Having worked in the wedding biz for a few years now, my wife Michelle and I have learnt so many things from our couples and families. The ‘what to do’s’ and ‘what not to do’s’ on the big day.
The stressful last minute issues and how to make sure the happy couple are blissfully unaware of them and the little things that just make the day run that little bit more smoothly…
I don’t want to wax lyrical for hours and I’m sure you don’t have hours to spare anyway so, in conjunction with my wife at www.mtaylorcelebrant.co.uk, we have compiled our absolute top 5 tips to help ensure your big day goes wonderfully.
We hope they help. Let us know! Oh…and have a fabulous day!
THE BIG 5 !
Congratulations your big day has arrived!
The scene is set. The seating plan, having been revised and revised again, is finally drawn up. The flowers have arrived, as has the amazing cake. The suits and dresses are hanging ready to slip on once hair has been coffered possibly even make up applied… So what else do you need to think about?
1. Hydrate & eat!! Chances are you will have been too excited to get a full night’s sleep so it’s important, whatever actual time your wedding is scheduled for, to eat breakfast and perhaps a light snack before your ceremony.
Ladies, trust me… your dress WILL still fit!
Eating something on your wedding day isn’t going to cause you to gain 7lbs in a nanosecond!
I don’t want to scare anyone but I have known it for the Bride to pass out half way through her vows because she chose to ignore this advice. You have been warned!
And you need to stay hydrated, it’s good for your skin, helps prevent tension headaches and gives your hands something to do!
By all means have a little tipple to calm nerves and just start the day in a celebratory mood, but don’t overdo it. Your officiant might not be able to marry you! (And you’ll be bursting for a pee halfway through the ceremony if you’re not careful!)
2. During the prep take a moment out to look around and take everything in, who is doing what and where. Don’t keep worrying about what you have got to do next and spend your big day clock watching! You have hired others to watch the clock for you ( your photographer for one! ) and make sure everything runs to schedule so live in the moment and enjoy it!
You know your day is going to go in a blur so lock those memories in! We followed this bit of advice and can still remember some of the minute details of our big day.
3. Don’t stress, all the hard work is done. Relax, enjoy, the day will be what it’ll be. Seriously don’t sweat the small stuff & don’t try to micro manage!
It never, ever works when you do AND it will just end up stressing you out!
So you realise just how important this is, I’ll say it again. Don’t try to micro manage!! Trust your team of suppliers… after all, you’ve picked some pretty awesome ones… right?
4. Make sure to get your ‘maids’ or your ‘men’ to assist you when you need it. They aren’t there just for the free lunch, it’s a working day for them!! They are your support for your big day after all. Don’t be afraid to ask them to perform little tasks when you need them. (Ladies if you need help with your frock when visiting the loo, make sure your girls are available … check out the bin bag tip on the old Internet too – from Michelle).
Allocate your ‘tribe’ some tasks, when they all know what they are doing and pull together it makes an amazing day just that bit more awesome…THIS is why you are friends with this lot! They have your backs!
5. Take 5 minutes time out during the reception to wander off with a glass of something chilled and your new spouse… Sit, talk and take in the moment…
You did it!! You’re finally married after all those years or months of organisation. Admire how your rings sit on your fingers, how beautiful or dapper your other half is looking.
Go for little stroll together away from the crowd, time to just enjoy each other’s company for a little while.
If you can, take a walk around your wedding breakfast area before you guests come in. No doubt a lot of thought, time and effort has gone into making it just perfect, so have a look around and take it all in.
Near the end of the day take time out to just enjoy some peace and just “watch” for a while, before getting back into the fray and throwing some funky moves on the dance floor!
So what’s it like working with a wedding celebrant?
More to the point, what’s it like working with your wife when she happens to be the wedding celebrant. This is a question we both get asked on a regular basis, especially when couples are looking at booking us both, so I will attempt to answer that question by way of a real life example.
The Meeting: The Bride and Groom had noticed my details on Michelle’s website and, though they had arranged to meet with another photographer, asked if I could come along as well. They had a good look through lots of slideshows on my iPad and looked at several sample wedding albums I had brought with me.
They said they loved my work but, as they had already arranged to meet another photographer and thought it would be rude to cancel that appointment, said they would let me know in due course. About a week later and after they had met with the other photographer, they emailed me to let me know they thought I would be perfect for their day.
The Planning: As is always the case I took a great deal of interest in the planning of the whole day and gave helpful advice when necessary. When I work with Michelle, I am able to get a really detailed knowledge of what is going to happen during the ceremony.
With each ceremony being unique and designed with the couple so as to reflect their own personalities, this detailed knowledge is very valuable as it allows me to plan exactly where to be at the right time to get wonderful photos.
When working with a wedding celebrant I am able to attend the practice and really see first hand how things are going to flow on the day. I can work out where to stand to get great photos without getting too close or in the way and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of the ceremony. When working with Michelle, I also have some input on where she should stand to get the best photos of the happy couple!
Most couples have an idea of the type of photography they would like for their day. This will often include some “formal” photos of themselves and their guests together with a lot of informal or “reportage” style photos. We will work out a plan A (for good weather) and a plan B (for wet weather) and identify locations in advance for the group and couple photos so that no time is wasted on the wedding day.
But I also want my couples to have something more than the photos “everyone has”, something different from the “norm”. To that end, I always encourage couples to also think a bit “outside the box” and perhaps have some photos that are taken “just for fun”. In fact, I have a dedicated gallery on my website called “just for fun”. These are the photos that usually raise the biggest smiles both during and after the big day.
The wedding day was upon us and I arrived early as usual. This meant I had time for a bacon butty and cup of tea whilst chatting with the bridal party and the Bride’s parents. I often find a good chat over a cup of tea helps put everyone at ease before I start clicking the shutter button.
Then I set about my work. The Bride & Groom will have spent a lot of time and effort, not to mention money, arranging not just the big things, but also the little details that go to make their special day exactly how they want it to be. The pictures I take now will help them remember all those little details for years to come. Everything from the seating plan to the strategically placed signs, from the Wedding Cake to the wine for the wedding breakfast, from the Bridesmaid’s dresses to the Groom’s “button hole”. All will have been carefully selected to form a small but important part of this most special of days.
Then there’s The Dress, The Shoes, The Perfume, The Jewellery, The Old, New, Borrowed and Blue. All to be recorded for posterity. The atmosphere as the Bridal party share a bedroom as hair and make-up are perfected. Then, when everything is just right, a few portrait photos of the Bride looking amazing!
The Groom and his party are not to be forgotten. It’s his day too, so some photos of him, his Best Man and friends when they are all done up to the 9s and looking their best.
The guests start to arrive. Some casual photos of them chatting, maybe catching up with old friends they haven’t seen in an age, and then making their way to their seats. Not forgetting some photos of the Groom with his Best Man as they wait patiently, and perhaps nervously, for the bride to arrive.
Then the wedding celebrant, my wife Michelle, calls all to order. She gives her introduction before leading on to the moment they have all been waiting for. All stand for the entrance of The Bride!
Photos are taken as the pretty flower girl leads the way scattering petals down the aisle. She is followed by the Bridesmaids all looking beautiful then, finally, The Bride looking amazing. I then turn to get a photo of the Groom as he sees her for the first time in her wedding dress. The look on his face says it all!
The ceremony goes brilliantly. Just the right blend of “the serious” with “the fun”. Big smiles and lots of laughter from everyone, including the celebrant. Exactly what a celebration of love should be.
As for me, I’m keeping out of the way so that I don’t distract anyone, but I’m getting lots of photos of smiling faces! Capturing those important little moments like the rings being placed on the fingers, the vows being exchanged, the first kiss and those knowing little glances the couple give each other. I can’t help but smile all the way through it all.
When the ceremony ends, it’s time for the confetti. I get the guests organised and tell them how confetti should be thrown. Then it’s time to get them organised for the group photos. It really comes in handy being married to the celebrant as she now sets about helping me get everyone organised.
The big group photo with everyone in it is usually the first. The part of the wedding that the guests dread the most. We need natural smiles, not cheesy forced ones, so it’s “Three cheers for the Bride and Groom”. That usually works. Everyone comes alive, lots of cheering and lots of natural smiles. After the photo is taken, those guests that do not “appear” in any more photos can be released to make their way to the drinks and canapés.
During the planning stage the Bride and Groom had, at my request, provided a list of the group photos they wanted. At the rehearsal we had worked out the best order in which to take the photos so that guests are not standing around for ages waiting to have their photo taken. After all, who wants to stand around waiting for photos when there’s food and drink calling out to them! About 15 minutes later, we’re done.
Now it’s on to the “fun” photos with the bride, Groom and their parties. And they really had come up with some fun ideas for these photos! Michelle joins in as my “voice activated light stand”, another advantage of being married to the celebrant (though I suspect she doesn’t quite see it that way).
Then I took the Bride and Groom off for a little walk to take some “romantic” and some casual photos of just the two of them enjoying each other’s company, and a few “formal” ones which they had wanted for “display on the mantle piece”. The Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid comes in handy here. There’s drinks and canapés to be carried, not to mention a long dress to be looked after.
Then it’s back to the guests to “mingle” and enjoy themselves. An opportunity for me to get some casual photos of them all generally just having a good time before all the guests are called to their seats ready for the Wedding Breakfast.
Some photos as the Bride and Groom are announced (usually by my wife Michelle) and make their entrance, then, when they are seated, I disappear to let everyone enjoy their meal without fear of having a camera pointed in their direction.
Then it’s time for the speeches! I take a few photos of each of the speech makers in turn but mostly photograph the reactions of the guests and top table as they are often laughing hysterically at what is said.
When the speeches draw to a close it’s usually time for me to prepare for the “First Dance”. I set up any additional lighting that I think is necessary so that I am ready when they are.
The arrival of the evening guests presents me with another opportunity for some casual photos of the Bride and Groom with their guests. Then, at some point, it’s time to photograph the cutting of the Wedding Cake before moving on to that special First Dance, both of which are often announced by Michelle.
As soon as the First Dance is finished the guests invade the dance floor and the evening party gets underway. A few photos of them enjoying themselves on the dance floor. Maybe they have asked for a particular photo that they really want me to get.
I check with the Bride and Groom that they have finished with Michelle and I before packing my equipment away at the end of what has been a truly fantastic day.
So what’s it like working with your wife, the wedding celebrant? Absolutely brilliant. I love the ceremonies my wife conducts. Every one is different and they are always full of fun and laughter. And let’s not forget, I get a free “voice activated light stand” thrown into the bargain!!
You may notice that most of my blogs are aimed at people who either already are, or want to be, wedding photographers so I thought it was about time I wrote an article which potential clients will find interesting as well.
I have chosen a wedding which took place in August last year at St Catherine’s Church and Gosfield Hall in Essex to use as the focal point for my explanation of how I do things.
My clients, Jessica and Stuart, got in touch through my “contact me” page on my website after a friend of theirs (whose wedding I had photographed the year before) had recommended me to them. We made an appointment for me to call on them for a chat about their day.
A couple of weeks later we met to discuss their plans and really seemed to “hit it off”. I showed them examples of my work on my iPad and some sample Queensberry wedding albums.
The wedding album samples proved to be quite important as they said they would be wanting a good quality printed record of their day. After a couple of hours I left to allow them time to decide whether I was the right photographer for them.
A couple of days later I was delighted to hear back from them. They wanted to meet again so that we could complete contracts and they could officially book my services for their wedding day. Contract completed, terms and conditions signed and understood and booking fee paid, I was officially booked!
The next time I met up with Jessica and Stuart was a couple of months before their wedding day. During the intervening period, Jessica had been in touch to ask advice on matters like make up (her own and that of her bridesmaids) and whether I was happy to take some very specific photographs she wanted.
Naturally I’m always happy to take photos that are specifically requested by clients and I was happy to give advice on the make up. I even offered a “test shoot” to see how her make up would look in photographs so that she could feel confident about it on her big day.
So we met at Gosfield Hall a couple of months before their wedding day and spent a couple of hours walking around this beautiful wedding venue, both in the main building and around the grounds.
We came up with two plans and a more detailed “time line” for when and where to take the requested photographs. Plan A was for good weather, whilst plan B was for wet weather. I think it’s sensible to have two plans as you never know what the weather will be like. We had a little practice shoot which was great fun then Jessica and Stuart advised me of the date they would be having a practice for their ceremony at St Catherine’s Church, which is on the edge of the grounds at Gosfield Hall.
A few days before their wedding we met again. This time it was at St Catherine’s Church for the rehearsal of their ceremony. I always go to the rehearsal if possible for several reasons.
Firstly, it gives me an opportunity to introduce myself to the officiant. In my experience, they tend to appreciate the photographer making this effort to introduce themselves before the wedding day, when no one has time to chat. I realise that some officiants have had bad experiences with wedding photographers and as a result, can be quite strict with us.
I have found that by meeting them before the day, we can address any concerns they might have about how I conduct myself when photographing a wedding and I am often granted a little more freedom as a result.
Secondly, I have found different officiants have different ways of doing things. Sometimes the Bridesmaids walk up the aisle in front of the Bride, sometimes behind the Bride. Things like that which will influence where I need to stand to get the photographs my clients are after. Staying for the practice really does have benefits.
Thirdly I get a chance to meet all the main participants in the day. Bride and Groom’s parents, Bridesmaids, Best Man, Page Boys Flower Girls and anyone else involved in the day. That way, I’m not a complete stranger when it comes to taking their photos on the day itself.
Lastly it gives me a chance to go through their entire time line once more in case there have been any last minute changes. It also gives my clients the opportunity to ask any questions that they may not have thought of up until now.
The rehearsal is usually just a day or two before the wedding so it really does give us a chance to check nothing has changed from our earlier conversations and I think the more I see of my clients, the better. It tends to help them feel more relaxed around me.
The big day arrived and the weather was fabulous. I left home early as usual just in case there are any unexpected hold ups on the roads. There weren’t any, so I arrived nice and early at Gosfield Hall. As I was early, I had a chance to grab a coffee and a croissant with the Bridesmaids before the make up artist and hairdresser arrived.
I set to photographing the dress, shoes, jewellery, perfume, flowers and all the other important little things that, when all put together, go to create the perfect day.
Then it was time to photograph the Bride (after the hair and make up are finished, of course) in some “getting ready” photos. Then casual photos of her and her Bridesmaids generally having fun.
The Groom was getting ready at Gosfield Hall as well and he wanted some photos of him with his friends and family before the ceremony. So we made our way to the location in the grounds which we had identified during an earlier meeting (it was a plan A type of day!) and had some fun taking some photos before they set off for St Catherine’s Church.
I returned to see the Bride in the Bridal Suite at Gosfield Hall and we took all the photos she had requested, together with a few she had not! I arrange for Dad to come into the Bridal Suite to see his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time (always a special moment) and took the important photos showing his reaction.
Then I photographed the entire Bridal party making their way down the stairs as they prepared to set off to St Catherine’s Church before making my way to the church myself.
I reached the church in time to record the arrival of the Bridal Party
and the look on the Groom’s face as she walked up the aisle.
The wedding ceremony went beautifully and I managed to get all the photos they had requested,
as well as a few they hadn’t!
Outside for the confetti shot! I organised all the guests into two lines and, on the count of three, the couple walked down the middle of the tunnel whilst being showered with confetti.
Off to Gosfield Hall for the wedding breakfast and evening celebration! Once more I was able to reach the destination before the Bride and Groom, so I recorded their arrival at Gosfield Hall. We gathered together all the guests and set about getting all the “group” photos. Three cheers for the Bride and Groom. Hip hip……………
I always encourage my clients to make a list of their “must get” group photos. Usually I can enlist the help of the Best Man with indetification and marshalling the guests to a location identified in advance so that we can get these photos done as quickly as possible. Let’s face it, the guests want to get at the drinks and canapés, they don’t want to be waiting around taking photos!
Then I took the Bride and Groom off for some special “couple” photos which, when done correctly, can be a really fun part of the day.
I usually get the Best Man or a Bridesmaid to bring along some drinks and canapés for the couple so they don’t miss out.
Several photos and lots of laughs later, they went to join their guests.
After taking some casual photos of the happy couple chatting to their guests, I went to prepare for the wedding breakfast. After taking some photos of the room set up,
place settings, table centres
and some other important “finishing touches”, I made ready for the Bride and Groom’s announced entrance.
When everyone had taken their seats I made myself scarce so that they could enjoy their meal without having to worry about a camera lens being pointed at them. Having told the Bride and Groom exactly where they would be able to find me, I went to have a sandwich and cold drink (non alcoholic, obviously).
I returned for the “speeches”. Lots of laughter and a little “embarrassment” later, I had taken photos of all the main protagonists and the reactions of their guests.
Then, as had been requested by Jessica and Stuart, we went to take some more “couple” photos at a few locations inside the building.
The architecture is beautiful and we had decided to take advantage of that fact.
For me, it was then time to set up my lights for the First Dance. Having set the lighting, we had the official “cutting of the cake” first before moving straight into the dance room for the dancing to begin.
After a couple of minutes, they were in the middle of the dance floor completely surrounded by guests so out came my ladder (which was nearby and ready) so that I could still get photos of Jessica and Stuart.
A few photos of the party in full swing with the guests having a fabulous time and I was finished for the day. Absolutely exhausted but boy had I enjoyed it.
I checked with Jessica and Stuart to make sure we had taken all the photos they wanted before packing everything into my van and setting off home.
I have tried my best to keep the “word count” down but I hope there is enough here to give you an idea of how I go about photographing a wedding. Quite simply, it’s a job I love and hope to be doing for many years to come.
I’m posing that question because of events I have experienced in the past few weeks. Taken individually, they are of little significance. Taken as a whole I think there is cause for concern.
As usual, these are my opinions and mine alone. I have no doubt some will find them a great bone of contention and that not everyone will agree with me.
The first was coming across the scene depicted in this photo which I took whilst in Australia.
I’ve posted this photo before and the feedback I received is that some do see it as the future of wedding photography because the cameras built into today’s mobile phones are already pretty good and they are constantly improving.
I’m not going to debate that subject in much detail here because it has been covered in other blogs elsewhere, but I would like to mention the camera element. Whatever form the camera takes, it is just a tool and the shape of told does change over time. The end of the wedding photographer was predicted before with the advent of digital over film, a time when the “tool” changed..
As with that period of change, the Photographer, regardless of the tool they are using, still needs to possess all the other skills (people management, organisational skills, lighting skills, their creativity and so on) to be an effective wedding photographer.
The next event that got me thinking was a comment my neighbour and friend made. He works in insurance and twice in two weeks he has told me about insurance claims being made by newly married couples against their wedding photographers.
Now I have known this neighbour over 10 years and he has been in the same job throughout that time yet he has never mentioned this problem before. You might think it’s just some couples “trying it on” but in these instances, that’s not the case. He has seen the photographs and the standard of them has given him cause for concern.
Talking to him, there does indeed appear to be a rise in the number of claims being made. I can’t help but wonder if this is another example of the “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” culture we seem to be going through, or has the general standard of wedding photography gone down?
Let’s face it, pricing for wedding photography has come under a great deal of pressure in recent years. I’m not criticising any individual here but there are a lot of “cheap” photographers out there and a lot of consumers who are hiring purely on price.
To me, simple economics dictates the following. You have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to live and stay in business. If you are not charging very much for your services, you need to get more bookings. If you have more bookings, you cannot spend too much time on each one otherwise you will fall behind.
This means, just my opinion remember, you take “short cuts”. You spend less time preparing for the weddings ( I carry out venue visits with clients and spend a lot of time getting to know them and exactly what they want ) and you spend less time on editing. I believe it’s inevitable that the quality of the images will suffer as a result.
Also, if you haven’t had the time to “get to know them”, you may not be providing them with the images they were expecting and that can ( in fact I know it actually has ), prompt a “claim”.
This brings me on to the third event which I think is worth mentioning. I learned just yesterday that a very well known and respected photography training company has gone into “voluntary liquidation”.
This company has trained a lot of well known and very successful wedding and portrait photographers over a period of decades and it has gone out of business. It will be a great loss to the industry and it has made me wonder, after such a long period of success, what has changed to make this company fail?
Could it be bad management? Well, the same duo have managed the company successfully for a long time and I don’t think they would suddenly become “bad” managers overnight. Personally, I suspect they were unable to generate sufficient revenue in a changing market place.
Put another way, when the world has reached the stage that using a camera phone is ok for wedding photography, that “cutting corners” is ok to keep your prices down, then the chances are people starting out in this industry don’t think they need any training. Either that or, because they are having to keep their prices down so low, they simply can’t afford it.
I can’t help but think the industry is in a dangerous downward spiral. Most people are quite simply used to seeing photos on their phone. That is what they have come to expect to see when they look at photos and a growing number seem to be satisfied with that.
Because of this, with the photos being on such a small screen, I personally believe most people don’t know a bad photo from a good one. Following on from that, people don’t value photography any more and will simply hire the cheapest photographer they can find without realising there is more to taking a good photograph than pushing a button on a mobile phone.
Following on from that, photographers who are trying to earn a living are having to keep their prices unrealistically low. They simply have to “cut corners” and don’t have the money available to invest in good training.
With no training, the standard goes down and you end up with insurance claims. I can’t help but think the three events I have mentioned are all connected.
So is the wedding photographer an endangered species?
Look at artists, musicians, footballers and so on. All have a few “super stars” who earn a very good living at their chosen profession and I think Photography is no different. Whilst a few will do very well, a lot will find it impossible to earn a decent living from photography on a full time basis.
I believe there are simply too many photographers in a very crowded market place. I also believe that, with the advent of the “camera phone”, photography has become devalued. As I pointed out earlier, most people don’t know a good photo from a bad one.
Because they can take a snap on their mobile phone they think taking photos is easy and end up shopping for their wedding photographer on price alone. After all, they are only paying someone to push a button on a phone for a few hours, aren’t they!
Most wedding photographers are already “part time” with their earnings from photography being their “secondary” source of income. (By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being part time, in case you were wondering. That debate has already been done to death! ).
When it comes to training I can see other problems. As I’ve mentioned, an established company with a great track record has gone out of business, and what do we see? “Photographers” with relatively little experience suddenly becoming experts and advertising “cut price training days” to try and earn enough money to pay their way in life because they can’t earn enough from weddings alone.
I’ve been photographing weddings for over eight years now and been on several training courses during that time ( including successfully completing a “judges” training course ), yet I’m still learning and I don’t consider myself qualified enough to charge for “teaching” wedding photography effectively. How someone with only a couple of years experience can really think they are an “expert” and qualified to teach is beyond me.
I don’t want this blog to be all “doom and gloom”, rather just point out a few things that have recently given me cause for concern. A bit of a “reality check”, if you like.
In general, we wedding photographers are a very positive bunch but it’s no good putting our heads in the sand. Whilst I know most of us photograph weddings not to “get rich” but because we genuinely love doing it, we do have to strike a balance and earn a living.
The end of this wonderful profession has been foretold in the past, yet we are still here. It is my hope that we are going through a temporary “phase”. When “digital packages” came into “fashion”, people stopped buying wedding albums. I have found people returning to wedding albums because they are now learning the limitations and shortfalls of the “digital only” wedding package.
With a lot of people now just looking for “cheap” photography, in time it’s limitations and shortfalls will become apparent as they did with “digital only” packages. Then it may go “out of fashion”.
Until then, I like to think that those photographers who are able to meet the challenges presented by this changing and challenging market place will survive, but it isn’t going to be easy and don’t expect to get rich doing it! At least not until the “fashion” for cheapness changes!!
I’m back again after an absence of over a month and I’m going to talk about my holiday in Australia. Now why on earth would you want to read about that and how is it relevant to running a photography business?
Well perhaps I should give it the title “Work / Life balance. Do you have one?” Stick with me and all will become clear. I’m no lifestyle coach but I hope relaying some of my personal experiences may give you something to think about and help you get the balance that’s right for you.
So my wife and I set off on what will probably be a once in a lifetime trip to Australia. We visited Melbourne ( the see relatives ), Sydney ( terrific city ), Uluru ( amazing big red rock! ) and Port Douglas ( to snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef, highly recommended ).
We were just driving into Heathrow Airport at the start of our trip when my phone rings. A new enquiry for a wedding later this year. I explained where I was and asked the potential client to submit a contact form from my website. I informed her I was available on her day and would get back to her on my return to the UK. She submitted the form and we have now arranged to meet for a chat.
We arrived in Melbourne. An email pinged up on my iPad enquiring about a date for next year. I formulated a reply and sent it. On checking my “sent” folder, there is no trace of my reply. It sometimes takes a day of two to show in the “sent” folder so I decided I would check it sent OK later on.
Now one thing that really surprised me about Australia is how difficult it was to get a reliable wi-fi signal. I kid you not. I don’t know if we were just unlucky and the places we stayed at were unusual in that respect, but it was like being in a third world country! On the odd occasions when we did get a signal, we had to pay extra for it in hotels. The best place for free wi-fi was the public libraries, if you can find one.
A couple of days later, we got a signal. I checked the emails. Another new enquiry to which I sent a reply. On checking my “sent” folder neither the reply to this new enquiry nor the one I sent a couple of days earlier were showing. What’s going on! I also found the enquiry form I have received a couple of days earlier was completely missing from my “in” box. Emails were simply disappearing from my email account!!!
Now I’m starting to get stressed. Not getting a booking because the potential clients prefer another supplier is one thing. Not getting a booking because they think I’m unreliable and don’t respond to emails (when in actual fact, I have), well that’s another. The last thing I want is a reputation for being unreliable.
Naturally I had set up an “auto reply” on my system informing clients of my absence and letting them know I would reply when I was able, but I was sending replies and through no fault of my own, I had no idea whether the potential clients were receiving them or not.
Couple of days later, another enquiry. Another reply sent. More emails vanishing from my email account. The stress levels are going up!
Now here’s the thing. I’m on my holiday. In the past when I was “employed”, I would have considered being called upon during my period of leave to be a very unreasonable intrusion on my personal life.
Yet here I was, on the holiday of a lifetime feeling stressed out and allowing “work” to ruin it. I would not have accepted such an intrusion lightly when “employed”, so why was I allowing it to happen when “self-employed”.
Those of us that are self-employed realise just how hard we have to work to make our business successful and earn a living. Sometimes we will go to extremes to ensure our clients are happy with the service we have provided and that we maintain our good reputation.
Then I thought to myself, hang on a minute. I left my previous job after over 30 years on my GP’s advice because the stress was affecting my health. I now consider myself lucky to be doing a job I love but, based on my previous experiences, I really should know better than to allow work to cause me so much stress during my holiday.
I have come to the conclusion that, whilst we need to provide a reliable and professional service to our clients in order to run a successful business, there are times when our clients need to understand that we are only human and when we are on holiday, we are on holiday. I can’t help but think it’s really important to have a good balance between our work ethic and the need for “down time”.
I decided to put the iPad away ( the auto reply will inform people that I will reply when I am able ), enjoy my holiday and ignore my emails until I returned from Australia. I believe most reasonable people will understand that we all need a break from work sometimes in order to maintain our mental and physical health. It’s no good turning up to their wedding feeling tired and in need of a break! Both our health and their photos will suffer if we do.
Let’s face it, none of our clients will attend our funeral if we work ourselves into an early grave and we will soon go out of business if our photos aren’t up to the required standard.
Now we’re all different. Some of us appear to enjoy stress and have a high tolerance level for it. For others, the level of stress we can deal with is much lower. My advice would be to ensure you are aware of your own tolerance for stress and don’t exceed it.
Personally, I have suffered very high levels of stress in the past and know from bitter experience just how ill prolonged periods of high stress levels can make you, so I will avoid it whenever possible.
Having said that, I don’t think you could ever avoid stress completely and there is an argument that some stress is actually necessary to maintain a healthy balanced life.
I know it can be easier said than done sometimes, especially when your job is also your passion, but I think we should all build “breaks” into our working life and stick to them. We also need to be aware of stress and the harm it can do and when things start to get too much, take action. It is my belief that you will be a better person and run a better business as a result to the benefit of both yourself and your clients.
After all, surely we should be “working so that we can live”, not “living so that we can work”.
So, remember the enquiries I was getting stressed out about during my holiday? Want to know the outcome?
I had two enquiries immediately before flying out to Australia who I was able to speak to on the phone, both of which have decided to book me. That leaves the two enquiries I received whilst actually in Australia.
I had emailed both of them twice, the second email explaining my difficulties and asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt of my replies. On my arrival back in the UK I hadn’t heard anything from either of them, so I sent them both one further reply from my office again asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt just so I was satisfied they had heard from me and didn’t think I had ignored them.
I can be almost 100% certain those replies must have reached them, but guess what. Neither of them had the good manners to let me know. I heard nothing from them.
The lesson. To me this just helps confirm what I have said before. When you are on your holiday, YOU ARE ON HOLIDAY. Stressing about your business doesn’t do you any good whatsoever and most of you clients won’t appreciate it.
Firstly a very Happy New Year to you all. Here in part 10 I will offer some practical advice, based on real life experience, of how to deal with “Uncle Bob”.
This will be the last blog for several weeks as I’m off doing a bit of “globe trotting”, but I will return!
So, just how do we deal with “Uncle Bob”?
Firstly I guess, I need to answer the question, who is “Uncle Bob”? It is a term of endearment for those family members / guests found at most weddings who want to be “Wedding Photographers” for the day. They are often keen amateur photographers and I’m convinced they set themselves the goal of taking better photos of the wedding than we professionals.
I really don’t think we need to “fear” them stealing our ideas or photographing our poses, as some professional photographers I have spoken to would have you believe. One “Uncle Bob” I met put it perfectly and I quote “I’ve been to several family weddings and I tend to get 3 or 4 good images that I’m really happy with. I have no idea how you guys get 3 or 4 HUNDRED images at one wedding and I admire that”. I believe that’s how most “Uncle Bobs” feel.
I think most of them have respect for what we do and might want to learn a thing or two from us. Get a few small tips from us on how to improve their own photography.
I have heard other pros say they are a real nuisance. That they stand right in front of you at key moments, shoot over your shoulder and really get in the way.
Well yes, that does sometimes happen but I have found that almost all respond well to being given some polite advice and instruction to make sure they don’t get in your way.
Occasionally you might have to be a bit more assertive but remember, you are at a wedding. You don’t want to “cause a scene” or go upsetting guests and they are perfectly entitled to take photos if they want to.
I have included a clause relating to this issue in my terms and conditions, which I have reproduced below:
1. Exclusive Photographer. The Photographer shall be the exclusive photographer retained by the Client for the purpose of photographing the wedding. Family and friends of the Client shall be permitted to photograph the wedding as long as they shall not interfere with the Photographer’s duties and do not photograph poses arranged by the Photographer.
In practice, I have never had to fall back on this. I have found that issues can be prevented just by talking to people. Making them aware of what you would like them to do and why you would like them to do it.
Getting people to do what you want them to is down to your own interpersonal skills. There will always be the very occasional one that is, how shall I say this, really difficult to deal with, but if you are having problems on a regular basis perhaps you should be taking a good look at yourself.
I was once given a very good bit of advice by a famous photographer. He said, “if you want to be a better photographer of people, first concentrate on becoming a better person”. I think that is sound advice.
Personally I think you’re getting off to a bad start if you approach the issue with the view that they are all just a nuisance. You need to realise that some of them are capable of taking some really good images and in my experience, few of them actually make a “nuisance” of themselves.
You also must not presume that all “Uncle Bobs” are just keen amateurs. I have been a guest at weddings myself ( I would rather be a guest at a family wedding and enjoy the day ) and will bring one camera with me, just in case, but I don’t consider myself to be an “Uncle Bob”.
I have said it earlier, but I think it’s worth repeating. I have found almost all guests looking to take photos and are getting in your way, respond well to being given some polite advice. Occasionally you have to be quite assertive but most will listen, especially if you warn them that they will incur the wrath of the couples and their parents if the photos don’t come out well!!
The worst I have come across was one chap who literally stood right behind me during the “confetti” shot. I asked him to keep to one side as I would be walking backwards. He ignored me and I stepped back onto his feet and almost fell over him.
He then followed me when I took the couple away for their “couple” photos. The Bride herself solved the problem. She advised him that his presence was not welcome, pointing out the incident with the confetti shot, and he skulked off and kept out of the way.
If you do come across someone who is very rude and simply will not listen to your advice, take pictures anyway. You can then show the couple exactly who prevented you from getting the photos they wanted!
Another option is to suggest to the couple early in the planning stage that they have an “unplugged” wedding. It’s their day and therefore their choice, but there’s no harm in mentioning it to them. It certainly prevents a “forest” of mobile phones and tablets appearing out of nowhere when the Bride walks up the aisle.
I have had so many take up this idea that I have a large sign they can borrow to put on display. It reads
“UNPLUGGED CEREMONY“. We invite you to be fully present during our ceremony. Kindly turn off all your devices and enjoy this moment with us. THANK YOU.
There are various alternative wordings around such as “enjoy our ceremony through your eyes, not your electronic device”, but as long as it gets the message across, it’s up to the couple exactly what wording works for them.
I believe in a little bit of forward planning. I think it’s a good idea to ask the Bride and Groom during your last consultation with them before their wedding day, whether they have any family members likely to “take a keen interest” in what is going on with the photography. Usually I can then formulate a plan of how the “Uncle Bobs” are best handled with the Bride and Groom’s approval.
It might be best, if circumstances allow and it seems appropriate, to actually involve the guests concerned. Make them feel a part of it ( but don’t get them “working under your direction” as you may fall foul of you insurance T’s & C’s if things go wrong ).
I have been known to bring keen Mums or Dads with me when doing the photos of the couple on their own. Both the couples and the parents really appreciated it and I think in their eyes this gesture meant I could do no wrong!
I took the photos of the couple that I wanted to take while they watched. Once I had finished, I let them take their photos. They might have been photographing my poses but, because of different camera settings and the way they composed their images, they looked very different to mine. Remember, we have nothing to fear!!
That’s it for now. Hopefully I will be back blogging again when I return from my travels. Until then, enjoy your work. After all, it’s still the best job in the world!!
This is part 9 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business – dream vs reality. You may wish to consider starting at part 1.
I thought I had finished at part 6 but I did mention that, if anyone had an issue they wanted my opinion on, to just drop me an email. I was asked about qualifications and awards, so parts 7 and 8 were born. Part 9 is to answer a question I have been asked about being VAT registered. What are the “pros” and “cons” around voluntary registration?
First, the usual disclaimer. I am not an accountant or qualified to give you financial or legal advice. The purpose of this blog is just to let you know about my decision making process and my personal experiences with voluntary registration for VAT.
In simple terms and generally speaking, when your taxable turnover goes over £85,000, or you KNOW your taxable turnover will go over £85,000, you are under a legal obligation to register for VAT. There are exemptions/conditions/further info which you can read about at https://www.gov.uk/vat-registration
Now my turnover has never exceeded £85,000 and, as I have never wanted to grow very big in business terms, is unlikely to. I prefer to stay “small”, maintain a healthy “work life balance” and have the time available to give my clients a very personal service. So why did I register for VAT ?
When I started out in this business I made a very considerable investment in professional grade equipment. Camera bodies, lenses, lighting, computers and so on. The simple fact that I could claim back the VAT on those “capital investment allowance” items meant I could claim back several thousand pounds from HM Revenue and Customs. This could have a great appeal, especially if your turnover in that first year is not what you were hoping for.
So the upside to “voluntary registration” is simply the fact that you can claim back the VAT on all items purchased for purely business purposes.
Another possible upside, though this is more debatable, is that some people consider a business that is VAT registered to be “more professional”, “more established” or maybe “more reliable” than one that isn’t.
As I said, this is debatable and I know that being VAT registered hasn’t made me any more “professional”, “established” or “reliable”. However the fact remains, some people appear to feel that way.
I have also had a few “corporate” commissions (parties and the like as I’m not a “corporate headshot” provider) where they wanted a photographer who was VAT registered.
So what’s the downside? The downside is, you become an unpaid tax collector for HM Revenue and Customs. Currently, you have to charge 20% VAT on all your goods and services and, after deducting the VAT paid out on items you have bought for your business, pay the balance every quarter to HM Revenue and Customs.
Personally I found the “refund” of VAT on my equipment purchases came in very handy indeed during my first year in business while I was trying to get established. However, from my second year of trading onwards, I have had a VAT bill to pay every 3 months!
Obviously, you know you are collecting VAT on all your transactions and that 20% of the fee you are collecting is not your money. It belongs to HMRC and you must put it to one side. It still feels like a bill to me though!
The other downside is, if your customers are looking for a photographer basing their decision purely on price, you are potentially making yourself uncompetitive. Even if you are technically charging the same as your competitors, you are going to be 20% more expensive than those who are not registered because you have to add the VAT on to your fee.
There is something important you need to know if you are planning on selling wedding albums. When I registered for VAT, the printers had to charge me VAT on wedding albums. Because I could claim back VAT on my purchases I effectively only had to add VAT to the amount of “mark up” I added to those wedding albums when supplying them to my clients.
The law changed. Books are exempt VAT. It was eventually decided by the courts that a wedding album, where the pages are fixed and cannot be changed, fitted the definition of the word “book”. Therefore, wedding albums with fixed pages (that’s practically all of them) are currently exempt VAT.
One thing I didn’t realise when I registered for VAT is that EVERYTHING I charge my clients for is subject to VAT. (There are a few exemptions, but none of them relate to photography services).
HMRC explained it to me like this. If I travel to London on a train I purchase a ticket which currently costs around £50. Train travel is exempt VAT. If I decide to charge my client for my train ticket I have to charge them £60. Yes, I have to add VAT to the price of the train ticket.
Now the same applies to wedding albums. They are exempt VAT and the printers do not have to charge it, but if I supply them as a service through my VAT registered business, I have to charge my clients VAT on their wedding album.
I have had a lengthy email exchange with HMRC as at first I struggled to understand the logic and the fairness of this, but they are adamant that I have to charge VAT on wedding albums to comply with the law as it currently stands.
This is something you need to consider when you are deliberating whether to register voluntarily or not as it will have a direct impact on how competitive your pricing is on wedding albums as well as your other services. Obviously I will comply with the law but I do hope one day the law changes as, to me, there is no doubt this is unfair and had I been aware of the impending change (I don’t have a crystal ball so obviously I couldn’t predict this change) it would probably have swayed my decision towards NOT registering voluntarily.
I must admit though that my wedding album sales have increased steadily year on year, so read into that what you will.
If anyone knows differently and is aware of a legal system whereby I would not have to charge VAT on wedding albums, I would love to hear from you.
There is another possible change in the law currently being considered which may effect your decision. I have read that because of the way society is changing the number of “employed” people is actually going down whilst the number of “self employed” people is increasing substantially.
This change is apparently effecting the amount of revenue HMRC are receiving ( tax receipts are going down ).
In addition, HMRC have apparently noticed a trend whereby a lot of small businesses and the self employed conveniently have an annual turnover just below £85,000.
In order to address these issues, the government is looking at ways they can change the law and bump their tax receipts back up again.
I have read one proposal being given serious consideration is to LOWER the VAT threshold to as little as £20,000 so that effectively ALL small business and the self employed will HAVE to charge VAT to their clients. As I don’t want “politics” to form any part of this blog, I will leave you to form your own opinions on that particular proposal.
So, should you register voluntarily for VAT or not ? This is not a “cop out” on my part but I can’t answer that question for you. Like so many things it depends on your own personal situation, your own finances and your longer term ambitions for your business, not to mention any possible future “changes” in the law. ( I must add a crystal ball to my Christmas “wish list” this year ).
In my own case, had I known that wedding albums would become exempt VAT, I probably would NOT have registered. Having said that, if they carry on with the proposal to substantially reduce the VAT threshold, I will probably be glad that I did register and claim back the VAT on my equipment while I had the chance.
My advice is to give this subject careful thought. Consider your own personal circumstances and your long term plans for your business, then decide whether “voluntary registration” seems like the right thing for you.
If you have any other issues you would like me to give an opinion on or relay my experiences with, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email.
This is part 8 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business – dream vs reality. For this blog to make sense to need to read pt 7 first.
So in this blog I will continue to talk about my experiences with gaining qualifications and entering competitions.
With regards to the second type of competition mentioned in part 7 of this series, I have no doubt that winning the
“National Wedding Industry Awards Wedding Photographer of the Year”
award is going to be of great benefit to your business. What a wonderful marketing tool that is.
My wife entered the “Wedding Celebrant” category and recently became the winner of the Eastern Region Final. The National Final is in January 2018.
What I have noticed is that, in order to enter, you pay a fee. You then pay another fee for a “listing” on their website. The more you pay, the more detailed your listing.
Then you pay for a ticket to attend the “Regional Awards Night”. Then you pay for your food and refreshments for that evening. ( In return for her £45 my wife received one glass of prosecco and one small petits four ).
Then you pay a fee to attend the “National Awards Night”. Then you pay again for your food and refreshments. You can see where this is going, can’t you.
In fairness to those who run these awards, I realise the costs do have to be covered by someone, but £45 for one petits four and a glass of prosecco!
My wife has had to put a lot of work into her submission for the competition and has had to chase her clients from the past year to “remind them to vote” for her, so I have no doubt all the winners will have worked very hard to win their award.
In spite of the fact almost all her clients have voted for her, ( it was actually 75% of them which, any of you who have asked clients for feedback in the past will know, is a truly fabulous achievement ) the final say is down to a panel of judges. I know I’m cynical but I’m uncomfortable with the fact that entrants know the identity of the judges before the judging is done.
The point I’m trying to make is this. If you were wondering whether the postie might one day bring you a surprise letter telling you that you had been selected by a panel of independent judges to represent your region in a competition for best wedding photographer, it doesn’t work like that. To put it another way, if you are just “waiting to be discovered”, you’re in for a long wait.
You have to apply, work on your submission, chase clients for votes and be prepared to pay ( on several occasions ) to take part.
Now I can see some advantages to entering these competitions. If you enter, it gives you something to aim for. This will probably lead to you endeavouring to improve both your photography skills and your business skills and this has to be a good thing. Plus, as I’ve already pointed out, should you win it will be a very handy marketing tool!
However, if I could remind you of something I shared with you in part 1 of this series about the level of competition we photographers face. It’s tough. The list of regional finalists ( East of England )for the National Wedding Industry Awards 2018 includes the following:
There are 4 wedding celebrants, 3 bands, 2 offering wedding transport, 5 videographers, 4 venue stylists, 3 for wedding stationery, 3 caterers, 2 marquee providers, 5 wedding planners, ( you can guess where I’m going with this, can’t you !) and 34, yes34 wedding photographers.
So in my region there are 34 photographers who can quite correctly state they are “Regional Finalists” for the National Wedding Industry Awards. Now add in those “Regional Finalists” for the UK Wedding Awards, the English Wedding Awards and the British Wedding Awards ( Yes, these are all different competitions ), then there’s the Essex Wedding Awards and so on.
A few days ago I received an invitation to enter “The Bridebook Wedding Awards”, so it appears the “internet listing companies” are jumping on the band wagon as well. In the same week I was also invited to enter the MyWed wedding photographer of the year awards. No doubt, there will be more to follow.
If you enjoy taking part in this sort of competition and you are able to use it as a helpful marketing tool, then good luck to you. Personally, I think the number of “Wedding Photographer of the Year” awards has become ridiculous.
I take nothing away from my wife here. Some of you might say I dare not, because I have to live with her and she will probably read my blog :-). The thing that makes it different for her is that, as far as we know, this award is the first and only award for wedding celebrants to date and to me, that makes it “worth” the time and effort to take part and most definitely worth winning.
The thing my wife and all the other “winners” will have to remember for future years is the “bonus year” effect I described in part 7. If they don’t win again next year, should they then be telling potential clients that they’re no longer considered “the best”? Should they be telling them that they’re not as good as they used to be? Of course not. That would be nonsense, but hopefully you can see the point I’m trying to make here.
When you look at the number of photography awards and competitions being advertised, there are just so many of them it’s no wonder practically all wedding photographers (myself included) can offer “award winning photography” and to me, the significance of such awards has lessened as a result.
Whilst neither of the type of competition I’ve described are for me personally, they may well be right for you and I wish you well if, being aware of the effort and costs involved, you decide to enter.
If you are successful and advertise your achievements, the general public will be very happy to know they are hiring an “award winning” photographer. They just won’t realise that almost all of us are!
What’s more important. Qualifications or winning competitions ?
To me, qualifications have it every time. This is because you submit a panel of images ( with the SWPP, it’s 20 and I submitted 20 images from 10 different weddings ) demonstrating you have maintained a certain standard over a period of time and with a number of clients.
Next comes winning a competition like the Wedding Industry Awards because again you have to demonstrate a certain standard over a period of time, not to mention the work involved. I do believe the process will help you develop as a “business”, even if you don’t win.
Least important to me is the first type of competition I mentioned. Why? Because, whilst I am not suggesting that all the winners “just get lucky”, you have to accept it is possible to win by submitting that one “lucky” image. You don’t have to demonstrate any consistency and if you are selling your services as a wedding photographer, consistency is of the utmost importance. However, this type of competition will help you develop as a “photographer”, especially if you are able to sit in on the judging sessions or ask the judges for “feedback” afterwards.
A bit of friendly advice based on what I have seen happen to a colleague. Try not to become obsessed with entering competitions otherwise, as mentioned earlier, you will find yourself up at 4am on a Sunday morning editing photos.
If you have read my other blogs you will know I believe in maintaining a healthy work – life balance. When I go to photograph a wedding I want to arrive feeling full of energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead. I don’t want to turn up feeling jaded and suffering from a lack of sleep!
Whilst we may love what we do, we should be working to live, not living to work!
If anyone is interested in my views on anything else wedding photography related, just drop me an email.
Here’s a little update. It’s been prompted by an enquiry my wife received from someone who is a “judge” at The Wedding Industry Awards. I leave you to make your own mind up as to whether you think what happened is “acceptable behaviour” or “abuse of position”.
After winning the award for Best Celebrant, Eastern Region at this years awards, my wife received an enquiry for a ceremony to take place in 2019. The lady who enquired has her own business in the wedding industry. She informed my wife that she has a very high profile in the industry, will be blogging regularly about her upcoming ceremony mentioning the suppliers she is using and, wait for it, made a point of letting my wife know she is one of the judges for The Wedding Industry Awards.
The enquiry read very much along the lines of “because of my position and high profile, I expect you to conduct my ceremony without payment”.
Now my wife and I are happy to do favours to help friends out. We are also happy to work for free when the client has a terminal illness and wants to get married before they pass. We are not happy to work for free when the client is healthy and can afford to pay us for our work.
My wife replied to the enquiry in exactly the same way that she replies to all enquiries, including details of her standard fees. Ten days later the “judge” notified my wife that she would not be using her for the ceremony, but would instead be getting a “friend” to do it.
In my humble opinion, this is disgraceful. Not only is she abusing her position as a judge to get a “freebee” but she values my wife’s profession so little as to think a “friend” can do just a good a job.
We all know just how hard it is to earn a living when self employed and to me it appears this individual has no respect for her fellow professionals, for their time or for the amount of work they have put into mastering their trade. And she’s a judge!!!!!!
I wonder what the response would have been if my wife asked her to provide her services for free on the promise of mentioning her in a blog. I think I know the answer to that one.
What has prompted me to ask that question? Well, I am so amazed at the attitude of the Registrar who conducted yesterday’s wedding ceremony that I have had to interrupt my scheduled blogs and “share the experience” with you all.
I don’t want to use the word “story” because that may imply that the facts have been exaggerated in some way. No, what I am about to write is 100% factual and exactly as it happened without embellishment. You can then form your own opinion as to whether it is “Time for a change”.
First some background. The happy couple have lived together for several years and are in the process of modernising their home. The Bride’s Mum falls seriously ill with cancer, so they decide to put the house renovations on hold and arrange for their wedding to take place earlier than originally planned so that Mum can be there.
Their big day arrives and the weather, that one thing that none of us can control, decides to do it’s worst. The heaviest snowfall for several years leading to blocked roads and traffic chaos. I live 15 minutes from the venue and it took me 1 hour 20 minutes to get there!
The Groom was due to arrive at 11.00am, the ceremony due to start at 2.00pm. The Groom arrives just before 2.00pm. The usual 40 minute journey had taken him 4 hours. The Bride was still on her way and whilst her make up and hair were done at home, she still has to get into her dress and do all the “finishing touches” when she arrives.
I speak to the venue planner who assures me he has spoken to the Registrar and there is no need to worry about the time. Apparently this ceremony was the only one that day.
A few minutes later the Registrar approaches me. I am “instructed” to not take any photos of the Bride whilst her Mum helps her get ready as to do so would cause further delay. ( I ignored her request. Why? Because those few moments when Mum helps Daughter put on her wedding dress are simply too special to miss out. Especially when Mum is so ill. Besides, I knew it wouldn’t cause any additional delay, I just photographed it “as it happened” ).
The Registrar then “instructed” me to be “as quick as possible” and only take a couple of photos of the Bride and Groom signing the “mock register”.
Anyway, the Bride arrives and starts to get ready. The Registrar comes to make sure I’m not delaying proceedings by taking “unnecessary” photos. I kid you not. She actually came into the Bridal Suit to make sure I wasn’t delaying things!
Finally we’re ready to go and the ceremony gets underway some 2 hours late. I can see from my EXIF data that it started at 1602hours and was finished by 1614hours. Talk about rushed, I’ve never seen anything like it. “Professional” in that the correct legal words were said it may have been. “Relaxed and fun” it most certainly was not and was completely devoid of any “warmth” towards the couple. No entrance music, guests were not allowed to photograph the “mock signing” and even the usual “Presentation” of the marriage certificate to the Bride did not happen. And this is their once in a lifetime ‘Special Day”!
When it came to the wedding breakfast I was made aware that there would be two readings in addition to the usual speeches. This was because the Registrar had told the couple just before their ceremony that she was taking the readings out of the ceremony as there wasn’t time for them!
Surely in these modern times there is no place for this “officious” attitude towards a couple on their wedding day. My wife has conducted many ceremonies in the past where they have started late. She makes light of it and always manages to turn it into a funny story that makes the guests and the couples laugh and puts the couple at ease. She never”rushes” the ceremony and she wouldn’t dream of “cutting out the readings” to save a few minutes!
In fairness to Registrars, I have worked with many over the years and this is only the fourth one I have come across with such an appalling attitude. The vast majority of them are very good at what they do and make the ceremony a joyous occasion, as it should be.
But I do wonder whether the small number of “not so good” Registrars are ever “held to account” for their work. As a celebrant, if my wife wasn’t good at her job and didn’t have the correct attitude, she would find herself out of work. Her clients interview her and if she isn’t exactly what they are looking for, they go elsewhere.
If you decide to use a Registrar, which incidentally costs £125 MORE than a Celebrant in this area, you don’t seem to have any say in which individual Registrar will conduct your ceremony. If you get one who doesn’t appear to like her job or is “having a bad day” and just wants to “gallop” through the ceremony as quickly as possible, that’s just tough luck. Once the ceremony has been held, you can’t go back and change it.
Personally, I think it’s time for a change. I believe people need to be made aware that they have a choice.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE A REGISTRAR FOR YOUR WEDDING CEREMONY.
And I believe that, when couples choose to use a Registrar, they should be allowed to choose which Registrar conducts their ceremony.
Perhaps then the small minority of Registrars who obviously don’t enjoy their work would find themselves having to look for an occupation more suited to their own personalities.
My wife has asked suggested I mention the following. Should you choose to use a Celebrant to conduct your wedding ceremony then you must go to the Registry Office to have your marriage “Registered” to make it legally binding, similar to the way the law requires you”Register” a birth or a death.
This is part 7 in my series of blogs about wedding photography as a business – dream vs reality. So it all makes sense I recommend you start at part 1.
I thought I had finished at part 6 but I did mention that, if anyone had an issue they wanted my opinion on, to just drop me an email. It’s nice to know someone is finding these blogs useful.
So in this blog I will talk about my experiences with gaining qualifications and entering competitions.
As always, a disclaimer. I don’t know everything. I’m not an “expert”, just someone who has been earning their living from wedding photography and I feel I have learned a lot along the way.
When it comes to judging for qualifications and for competitions I do have some relevant knowledge as I have successfully completed a judge’s training course, but I do not “work” as a judge and have no intention of ever doing so.
Why do the course then? I wanted to learn the process and learn what differentiates an excellent image from a “run-of-the-mill” image. I think you need to have some special qualities to be a good judge and I don’t think I have them all.
Qualifications. I believe this industry needs an official regulator. I believe that, in order to offer your services as a “Professional Photographer” where you are paid for your services, you should have to be “licensed” by that regulator.
I also believe that, in order to qualify for that licence, you should have to be able to evidence the following:
1. That you are “competent” as a photographer and able to produce photographs that are of a “merchantable quality”.
2. That you have had a CRB check and are safe to work with children and vulnerable adults.
3. That you do not have a criminal history for repeated dishonesty, particularly fraud.
4. That you hold Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance.
The majority of wedding photographers I have met over the years are positive, honest, generous and kind but, sad as it is, I believe that the requirement to be “licensed” is necessary. Why? To put a stop to the small number of dishonest individuals who get a camera for Christmas then claim to be “professional photographers” so they can earn some “easy money” and who, by their conduct, give our industry a bad reputation.
Now I’ve got that off my chest,
Are qualifications worth having?
Without any hesitation, YES, most definitely .
When starting out, you will learn such a lot from the process. Some organisations offer a “mentor me” program for those thinking about submitting a panel for a qualification, and this can be free. I cannot see how anyone can fail to improve as a photographer by taking part in this process. I know it has been of great benefit to me personally.
I think most of us suffer from a certain amount of self doubt, especially when starting out. Gaining a qualification can give you a real confidence boost and some clients will also feel more confident about booking your services if they know you are “qualified”.
It can be a double edged sword though. I did tell a friend about the “letters after my name” and he replied “The more letters I see after a name, the more expensive they’re going to be so I don’t want to see too many”. It made me laugh at the time but it dawned on me, how many others think like that? Just something to keep in mind when you are thinking about more qualifications and advertising your services.
How far you go up the “qualification ladder” is up to you. I don’t think your client is likely to know the difference between a “Licentiate”, an “Associate” and a “Fellow”. To be honest, I really don’t think they care. They just like to know you are “qualified”.
Besides, whilst in the SWPP an Associate is a higher level of qualification than a Licentiate, I was talking to a client recently who told me that, in her line of work, the Licentiate is the higher qualification!
I firmly believe that getting “a qualification” is good for your business, but climbing up the ladder is something you do for your own personal satisfaction.
Now competitions. There are two completely different types of competition that I have experience of.
There are those where the entrants submit individual images to be assessed by a panel of judges made up of highly qualified photographers and who award each image a score. The highest scores make up the “winners” who get prizes for their work. I have 6 years experience in this type of competition.
The second type of competition is where businesses are assessed and awarded titles like The National Wedding Industry Awards “Wedding Photographer of the Year”. The judging panel are made up of people from different professions within the wedding industry. I have never entered this type of competition, but my wife has.
Now this is a blog about starting a photography business so let’s forget about our ego’s for the moment. The real question is, will winning competitions benefit my business ?
I think the purpose of a “competition” should be to reward and give recognition to the best in any particular field. So, in my view, photographic competitions should reward and recognise the best photographers in the industry.
So, as an industry, where are we at currently with this issue? Now imagine I’m a potential client. I’ve been searching the internet looking for a wedding photographer and what do I see? I see that virtually all photographers offer “award winning photography”.
What does this tell me? Simply that being an “award winning photographer” means very little. All photographers are claiming to be “award winners”. I mean, how can every photographer be “the best in the industry”?
If you win a small competition at your local camera club, you can say you offer “award winning photography”. If you gain a qualification ( you are awarded the qualification ) you can say you offer “award winning photography”.
Now with regards to the first type of competition where an individual image is judged and points given to establish the “winner”.
There are some very high profile competitions that are really worth winning and I have no doubt, will benefit your business, but there are just so many out there I think the significance of being an “award winning photographer” has been diminished.
It’s no exaggeration when I say I receive an invitation to enter a competition somewhere in the world at least once a week. Last Sunday I received four such invitations in a single day. I could spend my entire career entering competitions!
On the same day I saw an entry on my FaceBook feed from a fellow photographer timed at 4am which read “Up at this unearthly hour again. Must be competition time!”. Don’t over commit yourself and don’t underestimate the amount of time involved.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cost involved. I have seen individuals submit as many as 25 entries in a single competition. At £15 to £25 (depending on the competition) per entry that adds up. Then there is the substantial cost of having the prints prepared to competition standard.
Now if you enjoy entering competitions and get a real thrill from the occasional good outcome, then go for it, have fun and I wish you luck.
Where it is allowed, make the effort to be in the room when your prints are being judged. You can learn a lot just by listening to the judge’s deliberations when they are looking at the prints. It really is very educational.
From a business point of view, I think winning a high profile competition can be a double edged sword. To show you what I mean I will tell you a true story.
A very experienced and talented photographer I know entered an image into a competition being held by an internationally renowned high end wedding magazine. He won the competition with a truly stunning “reportage” style of image.
When he was announced as their “Wedding Photographer of the Year” the phone didn’t stop ringing. He found he was able to charge whatever he liked because the customer base for that high end magazine had the disposable income to pay it. They were the type of clients who simply wanted “the best” regardless of cost.
A very successful year passed and he entered the competition again. This time he was unsuccessful. The phone rang much less and he found himself reducing his prices to their “pre win” level in order to get work.
By not winning the following year, does that mean he is “less skilled” than he was 12 months earlier. No, of course it doesn’t. He’s just as talented, just as devoted and just as enthusiastic as he was, but he can’t charge anywhere near the same fees if he wants to stay in work and that is part of the problem with awards.
So the “plus” here is he had a very successful “bonus” year as a direct result of his win. He was sensible and experienced enough to realise it was simply that, a “bonus” year. The danger is most of us tend to “live up” to our level of income. Over-commit yourself financially based on that year’s profit and, unless you continue winning, you could find yourself in serious financial difficulty.
Another problem I have is I can’t help but think that, with there being so many competitions out there, some of them are organised just to make money for the organisers rather than reward and recognise the best photographers in the industry. If you know different, I’d love to hear your experiences.
This blog is once more proving much longer than I had anticipated so my thoughts and experiences on the second type of competition, together with my “summary”, will have to form the next blog.
If anyone is interested in my views on anything else wedding photography related, just drop me an email.