Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 4

wedding photographer for colchester
The Happy Couple in the grounds of Five Lakes Resort Hotel, Colchester.

This is part 4 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.

So, how did I decide how much to charge ?

This was something I really struggled with. When you start out, you have the “chicken and egg” scenario. What came first ? You need wedding images to attract clients, you need clients so you can get wedding images.


Off on a tangent again, there is a “training option” you can explore. They call them “portfolio building days”. A ( hopefully ) good photographer will run a course for a day or two, teach candidates a few basics on taking good wedding images, hire a couple of models who “pretend’ to be “happy couples” and you use the images you capture for advertising.

Though not ideal ( I think a lot of potential clients can tell the difference between “models” and real couples ) I think it’s one way to get started, providing you are honest with your potential clients and tell them that you were under “instruction” photographing “models” at the time.


What I did, having done some “classroom” training and having gone to quite a few weddings as an “assistant” and as a “second shooter” ( both of which I did unpaid for experience ), was only charge £350 per wedding in order to build my portfolio and gain “real world” experience. You can only learn so much in a classroom.

Most of the wedding photographers I have met over the years started off at this lower end but you must realise that when you feel the time is right to increase your prices, you will effectively be starting all over again.

Why do I say that? Think about it. A lot of my work comes from personal recommendation. If you are building a client base who want to spend no more than £350 on their wedding photography, how much are their friends likely to spend on their wedding photography? Yep, £350. Move to a higher price bracket and that client base that were recommending you no longer do so because you have become “too expensive”.

Personally, I found that when charging £350 per wedding over a period of a year, I didn’t earn enough to make a living from it. If you are new to being self employed you will be surprised at just how much it actually costs to run a business. If I wanted to stay in business, I had to increase my prices. Simple as that.


So, finally getting to the point, how did I decide how much to charge ?

Note: Disclaimer. I am not an accountant or financial advisor. Everyone’s circumstances are different and the amount of income they need to generate to make photography provide the lifestyle they want varies from person to person. This is only a rough guide to give you some ideas and something to think about.

At the end of my first year I added together ALL the costs involved in running my business. I included the small costs from paper to telephone right up to the larger costs like computers  and so on. ( See the list below, you may be surprised at how much is involved ).

With the larger cost items which are business assets, I divided the costs by the number of years use I expected to get from them.

I divided that total by the number of weddings I thought I could expect to book per year and that gave me a figure representing what it actually “costs” me to photograph each wedding.

I then looked at how much I wanted to earn per hour, ( I didn’t think £10 was excessive ) and the number of hours I spent on a wedding (including all the consultations, travelling, photographing the day itself and the most time consuming thing of all, the editing ). I multiplied the number of hours by £10 per hour.

Finally I added the two together and that gave me a figure I needed to charge to be able to make a reasonable profit from my business.

The most important thing to me is you really need to identify the costs of running your business. Without them, you will not know what you need to charge to make a profit.

Whilst the way you set up and run your business will dictate exactly what your costs are, here is a list of some of mine just to give you an idea of where to start. This list is not exhaustible.

Office costs, including paper, ink for your printer, telephone costs, postage stamps, box files, storage for all your records (you’ll need to store them for 6 years) and even paper clips!

Your computer for managing everything and editing your photos. Don’t forget the software needed to run your business as well.

External hard dives, several of them for back up copies of your images.

“Off site” storage for all your image files, just in case of theft or  a fire!

Photographic equipment from camera bodies and lenses down to replacement memory cards and rechargeable batteries. Make sure you’re sitting down when you add this lot up.

Transport, including servicing, wear and tear, insurance, tax and fuel. (Tip. I lease a van and I have found it much more “tax efficient” than running a car ).

Advertising costs including not just any magazine advertising costs, but the cost of your website, your fliers and the cost of attending any wedding fairs (including a table and banners!). Don’t forget the “recommendation fees” but you know my feelings on that one!

Public liability insurance, equipment insurance and professional indemnity insurance.

Membership fees for belonging to professional organisations like the SWPP.

Training and qualification costs (not all are tax deductible, but they are still a cost to your business).

Wedding albums, if you provide them, including any sample albums and materials you purchase to show clients.

USBs that you provide images on.

Accountancy fees.

You’ll be surprised at just how many things there are to pay out for when you run your business professionally and legally. With my overheads, there’s no way I can make a living charging £350 per wedding.


Another question you might ask is:

How many weddings can I expect to book in any one year?

I can’t answer that. It depends on so many different factors, including your own personal level of motivation to succeed. All I will point out is you are entering a very mature market place. There is a lot of competition, both new start ups and established photographers.

If you desperately want a “starting point” to work from, I would go for 20 weddings. In my experience, if you’re managed to get 20 good weddings in your first year, you’ve done alright.

If you do the maths, your costs divided by 20 plus how much you want to earn, you should get an idea of what you need to charge. It might surprise you.

Hopefully, at this point whilst you are building your photography business, you haven’t yet given up “the day job” and the photography is part time “additional” income.


Earlier in this blog I explained why I had to raise my prices and the danger of losing your current client base. Well, thankfully, when I did raise my prices, my photography had improved as had the overall service I provided and I found enough clients who thought I was worth what I needed to charge.

No photographer can appeal to everyone. At the lower end you have the market that only has a budget of £350 – £400. At the top end you can have clients with budgets starting around £3000 and even more. Then there will be budgets anywhere and everywhere in between. You can’t expect to appeal to everyone, so you have to target your advertising/marketing/website/pricing structure at the people you want to work with to generate the income you are looking for.

So, what actually happened when I moved from charging £350 for all day coverage to charging £1,000 for all day? Firstly, my number of bookings actually increased !

Secondly, now I am in no way a snob and really not concerned about where couples decide to get married, but the simple fact is I got bookings at “nicer” venues ( horrible word but I can’t think of a better one at the moment ). Clearly, having a bigger budget for their wedding allowed a bigger budget for their photography. I guess it’s pretty obvious really, but thought it worth mentioning.

Most of my clients have £1,000 (digital only package) to £2,500 ( bells and whistles with quality album) to spend on their wedding photography, so most of what I say I believe is applicable to that “market place”. Those working in other “market” areas with larger or smaller  budgets probably do things very differently and will offer an alternative point of view.


I have seen photographers successfully offer just one all inclusive “take it or leave it” package. That’s great if you can make it work for you. So simple, easy to administer. However, the general consensus of opinion as far as I can tell is to have 3 packages. It’s along the GOOD, BETTER, BEST theory. The “experts”, which I make no claim to be, say that, when listing your GOOD, BETTER, BEST package prices, you should list the most expensive first.

Apparently, a lot of people will simply go to the second most expensive package because it makes them feel less guilty. Like they are not being greedy and spoilt! Whatever the reasons, I have broken the rules by having 5. Why?

Well, I split the day into three sections. Getting ready, ceremony and evening celebrations. People can hire me for ceremony only, ceremony and evening or all day. My 4th package is to include a wedding album. My 5th is all the bells and whistles from “Thank You’ cards to wall art and signing book and so on.

My most popular is my all day package. I have found about 50% book the package including a wedding album right at the start. Of those that don’t, almost all my digital only customers this year have ordered a wedding album after they have seen their photos.

Both my cheapest and my most expensive packages are very rarely asked for. Almost always, it’s the packages priced in the middle.


Now the old word count is over 1780, so I will leave it here and move on to talking about wedding albums in part 5.

wedding photographer for ipswich suffolk
The Wedding Rings at the start of a ceremony at Smeetham Hall Barn in Suffolk.

Part 5

Back to part 3

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 3

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
Mum pins her Son’s button hole in place on his wedding day.

This is part 3 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 3 I am going to write about my “learning” experiences in relation to being a “recommended supplier”, advertising on venue magazines/DVDs/USB keys and wedding fairs.


Carrying on from part 2, I was approached by one venue with a view to me buying advertising space at the end of a DVD they were producing to distribute to potential Brides. There were going to be four spaces for wedding photographers with a similar number for wedding transport, videographers, cake makers, Masters of Ceremonies, chair cover suppliers, DJ’s, florists and so on.

Now the venue was currently running 60 weddings per year but they were initially aiming to increase that to 80.  So you might think, 4 photographers, 80 weddings. That’s 20 each. Wow. That’s pretty good!

As always, the reality is very different. Now I know this isn’t a scientific study but I have done a bit of investigation on this one because advertising on this particular DVD required a substantial investment on my part.

By looking at the number of bookings I’m getting where I’m NOT a recommended supplier and from feedback from clients who HAVE booked me, from chatting to venue  “wedding organisers” I’ve got to know over the years and colleagues who HAVE gone down this advertising route, I reckon I’m being generous when I say 50% of the couples (so for this venue that’s 40 couples IF they make their target of 80) will not use the venue’s recommended suppliers.

You then have to realise that, with all the advertisements being shown right at the end of the DVD, not all the couples who watch the DVD promoting the venue will then sit and watch the adverts for all the recommended suppliers afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised if only 50% bothered to. That means the potential client list has now gone down to 20.

20 Clients divided by 4 photographers, 5 each. Personally, I think that’s a much more realistic expectation. They wanted to charge me £2000 plus VAT to advertise on the DVD. That’s a cost to me of £500 per wedding client.

Now if I had a really large “advertising budget” and charged several thousands of pounds for my services, that may be affordable. To me and I suspect the majority of “start ups”, it’s simply too expensive. On what I charge, I would be working just to cover the advertising costs. Or to put it another way, I would be working for nothing!

You can see why it’s good business for the venue. 4 photographers, 4 videographers, 4 florists, 4 wedding transport providers, 4 DJ’s, 4 chair cover suppliers, 4 cake makers and so on all paying to be on the DVD. It adds up to a substantial amount of revenue.

To me, the unfair thing is all these providers have to allow for that overhead when they set their fees. This cost then gets passed on to the couple, their clients, who end up indirectly paying a lot more for the privilege of using that venue without even realising it!


Here’s another example of advertising. I was approached by a Town Council. They held weddings in their Town Hall and other council owned premises. In this age of “cut backs” they had decided to raise revenue by charging “recommended suppliers” ( here we go again, prepared to “recommend” suppliers they no absolutely nothing about ) a fee for each booking they received at a council owned premises as a result of their “recommendation”.

Now as businessmen and women, we should build an element into our fees to cover “advertising”. It’s good business practice to do so. Also, on the face of it, it makes good business sense for the council and the residents they represent to raise money where they can in the current economic climate.

The issue I had with it is simple. It was the amount they wanted to charge me just to include my business details in a leaflet. ( Yes, that was all it boiled down to. Include my details in a leaflet they give to couples ). Remember, this is a fee I would have to pay for each booking. I would have had to increase my charges by £300 per wedding just to cover their fees.

Now I did ask, can I have 2 price lists then. One for council weddings and one for all the others, just so that my clients realise that I am collecting £300 from them on your behalf! Needless to say, they would require me to sign a contract which would forbid me from pointing this out.

I’m not against venues making something out of “recommending” suppliers, I guess it make good business sense for them to do so. After all, they need to make a profit in order to continue trading.

What I am against is the amount they try to make out of wedding vendors ( not just photographers ) for very little work on their part. Then when you get potential clients see you and question why you charge so much, you can’t tell the clients “well, £300 of my fee is going straight to your venue for recommending me!”

I would emphasise, not all venues do this. Some photographers have worked long and hard cultivating relationships with venues and their wedding organisers in order to get on the “recommended suppliers” list. To me, that’s how it should be done and they deserve every booking they get.


A few years ago I was approached by an advertising company who were selling advertising space on a “USB key” that was going to be distributed at wedding fairs and at the Registrar’s Office for the same Council I mentioned above.

I checked with the Town Hall and spoke to someone who confirmed that yes, that company was selling advertising on a USB key on behalf of the Town Council and yes, that USB key would be distributed at wedding fairs and at the Registrar’s Office in the town centre. The “Council” were “enthusiastically supporting this initiative to help local businesses”. Surely if the Council are supporting it, it must be all good and my investment would be safe.

I paid several hundred pounds for said advertising and waited to see how my advert came out on the USB key. It never materialised. To cut a long story short, the advertising company went out of business and the Town Council simply didn’t want to know. After the advertising company failed, their attitude changed. They stated the company was “authorised” to act on the Town Council’s behalf, but the Town Council were not responsible for the failure of the company to produce the product I had paid for. Lesson learned, be very careful !! It appears you can’t even trust your local Council to act honourably.


I’m not saying that you should never invest in advertising ( I realise that’s what you might be thinking after reading about my experiences ).

I’m just trying to make you aware of the dangers. When starting out and thinking about advertising for the first time, it’s easy to get drawn in by the “sales talk” of those selling the advertising. Remember, they are selling you a product, not doing you a favour ( you’re doing them one ). Do your homework to the best of your ability and only spend money you can afford to lose.


On to wedding fairs. Be selective. They can be very expensive for very little return. Having spoken to others who have been in business a lot longer than me, it appears the emphasis on wedding fairs has changed over recent years.

In the past, a venue would organise a fair and invite trusted traders along with a view to attracting couples to their venue so the couple would have their wedding there.

Nowadays wedding fairs are being organised not just at wedding venues but also at random other places like village halls, with the organisers making their money by selling table space. The emphasis therefore is now on making money out of the traders rather than attracting engaged couples to the venue.

Nowadays I think you find there are just such a lot of wedding fairs being held all over the place that you have to check there aren’t too many nearby ON THE SAME DAY! Just take a look in the back of those “free” wedding magazines they give away at fairs and you will see for yourself there are simply too many of them.

They vary a lot in quality as well. You can usually tell the good ones by the fact that they are very difficult for photographers to get into. They will limit the number of photographers to just three of four ( at the larger fairs, less at smaller ones ). It’s no good going to a fair with too many photographers. Potential clients will be put off by the fact the wedding fair has been turned into a photography fair!

The thing with wedding fairs is, I am yet to find a “magic” solution. I have attended “large” ones where I haven’t had much interest and attended small ones where I have been really pleasantly surprised with the result. If someone reading this blog knows the magic solution to being successful at wedding fairs, please pass it on!!


If you want to try your hand at wedding fairs you will need a roll up banner and some leaflets/brochures to hand out.

Don’t buy too many brochures. If you are only going to hand them to clients who show an interest in what you are offering ( that’s what I do. I don’t “pounce” on every poor unsuspecting couple that walk past my stand like I’ve seen some do ), you will not need thousands of them.

Yes buying in bulk makes the cost of each brochure cheaper at the printers. Trouble is, next year your work will have improved and the brochure has your “older” work on it. Trust me, you’ll end up throwing the old brochures away which means you have wasted more money than you saved by buying in bulk!


I hope you are finding these blogs informative and useful but the old “word count” is getting high again ( up to nearly 1800 ) so I’ll end here for now. In the next part I will talk about how I decided how much much to charge for my  photography services and some issues around supplying wedding albums.

Hope to see you soon.

wedding photographer for Essex
The Bride and Groom on their wedding day in Colchester Castle Park.

Part 4

Back to part 2

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 2

Wedding photographer for Essex
The Groom serenades his Bride at Maison Talbooth in Essex.

This is part 2 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 2 I am going to talk about where to get training and some of my “learning” experiences in relation to different forms of advertising / marketing.

So, you’ve realised just how little you know about running a photography business and decided to look into getting some training. There’s excellent training available and there’s poor training. No one wants to waste their money on poor training, so where do you go for advice?

I suggest you join one of the photographic societies. I’m in the SWPP because I have found what they offer suits me. There is a great on line forum where experienced photographers are happy to share their knowledge with those starting out and they’ve helped me out with useful, honest advice on more occasions than I can remember.

The SWPP are not the only organisation of this type. There’s the Royal Photographic Society, the British Institute of Professional Photographers, the Guild of Photographers, the Master Photographer’s Association and the National Photographic Society to name a few.

I’m not going to “recommend” one in particular. Take a look at what they all have to offer and join whichever you think suits you, your needs and your personality.

Many of them will offer member benefits like free legal advice, special offers on insurance and other products, on line forums where you can ask questions and so on.

I was amazed at the amount of training there is available. Not just “how to take good photographs” type training, but “business” training as well. With so many courses, where do you start ? What do you need to learn ?


You NEED to learn the importance of social media and how to utilise it. How to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Instagram. The list just goes on and on. Don’t underestimate it’s importance nor the amount of time you are going to spend updating it!

Seriously. Unless I am missing a trick here or have missed a training course I need to go on, you will spend an extraordinary amount of time updating your social media in order to get work. All time that is effectively unpaid! (If you are currently “employed”, be prepared for the number of hours to have to work for free when you become “self employed”)

I’ll admit this social media business is something I struggle with, probably because of my attitude towards it. I hate it and that stems from all the suffering I have seen in my previous job. Suffering caused by those who abuse it. But love it or hate it, in this modern world you HAVE to learn how to use it to promote your business. (I must admit I’m quite enjoying this blogging though, much to my surprise).


Learn about advertising through other media too, such as magazines, wedding fairs and so on. My personal experiences on these are not good.

I have tried advertising in 4 different “wedding magazines”. I even got an image used as the front cover on one issue. I’ve only ever had one enquiry from this type of advertising and they went with a “cheaper” photographer.  I’ve never had a confirmed booking as a result of magazine advertising, and it isn’t cheap!


Off on a tangent here (again) but I used to ask couples why they chose someone else so that I could learn from it and maybe make some changes. To be honest, I don’t think you get truthful “feedback”. I suspect the majority (not all, but the majority) just think of an excuse to give you. Why?

Well the most common reason given to me is price. I accept that people have to try and keep within their budget, but I do wonder why they bothered to see me if it’s just price because I advertise all my prices on my website. If they just look, (and I advise them to do so before we meet) they can see what I charge before we have a consultation.

Other reasons for rejection have included “All your photos looked the same. There was no variety”. Maybe they had a particular type of image in mind which isn’t in my portfolio, or perhaps I need to be more adventurous! It’s more than likely that my “style” wasn’t what they were looking for, which is something I’m not prepared to change. I’m puzzled why they bothered to come and see me though, considering my “style” is pretty obvious when you look at my website.

Another was “You’re too old”. I don’t feel too old. I’ve never failed to attend a wedding through sickness and never had anyone accuse me of failing to perform because I’m not fit enough to do the job! Anyway, my age is something I can’t change.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that, in my experience, asking people for the reason why they went with a different photographer is unlikely to provide any useful feedback so I no longer bother.

Oh, and of the number of people who promise “We’ll let you know”, only a few will bother. Don’t take it personally (I used to because I was brought up to be polite and keep my promises. If I say I’ll get back to someone, I do, without fail), they’re probably like it with everyone.


Off on another tangent (sorry, I have so much information I want to share!!) Rejection. Get used to it. I was taking it really personally thinking it’s me, there’s something wrong with me!! I’m not perfect, which means I’m human and perfectly normal. The simple truth is

I’m not the right photographer for everyone, and not everyone is the right client for me.

It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me, or with them. It’s a two way process and thankfully there are enough people who think I’m right for them, to keep me in work. You will probably find the same. Give 100% to those that like you, forget about those that don’t and never take rejection too personally.

Another thing, don’t be afraid to “sack” a client. If you don’t get along with them and don’t want to work for them, just say you’re not the right photographer for them. If you photograph the wedding of someone you don’t really like very much, it will show in the photos and that isn’t fair on them or you.


Anyway, back to advertising. Maybe I used the wrong magazines ( I suspect the “right” magazines require a much larger advertising budget than I am prepared to spend ), but if you are considering this type of advertising, I found you can knock them down on their rates as they struggle to sell advertising space at the “last minute”, just before they “go to print”.

Another form of printed advertising is that sold by venues for you to appear in their own wedding information packs. They sell you advertising space and list you as one of their “recommended suppliers”.

The problem with this is you will find the official wedding organisers at these popular “wedding venues” move around a lot. When someone new moves in that lovely magazine you paid hundreds to advertise in will get thrown in the bin as the new wedding organiser decides to “start again” and do things their way. That usually means new advertising literature!

One thing I have wondered about. How can they “recommend” a supplier, be it photographer or any other trade, if they haven’t worked with them and simply don’t know how good/bad/indifferent their service is? My wife, who is a wedding celebrant, has had the same experience. She has been approached by venues she has never worked at with a view to her appearing in their magazines as a “recommended supplier”.

The answer is simple. Some venues don’t care who the supplier is, they just want to raise advertising revenue. You pay for the “recommendation”. Well, I personally don’t and never will work like that. I don’t get much work from venue recommendations, but the ones I do get are genuine and not “paid for”.


Facebook. I have never paid for any advertising on facebook and will admit that  perhaps that is the reason why I have never had any bookings through it.

I have had several enquiries and responded to them all in a positive fashion, but the simple fact is all those enquiries have been looking for the “cheapest” photographer they can find. Quality doesn’t seem to come into the equation.

I was in a Facebook group for wedding suppliers, and used to respond to enquiries where couples were looking for a wedding photographer. I stuck with it for about 4 months until I got thoroughly fed up with the responses some photographers were making. For example:

Enquiry.  “Looking for a photographer for a wedding in Essex”. Photographers in Scotland, YES. SCOTLAND. Willing to travel, all day coverage for £350 travel and accommodation  included. Really?

You cannot be earning a living and providing a good service travelling from Scotland to Essex with all day coverage for £350 including travelling and accommodation!

This was not an isolated response. It happened on every post where someone was looking for a photographer, no matter where they lived. If you are starting out in this business, you need to know there are “cheap photographers” out there and clients who simply want “cheap photography”. I decided they did not fit into my “target market” and left the group.


Tangent time! You will see when I talk about web design, I am very much against “cheating”. Facebook is another area open to abuse. I’m aware that you can buy “likes”, so are most other people. Thing is, if you are “comfortable” about cheating with your website and social media, you probably wouldn’t think twice about “cheating” your clients. I believe if you want to succeed in this business, you need to be honest and trustworthy (unless I’m just being naive).


We’re getting a bit high on the word count again, over 1700, so that’s enough on these subjects for now. In the next blog I will write a bit about my experiences with venue DVD advertising, USB key advertising, wedding fairs and how I decided how much to charge for my services.

See you soon.

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
The Groom shows off his wedding ring for fun at Woodall Manor in Suffolk.

Free Listings (added 17th March 2018).

Why write about free listings now? Well, I had forgotten about them until this morning when I was approached about one.

I received a friend request from another photographer on FaceBook. I’m always keen to share experiences with other photographers and see their work, so I accepted.

I then received a message from him via FB. He asked how my business was going, how many weddings I usually cover in a year, how my bookings were looking this year, that kind of thing. Thinking we were “comparing notes” I answered honestly and asked how he was getting on.

Well how naive was I. I walked straight into it. I should know better at my age !!

His reply said nothing about how his photography business was going but was  a request for all my details so that I could appear on his newly created wedding directory. My listing will be free and all he would like in return is “feedback” on it.

Let’s face it, a listing that is worth having will not be “free” for long. Before you know it, I will be offered an “enhanced” listing for a fee. I fell for this trick early in my photography career and I almost fell for it again !!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any issue with someone setting up a directory to try and generate another revenue stream. In fact I wish them every success with their endeavours. What I object to is misleading people by using sneaky sales techniques in order to get them to sign up. Time to “unfriend” on FB, I think.

If you are thinking of going on a “free” listing, give it a go. It might work for you and you won’t know if you don’t try. Do a “search” yourself and see if the listing you are thinking of appearing on actually “comes up” and is easy to find. If it doesn’t show on your search, it probably doesn’t show when Brides and Grooms search either.

If you get a good result from the “free” listing you can considered paying for an “enhanced” one. If you get nothing, you’ve lost nothing as it was free.

Personally I tried some a few years ago and didn’t find them very productive so don’t lose heart if they don’t work for you either. I’ve been on one of them for 7 years and no enquiries have resulted from it.

I know they will say you need to be on an “enhanced” listing for people to see you. My reply to that is, then why do you offer “free” listings if you know they don’t work. (We all know why, so they can talk you into paying for the enhanced listing).

I have suggested letting me have an “enhanced” listing for a short period to see if it works. If it does, then I’ll pay to renew it. Funnily enough, they never seem too keen on that idea. I wonder why !!

Part 3 

Back to part 1

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 1

Wedding photographer for Suffolk
The all important First Kiss during a wedding at Framingham Church in Suffolk.

Part 1 in a series of blogs where I am going to write truthfully about my personal experiences on my journey from the end of my previous career to being a wedding photographer. 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.

As you can see from my “About me” page, my previous career lasted 30 years. During the latter years of that career I had become very disillusioned and wanted to try and earn my living from wedding photography. It had become my dream and hence the title, dream versus reality. Sound familiar ?

Well I mean, what can be better than earning your living by doing a job you absolutely love ?


I had intended this to be just one blog, but I have found there is so much information I would like to share with you that it will have to be a series of at least 7 (so far and if others ask me questions, that will increase).

I realise the route travelled by others and their experiences will differ from mine, but I hope those thinking about trying to earn a living from wedding photography can benefit from what I have learned.


One thing you need to know right from the start. You are entering a very mature market. There are a lot of photographers out there, both established and new start ups, and competition is tough.

To show you what I mean I’ve just looked at the list of regional finalists ( East of England )for the National Wedding Industry Awards. 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. Just so you realise that’s the level of competition you will be up against.

The good news is, I am earning a living and I am doing a job I absolutely love. The “but” is, it’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way.


Now call me naive but I thought if I went on some training courses, got all the legal side sorted out (insurances, informing the tax man and so on), assembled a good portfolio and designed a good website, I would then be able to sit back and wait for the work to come in. After all, if I’m a good photographer, people will want to hire me. Wrong……………..  No, seriously, I was SO WRONG.

Being a good photographer is only a very small part of running a successful wedding photography business. I had been told this on a course but thought, yeah, whatever. You just want to sell more training courses, but it was absolutely true.

Now I don’t sell training courses so I hope you realise I have no “axe to grind” on this point. I strongly advise anyone who is seriously considering a career as a wedding photographer to pay for some good training. Not just in photography, but in how to run a photography business.

They say running a successful photography business is 20% photography skills and 80% business skills. They also say that an “average” image marketed well will earn a photographer a lot more money than an “excellent” image that isn’t marketed well. Both of these sayings are 100% true!!


Something you must take into account when considering “giving up the day job” and risking everything by switching  career is – what if I fail. If you go into something expecting to fail, you will, but just because you go into something expecting to succeed doesn’t guarantee you will be successful. I read that the simple truth is over 90% of start ups will fail within 2 years. How scary is that!

Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some are responsible only for themselves whilst others have families to consider. Some live from month to month whilst others have savings to live off. Some have big mortgages to pay whilst others don’t.

My advice is to start building your business while still have another job and, before you take the plunge into full time, make sure you have enough money put away to pay all your bills for at least 18 months.

Then prepare yourself for the steepest learning curve in your life!


Before I became a wedding photographer I had always been “employed”. If I needed to learn a new skill to help me do my job, my employer paid for me to go on a course. Here’s the first thing you learn. If you need some training, you have to pay for it yourself and it might not even be tax deductible!!

Rules change so check with Inland Revenue, but in simple terms initial training to learn a new trade can’t be claimed against your income tax, you can only claim for training needed to “update” your skills.

I didn’t need to worry about that when I was “employed”, the same as I didn’t need to worry about paying my household bills whilst away training. I was still being paid my salary. While you are on a training course and self employed, you’re not earning anything! ( Remember those “paid holidays” you had when you were employed, you can forget them as well ! ).


What sort of training do you need ? Well that’s different for everyone because we will all bring something different with us when we become self employed. If your previous job was as a “web designer” for example, I don’t think you would need any “website” or “social media” training.

When I started out, I needed practically every type of training available. The only skills I brought with me were organisational skills and interpersonal skills. Everything else I needed to learn. So where did I, or where do you, start?


Off on a bit of a tangent (I’m afraid I will do that occasionally). On the subject of training, I have found 2 groups of “trainers”. There are those who pass on their knowledge with a view to helping you improve your skills. These trainers should be sought out and attending their courses or lectures is very worthwhile. I call them the “educators”.

The other group I have found is what I call “the demonstrators” or “sellers”. They “demonstrate” a technique using the latest “gadget” that they have become “ambassadors” for and try to sell it to you. To me, that behaviour belongs on the main floor of a trade show, not in a classroom when you have paid for training. I’m inclined to avoid this type of “trainer”.

When starting out it’s not easy to tell which camp a trainer falls in to, but ask around and you’ll soon find out who they are. That’s one good thing I have found about the community. Most ( though not all ) wedding photographers are very positive and open and will share their experiences with you, providing you do the same.

So, getting back on track.


Now obviously, you need to be a competent wedding photographer, know your equipment back to front and inside out and how to use LightRoom, Photoshop and other “plug ins”.

Learn about “light”, both natural and artificial, it’s colour temperature, how to see it, how to “balance” the artificial with the natural and how to use it to best effect. How to pose individuals and couples and accentuate their good features. How to arrange groups of people and how to make the most of your surroundings. How to light that First Dance properly, now there’s a challenge! All that goes without saying I know, but I just thought I would remind you.

But most importantly, if you want to learn how to be a better photographer, learn how to be a better person. Seriously. 


Well we’re up to nearly 1400 words already ( doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun ) and I don’t want my blogs to become too long and rambling. You might get bored! ( and apparently Google doesn’t like it either 🙂 ). Notice the “tip” there. In part 2 I’ll go on to my experiences with advertising/marketing.

Wedding Photographer for Suffolk
A special “moment” between the Bride and Groom during their wedding breakfast at Hintlesham Golf Club in Suffolk

 

Part 2

Reportage wedding photography – or is it?

 

Reportage or, to give it another name, photo-journalistic wedding photography – or is it ?  In other words, is that beautiful natural looking image of that really special moment truly “reportage photography”, or has it been created ? And does it matter ?

To me, for an image to be truly “reportage”, it has to be taken without any interference, staging or direction on the part of the photographer and the best “reportage” images are the ones that are simply that. Images where the photographer has used his or her skill, intuition and experience to be in exactly the right place so that he or she can press that shutter button at exactly the right time, capturing that never to be repeated fleeting moment in time as it happens.

Most of my clients say they want a few “formal” or “traditional” wedding images together with lots of “informal”, “natural”, “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” images. ( To me, these last four words all refer to the same style of image).

Taking lots of “natural” photos during the day shouldn’t pose a problem, but what if the client says “can I have a photo like that “reportage” one on your website ?”

It’s not unreasonable for them to expect you to provide images very similar to those you have on your website or in your portfolio. In other words, if we are offering our services as a professional wedding photographer, we need to be able to provide some consistency and give our clients what they ask for.

The problem is, by it’s very nature, a “reportage” style of image hasn’t been influenced in any way by the photographer who took it. The moment has simply been allowed to “happen”. It is a fleeting moment in time that will never be repeated. How can we provide what our clients want, how can we provide that “consistency”, when these moments happen purely  by chance ?

Early in my career I went to a training session held by someone I consider one of the best wedding photographers in the world. He showed a series of fabulous “reportage” style images of beautiful “moments” then asked a question.

“How many times do you think I have managed to get each of these images at a real wedding ?” His answer was – once in twenty years!!  He had been photographing weddings for 20 years and every photo was a “one off”, a never repeated fleeting moment in time.

So budding wedding photographers out there, how can you provide every client with the “reportage” images they want ? Telling your clients that you can only get an image that’s on your website and they really like once every 20 years isn’t going to get you very far.

For the Bride and Groom, how can you feel confident the photographer can provide what you are looking for when he or she can only get a particular image once every 20 years !!

The answer? The photographer needs to know how to create the right conditions for that moment to happen in a way that looks completely natural.

Sounds easy enough in theory, but takes a bit of thought and planning to put it into practice.

I want to take you back to what I think a truly “reportage” style image is. No interference on the part of the photographer. What a photographer has to do, in order to be able to  consistently provide what their clients are looking for, is learn how to “interfere”, “stage”, “direct”, in other words create the right conditions for that moment to occur naturally without interfering excessively in the normal flow of the day and without the subjects realising he is doing it.

What I believe you get then is an image that, whilst not truly “reportage” or “photo-journalistic” in the strictest sense, looks to all the world as if it is. When done well it looks completely natural, like a reportage style image of a beautiful fleeting moment in time. Let me explain by way of example.

I am going to use 6 images all taken from the same wedding which I think is better for showing consistency than using images from different weddings. The Bride was very specific about the images she wanted (I like it when my clients know exactly what they want). These are 6 images where the right conditions were influenced or created by me in order to get the “reportage” style of images my client requested.

I will never “guarantee 100%” to get a particular image because there are times when it’s impossible to create the situation you are looking for. Some things are completely beyond the photographer’s control. But I will always try my very best and on this occasion I managed to create all 6 requested images and they all made it into the wedding album.

Wedding photographer for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Father of the Bride sees his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time. Happening naturally, or was the moment created?

The first was an image of her Dad seeing her in her wedding dress for the first time. Now you could just hope Dad will walk in at a time when you happen to be ready to take the image. It might happen once every 20 years if you’re lucky.  Alternatively you can take control and create the circumstances where Dad waits outside the door until you have his Daughter in place ready for him, with you positioned behind her. Why am I behind her? Well every photo has to tell a story. If I just photographed Dad walking through the door I might get that wonderful expression on his face, but no one will know what he’s looking at!

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and her party leave down the staircase and past the wedding cake on their way to the church. Happening naturally, or was it managed?

The next image the Bride requested was one of her and her Bridesmaids walking down the main staircase on her way to the church. I had literally just finished shooting the Bridal portraits ( completely different lens and camera settings ) and they were very keen to get going, so whilst the shot itself is easy enough, I had to take control otherwise I would have missed it. I made them pause for a chat and organised them all, got myself into position, then let them walk down the stairs and timed the shot perfectly.

Wedding Photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Groom watches his Bride walk down the aisle towards him. reportage, or were the Vicar and the Groom “primed”?

Next we have an image of the Groom watching her walking down the aisle. Well, what do you have to arrange here? Make sure you have spoken with the officiant. She will then prompt the Groom to look round at just the right moment. Again, you don’t want an image of just his face as you won’t know what he’s looking at. You need the bride in the image to tell the story and the co-operation of the officiant.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride looks to camera during her first dance surrounded by her friends and family – a truly “reportage” image, or was this moment “created”?

The next 2 “reportage” style of images requested were “First Dance” images. The Bride specifically requested one of her with her Groom, surrounded by their guests partying, whilst they held their First Dance in the middle of them with just her looking at the camera. Very specific this one and I will admit to having a little bit of luck on my side. How did I “create” this one ? I prompted the DJ so that he would call all the guests onto the dance floor at the appropriate time (they also wanted some photos of their First Dance when dancing on their own so timing was important). I had a small ladder strategically placed to give me some height to see over guests and, when everything looked right, I called the Bride’s name out loud so that she would look towards me. Fortunately luck was on my side and the guests started dancing as soon as they got on the dance floor.

wedding photography for Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
Focus on the hands during the Bride and Groom’s first dance – or is it really their first dance ?

This “reportage” style image is the most “staged” of them all. The Bride had seen an image like it on my website and loved it, so wanted it reproduced for her album. The First Dance is usually held in a room with very little light. This makes it impossible for the camera to focus on the hands alone ( Try it yourself. Your target is going to be moving as well remember ). How do you do it? Well, get in touch and let me know how you think it was done.

Wedding Photography at Gosfield Hall wedding venue in Essex
The Bride and Groom retire at the end of a long day – or is it really the end of the day?

The final requested “reportage” image was one of them retiring for the night. Needless to say, it is a staged photo and was taken earlier in the day. I had gone home long before their party came to an end.

So I provided the images my clients wanted and I’m confident I can create those images at most weddings, rather than once every 20 years!!

Does it matter that these images were “created”, “staged” or “managed” rather than truly “reportage”. I don’t think so. All I did was create the right conditions for them to happen naturally and they all go together with the other images taken of the day to tell the story of their wedding beautifully.

 

Gifting of wedding photography for charity.

 

As someone who has gifted their services in the past, I have been asked by a few wedding suppliers about the process and about my experiences.

The two most popular questions have been “how do you get involved?” and “what was it like?”, so I thought if I were to write a short blog entry on the subject it might be of benefit to other suppliers.

I guess the first thing you need to know is “how do you get involved?”.

There are two organisations which I have some experience of. These are “Gift of a Wedding” and “The Wedding Wishing Well Foundation”, both of which are registered charities.

They offer to help arrange service providers for couples who wish to get married or are yet to hold a wedding ceremony and one of them is terminally ill. That short sentence perhaps deserves a little more explanation.

The most obvious condition to these organisations helping out is that at least one of the couple must be terminally ill. Where that is the case, as I understand it, they will help a couple who wish to get married and want a “wedding ceremony” with all that entails. They will also help a couple who are “legally married” (for example they may have had the simplest of ceremonies in a registry office with just 2 witnesses) and they would now like to celebrate and have a full “wedding ceremony”.

Note in both instances, they have not yet held a “wedding ceremony”. This rules out couples wanting “vow renewal ceremonies” and the like. I know this to be the case because my wife and myself have helped with a vow renewal recently for someone who was terminally ill. We initially pointed them towards the charities and they were told they did not “qualify” as they had already celebrated a “wedding ceremony” in the past.

To get involved with Gift of a Wedding I simply “followed” them on FaceBook. When they are in need of services for someone, they “post” the date and location and ask for volunteers who are free on that date. They will then carry out some enquiries to verify you are genuine and able to provide the services you have offered. I’m sure they do more “behind the scenes” as it were, but the end result is I get an appointment to go and see the couple to discus their requirements for their day.

To get involved with the Wedding Wishing Well Foundation you currently (at the time of writing) make a donation of at least £10, which puts you on their list of suppliers for a year. I’m sure they run some “checks” to make sure you are genuine, then you wait for an opportunity to be of service.

The above is only based on my own experience and things may have changed so, if you would like to know more about volunteering for either of these two charities, I suggest you contact them directly. Here are details of the links to their websites:-

http://giftofawedding.org

http://www.weddingwishingwell.org.uk

It is worth pointing out at this stage that these charities require absolute discretion on your part.

You must keep all the details you are given secret and you are not allowed to use your involvement in the wedding of any particular couple for advertising purposes. So for the photographers among you, you must not use the images you take for any advertising or portfolio building purposes. That is why there are no photographs on this blog entry.

Should you choose to photograph a wedding for either of these charities, you do so purly out of kindness and a desire to help with no strings attached. Your “reward” for your efforts is “the feel good factor” of having helped a couple who are in genuine need at what for them is a very difficult time.

The next question is “what was it like?”.

I answer that question with another question. What do you mean exactly by “what was it like?”. Then we get to the real question. How do you deal with photographing a couple where you know at least one of them will be terminally ill. To be brutally honest, one of them is likely to die very soon.

Again, I can only speak from personal experience. Over the years I have found myself having to deal with people in that most unfortunate of situations, people who know their life is very limited, on more occasions than I want to remember. I believe that, if you have a heart, you cannot help but be affected emotionally by the circumstances they find themselves in.

As a wedding photographer, I know how important any wedding day is.

The photographs you take of the day will help others remember that day for many years to come and that responsibility brings it’s own pressures on you to perform. So, imagine for a moment if you will, one of the couple is unlikely to be around for much longer. I’ll repeat that. One of the couple whose wedding day you are offering to photograph, is unlikely to be alive for much longer. The photographs you take on that day are probably some of the very last photographs to be taken of that person………. ever.

These are the photographs that their spouse and the rest of their family really will treasure for a very long time afterwards. Do you think that brings with it any pressure to perform? You bet it does.

So why would you want to do it? Why put that pressure on yourself for absolutely no financial reward?

I can tell you why I do it. Because I believe in “giving something back”. Giving something to those in society who are having to deal with a situation that must be so heart breaking and so desperately sad. They use the word “devastated” far too often nowadays on tv and it’s meaning has been diminished thereby, but it’s use is appropriate in these circumstances. The family that are going to be left behind will be devastated.

There’s not much I’m any good at, but here I can make a difference. I can provide the family with photographs they really will treasure forever. That’s my reward and why I would encourage anyone who feels able, to help when asked.

As for the “practicalities”, I would advise the following based on my own experience. The couple are two people in love, just the same as any other couple. After making allowances for any physical limitations they might have, whether due to the illness or the medication, treat them just the same.

It’s their wedding day you’re helping to plan!!.

They know the situation they find themselves in. It may well be “the elephant in the room” and you don’t know whether to mention it or not. Personally, I wouldn’t mention it until they do.

Find out what photographs they would like, just the same as with any other couple. You need to know how the illness will impact on your ability to get the photographs they want to have. If they want to talk about it, fine. If they don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine too because I have found the charities to be very helpful in that regard. They can advise in general terms on any issues that will affect how you plan the photography. For example, the limitations that are likely to be imposed on the couple by the illness itself or by any medication being taken.

Make it clear to the couple that, on the day itself, you will be guided by them.

Then be exactly that, guided by them, just as you would with any other couple but with one extra factor in the mix. You should have been able to get a rough idea of the limitations being imposed on the couple by the illness and/or medication, but you won’t know exactly what effect any medication is having on them. So be patient, listen to what they say and be guided by what they tell you. It may well be that the medication makes them tired much more quickly. Believe me, they can go “downhill” very quickly. If they need to rest, STOP. Remember, the day is about them, not about you or your photography.

Photographing a wedding when someone is terminally ill is very much the same as photographing any other wedding.

There is just one more thing that you need to take into consideration, that’s all. So treat the couple with just that little bit more sensitivity, patience and understanding. It can be very rewarding.

And remember, have fun with them. It’s their wedding day, after all !!

I would just like to add a word of caution for those of us who are prepared to offer our services free of charge. Whilst the majority of people are honest, not all of them are. Unfortunately society does contain an element who seek to take advantage of the trusting and kind nature of others. For me personally, helping through these charities just makes me feel the couple I am helping are genuine. Just saying.