A look back at 2014: Wedding & Portrait
Most agree that it was a great year for the wedding and portrait industry. The Global Financial Crisis seems like ancient history, and the long shadows that it cast have well and truly lifted. Joanna Hitchcock reports.
While clients are certainly starting to spend more freely, as a whole, a number of factors in the Australian economy have nonetheless created a little uncertainty. Consequently, photographers still have to ensure they offer value for investment to their clients. The good news is that those who do, along with exceptional customer service, will continue to thrive.
While some wedding photographers have seen a return to more traditional booking patterns, others have noticed shorter enquiry lead times this year, with many clients booking less than six months out from their wedding. “There will always be those who book early, but clients are used to being able to get most things as and when they want them, and money is not an issue,” says UK-based wedding photographer, Marianne Taylor.
There also seems to be an ever-widening budget gap, perhaps due to the influx of weekend warriors. “People are either getting a friend to shoot their wedding for $1,000 or they are spending $10,000 plus and going all the way. It seems like fewer mid-range package are being sold,” says Dean Bentick of Inlighten Photography in Sydney.
But while professional photographers are successfully educating clients as to what separates them from the hordes of inexperienced amateurs, guests with cameras are becoming an increasingly difficult challenge to deal with. “Guests with iPhones and cameras are out of control,” Bentick says. “There are cameras everywhere and it’s making it hard to get shots. They’re even stepping out into the aisle while the bride is walking down!” he says.
The online world
Today’s digital world has brought with it the challenges of an oversaturated market, but also globalisation of the wedding industry, and photographers can be easily be booked by international clients for destination weddings. “Couples seek wedding suppliers from all over, so by being strategic about publishing our weddings online, we have built an international reputation,” says Marcus Bell of Studio Impressions in Brisbane. “For us, that has been fantastic because it has meant we can supplement slow times locally with busy times internationally, and we get to travel to fantastic destinations.”
Another benefit of the online world is that having a traditional shop front seems to be much less important in today’s market. Websites are the new shop fronts and cafes are the new meeting places, with many photographers taking the opportunity to reduce costs by either downsizing premises or moving business into a shared space, or back home, allowing them to remain competitive. “We moved to smaller premises at the start of the year as we found having a dedicated studio wasn’t viable anymore,” says Rebecca Johansson, the 2014 WA AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year. “We now do most of our shoots on location or at client homes and it’s working really well so far.”
Thanks to blogs and all the information online, clients are more educated about product, procedure and photography too. “We are getting more dictated to on what clients want, rather than seeing what we have to offer,” says Bentick. Online sharing is also making visual beauty more important with couples becoming increasingly concerned with how photographers will make them look and whether they will be Photoshopped, rather than focusing on the events of the day.
With the world firmly online in the search for suppliers, blogging continues to be a successful marketing strategy, as well as other image sharing channels. “I’ve started using Sticky Albums and my clients go bananas when I give them their own personal image app to install on their phones,” says Nicolle Kennedy, a children and family fine-art photographer based in Melbourne.
Offline, many photographers are also focusing on building close relationships with other suppliers to separate themselves from the online deluge and boost business through referrals. “The power of the recommendation is gold in the client’s eyes so we work hard to keep good relationships with our favourite venues,” says Johansson.
The emphasis on styling has continued to grow in both weddings and portraits and a much larger proportion of wedding budgets are going toward this than in the past. While vintage and DIY weddings are still in fashion, this year there has been a shift towards more opulent weddings, reinforcing the message that photographers should stay true to their own style and focus on finding the right clients. “I avoid the over-saturated trends. If a sea of photographers do something, I will either greatly reduce it, or stop doing it entirely,” says Ross Harvey, a UK-based wedding photographer. “My efforts go into emotion and artistic composition, as regardless of the editing, they remain timeless.”
In terms of styling, wedding couples are daring to please themselves more. “They really want their day to reflect their personalities and increasingly, couples are not allowing parents to force them into traditions that don’t feel right to them. They are also organising weddings with fewer guests in order to maximise budget and allow for those super-special touches,” says Taylor.
Portrait clients are also more interested in being captured in different and creative ways, and with most people using fairly sophisticated cameras themselves these days, photographers need to give them a reason to invest in professional portraiture by offering something they can’t easily do themselves. As a result, photographers have been forced to lift their game and put a lot more effort into portrait sessions. “The biggest trend this year is that my clients are looking for something completely different,” says Kennedy. “I offer lifestyle and conceptual portraits, but my conceptual portraits gain the most interest because they are completely different from everything else people have been seeing, and people love that they tell a personal story about their children,” she says.
New Zealand portrait photographer Esther Bunning suggests that photographers should always be looking at fresh, new ways to do things. “It’s absolutely essential to evolve and keep things current. I’d been playing with multiple exposures in my personal work which resulted in people requesting this type of imagery for their portraits, and it’s a win-win. It takes me to my happy place and at the same time my client is going to get a unique, creative product,” she says.
With wedding engagement sessions back in a big way and receiving digital files now a basic requirement for most couples, this has created the need for photographers like Johansson to change their package offerings. “It wasn’t good enough for us to say we don’t offer digital anymore, so high-res files are now priced into our coverage, but still with an album included. The change has been well received and has not affected our print sales much at all,” she says.
But while digital files are now almost a necessity, wedding albums are making a comeback, with a cultural shift back from the perceived convenience of all things digital to the appreciation of beautiful products. “I think there were a lot of clients who thought they would put their own album together or just look at photos online who have now realised how much time and effort this takes,” says Bell. “We are pretty sure that most people who just get digital images never do much with them and they are now realising it is worth having a professional put the best images together in an album to present the story of their day.”
So far, the portrait industry is having more success resisting the digital demand, with photographers dealing with digital file requests by building them into product packages or offering them to clients once a certain spend is reached. “I’m not a big fan of digital sales without clients first having prints,” Bunning says. “I’m a firm believer in images being printed to keep for generations to come. And with technology changing so rapidly, the reality is that digital files will soon become inaccessible or lost altogether,” says Bunning.
Staying ahead of the game
In a highly competitive market, photographers can gain an edge by being different. “I’ve recognised that my style is something I can offer that is different from the vast majority of imagery being produced,” Bunning says. “Of course it’s not going to suit everyone, but I’m only trying to appeal to a small portion of the market that recognises I do things differently and who are willing to invest in this,” she says. “The technology we use is amazing, but how we choose to use it is up to us, and how we interpret a portrait should be different for each and every one of us. Don’t echo someone else’s style or approach. Be a voice.”
Offering a quality service and refining business processes so that quality can come at a competitive price is also important. “Technology has created an expectation that images can be available quickly and people don’t want to wait,” Bell says. “We are constantly refining our processes, systems and tools to enable our clients to view their images and receive their products quickly without compromising on quality.”
It might not be glamorous, but the tips for success are the same for any business in any market. Photographers need to know their customers, differentiate themselves, target their marketing and know their figures. “Be consistent, be yourself, find what you do well and keep doing it better and better,” Bell suggests. “Timeless imagery will always be timeless and great service never gets old.”
Marcus Bell: www.studioimpressions.com.au
Dean Bentick: www.inlighten.com.au
Esther Bunning: estherbunning.com
Ross Harvey: www.rossharvey.com
Rebecca Johansson: composephotography.com.au
Nicolle Kennedy: nicollekennedyphotography.com
Marianne Taylor: www.mariannetaylorphotography.co.uk