The Wedding Photographer – an endangered species?

wedding photographer for essex and suffolk
The Happy Couple, with “Happy” never being a more appropriate word!

The Wedding Photographer – an endangered species?

I’m posing that question because of events I have experienced in the past few weeks. Taken individually, they are of little significance. Taken as a whole I think there is cause for concern.

As usual, these are my opinions and mine alone. I have no doubt some will find them a great bone of contention and that not everyone will agree with me.


The first was coming across the scene depicted in this photo which I took whilst in Australia.

wedding photography for essex and suffolk
A wedding photographer using a cameraphone?

I’ve posted this photo before and the feedback I received is that some do see it as the future of wedding photography because the cameras built into today’s mobile phones are already pretty good and they are constantly improving.


I’m not going to debate that subject in much detail here because it has been covered in other blogs elsewhere, but I would like to mention the camera element. Whatever form the camera takes, it is just a tool and the shape of told does change over time. The end of the wedding photographer was predicted before with the advent of digital over film, a time when the “tool” changed..

As with that period of change, the Photographer, regardless of the tool they are using, still needs to possess all the other skills (people management, organisational skills, lighting skills, their creativity and so on) to be an effective wedding photographer.


The next event that got me thinking was a comment my neighbour and friend made. He works in insurance and twice in two weeks he has told me about insurance claims being made by newly married couples against their wedding photographers.

Now I have known this neighbour over 10 years and he has been in the same job throughout that time yet he has never mentioned this problem before. You might think it’s just some couples “trying it on” but in these instances, that’s not the case. He has seen the photographs and the standard of them has given him cause for concern.

Talking to him, there does indeed appear to be a rise in the number of claims being made. I can’t help but wonder if this is another example of the  “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” culture we seem to be going through, or has the general standard of wedding photography gone down?

Let’s face it, pricing for wedding photography has come under a great deal of pressure in recent years. I’m not criticising any individual here but there are a lot of “cheap” photographers out there and a lot of consumers who are hiring purely on price.

To me, simple economics dictates the following. You have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to live and stay in business. If you are not charging very much for your services, you need to get more bookings. If you have more bookings, you cannot spend too much time on each one otherwise you will fall behind.

This means, just my opinion remember, you take “short cuts”. You spend less time preparing for the weddings ( I carry out venue visits with clients and spend a lot of time getting to know them and exactly what they want ) and you spend less time on editing. I believe it’s inevitable that the quality of the images will suffer as a result.

Also, if you haven’t had the time to “get to know them”, you may not be providing them with the images they were expecting and that can ( in fact I know it actually has ), prompt a “claim”.

wedding photographer for essex and suffolk
Thankfully they also use “proper” cameras in Australia.

This brings me on to the third event which I think is worth mentioning. I learned just yesterday that a very well known and respected photography training company has gone into “voluntary liquidation”.

This company has trained a lot of well known and very successful wedding and portrait photographers over a period of decades and it has gone out of business. It will be a great loss to the industry and it has made me wonder, after such a long period of success, what has changed to make this company fail?

Could it be bad management? Well, the same duo have managed the company successfully for a long time and I don’t think they would suddenly become “bad” managers overnight. Personally, I suspect they were unable to generate sufficient revenue in a changing market place.

Put another way, when the world has reached the stage that using a camera phone is ok for wedding photography, that “cutting corners” is ok to keep your prices down, then the chances are people starting out in this industry don’t think they need any training. Either that or, because they are having to keep their prices down so low, they simply can’t afford it.

I can’t help but think the industry is in a dangerous downward spiral. Most people are quite simply used to seeing photos on their phone. That is what they have come to expect to see when they look at photos and a growing number seem to be satisfied with that.

Because of this, with the photos being on such a small screen, I personally believe most people don’t know a bad photo from a good one. Following on from that, people don’t value photography any more and will simply hire the cheapest photographer they can find without realising there is more to taking a good photograph than pushing a button on a mobile phone.

Following on from that, photographers who are trying to earn a living are having to keep their prices unrealistically low. They simply have to “cut corners” and don’t have the money available to invest in good training.

With no training, the standard goes down and you end up with insurance claims. I can’t help but think the three events I have mentioned are all connected.


So is the wedding photographer an endangered species?

Look at artists, musicians, footballers and so on. All have a few “super stars” who earn a very good living at their chosen profession and I think Photography is no different. Whilst a few will do very well, a lot will find it impossible to earn a decent living from photography on a full time basis.

I believe there are simply too many photographers in a very crowded market place. I also believe that, with the advent of the “camera phone”, photography has become devalued. As I pointed out earlier, most people don’t know a good photo from a bad one.

Because they can take a snap on their mobile phone they think taking photos is easy and end up shopping for their wedding photographer on price alone. After all, they are only paying someone to push a button on a phone for a few hours, aren’t they!

Most wedding photographers are already “part time” with their earnings from photography being their “secondary” source of income. (By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being part time, in case you were wondering. That debate has already been done to death! ).

When it comes to training I can see other problems. As I’ve mentioned, an established company with a great track record has gone out of business, and what do we see?  “Photographers” with relatively little experience suddenly becoming experts and advertising “cut price training days” to try and earn enough money to pay their way in life because they can’t earn enough from weddings alone.

I’ve been photographing weddings for over eight years now and been on several training courses during that time ( including successfully completing a “judges” training course ), yet I’m still learning and I don’t consider myself qualified enough to charge for “teaching” wedding photography effectively. How someone with only a couple of years experience can really think they are an “expert” and qualified to teach is beyond me.

I don’t want this blog to be all “doom and gloom”, rather just point out a few things that have recently given me cause for concern. A bit of a “reality check”, if you like.

In general, we wedding photographers are a very positive bunch but it’s no good putting our heads in the sand. Whilst I know most of us photograph weddings not to “get rich” but because we genuinely love doing it, we do have to strike a balance and earn a living.

The end of this wonderful profession has been foretold in the past, yet we are still here. It is my hope that we are going through a temporary “phase”. When “digital packages” came into “fashion”, people stopped buying wedding albums. I have found people returning to wedding albums because they are now learning the limitations and shortfalls of the “digital only” wedding package.

With a lot of people now just looking for “cheap” photography, in time it’s limitations and shortfalls will become apparent as they did with “digital only” packages. Then it may go “out of fashion”.

Until then, I like to think that those photographers who are able to meet the challenges presented by this changing and challenging market place will survive, but it isn’t going to be easy and don’t expect to get rich doing it! At least not until the “fashion” for cheapness changes!!

wedding photographer for essex and suffolk
The Bride and Groom set out on life’s journey together.

 

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

 

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

Back to part 5

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 5

 

wedding photographer for all manor of events, henley, ipswich, suffolk
The Confetti Flies at All Manor of Events in Henley, Suffolk.

This is part 5 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, having moved up a “price bracket” with my clients, what else did I need to learn ? They started asking me for large wall prints and for wedding albums so I needed to learn about printing and selling albums.

A little bit of advice here. Unless you have an interest in “printing” for it’s own sake, don’t bother doing it yourself. I tried and found I was useless at it. It also worked out very expensive for me to “do it yourself”. Ink and paper cost a fortune when purchased in relatively small quantities.

Pay for a professional printing company to do it. It really is an art form if you want it done properly. I wanted it done properly, so I had to decide which printing company to use for client’s prints, wedding albums and my advertising literature.


The same goes for designing wedding albums. You might be able to make a decent job of designing wedding albums, but this is another area where a true professional designer will generally do a much better job. Besides, I’m getting  the bookings for weddings and as I do my own editing, I don’t want to design the albums as well.

I have been told by some colleagues they can do an album design in a hour. They select the photos and have software that “sorts the images into place on the album page”. If that gives your albums the type of look you want, great. Go for it. To me it just made all the albums look the same when I want each album to reflect my client’s personalities and tastes.

Besides, you can get the design work on your albums done by professional designers for free these days, so why not leave it to them? ( Don’t worry, I haven’t gone mad. I know you don’t get anything “for free”. The cost of designing the album is included in the stated price. It’s more accurate to say you don’t have to pay extra for the design service because it’s already included in the price ).

The thing to be wary of when thinking about providing wedding albums is that most printers will tell you there is very little work involved for the photographer when the printers do the design work for you. In my experience, it’s a lie. The photographer still has a fair amount of work to do.

I was advised by one album supplier, when I asked for a guide as to the resale price for wedding albums, to just add £50 to the cost price as I only have to fill in the order form and upload the image files. This is nonsense.

I suggest you time yourself. Include all the time you spend going back over the images your client has selected ( You will find yourself doing this because they have to be exactly right for the album ). You will spend time completing the order form and uploading the image files. You will also spend time exchanging emails with your clients and with the designer as they request design changes, additional images, removal of images and so on.

Then you will have the inconvenience of making sure you are in to sign for the wedding album when it is delivered. Then you will have to take it to your clients. ( You can have it delivered directly to the client, but I advise you check the album yourself before you deliver it to them. I’ll explain why later ).

Then there’s the investment you have to make in your supplier’s products. You need sample albums to show your clients, no ? You may get samples at a reduced price, but you still have to invest your money to get them.

When you take all this into account, adding £50 to the cost price is a joke.

Now I’m not saying don’t offer to supply wedding albums. They are coming back into fashion and they are another revenue stream to help you earn a living.

But don’t underestimate the time necessary to do this properly and how much it will cost you if you make a mistake! Tick just one wrong box on the order form, make one small spelling mistake and you have made a mistake that can easily cost you hundreds of pounds. Yes, I’ve done it ! On the upside, you will have another “sample” album to show clients.

You will find yourself worrying about whether you have applied the right amount of “sharpening” to your files (some printers add sharpening during the printing process, some don’t) and worrying about getting the colour balance/temperature exactly right and completely uniform so that when you have two outdoor group shots on the page next to each other, the grass looks exactly the same colour on both images. Not sure what I mean ? Try it and you soon will be.

If you do decide to supply wedding albums ( I think you need to if you want to be taken seriously, but it all depends on your target market ) then make sure you choose the right album supplier for you.

One that provides the type of product that suits your style and your target market, has an ordering process that is easy to use and has good quality control. The importance of good quality control cannot be overstated. 

It really is embarrassing to have your clients receive a wedding album which has quality issues. And it can be a lot of grief getting it put right, damaging your reputation in the process!

Believe me, I changed album provider after I has been supplied with three albums that I had to return due to poor workmanship.

True story. Due to me being abroad for a month, a wedding album went directly to my clients. They simply didn’t want to wait and requested it be sent directly to them. When they received it, there was a problem with warped pages. It all got sorted in the end but it was a lot of grief. The lesson is, no matter how much of a rush your clients are in, examine the album yourself before handing it to them.

Poor workmanship in wedding albums reflects badly on YOUR business because as far as your clients are concerned, it’s YOU that’s providing their wedding album.

So you can see providing wedding albums is not “easy money” as the printers might have you believe. However, it is worth doing and once you have ordered a dozen or so, you will get the hang of it and be much more relaxed about it.


So that’s it on the pricing and wedding album front. In my next blog I’m going to talk about drawing up contracts and the all important “terms and conditions”.

Hope to see you soon.

queensberry wedding albums
You can’t beat a well designed wedding album.

Part 6

Back to part 4

 

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