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

 

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