients say you seem expensive there is a big argument as to why too many wedding photographers are selling themselves cheaply.
Weddings particularly in central London can incurr big parking costs, road charge & or taxi fares to get around. Again all of this should be factored into the costings.
I recently came across these figures from a blog post online and it shocked me to be honest:
“The average cost for wedding photography in the United Kingdom in 2017 is £663. In England, the average cost of hiring a wedding photographer is £671. The average cost of hiring a wedding photographer in Scotland is £621. Finally, the average cost of hiring a wedding photographer in Wales is £707.” It must be said that I would imagine these figures came from an online Wedding/Photo site where you can ask photographers for a quote , so I guess they are taking the average amount quoted in different areas. I would like to think that the average spend of photography is more than this but maybe it isn’t overall! I personally believe it’s around £1500 and has been for a while
Styles & client choice?
There are many styles of wedding photographer, I like to put them into two categories, fluffy & shadow! One being slightly overexposed , mostly natural light & one more shadows and maybe truer to reality, maybe with some flash involved. Neither one is better than the other and both have a client out there. There are a lot of photographers that use heavy pre-sets on their images to give a specific feel - I call this the “ Iceland look!” Nothing wrong with this at all. I would just say that sometimes big heavy pre-sets can disguise a not so good application of photography skills. Not always but I do see it. If I was a client I would always like to see a full wedding. Often photographers only show their ‘killer’ shots and clients get sucked into this without looking at a wedding in its entirety. If a photographer only shows bright & airy shots with lots of sun then they might not be the obvious choice for a 4pm ceremony wedding in December! Some clients will have a fixed image in their mind of what they want their images to look like which is fine but then choose a different season & or venue to get married in that doesn’t reflect this! If you look through say the fearless sight and images there are some stunning images from around the world. Some documentary, some set up with more time needed. So it purely depends upon which kind of clients are attracted to you as for the kind and style of imagery you can produce. A lot of my clients for example have very little time to give us for images, I have some awesome ideas for images often but most of the time cannot execute to to time constraints. So over the years I have had to refine the way I attack the wedding shooting more documentary and less posed. If given a chance or a time window to shoot posed shots and learning how to get the most of the 5 mins on offer is key. Cameras are evolving all the time, mirrorless cameras will one day make DSLR’s obsolete but a camera choice shouldn’t make who you are. A camera wont make you better. Your images might look cleaner but your eye is the same. Photographers can be lazy these days, thinking that the next best gadget will make them great. Practice is the only answer. Learn how to ‘see’ better.
Clients buy emotion, moment & reality or a better reality !! Don’t underestimate the power of capturing the moment as well as beautiful posed images. There will be a client that get’s what you do and if you can offer both then the chance of booking is higher. I always think there is a client for everyone. Whether its beautifully lit imagery , moments or a dinosaur chasing the bridal party!! There is also a budget for everyone too.
I have 80 weddings booked in!!
For me as a photographer & trainer when I get people coming to the studio or on courses on location and the first thing they say or ask is how many weddings do you have? Or I have 60 or 80 weddings this year then an alarm bell rings in my head. I understand that we all have to make a living and some photographers maybe perceived as better than others & all clients have different budgets ( there are a lot of factors to this.) If you are happy and you have 80 weddings a year and you are under the VAT threshold in the UK ( currently at £83,000.00 ) then its not all bad. My worry is that there is a chance that you could be worth more. You are underselling yourself for the quality of work that is being produced. This in my eyes is when the problems begin for the industry as a whole. If a client gets a quote of £800 & another quote of £1600 and cannot see a difference in the imagery & business model to justify the extra why should they spend? It’s up to photographers on the whole to see that their work is worth more. To help the industry justify its cost! It’s not all about the amount of weddings you shoot, but the overall profit being made in order to achieve a balance of life Vs work. A lot of photographers charging £400-£700 maybe should be charging less! Some however are completely underselling their services because they should be looking for a client that is prepared to spend a little more because the standard of their imagery justifies the extra expense.
Pricing is the devil of any photographer or indeed self employed individual as it will constantly fluctuate as times change and or as client base changes. In my humble opinion pricing boils down to three situations-
1- are you happy with what you are charging & making a suitable living or are struggling to make a living with the present client base that can only afford to pay less.
2- are you meeting and passing client expectations and working in an environment that can afford and appreciate a higher price & can thus charge according to experience, expectation , environment & higher class of product.
3- have you priced yourself out of you current market and are having to constantly juggle your prices to undercut or match your competitors.
Surely we are all aiming for number 2 but may found ourselves stuck in or dipping and out of 1 & 3! Ultimately there is no answer or magic pill to pricing. I’m putting food on the table , living a satisfactory standard of life , my kids are happy then what else matters regardless of whether I’m expensive or cheap. The challenge is to find a client or to have clients find you , clients that appreciate what ‘you’ do. Clients that are prepared to maybe spend a little more of their budget on priceless memories of their day. I truly believe it is our job to educate our clients , to not only show them beautiful imagery but to reinforce the importance of the story , the album , the end product. It’s not only a load of jpgs on a stick or download. We are producing an heirloom , a priceless and eternal story that will be remembered and looked back on long after we leave this earth. Sounds a bit much? Well it shouldn’t be. People invest in people . If you are answering the phone and the first thing you’re asked about is price then the whole thing is based on price from the very beginning. I live in the real world where this often happens - long before we can chat about albums or style etc - long before they buy into ‘me.’ No one shoots like me , I don’t shoot like anyone else. I’m not the best wedding photographer in the world & nor do I claim to be. But if I can find or allow myself to be ‘found’ by 20-25 sets of couples that ‘get it & get me’ then I’ve done my job ! ( well half anyway - the other half is in the shooting.) I don’t want to wake up on the morning of a wedding and think -“ here we go again!” As a lot of photographers do. I don’t want to have to asking on social media groups -“ I’m only getting paid until 9pm - what do I do if the first dance is at 10pm?” “ what do I do if I don’t get any food?” Etc etc .. I want to be happy with how I’ve developed a relationship with the client , happy with what I’m charging in order to live . Happy with what I’m charging so I can stay an extra hour or so if needed - happy in the knowledge that if I don’t get any food then I can look after myself!
I know I’m digressing a little but I love what I do despite the fact there is immense pressure at a lot of the weddings I cover. Despite the fact that I may only have minutes to deliver I am generally satisfied with what I am getting paid to deliver. This is the key. So if you’re getting paid £500-£1700 or £3000-£7000 & you are HAPPY then go for it. If you are finding a client that is willing to pay what you are charging then go for it. If you are not then make the changes you have to make in order to step up.
* who answers the phone ? Answer machine? Mobile or answer service? This can make a huge difference to the initial client correspondence and ‘business feel.
* do you send anything tangible out in the post or is it all online. I am still a believer that having something printed is key -think about yourself when you buy things or are thinking of buying things, a car for example, we like to look at the brochure, get lost in the fantasy world that this vehicle is offering! No different here.
* do you meet face to face with clients? Many photographers I know don’t which is up to them, it works for them. In my market it is key, I would say in 18 years of shooting weddings I could count maybe 8 or 9 occasions where I haven’t met the couple beforehand. Confirming the message that people buy people too!
* do you deliver and produce beautiful albums & products. Do not underestimate the importance of delivering your story in an album. It puts more value onto your product than a disk or download.
I am sure the answer is yes to some of these questions but the importance of them will differ depending upon your pricing structure. To me pricing is only key if the client cannot see enough of a difference to justify the spend. We don’t book every enquiry, anyone who does is surely asking ‘ how much do you want to spend?” Which again is this is your business model then I am not going to sit here and say its wrong. Ultimately the only way the wedding photography industry will survive and thrive is if photographers as a whole start to increase prices, not decrease. Value is in the eye of the purchaser & if you are not selling yourself and not getting bookings then the wrong people are looking at your images, the wrong people are making enquiries. So do all you can to change this, to venture out , outside you area, comfort zone and allow the couples that understand what you are about to find you.
YOU can be the best photographer there is that nobody knows about. So build the brand, don’t have a bad day and as an old friend once said to me, ‘build it and they will come’ & they did…