On the Road recap by Blake Gardner
On the first day of the On the Road event in Los Angeles, I attended a number of talks that focused on wedding photography. The topics ranged from business practices to lighting techniques and postproduction using Lightroom 5.
The first three speakers, Roberto Valenzuela, Yervant, and Jerry Ghionis, made all of the Americans in the crowd want to get a dialect coach because it was obvious that to be a top wedding photographer, you need to have an thick accent. But Jerry quickly reminded us “I don’t have an accent when I shoot in Australia,” to which we all responded with a laugh and a big sigh of relief.
The future of wedding photography
Wedding photographer Yervant highly encourages photographers to think about the future of the industry. There are so many “shoot & burn” photographers out there who are charging a fraction of the price that it takes to maintain a sustainable wedding photography business. He suggested giving clients a finished product that is a work of art, rather than just a disk with digital images on it. Then when the wedding party and guests see the high quality products, they’ll be way more impressed by your work and much more likely to recommend you. When you give your clients a disk, they are likely to just take it to Costco and get the cheapest prints possible. Do you really want your work represented by photos printed at Costco? Not to mention that these cheap prints don’t have the longevity of the archival quality prints you should be offering your clients. Now, this doesn’t mean that you cannot give your clients a disk with the images, but think about waiting until they have received your finished products. Once they compare your prints to the cheaper ones, there is no doubt that they will come back to order more products from you.
It’s important to realize that as wedding photographers we need to keep our prices at a place where we can have a sustainable business. It would be far better for all of us if we could all shoot 40 weddings a year for around $4,000 each than if we shot 80 weddings a year at $1,500 each. And people will pay this price if you show them the high quality products that you deliver.
I was able to attend three hands-on sessions, with about 35-40 people per instructor. With this group size, Jerry’s class was the most beneficial to me because he took the time to wirelessly connect his camera to an iPad and had one of his team members walk around with it after each shot so we could all get a good look. He used his off-camera flash in ways I’ve never seen and also did a demo with the new Ice Light, which made everyone whip out their credit cards without a second thought. He also took us outside and showed us how to use direct sunlight instead of just running into the shade to get the perfect light. Jerry is also quite entertaining, which is part of the reason he is so successful. A boring wedding photographer will get boring expressions. A wedding photographer who knows how to entertain a crowd and elicit an emotional response will capture priceless moments that will turn a regular wedding into a wonderful tale of love and celebration.
Growing your client base and getting the word out
The presenters I was exposed at this event really know what they’re doing and shared lots of great ideas about how to expand a wedding photography business. Vanessa Joy and Rob Adams presented their business model where they capitalize on the fact that, for every wedding they shoot, they have a room filled with potential future clients. Vanessa and Rob have perfected the “same day edit” where they bedazzle wedding guests by displaying photos of the wedding at the reception. During the cocktail hour, Vanessa hands her camera cards to her assistant (not a second shooter but an assistant who is solely there to carry bags and processes images) who then quickly copies the files onto her laptop. Then Vanessa will spend about 30 minutes selecting her top images that tell the story of the day. This will normally be a selection of roughly 100 images that she’ll do a quick color adjustment to in Lightroom. Then her assistant will copy the files onto an iPad that gets placed on its own table, surrounded by cards that give people instructions on how to view “all of the images tomorrow.” That’s right; she gets the proofs up online that quickly.
Furthermore, during the reception her assistant also uploads these files to her Facebook page and tags the bride and groom in the photos so now all of their family and friends who aren’t at the wedding can see the photos the day of. Her assistant also uploads the files to her blog and submits the files to various wedding magazines and blogs using Two Bright Lights. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, her assistant also prints out about a dozen images that get placed in a small album (using adhesives), which they deliver to the bride so when she’s walking around, talking to all of her guests, she has a book of photos to show them. Talk about instant gratification! Rob also mentioned that he does a same-day edit as well, and he’s a videographer.
Vanessa is a pro at what she does and keeps records of where all of her clients come from. Her word-of-mouth referrals are off the chart compared to the rate of contacts she gets from ads she pays for. Now, she still pays for those ads and reaches out in many other ways, but she knows that it is invaluable to deliver the photos to a room filled with women, some of whom are probably engaged (or about to be), who have just seen their friend/loved one get married. They are celebrating. They are happy. You cannot recreate that kind of energy with a simple website or in a consultation.
The review process
I have to disclose something quite embarrassing. In the 10 years I’ve been in business for myself, I have never had a legitimate portfolio review.Sure, I’ve gotten feedback from friends and clients, but I haven’t had a peer go through it with me.
After standing in a long line and only getting through about 12 slides in my wedding portfolio during the time provided, I was given one note. That note was not to show any detail photos in my main wedding portfolio. The thought being that brides will likely be more attracted to photos that display emotions. The reviewer and I both agreed that detail shots are better placed in a gallery that features a single wedding from the start to finish.
I took the advice and made changes to my wedding portfolio. If you’d like to see the before and after, please visit these links.
When my three minutes were up, I was feeling like I wanted a more in-depth look at my portfolio. With the limited time slot I didn’t get a chance to have feedback on my technique, lighting, and composition. I was left wanting more.
I noticed the line was much shorter than before, and so I casually snuck back in line with the hopes that I would get a more in-depth review. This time I got a reviewer whose specialty was commercial photography so it made more sense for us to look at my celebrity and professional portraits. We looked over all of the images in that portfolio (which made me much happier), but the feedback I got from my second reviewer was that my lighting was excellent and that I clearly know what I’m doing. A great stroke of the ego, but I still really wanted more. I did get the final note that it would probably be best to make a separate site for my wedding portfolio because some of my editorial work could pass as commercial portrait photography in which case I could get larger clients who would not love the fact that I shoot weddings. This was already a thought in the back of my mind that will most likely happen soon.
This was one of the best grouping of presenters I’ve seen in a while. All of them not only produced top quality work, but they knew how to teach what they do to a room full of people hungry for information. Most of them focused on making sure that your quality of work is higher, which will help once you get more brides visiting your website and ultimately lead to more business.