Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are Weddings a Good Place to Earn an Income from Photography?

It seems the number one jumping off point for people to earn money is wedding photography. There are many reasons for this:
  • People are still getting married; 
  • There are many budgets from low to extravagant; 
  • For some reason, photography is where people feel they can shave the budget. 
When it comes to a wedding, here is how it normally works: the engagement is announced and the champagne flows. The happy bride and her mom then set out to plan this event. It used to be called a once-in-a-lifetime event, but now it is more commonly referred to as a “starter marriage.” A budget is sketched out and given the okay by dad.

First, bride and mom go to find a dress. They find a gorgeous gown. It costs a little more money than the budget allowed for. Mom goes to dad and says, “I know we had $1200 allowed for the dress, but John, you just have to see your daughter in this dress…she is stunning. It’s only $1800 more than we planned for!” Mom shows dad the pix from her camera phone and he agrees…she is a vision. He wants his princess to be happy, and hey—it’s not like you do this every 72 days (unless your daughter is Kim Kardashian—and if she is, I weep for you)!

Next it’s on to the flowers. “Oh honey, I know we thought we could do the flowers for $2000, but we found the most beautiful centerpieces for the reception tables, and her bouquet was a little higher than we planned, but it will be so beautiful—only $6000 for everything—and they are giving us a complimentary bouquet to toss!” And dad agrees it’s not like she’s going to do this again in 72 days, so why not?

Now, this scene repeats itself with the invitation, the food, the reception hall, favors, music, etc. So when it comes time to hire a photographer—normally the last thing the typical bride takes care of--if the budget was $1200 and mom comes back and reports it is going to be $2000, dad goes ballistic. “No, absolutely not, there is no [expletive deleted] way! You girls went over budget on every single item. You need to pump the brakes--I am putting my foot down here!”

As a photographer, this is the reality that you are faced with: a majority of brides are much more concerned with the perception of friends and family than they are concerned with keeping—and reliving--the memories of the day. This is tricky: do you sell the bride on your price, or do you sell her on your abilities?

90% of the photographers who start out photographing weddings do so by cutting the price of established pros. This is not a good idea. Number one: you immediately alienate the working pros, and you may need them on your side in the future. Number two: you make it very difficult to increase your price where it needs to be down the road. So think long term: how do you want to be perceived in the future—the cheap photographer or the good photographer?

Next, do you have family support? Understand that weddings typically take place on Fridays and Saturdays (Jewish ceremonies will normally be Sundays). Will your spouse or significant other be okay with that? How about the kids’ sporting events or dance recitals—how many of those will you miss? How many evenings a week will you have to meet with prospects? How much of a financial expenditure will you have to make to market your services and get you equipment up to what is needed?

How are your skills? No, really. I don’t mean your mom thinks you are great and your instructor at the adult ed center says you are his most promising student…I mean are you really good?

Do you have the business knowledge that lets you know how to price your work in order to show a profit? You can’t believe the people who have told me, “The only cost I have is the CD I give to the bride. I charge $200, I am making $199.50 on every job!”

Yeah, right…

You have your time, your equipment, your knowledge. Do you clean your suit after every wedding (I sure hope so—they get gamey after 6-8 hours at a wedding in July). Do you advertise, or will you count on ESP to advertise your services. The person in the example above told me he averaged 2 hours meeting with the couple and 8 hours at the wedding. After figuring his overhead (conservatively about 35% if working from home) he most likely actually earned $60. A big whopping $6 per hour! Doesn’t look that good to me.

Finally, can you handle the pressure? Weddings are a fast paced and high pressure situation. The bride doesn’t want to hear that an important image was missed because of something outside your control…she just wants the picture, and that’s why she hired YOU instead of any clown with a camera. I have known photographers who had 20 years experience (or more) who confided to me, “You know, Steve, I hate to admit it but I still get nervous before a wedding!” Me? Nope. You do it for 35 years, it’s another day at the office. But I was doing photography every day…it is a completely different thing if you just do it one day a week and maybe just 2 days a month!

When you get your new phone book, look and see how many people who were advertising wedding photography last year are still in the book this year. The wedding photography business is a business of thirds:

  • 1/3 of the people are just getting in to the business;
  • 1/3 of the people are getting out of the business;
  • 1/3 are there to stay.
Weddings can be a place where you can earn a fair income from photograph…just be sure you know what it really takes to do so. If you have a comment, by all means, send it to me! 

Til next time, may all your exposures be perfect!

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