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TIMES ARE CHANGING 




BITS, PIECES, AND GRIPES

These are excerpts from an open forum I participated in and some of the commentary. It shows you how diversified the level of professionalism is in the industry.  This is about the impact digital has made on the photo industry and the wedding Industry in particular. My answers to them were in blue.

PRELUDE: THE BAD GUYS

In almost Any-town USA we hear from the established photographers that the competition is getting tougher. It is true that there are photographers that will photograph a wedding for $200-$300 and give the bride and groom jpeg images on a CD.  Expect more of this, as bread on a table is essential and it is to be expected, and you have to explore both your options and decisions you might have to make.  The additional income lost profit on prints is in jeopardy because the next step is their referral to the local Walgreen’s, Costco, or Wal-Mart, etc.,

The second problem we read about the most is “low-ballers”, those that advertise the lowest prices probably commiserating with their craft and then bump the clients after they have been taken out of the market.  This closely and systematically represents the same feeling you get when you read the car dealer ads. 


COMMENTS AND ANSWERS
MERVIN WROTE:  I've been shooting weddings for years and I am licensed and pay taxes. Unfortunately, I've found that I am unable to maintain a successful business shooting traditional wedding packages anymore. How do I sell myself?

Answer:  Simply put,  explain to the bride she can see your  images and the CD’s that are available and show the quality of your work from several different weddings. You have to do a better job of selling yourself.  Offer a list of referrals, take the high ground. 

Show a better approach to quality rather than knocking the competition. Utilize the once a lifetime importance of her wedding.  Potential clients are more informed and mis-informed due to the internet and although I hear a lot of complaining about what has happened to wedding photography, you have to recognize that you must adapt and not waste energy complaining.

Spend more time learning rather than complaining so that your product is better than the other competitors product.  Make that information clear on the internet that you offer a better package not necessarily a better deal.  You can offer digital only packages that come with print quality CD's and let the clients take care of their own albums. You will be busier than ever was, have less overhead, can shoot more and as a result, your photography skills will improve greatly.

It is already the norm. Many Brides don't have an album, it's all in their computers, cell phones and IPODS and sent all over the world. 

ADAPT, IMPROVISE and OVERCOME

Everyone needs to adapt to the market, be flexible with lower price alternatives, and learn how to market yourself.  Not like some jerks who put their brand of camera on their business cards.  It says to a client with a brain, he is nothing but a branded freak.  Show them your artistry, passion and finished work. 

People who can and do market themselves well will remain to get those high paying jobs; the high paying weddings should remain relatively unaffected, the "el-cheapo" weddings and wedding photographers are only lowering the value of the low-end weddings.

When people contract Weddings, they are buying things and they have expectations. When those expectations are satisfied they are comfortable with their decisions. When they are not, they are dissatisfied.  Only when the expectations are exceeded, will they be very happy clients.

No one is denying the low-end photographers cutting their profits and working as more of a part-timer, weekend warrior, or hobbyist than a professional that the market is changing.  Another point offered is the economy is forcing those to think of extra income.  If you are income driven rather than business driven you tend to lower your standards.

There are things we can control and things we can’t control and one of those things is the economy. But it is safer in this game to be doing the higher end quality weddings rather than the low end stuff simply because of the dollar volume. Your profit goes up faster than your expenditures.


FULL-TIME vs. PART TIME

The problem, if we go back to the beginning is the battle between the full time business oriented studio owning or at least a store front professional vs. the part time shooter. The full time pro needs to earn enough to pay for equipment, a location, and health insurance, liability, electric, employees, taxes etc.  The weekend shooter needs the insurance and benefits of the day job.

In other words what every business has to earn in gross dollars to support an operation. This is really a one or two day a week job when you absolutely have to show up.  Health insurance alone easily uses up the profits from one wedding especially if you have family, now add the liability and the business coverage and you are broke.  The hobbyist gets this from his or her other job or if the wife has a secure day job with benefits. He has no real overhead. He retains a larger percentage.  The simple answer is, it’s not a fair playing field.


WORKING WITH DJ'S

The complaints I am reading here about digital killing the business or low-ballers is actually a wedding industry wide complaint.  The DJ business is experiencing some of the same complaints on the transition to digital with people downloading their own music. It does sometimes bring down the price you can get for your professional services as people simply do not want to pay $700 to $1500 for a DJ.

After seeing some of the DJ’s at weddings I have witnessed there is the second industry I would like to see some level of competency in.  I really don’t expect grandma to be doing break dancing on the floor other than with the permission of her orthopedist.   

There are some Gulags that need entertainment on Saturday night. On the other hand I have seen some that actually made the evening run smooth.  It also might be “you get what you pay for”.  Referrals are the best way to learn about that cool dude spinning discs for you.  One DJ commented, “I don't think digital has much impact on us at all, it is just a new tool that helps us do our job more efficiently.  That efficiency can directly increase our profit margin being able to create scenarios and music blends. 


POINTS OF LIGHT

If you are a good photographer you will be more sought after.  Both the frugal and high end wedding clients will want to retain you right? At that point it is up to you to decide what to charge and how busy you want to be. Just don't get greedy, there might just be a hidden venue.  You can’t ever forget how in a volatile market you have to be aware of that market and not let your ego or common sense get to far ahead of the competition.  Someone once told me the best time to tell your lover you love her is before someone else does.

To say that "newbies will ruin their own business" is probably incorrect...everyone has to start somewhere, and if a client finds a newbie with greater skills and a style that better relates to their needs, with better prices, and a great personality...watch out.  Keep improving what you are doing, attend good seminars, don't knock the competition, take serious whenever people try to tell you something and stay current. Thats a recipe for success.

Most popular objection is, "We don’t want to spend more than XXX dollars for the wedding!" 
There will always be clients who can't justify paying 300 dollars for they're Wedding.  To them the occasion is more important than the recording of the occasion. It’s more like record keeping.  Sometimes it is more for the friends and relatives and then on with their lives. Imagery is just not a priority with them. It’s not money sometimes, I was told they just wanted the bare essentials for the parents. They were both wearing Rolexes.

Little you can do other than consider two things you learn in sales. The first is there are two kinds of objections; Real objections such as we only have 63 dollars in the bank. And the excuses such as we have to check with Mom or we’ll call you we have another appointment to go to.  The second is: If it is close and you have no other booking that day, a loaf of bread is better than starving on a particular day that nothing is happening.  Might be a good shoot to see how that new helper can work out or a good time to try a new technique.


YOU HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE

There is an expression in the wedding business "If you start doing cheap weddings you will probably always do cheap weddings”. “For those who lowball, they cannot lowball forever. Sooner or later they have to raise their prices to put food on their table. For those who charge ridiculously high prices, they cannot charge high prices forever. Sooner or later, they have to lower their prices because the general public will realize that there are plenty of other people doing the same kind of work for much lower.”

“Weddings aren't a full time job for many, and there's a market for budget weddings.”  The question is can you afford to shoot a budget Wedding and take a day away from a chance to do a real top-notch function. There are plans for this called “the bump scale”.  You need a helper or assistant on call. 

You book and then bump them to your assistant if you get a better job to do. Not very ethical but I have seen the attitude of the low end photographers not really caring what people think.  It seems to be an attitude thing.  Seems to be prevalent or a sidecar to the low-priced arena. 

DIDDLE IN THE MIDDLE

I tend to watch the economy as a great indicator. Some are of the opinion, it would appear a middle of the road affair is the best situation to shoot but that is the range of where the most economic swing is taking place.  Lately I see the very expensive weddings and the very budget minded Weddings, My answer to this is both, create a sales program that allows flexibility.  If you don’t use this as a stepping stone to better things, go back to what you are comfortable at. Think up not down. If you get comfortable at the lower levels and don’t aspire to get better this will not work out. It can’t financially, and you will be no better off.

It’s tough to compete against free. How noble of the friend! What a wonderful career and it just doesn’t get more rewarding than this till something goes wrong.  Someone who says nothing goes wrong at weddings better start sharing that smoke-able material with all the other folks.  And when it does go wrong, those nice folks you were doing everything for suddenly take on a new personality.  

Pick up the local yellow pages and get a two year old copy of the yellow pages.  The photography section is about the same only the names in the newer book don’t match the names in the two year old book. They are gone and a new batch is trying their hand.


MORE SHOOTERS ENTER THE FRAY

MERVIN wrote, "Two and a half years ago I signed up for a specialized wedding web site. We were around 30 photographers on the list. Two days ago, I counted the list in my part of the state....129 photographers.”
Where are these photographers coming from?  ”I believe that the problem does stem from digital”.  Digital changed the game:  Are there so many open doors in your community. I doubt if any of these ninety day wonders would of survived in the film era.  Yet most of them are just trying to put food on the table, pay some bills and survive, get used to it, get better at what you do and leave them in the dust with referrals. 

“When film was alive and kicking a photographer had to know equipment, lighting gear exposure, formals and candids, the poses and so forth but he was relying on experience confidence and training to get results he might not be sure of for a week to two weeks.  After the wedding there was a lull while everything was at the lab”.  “So here is this new passionate digital photographer who can make a buck or two shooting a wedding. He can see his images right away by "chimping" so he has piece of mind that the picture came out and I guarantee, anybody who shoots a couple of thousand of pictures can edit 300- 400 decent ones for a CD.

Yes, times have changed, and competition is fierce...more than ever.”  But the failure rate is higher too when they find out what really si involved.

“ I have a 40 hour a week job and shoot wedding's on weekends because I love to.  I actually like doing it. Find it really fun and nice way to spend a day. It's busy, but you get to shoot pretty people dressed up, and enjoy a emotional moment, and pick up a little cash”.  OK, good attitude, nothing wrong with having fun.

“I don't even bother to deal with neurotic brides or pushy grooms, if I smell that on the first meeting; I just quote them something crazy and let them run away.  In some cases this is a good idea. Ask her if she saw the last hilarious Bridezilla on TV. If she's that up to date, run.

 © copyright aljacobs Stardate 10-18-2012