The Year in Review - Wedding & Portrait
Year after year, the wedding and portrait industry seemed to be plagued with stories of photographers battling it out in a struggling market. However, this year brought a sense of clarity that many photographers were searching for among the clutter of social media, market oversaturation, and tech developments. So, what happened? And what changed? Christopher Quyen chatted with leading pros to see just what 2019 had in store.
Novel approaches, genuinely reconnecting with clients, and rude awakenings are among the many surprises of 2019. We are seeing the wedding and portrait industry expand horizontally – meaning two things. The first is more and more photographers entering the industry, driven in part by the boom in online resources and courses enticing people to become professionals. While a saturated marketplace is nothing new, it is now easier and cheaper than ever before to purchase a mirrorless or DSLR system and promote yourself as a photographer. The second is the booming sub-categories within our industry. From pet portraits to elopement weddings, there seems to be something for everyone to take a shot at. So, what can professionals do to navigate this developing landscape? According to Melbourne-based wedding photographer and three-time AIPP Australian Album of the Year award-winner, Eric Ronald, “[There are] lots of things that are out of your control in the industry, however, the one thing you have control of is yourself. So, you can either work on your craft or your business.”
Craft is still key
While the industry is experiencing a time of continued growth, having a distinguishable style is crucial in order to stand out from the crowd and attract the clients you want to work with. For many professionals, such as Mexico-based wedding-photographer-turned-portrait-photographer, Luis Garvan, craft always comes before anything else. “We need to improve our photography by following our own personal experience, vision, and beliefs,” Garvan says. “I’m not really looking at trends to change my photography to attract more clients.” Ronald, who also holds this belief, says honing your craft is more important now than ever before because of all the tools at one’s disposal. “Nearly everyone is using the same equipment now which allows them to make something on par with someone else in the game,” he says. “To remain relevant, you have to create something that stands out from the rest, so you have to bring something special to the table.”
With any personal journey of development there are always traps, and for wedding and portrait photographers these come in the form of trends. Perhaps the best place to find trends has become the Lightroom preset market. This has been something observed by Australian wedding photographer, Cassandra Ladru, whose work has been featured across the pages of Vogue to Hello May. “It’s a fast way to have your work look like everyone else,” says Ladru. “It’s something I avoid with editing because, most of the time, as quick as those preset trends arrive, they are gone again. If you jumped on that train, you are left with an editing style that is already dated, and you’re back to square one.” Ladru believes the key is to find your style and voice in the industry, and stay true to that. “Master your craft and your post-production, because consistency is so important to success. Potential clients want to look at your portfolio, and, at a glance, know what they’re going to get if they book you,” Ladru says.
Strength in numbers
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of running a photographic business in 2019 is that clients are still not adequately educated on the value of photography. It is still common to hear something along the lines of, “I found someone else who can shoot photos and videos for my wedding with an album and drone included for under a couple grand. Can you match this?”, without any reference to quality.
As the industry expands, it is important that wedding and portrait photographers don’t isolate themselves from each other. Winner of the 2019 AIPP Australian Pet/Animal Photographer of the Year, Belinda Richards of Frog Dog Studio, believes that the only way to navigate the industry in its current state is to be a part of communities, both online and offline. “When I started doing this, I searched for as many people as I could doing the same thing. Initially, this was through Facebook groups based around pet photography. Having a good Facebook group is like having a window into a pulsating hive of humans creating. From there, I joined bodies such as the AIPP,” Richards says. Finding like-minded people and mentors from the AIPP has helped Richards with difficult business decisions, including pricing.
While competition is inherent in photography, standardising pricing is impossible. However, sharing information about business can not only help fight the effects of undercutting from the lower end of the market, but also help educate potential clients on what they should expect when they engage a photographer.
The experience generation
While clients are still purchasing artworks and framed prints, as millennials and Generation Z reach marrying age, wedding and portrait photographers will have to learn how to adapt for the ‘Experience Generation’. This refers to a phenomenon, witnessed in the past few years, where millennials are less likely to buy things, and instead spend their money on experiences. Many professionals are finding that clients are now more willing to spend their money based on the experience they expect to have on the shoot.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by USA-based wedding studio, Adventure Instead, which specialises in planning and photographing elopements anywhere in the world. Maddie Mae, of Adventure Instead, says that while being an elopement photographer and guide brings a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding, she sees it as “an incredible opportunity for growth in a booming market” once more people are educated on the concept. After surveying over 200 couples on why they chose to elope, Maddie Mae came to the following conclusion: “They wanted a day that was just about them – pretty much the millennial slogan. More than previous generations, millennials crave authenticity, they prioritise experiences over materialistic things, they care about the environment, they’re curious adventure-seekers.”
The studio was founded in 2016 by Mae, who now employs two additional photographers. In just a few short years, it boasts over 100,000 followers on Instagram. According to Mae, this is due to the connection between the Experience Generation’s lives and their relationship with Instagram. “With 65% of Instagram’s one billion users aged between 18-34, it only made sense that whatever is trending on Instagram will be what’s trending in the wedding industry,” says Mae. “It’s no wonder that couples who are getting married look at those wanderlust-inducing images of people in stunning locations as fodder for how they want their elopement day to look.”
When it comes to marketing, not much has changed over the last 12 months. Social media remains important as a marketing tool, however the way businesses have depended on social media in the past few years has dramatically changed. This started with the introduction of an algorithm on Instagram, similar to Facebook, that showed you content based on your interests, rather than chronologically. The result was a disruption in the organic traffic and engagement that many photographers had been enjoying for years. “Once upon a time, Facebook was great, before you started having to pay for reach. Then it was Instagram, but I think we’re experiencing the corrosion of Instagram,” Ronald says.
“We were all kind of reliant on Instagram, but now with the algorithm we are all suffering – whether you’ve got 100,000 followers or 1,000 followers,” he says. “It was a real kick up my arse having put all my marketing into this one platform,” he says. “Many individuals were reliant on it being able to get good organic reach, inquiries, and bookings through what was a natural engagement from Instagram. Sharing good photography is no longer a viable business model. We need to get back into using good marketing tools such as SEO and having good branding behind us – I think that’s why some of the greatest wedding and portrait photographers are struggling right now,” Ronald believes.
However, this does not mean we should abandon social media completely. “I get 10% of my enquiries come directly to my Instagram DMs,” says Ladru. “This approach may not work for everyone, but I book so many weddings through Instagram.” Photographers are now not only using social media as a marketing tool, but also for collecting data to improve their business. Richards is a staunch believer of using data to build client profiles so as to better market to them. “We pay close attention to the data we get from our customers, and any chance we can get them to tell us about their pets,” says Richards. “It’s a great way to engage with the public and also gather information on how our clients feel and speak. This data helps form an image of who potential clients are.”
While some hold the view that both Facebook and Instagram are losing traction in terms of organic reach, according to the 2018 AIPP Australian Newborn Photographer of the Year, Jodie Andrews, good customer service and referrals remain the benchmarks of her business. “Fewer clients want their children’s images on social media, so it’s important that we find other ways to get our clients to talk to us,” says Andrews.
Educator vs Photographer
With the continued oversaturation of new photographers in the market, seasoned veterans of the wedding and portrait photography game have taken the opportunity to turn to mentoring, education, and workshops as a second stream of income. “Everyone starts somewhere,” Ronald says, “so I think to be critical of new photographers who are going through the equivalent of what you went through at the start is quite hypocritical, and not supportive of the industry,” he says. But while teaching can be an exciting part of one’s career, Andrews warns professionals that at the end of the day they are ultimately photographers. “I have seen so many photographers who have become teachers and have forgotten about their own clients, and now struggle to return to their own photography business when the teaching opportunities are no longer a reliable source of income,” Andrews says.
However, having education as an element your business model seems to be the new approach professionals are taking moving forward. Mae puts out online content regularly where she shares what she knows about being a successful elopement photographer. “The truth is, I’ve found that the more you freely give and share your knowledge in this industry, the more opportunity you’ll find,” Mae says. “I’ve been so inspired by the generosity and cooperativeness of the 7,000+ photographers around the world who are consistently connecting and helping each other in my Facebook group.”
The modern tradition
In 2019, photographers are better fighting undercutting by building communities. They’re also riding the social media wave and making the most of any data they can amass on their clients and prospective clients so as to better market to them. But perhaps at the very root of it is the changing attitudes of what people now value going into 2020. “More and more people are throwing tradition out the window, and with that, I think there is going to be this continued shift towards focusing on what’s important for them,” Ladru says.
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