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

 

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