I sometimes dip in and out of the bridal forums – I like to keep totally in touch with the current trends and way of thinking of our brides. It helps to make me a better photographer I think because for me in order to do that I need to almost be inside my bride’s head if this makes sense.
Think the way she is thinking, see the things she is seeing, pre-empt what she is about to do so I’m in the right place at the right time and know when to ask for pictures and when to just keep quiet and go about the job of documenting the day as it unfolds.
So, knowing what the latest fad or craze is for table decorations for example ensures that when my couple have decorated their tables that way I don’t miss the all important details in the shots I take.
Equally when I am putting together my marketing materials it’s good to know what’s “in” and what’s “out” – so if I want to make my wedding packs look like and be made from pocket folds then my brides will identify with them because they may be considering these for their invitations. It’s good to keep in touch.
It’s also good to keep in touch and clued up on how the wedding photography market is perceived by most brides to be (apologies to any grooms to be who may be reading this post for referring to the brides but I see very few grooms on the forums and deal with very few grooms at the enquiry stage).
So I was a little sad, if not surprised, to see one post this week on one of the most popular forums made by a desperate bride to be who had that morning received through the post her wedding photography “deposit” back from her photographer along with an accompanying letter stating that due to the recession etc. she was ceasing the business.
The bride had gone on to say that for £450 she was getting an album and a printable CD along with all day photography. The problem here is that whilst the photographer concerned “probably” had another job during the week from which she subsidised her weekend photography long term this can not be sustained. In short there is not only no profit in that kind of pricing – worse than that – each time that photographer offered such a package, whether she realised it or not, she is making a loss.
Not long ago one of the few reasonably priced UK album manufacturers went bust. It had a massive knock on effect throughout the wedding photography industry. Not only could photographers who offered cheaper packages not get the promised albums the replacement ones they could get cost more. So where this lady photographer may have thought she could price the wedding at £450, knowing she could obtain a “cheap” album for her client once this company went bust then she had no cushion in place to be able to supply an alternative without losing even more money. There must come a point (obviously there did – hence the return of the deposit) where it’s no longer viable to carry on haemorrhaging money in the name of business. It’s a sad state of affairs.
There was no place for this lady to go with this other than to take the action she did – although it must have been terribly distressing for the bride. In including the printable CD she was not going to gain any reprint sales either – so had no hope at all of picking up any of her shortfall.
The scariest part of this whole sorry story though is that it is repeated all of the UK virtually every weekend. So consider this – if the album and the prints in the album are costing the photographer virtually all the money they are making from the booking then what is left for other necessities such as Professional Indemnity Insurance, Public Liability Insurance, back up cameras and lenses, additional lenses to ensure they are properly equipped for the job, a flash gun and back up flash gun, the necessary pc and software to process the ? Training – even the most accomplished of us still need to keep working on this one! A reliable car – which they know is going to start when they turn the key and get them to the wedding, suitable wedding attire? Tax – both personal and VAT required on products they buy in to enable them to fulfil the contract?
Ok – so we’ve established that these guys are flying pretty close to the wind in most cases. They are certainly much braver than I am! But it doesn’t end here either. What happens if they are sick and can’t photograph the wedding? Who is going to step in and take their place? Or indeed if they cease trading as this one did? At this level it’s unlikely that they will have insurance to cover it or a network of other photographers who will be willing to step in and bail them out.
So what steps can you take to protect yourself against the unthinkable happening? The advice I’m going to give now should apply whatever price you have agreed to pay for your wedding photography. Following years of experience in the business this is the absolute minimum protection you should be looking for from your photographer.
A – Ask about insurance. Your photographer should have adequate Professional Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance, in addition to this I would also want to know that they keep all their equipment fully insured too. Accidents do happen and what if that lens they dropped at last weeks wedding costs too much for them to replace before yours? I would want to know they had it covered!
B – Basics. Do they have enough kit and back up kit to undertake the commission you are paying them for, regardless of the weather? If it’s raining and they have to shoot your entire wedding indoors do they have the necessary lighting equipment to enable them to do this? Furthermore, do they have the knowledge and skills necessary to use the equipment? Do they have the skill necessary to produce pleasing pictures for you and not just “snap shots”? Once the wedding has been photographed do they have the basic equipment necessary to produce your finished pictures? If producing an album for you do they have the design skills and creativity necessary to make that album look it’s best?
C – Contingency plan. Do they have in place a “plan B” should the unthinkable happen and for some reason they are unable to fulfil their contract with you to photograph the wedding? What happens if they are sick or unable to attend the wedding due to personal reasons? Do they have a network of people, equally competent as themselves who are willing and able to step in at the last minute to ensure all is not lost?
At the end of the day there are wedding photographers around to suit all tastes and budgets. Just because a photographer is a relatively low price does not mean that there should be any compromise in the level of protection that is built in for you, their client. Whilst every photographer at owes it to their clients to ensure that they do undertake their business in a professional, reasonable and fair manner, every bride also owes it to herself to at least look at the photographer who she “thinks” she can’t afford. It could be that the very one she thought she couldn’t afford turned out to be not expensive but priceless.