As i transition my galleries and photos from my old business website to this blog, I have to say that I have shot nearly 100 weddings over the years. I started with a small Pentax K100 with a Vivitar 283 flash and 10 rolls of film, and slowly built enough capital to have a full studio, business model, clients etc. etc.

What I loved most about shooting weddings were the people. They were so inviting. I was a part of one of the most important days of their lives: from the planning, the dressing, the ceremony, the intimate moments caught alone, the reception; and then weeks later when they come and look at their images.  The wedding photographer is the guy who is there through the entire process.

At times you can feel a bit like a midwife. I have mended wedding dresses with my sewing kit. I have carried drunk best men to the ambulances. I have duct taped torn hems in the tuxedo. Calmed down panicking mothers. I even gave the benediction for the reception when the minister’s car broke down on the way to the hall.

I have also dealt with the bounced checks. Stood in the hurricane that is the bridezilla. I have been screamed at by drunk bride’s maids and mothers who can’t understand why a wedding photographer might cost more than $500.

One of my favorite memories was Madame X, who called me after two years to ask if I still had her wedding photos that she never picked up AND if I was free to shoot her wedding with her soon-to-be second husband.

WHAT IS MY PHOTOGRAPHY WORTH?

There is a simple equation to determine what your photography is worth

(Client Experience x Photographer’s Market Confidence) – Business Expense = Cost of Photo

FIGURE OUT THE BUSINESS EXPENSES

There is nothing I can do to help you change your client’s expectations and experience with your photography. Like the bard said, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” Every client is the same way.

There is also nothing I can do about a photographer’s confidence. I have seen amazing photographers give their work away because of low self-worth. I have seen horrible photographers turn their wedding business into a used car dealership and “ego” their clients into a $5,000 wedding package.

I believe in offering fair value for services. If I have done my job, I will have images that the client will believe in. I will go home feeling that I was adequately paid for the effort I gave my bride and groom. I will be proud of my work, my business and myself.

A photographer that overcharges his work, based on his salesmanship and not his photographic ability incurs bad kharma and a while his bank account might grow, his soul becomes bankrupt. And this is true even if the clients never notice the difference.

DETERMINE COSTS

The first question in pricing your images should be “How much do I need to charge to recoup all my expenses?”

All too often, beginning photographers undervalue their work because they fail to consider the real expense of materials and labor. For these “weekend warrior” photographers, $500 in the pocket is all profit (especially if this is just extra money added to a 9-5 weekday job).

Unfortunately, even if you are just shooting “on the side” you still have expenses. That $500 isn’t pure profit. There are all sorts of expenses that must be considered.

Gas to and from the event

Time spent meeting with clients

Wear and tear on camera equipment (who will pay to have worn out gear replaced?)

Consumables (batteries, tape, etc.)

Wardrobe (You can’t show up to a wedding in shorts and a T-shirt)

Your time (this is really important. Many part-time photographers end up working for less than minimum wage when their expenses are deducted from the paycheck. Is it worth the trouble at that point?)

Insurance. (If you get hurt, your day job won’t pay your bills. If your wedding is ruined because of a computer surge, you can get sued).

Computer equipment

Web site (hosting, domain names, design, upkeep, editing time, etc.)

The list can go on for a long time. In the end, it could take several dozen $500 weddings to pay off just the equipment you need, and we still need to deal with marketing.

When you have worked out all the costs of shooting a wedding, add 35% to take in consideration forgotten expenses and marginal profit. Put this number in your “Business Expenses” portion of the formula.

THE MARKET

Another consideration is the market. Obviously the cost of living is different in each area of the country. A $100,000 house in Pittsburgh might be a mansion, while $100,000 wouldn’t get you a sublet to a closet in a Manhattan studio apartment.

There should be information online and at your local better business bureau on the average costs of weddings and services in your area. A common belief (held by brides) that wedding photography should average 10% of the total wedding expense. This should give you a starting point.

The next step is to start looking at the other photographers in your area. Many of them will have their prices on their Web sites. If they don’t, then call them and introduce yourself! Be honest about who you are and why you are calling.

Some photographers see every other photographer as competition, but most would rather see you price yourself appropriately and keep the “market” prices competitive. Low balling the competition only serves to deteriorate the overall sense of value of everyone’s work.

Be honest in your self-evaluation of your skill as a photographer. Then ask many of your friends to look at a variety of sites and be honest as to their evaluation of where you sit in the market. [note: have a thick skin for the really honest ones, and be suspicious of those “nice” friends who always praise you.]

Do not forget that you also need to evaluate your business as well as your skill. You need to be able to provide good customer service, quality prints, high-end wedding albums, address concerns and issues, and keep everyone happy for months before and after the wedding as well as during the wedding. You will need to be sure that you can control the environment during formals, and be unobtrusive during the wedding ceremony.

Once you have done your research, plug in your estimated place in the market in the “Photographer’s Confidence” portion of the formula.

CLIENT SATISFACTION

This is the hardest portion of the formula to figure out. In fact is it all just a guess (especially at first), but this is a ranking system of how well you think your clients like your photos and “WANT” you to shoot for them. Are you “in demand?”

This number should always start at “1” when you start your business. Your place in the market must be higher than your expenses to be profitable (or at least break even). This is a baseline of your business. As you see your client satisfaction number get higher, you can then make adjustments to your pricing accordingly.

Here is an example: Two photographers Bob and John start separate wedding photography businesses. Bob and John have the same gear, the same expenses, the same reputation in the community, etc.

However, Bob was very good at pleasing his clients. The end product was the same and the service and products matched exactly, but something about the connection he made with his clients made them raving about him to all their friends (at least more than John’s clients who may have been an older crowd with less single friends to influence).

John, in the meantime, we very skilled with the Web and was able to drive more and more new traffic to his Web site to find new clients. John also volunteered at his church and made a lot of connections that way for new weddings.

At the end of the year, a very popular Bob shot 25 weddings and John shot 28. Bob was already booked for 30 weddings his next year and John had booked 43.

Should Bob and John’s wedding prices remain the same or go up? Should they go up equally? What happens if they raise their prices too much? Will they lose customers? What happens if they don’t raise them at all? Will they lose profit?

Bob figured that 23 of his 25 weddings raved about his work to friends and he booked 15 weddings by Word of Mouth (WOM). Bob also booked his other 15 weddings just through his Web site. Bob figures that his Client Satisfaction Number should be determined by his WOM ratio (25/15= 1.6) and his decrease in unsolicited bookings (15/25= 0.6). Averaging those numbers together, the new Client Satisfaction Number for Bob is 1.1.

Bob decides to increase his costs.

John had a different formula. He increased his bookings from 28 to 43 weddings. He is reasonably sure that his prices are too low because of the demand for his work. He knows that if he increases his prices too much he will be out of the budget of many clients. He could just look at the increase of business as an indicator of demand (43/28 = 1.5) but he feels that his extra time and effort building his Web site popularity and his community relations is taking up a lot of effort and expense (which will figure into his Business Expenses section). He has decided to use the 1.5 Client Satisfaction Number and add his estimated marketing costs to both his expenses and his market value (putting the cost of marketing directly on the clients expenses).

John decides to increase his costs as well.

If both John and Bob make their goals in booking wedding clients, then they will have proven that they were right. If the weddings stop booking—then they will need to make more adjustments.

It isn’t important that you discover the secret formula to pricing. It is important that you have a way to measure your success and develop a way to keep measuring and evaluating your business.

WHERE TO CHARGE THE CLIENT

When I first started shooting weddings as a real business, I found that where we price products influences how clients respond to the photographer.

My research showed that the average Pittsburgh wedding costs $25,000. That gave me a starting point of $2,500 for photography (not including wedding album).

The initial plan was to offer a full “one choice” plan of image ownership, shooting, etc. I wanted to be the Henry Ford of wedding photography, “You can have whatever you want as long as you want THIS.”

It didn’t work, and I booked very few weddings, but I was a weekend wedding photographer still, and made most of my income shooting photojournalism.

The next year, I started offering lots of choices for the clients. It was a very extensive menu that confused and confounded clients. Within weeks, it was obvious that wasn’t going to work.

I had to take from scratch and look at what the clients saw as value and what the clients were expecting to buy, and I came up with a great product line and services. The only problem was that I needed to adjust where the value went.

At first I charged $1,750 for wedding photography and $250 for a wedding photography CD. Albums were $500-2,500.

When I shifted the prices to $1,600 for wedding photography and $400 for a wedding CD, I immediately doubled my clients in six months. It didn’t matter that my album prices had risen to $750-$3,000.

Adjusting the prices again ($1575 and $450) for the economic recession has kept my flow of clients.

My point is, that once you have a good idea of what you should charge for your services, you may still need to make adjustments in your pricing to find the right psychological worth of the images.

This also holds true for increases in prices. There are times you will find that increasing your prices will add to the psychological client satisfaction of the images. If it costs more, it is worth more. Just be careful not to price yourself out of the market.

CONCLUSION

Is my formula the way you should set up your business? I can’t answer that. However, whatever you decide to do, it should be based on a plan to retrieve measurable results.

“You can’t improve it, if you can’t measure it.”

Do a quick Google search and you will find dozens of articles on “how to shop for a wedding photographer.” What they all have in common is a firm belief that you should hire someone who is a professional and that you shouldn’t worry about cost. That is because most articles on how to search for wedding photographers are written by wedding photographers!

Although, I am also a wedding photographer, I am also a full-time journalist who writes (among other topics) on business. So let me set you straight on the rest of the story. You have read all the WHY you need to hire a professional, let me give you the practical step-by-step on HOW to hire one.

The first problem in searching for a photographer is that you are rarely going to need this service. Unlike a good auto mechanic, you will not be calling your wedding photographer for a tune up every six month, or asking them to renew your inspection sticker. Wedding photographers are hired more along the lines of a roofer. Once you have had your roof replaced, you hope that you will never have to call them again.

If you have ever had to hire a roofer, you realize that it is a daunting task. Why? Because you have very little to go on to intelligently evaluate which roofer is the one that will do the best job for the right price.

What a minute—did I say right price? Aren’t I always reading that I shouldn’t take price into consideration?

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Nearly every photographer, or anyone who sells service, is going to do what they can to “up sell” their products to earn more money. Photography is no exception. Shooting a wedding is hard work, and as much as I work every muscle in my body to carry gear and quickly capture great moments, there are endless hours before and after a wedding that are spent in paperwork, editing, ordering products and making sure my clients are happy. So nothing makes me happier as a photographer to know that I am getting as much income as I can for the services I provide.

Unfortunately, in today’s market, many clients don’t need, or can’t afford to spend the money on, the “platinum package.”Knowing what you want and how much you can afford are important consideration when hiring a photographer.

So, what should you consider when shopping for the right photographer for you?

       Professional expertise. With the advent of digital photography, the market has been saturated with hobbyists who want to turn their love of photography into a career. Unfortunately, even the worst photographer in the world can shoot a thousand photos on their digital camera and build a wonderful twenty-shot portfolio.

Look for photographers who have professional training in photography or have trained under a professional photographer!

Ask to see a proof book of entire weddings and see the good with the bad.

Ask about an experience where something went horribly wrong and how they solved the problem to create a fantastic image.

Ask for professional references from other photographers, not just clients.

     Portfolio. Don’t trust a portfolio as an indicator of a photographer’s skill. Again, if you shoot long enough, you are bound to find a few gems in the bunch.

Make sure that the portfolio they show you in person aren’t just the same images you saw on the website.

Make sure you look online and see if the photos are the photographers

MOST IMPORTANT. Make sure that the photos are recent. Photographers should have an updated portfolio showing their recent ability.

What is the photographers experience in photography and in digital photography? There are many semi-professional photographers that take nice photos, but do not really understand their gear, or how to create an image. They photograph thousands of photos and take up valuable time looking at their monitors trying to figure out how to make a good image DURING your wedding.

->Business Sense. The wedding photography business is 40% photography and 60% business. A man with a camera is not a company. Check them out.

Ask to see their contract. Contracts are important. They provide a written agreement of expectations and responsibilities for both parties. No contract, no go!

Inquire if the photographer has a network of other photographers that will shoot if something horrible happens to them. You don’t want to be short a photographer on your wedding day, and it shows the photographer is respected amongst his peers.

Ask about time tables. A professional photographer should be able to accurately tell you when you can expect to see your photos and album.

Look at their products. Taking great pictures is nice, but ultimately useless if the photos were printed on a home printer and shipped to you in a box.

Clearly defined payment. There should never be a hidden fee. An honest businessman does what he agrees to at the price agreed on.

Beware the “car salesman.” If a photographer is haggling price to “close the deal” that day, then walk away.

Ensure they keep files of the images!

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4)<!–[endif]–>Personality. When the caterer, DJ, priest, and wedding planner go home, you are still going to be dealing with your photographer. He is the one vendor that you will live with for decades.

Does the photographer seem sincerely interested in the success of your wedding or just getting your business?

Can you see calling this photographer up one year, two years, or three years from now and expect that they are going to give you the same attention they did on your wedding day?

Do you have a connection with your photographer for a long-term relationship?

Do you feel that your photographer will add to the value of the wedding day experience or will they be “pushy,” “controlling,” “self-centered” in their work? Some photographers really do believe that you have paid them and so they are authorized to dictate how the wedding events will run.

Does the photographer pull out clauses in their contracts demanding meals, or “exclusive photographer” clauses? This is your party, and your guests should be allowed to take pictures and no one should be making demands who you feed.

Do you think that the photographer will interact well with the wedding guests? The wedding photographer is someone who will be dealing with people, and you need to know that they will act appropriately.

      Price. Now this is the sticky one. The business of photography has changed dramatically with the invention of digital camera. In the old days, the owner of the negative could dictate price because there was no way to print or scan the images yourself. Today that is not the case. It was also more difficult to find a photographer without the internet.

Check online and look at what the average wedding costs are in your area. In Pittsburgh, the average wedding cost $25,000 in 2007. The average cost for a mid-market professional photographer should be 10-15% of the overall expense. So you should expect to pay $2,500-3,500 for a good wedding photographer.

The true value of a professional photographer is in his ability to capture the right moment at the right time. The value is no longer in their exclusive ownership of the images to dictate cost. Be sure to ask the photographer the costs of prints and get it in writing.You should never be commissioning someone to photograph your wedding and then have to extra for their “artistic ability” on the printing as well. If they charge a lot of the photography, the prints should be a reasonable price.

Be sure to ask about back door fees. Are there costs for touch ups in the prints? Are the prints all made print ready as part of the original fee? Are there extra charges like taxes and travel? Some photographers will “slip in” fees later to earn a few extra bucks.

Any photographer that tells you that price shouldn’t matter is suspect in my book. Ask them what products in their life they have never considered the price for?

All photographers do not offer the ability to purchase the digital files of the wedding. I think this is silly, but I don’t run their businesses. Image ownership is fantastic. Make sure if you purchase the images what the agreement is for the photographer replacing lost disks and how long they will store the images on their database.

You don’t need to hire the most expensive photographer in town to get a good photographer, or even a great one. However, don’t let price fool you into thinking that a photographer is good. Do your research and trust your gut. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions or offend a photographer in an interview. Wedding photographers are expensive and good wedding photographers are hard to find.

When you have found a good choice of photographers that you feel comfortable with, make sure that you do not make this choice alone. Ask your friends and family what they think. Of course, they will not have a clue what the personality of the photographer is like, or if all the right questions were asked; however, they will be a good sounding board. Are you finding that you keep commenting on a particular photographer? Do you continually bring up reservations or raves? After awhile, it will become pretty clear that you have a preference and that is the photographer for you.

It is important that you hire a photographer you believe in. Your attitude about your photographer will spill over into your impressions of your wedding photos. Remember, your images will have an emotional attachment– and that connection should always be made with a positive frame of mind. The last thing you want to be thinking while you look at your album is “oh, and this is when that photographer really ticked me off!”

Photographers should be an asset to a wedding. A professional that not only knows how to take great images, but knows how to take them at the right moment. They should not be obtrusive, and they should add to the joy of the day. When the photographer leaves, you should be thanking them for making the day special.

Some of the best moments are when a guest tells me how great I was at a wedding, and they never saw a picture. They just know that I gave 100% of my heart to the day.

On a final note, be wary of thinking that the photographer that showed up first in the Google search is the best photographer. Having a high-ranking website has absolutely no connection to the quality of the photographer but only to the photographer’s skills with a website. Search through a few pages and take a good look at what is out there.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
— Albert Einstein

If you think in the same old way, you will arrive at the same old conclusions and leave behind a wall-worn rut.The first step to sales is mindset. You must believe in your product and believe in yourself.

Remove negative thinking.

remove one-dimensional thinking.

Seek opportunities instead of identifying problems.

Be mindful of thinking traps.

Don’t be afraid of not knowing answers. Don’t be afraid to find them!

Break down all obstacles one brick at a time.

The first step in changing mindsets in sales is to first become a strategic thinker. What I mean by “strategic” is that you should be thinking about the long-term effects of your plans. It is much easier to get to someplace on a map if you know where it is on the map you want to be. Many photographers believe that success is measured only by income; however, income is the result of success, not the final destination.

A strategic plan may be to find twenty new wedding clients for the next year. It might also be building two new steady clients for your freelance work. Those goals are much more easily mapped out than “I need to make $50,000 next year.”

Sometimes, people feel that locking yourself towards a specific goal locks them out of opportunity. Nothing is written in stone. You can always change your goals. Nevertheless, there is a lot of freedom to committing to a goal. If you are focused on getting twenty new wedding clients, you have removed other options that may be detractions.

I also tell people to write their strategic plans down. Writing, even for yourself, is a contract that is concrete and tangible. It is a promise, to yourself if no one else. It is a focusing tool. Once you are focused on a destination, you can plan on how to get there.

The first rule of sales is that sales is about business and business is about people. Once you have your goal for your photo business, you now have to start dealing with people. The great thing is that people love to buy. Your job is to just convince them that your product is worth spending money on. You do that by developing relationships with — people.

The best way to develop any relationship is to have something to offer of value. For a photographer that should be your skill with a camera, but also your superior products, and customer service. But that isn’t always enough. Savvy photographer with sales experience can get business with inferior products, if they can convince the client that they don’t need better services. How do they do that?

Nearly every time, the photographer that wins the contract (barring jobs that are contracts because the photographer is their cousin) is the one that presents the best “win-win” scenario.

I have seen some photographers pull the “elite” card in a sale pitch, and demand that everything goes the photographer’s way. This is a “win-loose” negotiation, and unless you have clients banging down your door because you are famous, it will rarely work for most. The photographer leverages their status to call the shots, and psychologically some clients believe that they are fortunate to hire a photographer so “elite” that he deserves such reverence.

Low-end photographers have a less than ideal situation as well. They present “loose-win” situations where the photographer gives away their services and is essentially begging for work. Clients who hire this photographer feel like they are getting a real deal, but offer the photographer little respect; and almost always come away dissatisfied. How can you love images created by a photographer you don’t believe in, and who doesn’t believe in themself?

The “win-win” sales concept is the best. You are worth your money, and you are going to prove it to the client. Remember, the client wants to spend money. Your only job is to convince them it is best spent on you.

In any meeting with a clients, something is sold. Either you sell the client on buying your service, or you sold the client on walking away. In either case, you sold them. The best way on selling them on buying your services is to have a superior product and to anticipate all objections they may have for not hiring you.

1. Believe in your product.

2. Realize that objections to a purchase are never the reason for not buying.

3. Listen to the client and look for what their real concerns are.

4. Ask the client if your assessment of their concerns are accurate.

5. Provide solutions to their objections and remove them from the equation.

6. Sell to help. It is about benefits, not features.

7. Be sincere and always tell the truth.

8. When you ask a question, be quiet and listen.

9. Never down the competition.

10. Most important– Ask for the sale.

11. Regardless if you got the sale: follow up, follow up, follow up!

The last two are the real stumbling blocks for photographers. A salesman is not afraid to ask for a sale. If he believes in his product, and he has successfully removed all objections, then he should have confidence that the client WANTS to hire them. Some salesmen will play a fishing game and force the client “think about it.” That is a very tricky game, because they are essentially not finishing the meeting.

Imagine if you went on a date and then just walked away before the kiss goodnight? If you didn’t ask for it because you were afraid, do you think a date is inclined to agree to be asked out again? If you didn’t ask because you think it will make them realize that you are the perfect date– you better be darn sure your date was amazing.

The client expects you to ask them to close the deal. That is why you are talking. Don’t be afraid of rejection. A famous ballplayer once said, “If I swing a hundred times I may not get a home run, but if I don’t swing at all I certainly won’t.”

Whether you get the contract or not, always follow up. For new clients this is important, but for those who passed on your service, this is an important time to develop a positive business image. There may be clients they may refer down the line.

Most of all, sales it about being positive and strategic. Have a goal and get out there and sell yourself to get that goal.

“If you are given a bag of cement and a bucket of water, you can build either a stepping stone or a stumbling block.”