Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 9

wedding photographer for gosfield hall in essex
The Bride and Groom at Gosfield Hall under the servant’s bells.

Voluntary registration for VAT. Yes or no ?

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.

wedding photographer for gosfield hall in essex
A wedding ceremony underway at Gosfield Church, near Gosfield Hall in Essex

Part 10

Back to part 8

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 8

Wedding Photography for Gosfield Hall in Essex
The Bride and Groom enjoy their First Dance at Gosfield Hall in Essex

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, yes 34 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.

Wedding Photography at Dedham Vale Vineyard in Essex
Beautiful colours during the “Golden Hour” at Dedham Vale Vineyard in Essex

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.

Wedding Photographer for Essex
The bride putting those special earrings in place at Houchins near Coggeshall in Essex.

Part 9

Back to part 7

 

Time for a change? Registrars vs Celebrants

 

Wedding Photography for Essex and Suffolk
The Bride and Groom on their wedding day.

Time for a change? Registrars vs Celebrants.

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.

Wedding Photography for Essex and Suffolk.
The Bride and Groom go for a stroll on their wedding day.

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.

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 7

wedding photographer for colchester
The Bride on her way to the Church with her Dad.

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.

wedding photographer for suffolk
The Bride and Groom after their “Wedding in the Bluebell Woods” at Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk.

Part 8

Back to part 6

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 6

wedding photographer for suffolk
The Confetti flies at Framingham Church in Suffolk

This is part 6 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 will share what I have learned about the reality of being self employed for the first time in my life and the practicalities of earning a living from wedding photography.


Here in part 6 I will talk about the importance of contracts and “terms and conditions”, along with my thoughts on buying equipment and designing your website.

Disclaimer: I am not a solicitor and do not have any recognised legal qualifications. I will simply outline the process I went through and things I learned along the way so you have an idea of some of the dangers and where to start.


Drawing up a contract for every commission you undertake is of the utmost importance. I will never work without one, even if the commission is for a friend or a relative. In fact I have known friendships to end over wedding photography where no contract existed.

In an earlier part of this series I said it was a good idea to belong to one of the recognised photographic societies, like The SWPP, The MPA, The BIPP, The RPS and so on. One of the advantages of belonging to them is you can get free advice on how to draw up contracts and the dreaded “Terms and Conditions”.

My contract lets my clients know exactly what I am providing them with, exactly how much they have to pay for my services and the dates the payments are due. It includes their personal details, times dates and locations of the venues where the photography is required, how many images are included in the fee, how those image files will be supplied and whether extras like an album or large print are included.

I often refer to my “Terms and Conditions” document as the “War & Peace” bit. There are a lot of things to cover like what happens if you fall ill, if your equipment fails and so on. You also have to be very careful that you use the right words and the legal implications of not doing so.

For example, there is a massive difference between promising to provide “high resolution digital image files” and promising to provide “full size digital image files”. If you don’t know the difference, find out now! Otherwise you could easily find yourself being sued.

The simple use of the word “and” when you meant to use the word “or” can make a massive difference, so be careful. My T&C’s are a combination of those suggested by the SWPP, those suggested in a book I bought on the subject of contracts and a couple of my own. I believe I have all the bases covered and the solicitors I have photographed weddings for in the past have agreed.

I really cannot over emphasise the importance of having correctly worded contracts and T&C’s when you are a sole trader.


Some thoughts on equipment. How often have we photographers done it, eh? Seen the latest gadget and thought “Wow, I really want that!”. There is an old saying amongst anglers that I think is appropriate. Fishing tackle isn’t designed to catch fish, oh no. It’s designed to catch fishermen and make them part with their money!

I can’t help but think there’s an element of that behind a lot of the latest gadgets that appear in the world of photography.

My advice, when you change from taking photographs for a hobby to taking them for a living, is to ask yourself a simple question. Will that gadget benefit my photography business. Do I really need it ? Or do I just want it.

If it’s the latter, with photography equipment being so expensive, I suggest you hang on to your money for something you actually need, something that will benefit your business, rather than something you just want.

Another piece of advice I was given when it comes to investing in equipment. As a general rule, if it is going to depreciate, lease it.

I looked into hiring cameras and found it best for me if I bought them. If it’s something you want only occasionally, for example a really expensive lens for a particular image you want to create, then hire it.

I also looked into leasing my computer from Apple. For me, it worked out cheaper to buy it but it might be worth your while checking for yourself.

Transport was a no brainer for me. My wife owns her own car and I owned mine. Because of the way tax allowances work, I sold my car and now lease a van for work.

For me, it makes a lot of financial sense to do so. I can use my wife’s car for social, domestic and pleasure purposes and the van just for work. Having all that room also means that things like “soft boxes” can be left set up and ready to go saving me time at weddings.


One of the things your business must have is a good website. When I started out, I knew absolutely nothing about website design or how to go about getting one. I’m still not an expert so, as with everything I write, note the usual disclaimer. If you want an experts opinion on your website, pay an expert for it. This is just a few of the things I have learned but, as technology advances so quickly, it’ll probably be out of date the day after I publish it!

Well, the first thing you need is a name for your website. Sounds obvious, but it’s not as easy as you think. I started out using various combinations of my name and my initials. Trouble is both “Kevin” and “Taylor” are really common. Or should I say popular!

Every combination I came up with, the website address was already taken except for KPT ( my initials ). So that’s what I started out with. Bought the domain name then designed my first website. It was rubbish.

I approached a company called The Image File ( many others are available out there but they have given me superb customer support and, just for once, I highly recommend them ). First question I was asked was “What’s the name of your company”. I told him. “Really?” came the reply, sounding somewhat disbelieving.

“Why do you photographers always try and use your names or initials, even when it clearly doesn’t sound good?” He was right of course. So, I held a little competition. Bottle of wine for the winner! And the winning name was “HeadOverHeels Photography”, because people are HeadOverHeels in love when they get married ( plus that domain name was still available! ).

Those of you with an unusual name, now’s the time to be grateful for it.

I then attended a few lectures on how to design a website, lessons in “good practice” because Google makes the rules here and if you don’t abide by what Google says, heaven help you.

One important lesson I learned, no two. Firstly, these companies who offer to improve your SEO and to put you at the top of page one for searches, then charge you a fortune for the privilege. They can’t do anything that you can’t do yourself and they can’t guarantee to put you at the top of page one. Pay them to do it if that suits you best, but you can save money by learning to do it yourself.

Secondly, Google doesn’t like cheats and is constantly changing their search algorithms because of it ( or is it so they can charge for advertising ? Sorry, being cynical there ). Use these companies who sell lots of back links to boost your ranking at your peril, and don’t complain when Google finds out and penalises your website for doing so.

I think the best bit of advice I can give with your website and SEO is, don’t try and cheat.

Please think about this for a minute. Google employ some of the best programming brains in the world. They are far more clever than me at what they do. Am I really going to be able to out think them and gain an advantage?

As well as being dishonest, it can cost you dear when (not if) Google finds out. In my humble opinion you should let your website develop organically. It may take a bit longer, but at least you won’t get penalised for cheating.


Well that’s everything I can think of for now. What started out as one blog has turned out to be nine so far. (Yes, there’s another three to follow thanks to readers asking questions).

The next two blogs will be on the subject of qualifications and competitions. Once I started writing them, I was surprised at just how much there is to know on these subjects. They are finished and will be published over the next couple of weeks.

If you can think of anything you would like me to blog about, please drop me an email and I’ll do my best.

If you have read all my blogs in this series, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m trying to put you off from starting out in wedding photography. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t know if you have any religious beliefs, but I believe we only live this life once. We don’t get a second chance. If you love wedding photography and have absolutely set your heart on earning your living by photographing weddings, then go for it. I love it and would happily cheer you on to success!

But I want you to go into it with your eyes wide open. Appreciate the risks involved and be prepared to work hard. There is a world of difference between taking photographs as a hobby and doing it to pay your mortgage and put food on your table.

In other words, there is a difference between the dream and the reality.

wedding photographer for ipswich suffolk
Bride and Groom’s First Dance at All Manor of Events, Henley nr Ipswich, Suffolk.

If you are finding my articles useful, you will definitely benefit from reading this article about how to start a photography business on the shootdotedit website.

Part 7

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