Having trouble getting booked like you used to? This might be why.
I’ve been hearing from several of my industry peers (I like to affectionately refer to them as “work homies”) that they’re struggling to get wedding bookings in the same volume they’re used to. There could be any number of reasons why this is, but I put my middle-aged brain to work and came up with a couple possibilities that seem to be more prevalent in the last couple years.
First, let’s talk about saturation. One major contributing factor is the low barrier of entry in our industry – this is an important point all by itself, but it’ll become even more so later in this article. With the war between cellphone cameras and professional grade cameras becoming more and more competitive, the price of high quality camera equipment has dropped drastically, and with easy access to inexpensive editing apps, a much larger number of people have become interested in pursuing photography as a profession. Of course, there are always people moving into the industry at the entry level, but recently, the number of people making this move has grown exponentially. It feels like every family in America has its own “aspiring pro photographer”(maybe even two or three!). Unfortunately, this has led to an oversaturation of the market, with a significant number of amateur photographers competing with established pros for a limited number of paid gigs, and, also unfortunately, because of inexperience (specifically, being in the dark about industry best practices), many of those brand-new photographers often undersell their services in the hopes of building a client base, not realizing that they’re damaging the entire industry’s ability to charge appropriately, not understanding that they could build that same base charging industry-standard prices. As a result, gigs that traditionally would have gone to a professional are now often going to amateurs. A side effect of this is that many clients are ending up unhappy with the results of hiring the amateur, but instead of limiting their ire to the amateur, they’re associating those poor results with the professional wedding photographer industry as a whole.
Another factor that has made it more difficult for wedding photographers to book new clients is the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the pandemic has slowed significantly, it initially had a major impact on the events industry, especially weddings. Many couples had to postpone or cancel their weddings outright due to social distancing restrictions, travel restrictions, venue closures and other measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus. That led to a massive reduction in demand for wedding photographers, as there were simply fewer weddings taking place. Even though many of those events were rescheduled, there has still been a reduction in overall numbers, and an unintended side effect of all of those closures and cancellations was that, when it came time to re-do the planning for their postponed weddings, many Brides & Grooms decided that professional photography was a good place to cut costs, and either hired an amateur or went without a photographer altogether.
Here’s where it gets sticky. In addition to the impact on the events industry, the Covid-19 pandemic also created an environment where many 9 to 5 employees realized that they weren’t valued by their employers. A lot of people lost their jobs or experienced reduced hours and income due to the pandemic, and because of that, many of those same people turned to self-employment as a way to make ends meet. Remember earlier, when I talked about how easy it was to get in the photography industry? Which industry do you think many of those people jumped into, feet first? You guessed it! Dog walking! Lol, but seriously, photography was where many people went to test the waters of a new career in self-employment. Take a relatively low cost for starting equipment and mix in what seems like (at least to the inexperienced new photographer) a high profit margin and you’ve got a recipe for serious oversaturation of a market.
So, here you are, the established photographer, realizing that you’re suddenly (or not-so-suddenly) struggling to get the same number of clients as before. What can you do?
Of course, you can always curl up in a ball and cry in a corner. But that wouldn’t fix anything (and your back might hurt if you stay down there too long), so instead, let’s consider a few ways that you can stand out from this swarming crowd of newcomers with unrealistic price lists, and improve your chances of booking those clients. Here are a few strategies you might consider:
- Distill your wedding photography down into a very specific niche: Maybe you can be the go-to photographer for couples who want fine art portraits of them with their dogs in fancy clothing, or maybe you’ll be the Michael Moore of documentary wedding photography, using your imagery to tell deep, poignant stories about the history of your Bride & Groom’s family, or maybe you could specializing in a particular type of event, such as destination weddings to Paint Lick, KY…or how about being the only photographer in your state who does Cosplay elopements? That sounds fun! By specializing, you can become the expert in your field, and maybe even gain a ton of clients from outside your area willing to travel to you, because no one creates a photo of a Bride & Groom in a bathtub like you do!
- Build a strong personal brand: I counsel other photographers all the time: your brand is so much more than just a logo or a company name. It’s your personality, your style, it’s the vibe you create when shooting your Bride & Grooms. Spend serious time and energy on developing a brand that does a great job of telling who you are, as a wedding photographer. And don’t forget to consistently showcase your work in a way that reflects your personal style and aesthetic. Eventually, you’ll be booking clients that are willing to pay a lot of money because only YOU can do what you do in the way you do it!
- Speaking of brands, you know what many wedding photographers do? They build a cookie cutter web presence. Your website, your social media – these are your business cards to the world, and often may be a Bride’s first (and maybe only!) impression of you. So invest in your online presence! Consistently posting high quality content that really reflects who you are and what you do is great, but if it’s shown in a way that doesn’t match that vibe, on a website that looks like a hundred other wedding websites? That’s bad mojo, yo.
- BE UNIQUE, BE BE UNIQUE! By offering something your competitors don’t (or even better, CAN’T), then you are significantly increasing your appeal to potential clients. Offer a post-wedding bridal fashion shoot, offer a hand-designed album cover with a portrait of your Bride & Groom drawn by a talented artist. Maybe offer to shoot the wedding naked? OK, there’s going to be a very limited market for that, so maybe hold off on that one.
- Finally, get out there and network your ass off! Build relationships with wedding planners, venue managers, other vendors like florists, DJs and caterers. And don’t just meet these people, figure out how you can collaborate with them in a way that gives value to them, as well as you. I like to send a separate vendor gallery after every wedding, and I make sure to take lots of professional marketing-style shots of vendors during every wedding I shoot. They’ll appreciate the images and are more likely to remember you when it comes time to give a Bride & Groom their all-important recommendation for other vendors.
Real quick, let’s touch on how to protect against the conversations you might have with potential clients who tell you they’ve found someone with much lower pricing. You might think your job is to create beautiful photos at a wedding, but in reality, it’s much more involved than that, and one of the most important aspects of running a successful small business is great client communication. Learn to say the right things, in the right places, and it will seriously improve your chances of booking the client! When speaking to potential new clients who are balking at your price:
- Focus on your VALUE as opposed to the dollar amount. What is it you do, say or know that sets you apart from all the others? What service do you offer that they’re not likely to get from many other wedding photographers? Are you fantastic at getting people to laugh and relax around you? That’s a huge selling point in the wedding photography industry, because many wedding photographers just aren’t that great at dealing with groups of people (heck, sometimes they’re not even that great with the Bride & Groom! I’m always blown away by the number of shy/reserved wedding photographers I’ve met). Sure, you might be worth every penny of that $6000 package – but don’t sell them on the numbers, sell them on how you’re going to make their wedding photography experience amazing.
- Speaking of value, many Brides & Grooms may not realize just how much skill, money, time, and equipment goes into creating the images of their wedding. Help them understand how different their experience might be between an amateur and a professional. Explain what can go wrong in a wedding that only an experienced photographer would know how to deal with. Teach them about the moments that might be missed by an inexperienced photographer.
- Highlight specialized experience, training or qualifications: Are you the G.O.A.T. when it comes to off-camera flash? Do you have a decade of experience shooting South Asian weddings? Sell that! Do client’s guests always tell them how much fun you were? Hell yeah, they do, so make sure your potential clients know it.
- Pricing is important, but just because I always recommend you stick to your guns doesn’t mean you can’t still book those bargain hunters. Create packages – a high cost/high value package, a middle-of-the-road package and a “bargain hunters” package. Just make sure your lowest package isn’t filled with value – it needs to be low hours, low commitment, otherwise you may end up siphoning off clients who might have bought your higher packages.
- Finally, you know what a lot of photographers, especially new ones, don’t offer in the wedding industry? A “Satisfaction Guaranteed” offer. Personally, I offer satisfaction guaranteed in a few ways, but not with the overall wedding. I guarantee the technical quality of my work, I guarantee delivery times, etc. And I offer financial or product rewards if I don’t follow through on those guarantees. Again, I’m creating value for my clients.
Ultimately, there will always be newcomers to our industry and many of them will always undersell, and sometimes they’ll even over-deliver. Does that mean you should just give up? No way! There will always be challenges to face, obstacles to overcome, but perseverance and a willingness to try new things will always help you make it through the tough times. Keep shooting for the stars, y’all!
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