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