"Micro-Weddings/Elopements/Minimony(s)." Whatever you like to call them, it appears smaller weddings are here to stay — at least for the foreseeable future.
How things used to be
Many wedding photography businesses have been built on the premise that a wedding shoot lasts all day, that there will be "getting-ready" shots needed of at least one half of the couple, that after the ceremony there'll be family photos and a celebration to cover, and that in many cases a second photographer will be needed to fully capture the day’s events.
Many photographers have built a career based on that model. They’ve been able to charge a good price for the shoot, and for editing the images, because the couple can see value for money in the hours being worked on the day.
Go back twenty years or so, pre-digital, and many photographers were doing the same — earning a good living shooting 30-40 weddings a year — but the "delivery" was different. A mid- to high-end wedding coverage required an album, whereas budget studios typically gave their clients the negatives or a stack of prints from a mini-lab.
Over the years the digital revolution led to three changes. First, albums became optional, in the sense that the files could be delivered without printing.
Second, online discussion forums led to couples asking for "just the image files" —because you could organise your own album and not pay the photographer's exorbitant prices!
Third, many photographers were happy with this. Selling products, in addition to shooting the wedding and delivering a USB or online image gallery, was often viewed as an irritation rather than a benefit, because it took time and effort and felt too much like ‘selling’.
Today COVID means that in many parts of the world the number of people who can attend a wedding is strictly limited. At the time of writing, for example, no more than ten in Auckland, thirty in England, or twenty in Scotland. We don't know how long that will continue, or — just as important — how long before people feel confident about committing to large gatherings again — whether because of the risk to their health, or their financial security.
How do we pivot to this new reality?
First, the challenge. Smaller weddings are trickier to price. The photographer’s fixed and variable costs are largely the same — regardless of the number of hours being worked on the day — but asking for the same money for half a day's work isn't easy. And booking two weddings for the same day is very tricky unless you work regularly at a venue such as a registry office or town hall, and specialise in 1-2 hour shoots that don’t stray far from that place. (Mind you it can certainly be done — go back forty years instead of twenty and you'd find busy professionals shooting that many weddings and more … and buying their albums from Heather at Queensberry!)
How to competitively price small, profitable weddings
In theory it's simple:
• Shoot more weddings.
• Increase your profit on each one!
1. You can service more clients if they only need you for half a day, so if you're going down this route it’s really important to adapt your marketing message.
2. Actively promote yourself in the micro-wedding market. The good news is that small weddings are more likely to fall on mid-week days, so you'll have more capacity than if you restrict yourself to large weddings on the weekend.
3. Identify your ideal ‘micro-wedding client’ and build a dedicated page on your website to attract them. Feature smaller weddings on your Insta page and publish testimonials that praise your ‘people skills’ and ability to help people relax. You’re going to be more obvious in a smaller group of people, so it’s important to build confidence that they'll feel comfortable and relaxed enough for you to capture their natural moments and emotions.
4. Speaking of which, photo journalism is about shooting those interactions, telling their story, capturing those intimacies. Maybe there's no grand event for you to document, but focus on the people and you'll create something just as valuable. Time to make a point of that in your marketing too?
5. Get over your product hang-ups! They're not a hassle, they're a profit source. Selling product is now key to maximising the profit generated from every wedding you shoot. Whether it’s print sales to the couple and their wider family and friends, wall art, or a book or album to capture the day (with discounted copies for parents), you can’t afford not to make those add-on sales from the weddings you shoot.
And they’re not just products — they’re ‘silent salesman’ that generate referrals. And once a couple have a wedding album or book they’ve bought into the idea of printing their images, and they’re more likely to want the same for future shoots you might undertake for them — when babies arrive, or when they celebrate important birthdays, anniversaries and reunions.
And finally, products aren't a hassle at Queensberry, as we can do most of the work for you. Click here for more about making album sales simple.
Don't assume your clients don't have money, just because they've book a Micro-Wedding
Don't overlook profit-generating, added-value extras. Album upgrades and extras. Parent albums. Wall art. Workspace shopping cart print sales. Services like drone capture, videography and live-streaming. Consider teaming up with people you get on well with and offering package deals.
Go the whole hog??
In so many cases the choice of wedding photographer is influenced by a wedding planner or some other professional. If you want to go the whole hog, why not become an expert in micro-weddings, high-end wedding photography or whatever? Build an end-to-end service that offers wedding consultancy and planning, and uses a select number of venues, florists, dress-makers and other service providers that you personally know and enjoy working with. They'll love you if you bring them business. An idea for the more entrepreneurial among us!
And it's not all bad news
• Many weddings are being postponed rather than reduced to micro-weddings. Next year could be very busy!
• If only a few people can be at an event, the memories you capture will be even more important. Shareable now, heirlooms later.
• And finally most part timers can't shoot on week days. They may still have their day jobs — you could find you have less competition for weekday shoots.