The Business of Photography

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The Business of Photography

Shoot & Burn: Problems With Cheap Wedding Photography

Is there room in the market for ‘shoot-and-burn’ photographers?

Yes!

But first, let’s discuss a ‘shoot-and-burn’ photographer and maybe change the terminology a little. A photographer who offers to shoot a wedding and provide only a DVD of high resolution files is a ‘shoot-and-burn’ wedding photographer, but if the fee for this service were $5000, there would be few readers who would criticize this business model.

The problem established wedding photographers have is not really with the ‘shoot-and-burn’ mentality, it’s because the photographers offering this service are usually offering it at a very low price. They are charging $500 instead of $5000.

So the issue isn’t with shooting and burning, it’s with charging very low prices for wedding photography.

Is A Low Price Bad?

However, let’s put the issue into perspective. We live in a capitalist society and everyone has the freedom to do many things. If you wish to charge a low fee for wedding photography, you’re entitled to do so. But is this a problem for photographers charging a high fee?

When looking to buy a car, some people will happily spend $100,000 on a Mercedes or BMW, while others will struggle to find $5000 for a second-hand model. Does the Mercedes salesman fret about the people looking for a second-hand car? Rarely, because he or she realizes that there are different markets with different requirements and expectations.

Wedding photography is the same in that there are different markets with different budgets and expectations.

So does this mean there isn’t a problem with cut-price wedding photographers and that we shouldn’t worry? Not quite. The difference between buying a new Mercedes and a second-hand car is obvious for everyone to see. You can sit in the cars, take them for a test drive and inspect their paintwork.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wedding photography, people are buying something that is not yet in existence. They aren’t buying a finished product, they are buying someone’s personality and reputation, and an expectation of a good result.

Few wedding couples after visiting a number of wedding studios can see any difference in the quality of the photography they are buying. There are exceptions, of course, and if they were comparing a Yervant or a David Oliver with a $500 website-only photographer, you’d expect most people to be able to discern a difference in quality. However, the differences between wedding studios are usually not so great.

From our clients’ perspective, all wedding photographers are award winners, all produce ‘professional’ quality photographs, all are going to produce great photographs on the wedding day.

If all these wedding studios are so similar, how do our clients differentiate between them?

If you had a choice between buying a Mercedes at one dealership for $100,000 and the same Mercedes at another dealership for $90,000, where would you buy? Similarly, if you had the choice between a 1995 Toyota for $5000 at one car yard or a 1995 Toyota with very similar specifications and mileage at another for $4500, what will you do?

Very often, after you have decided what you want, the final decision is based on price.

And this is why established wedding photographers are rightly concerned about ‘cheap’ photographers entering the market because our market very often can’t tell the difference.

So whose fault is that? On the one hand we should be suggesting to the established studios to lift their game, improve their marketing and make it clearer why they are more expensive than the ‘shoot and burn’ photographers who charge a lot less.

Professional Appearances

On the other hand, it’s relatively easy for a shoot and burn photographer to create a website and present himself very professionally. And there are quite a few people out there who are leveraging the website to make themselves very appealing. Have a read of the following introduction on an inexpensive wedding photography website, where the photographer explains why his prices are so low:

The Difference

Unless your friends have recommended a great photographer, finding a wedding photographer can be quite a daunting prospect. It’s obviously really important to make the right choice!

Price

Many people will find my rates are relatively inexpensive compared to most photographers. There are a number of reasons I can offer pricing as low as I do.
• I don’t do any form of expensive marketing, so my glossy fliers aren’t factored into your price
• I don’t run a studio, I have no expenses relating to a physical premises
• You’re not paying for consultations (see consultations)
• I work to a reasonable hourly rate, you’re paying for my time on the day and some time for post-production, not a package price of thousands of dollars.

Copyright

Here’s the big difference... I offer the copyright to your photos. When you’re looking for a photographer you should be sure to find one that offers you the copyright to your images. Most photographers won’t disclose that you’ll be paying a premium for your prints after the big day. You normally get a full set of low-resolution images, the digital equivalent of your negatives (high resolution images) are kept by the photographer. In a digital era, would you trust photographers with no real idea of IT to correctly backup your memories? What if their studio burns down?

Consultations

I have a very young family and I found a balance between work and family life by scaling back my services and offering “just the photography”. By not factoring in physical consultations, it keeps the price down for my clients, and it keeps my wife happy. A pre-consultation is a very important part of any shoot, and instead of a physical consultation, my clients fill out an online interview. This does two things, it means the correct questions are asked – nothing is accidently missed, and it also records the information for safe keeping. I review the response to the interview, we shoot a couple of emails around, and we all arrive fully prepared on the day.

Post consultations are really just about reviewing shots and selling additional products. My clients are able to shop and purchase prints/frames online, you can browse at your own convenience, and you can also have your friends and family login to organise group purchasing to secure an even higher discount on your order.

It might pay you to read this again because this photographer has some very compelling arguments for a large part of the wedding market. The standard of the photography on the website is, in my opinion, average and would barely qualify for full membership of the AIPP, but this photographer certainly has potential and I see a lot of images far worse than his being sold by professionals for a lot more money. Many clients will look at this work and be very happy with it.
This photographer says he can shoot a wedding for $400 or $500 by offering a four or six hour service. He has no overheads. He has no expensive marketing. He offers no consultations before or after the wedding. And he throws in the copyright for all the images and suggests that everyone reading his website should insist on owning the copyright because photographers have no real idea of IT.

So, what chances has this photographer of being financially successful, and how can we counter-act his claims? Let’s start with the latter.

Counterclaims

Time: A short coverage time limits the scope of wedding photography. If photographs of the bride and groom at their respective houses is important, if they want photographs after the wedding, at the reception or later at night, this isn’t possible with a four hour coverage.

No Studio or Overheads: Perhaps this photographer doesn’t have the same commitment to his profession as a photographer who does have a studio and overheads? Perhaps this photographer is just starting out and can’t afford a studio yet, so do you want to risk your wedding photography with someone who is relatively unproven?

No Consultations: Do you want to spend the most important day of your life with someone you have only met over the internet? How does the photographer speak, dress and interact with people? Will your guests like him? And can an impersonal internet form really provide the same interaction as a personal meeting?

Reasonable Hourly Rate: The photographer is booked to turn up for four or six hours, what incentive does he have to produce a high standard of work, especially since he need never see you again?

Copyright: We want to keep the copyright because we are proud of our work. We want to control the post-production of the image (it doesn’t come out of the camera looking perfect), plus we want to control how the image is printed and presented. We care.

No Idea About IT: We need to explain to our clients how our images are backed up and stored off site. Point out that if they use a shoot and burn photographer, then the IT backup becomes the their responsibility – will they be making archive copies of their work?

Post-Production: Show your clients comparison images so they know the difference between photographs straight out of the computer and those that have been edited and corrected in Photoshop. If they want this standar of work, who is going to do it when you hire a shoot and burn photographer?

The important thing we need to do is ensure that our clients understand the difference between what we are offering, and what a shoot and burn photographer offers.

The fact that we have a studio and spend time with our clients shows that we are established, have past clients who have been happy with our work (because we are still in business), and we are interested in our clients enough to have meetings with them!

Yes, we want to make a good living. Yes, we charge more than the shoot and burn photographer, but we also provide much more. And most importantly, buy selling extra pages into the album over and above the basic package, we have an incentive to produce high quality photographs that our clients want to buy. What incentive does the shoot and burn photographer have once he’s banked your cheque?

Ongoing Business

After giving your prospective clients the counter-arguments, many will still go with the shoot and burn photographer. As Andrew Kopp explained in his interview, many people don’t value photography as highly as we do and so a cheaper service might be all they require.

Two questions: should we look at the services we offer and, rather than letting these clients slip through our fingers, offer a cheap shoot and burn service ourselves?

Or, should we close our studios and become shoot and burn photographers ourselves? What would happen to us if we were to get rid of our overheads and just charge $500 for a six hour coverage?

Let’s look at the figures. Let’s assume we already have a computer and a camera, so we don’t need to buy anything except blank DVDs and maybe some labels to print on. Nor do we market ourselves except on the internet.

If our weddings last for six hours, we are unlikely to be able to do two weddings in one day, but let’s be optimistic and assume we can shoot two weddings each weekend, forty weeks of the year (few wedding studios are busy all year round).

What is our turnover?
2 weddings each week
x 40 weeks a year
x $500 per wedding
= $40,000 per annum

So, assuming this is all the shoot and burn wedding photographer does, they are not making much of an income.

Unfortunately, this is a false assumption. Many people who do shoot and burn photography have a full time job as a salesman or a manager during the week. Perhaps they earn $60,000 or $80,000 a year, in which case an extra $40,000 a year (or equivalent) for working 12 hours on a weekend (or maybe 16 hours if you add in travel time) is very attractive.

Even for a photographer who shoots sport, schools, portraits or commercial photography during the week could be convinced to earn a little extra by shooting this way – and indeed many non-wedding photographers do just this, although being in business themselves, they are usually charging more than $500. As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, shooting and burning is not the big issue, it’s the price being charged that hurts the market.

The point I’m making is that while a traditional wedding studio couldn’t remain in business if it only charged $500, a different business model could do very nicely.

For proof of this philosophy, you only have to look back at how product photography changed when the owners of big offset printing presses, turning over millions of dollars each year, added in photography studios and shot the product photography for free. It was worth their while giving away $5000 of product photography to secure a $200,000 printing job, even though this didn’t sit well with product photographers who found themselves out of a job.

Now that photography is so easy to do, we can expect more people to enter the market and, possibly with the same passion we had, try to earn some money from photography.

And weddings seem pretty easy, don’t they!

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