robert evans Robert founded Robert Evans Studio in 1994 and serves clients in Southern California, working typically with couples in their 30s and 40s, with mid to upper incomes—often attorneys, doctors or celebrities. The majority of his wedding events are shot locally. A professional photographer since age 19, Evans has covered the weddings of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, plus events for Frank Sinatra, Christina Aguilera, Sugar Ray Leonard’s family and Bill Clinton. www.robertevans.com
There were 2,190,363 weddings in the United States last year according to The Wedding Report, Inc. By June 2009 we’ll be half way into a year fully designated as a recession. What does our current financial predicament portend for the industry overall? Will the engagement pace pick up or slow? Are wedding budgets up, down or postponed? Rangefinder magazine asked five prolific shooters important questions covering trends in the market. Each voiced strong concern about the economy and how it will affect their business. All are optimistic, citing bookings to be at least on par with 2008, as a result of more finely tuned marketing efforts. The featured photographers are adamant that price-cutting not be an arrow in their quivers. They instead opt to bring even more value or give complimentary products such as additional reprints. These questions were posed to each photographer. Here are key responses.
In the past few years what new products have you started to offer clients? Robert Evans: Among our studio’s newest products are what we call fusion videos: 3–10-minute dynamic multimedia videos created using the newest Canon and Nikon DSLRs. We produce each in various formats to allow customers maximum portability. They can view from a DVD or an iPhone and we also provide Internet-ready versions so they can share them on social media networks like Facebook, blogs or websites. Jim Garner: We’ve been focusing on creating beautiful large art books for clients, plus custom enlargements and signature prints. What’s exciting about the art books is that we are paid to not only photograph, but also to design these wonderful books. The books move beyond the realm of traditional photo albums to become something longer lasting and more easily shared with family and friends. Rachel LaCour Niesen: Slide shows
THESE PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © robert evans
By Martha Blanchfield
are a hallmark of LaCour’s service, although not a new product, per se. We approach weddings as storytellers, so slide shows become visual narratives of our clients’ weddings— complete, well rounded stories. Each slide show contains 150–200 images set to music with photos that include scene-setters, tight portraits to establish the main characters, event details, climactic moments, such as the first dance, transition shots and closing shots. We also include evocative photos that reveal more than the literal—they reveal the magic behind the scenes. Anthony Vazquez: Conceptual albums! We’re marketing albums that have a fine art feel with a strong focus on design. The looks are clean and sharp, with a direction that strongly borrows from fashion plus a touch of photojournalism. Describe a ‘hot’ marketing tip that you have recently added to your mix. Evans: We’ve been using iContact, an
email marketing service, to promote the studio and our new fusion videos. Not only can we create great looking, engaging multimedia e-newsletters that mimic the look and feel of our website, but iContact tracks recipients’ actions (open, bounce, opt-out, forward-to-a-friend rates, etc). LaCour Niesen: The hottest marketing tip we can share is a simple principle from Seth Godin’s book Tribes: “The first thing a leader can focus on is the act of tightening the tribe… A tribe that communicates more quickly, with alacrity and emotion, is a tribe that thrives.” We have applied Godin’s advice by tightening our tribe of key referrers. Marketing resources may be more limited during a recession, but you can leverage scarce resources more wisely by strengthening current relationships. Grow your network deeper rather than larger. We’ve seen more bookings come directly from a few key vendors with whom we have close relationships.
Jessica Scheufler: There’s definitely a surge toward Twitter and Facebook—with more new social sites being developed. In this economy people want to feel connected. While these social media hubs certainly cannot replace the face-to-face connect, they can keep the conversation going. For 2009 I think good old-fashioned face-to-face networking is the new social networking. Physically showing up at a small business and talking to the owner makes a huge impression and can lead to unique partnerships. Are client budgets up or down? Evans: Couples this year are certainly more dollar conscious. We’re not discounting, but we’re finding ways to give even more value, such as throwing in a large print as a gift. Garner: We’re not seeing a real change in budgets, but they are more selective and take a bit longer to make commitments. We have recently hired a person to focus
on client experience. They make the client feel safe in the investment they’re making. The most important things we can do are maintain prices, add value and consistently increase service. LaCour Niesen: Client budgets are down, but the real challenge has become the sales process. A year ago clients were more decisive—booking within one or two phone consultations. Today, closing a sale requires four to five conversations, minimum. In a bad economy, clients need to feel safe and in control. The more we can do to communicate a “we’re going to get through this together” message, the higher our average sale will be. Vazquez: Budgets are down, but clients are still willing to spend if you give them a reason. We have noticed some brides are shifting budgets. Services and products that offer a more lasting and tangible treatment, such as photography, are replacing certain big-ticket ephemeral items like flowers.
jim garner J Garner Photography was founded by Jim and Katarina Garner in 1999, and serves highly educated professionals in their mid-20s to 30s who enjoy luxury: travel, fashion, food and life experiences. Based in Seattle, the studio has received accolades from American Photo as one of the top 10 wedding photography providers in the world, and Seattle Magazine labels the studio’s work “Best of Seattle.” www.jgarnerphoto.com
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How have you evolved with the economy and changes in technology? Evans: Embrace multimedia. We’re staying ahead of the curve and evolving with technology by offering clients multimedia videos that dazzle and bring a new dimension to wedding memories. Videos take advantage of the newest cameras, software and looks that clients love. Garner: The economy has provided the opportunity to examine our systems and operations for managing workflow and customer relations. We have chosen to take on fewer clients this year, giving us time to improve our end product and operations. In the end, this is ideal for both our studio and customers. LaCour Niesen: We are relentlessly organized about tracking our referrals and use studio-management technology (ShootQ) to keep accurate metrics on our best referrers. Referrals are the lifeblood of wedding photography businesses. In a good economy, growing your referral sources is the most effective growth strategy. In a bad economy, it’s critical. The bottom line is: If you don’t know where your profitable referrals are coming from, you’re wasting time and money. It’s a
detailed process—one that requires organization and automation to be effective. Many small studios use Excel spreadsheets. Others use studio-management software. The good news is that either can be cost-effective for even the smallest studio. Scheufler: It is more important than ever to stick to the business basics that work, while keeping an eye on emerging trends. All the fancy cameras and gear in the world don’t bring in clients; forging and maintaining relationships will. With each purchasing decision I make, I have to ask myself: Will this make my life easier? Vazquez: Evolution for our studio means monitoring business investments, and a key rule now is that we only invest money where it’s definitely needed and gives solid ROI [Return on Investment]. Keeping up with technology in cameras, software and other equipment is a must. What’s one thing you did in the hopes of building your business that you definitely would not recommend? Scheufler: This is an easy question for any photographer to answer—we’ve all made mistakes. People think you buy
a camera, throw up a website and bam, you’re in business. Many new photographers may not realize that it typically takes at least three years to really start turning a profit. By then most people are tired and give up. It takes a long time to build enough relationships that bring in the right clients. Once that happens, it is true synergy. Garner: Before we discovered the huge personal, emotional and artistic benefits of being an art-book-focused studio, our clients received only proofs and negatives. We did not build albums, slide shows or other memory products. We concentrated purely on producing images. A box of prints is hardly an appropriate product for presenting a wedding for generations to come. In hindsight, we feel we were delivering a sub-par product and would encourage any photographer to understand their customers’ motives for purchase and future uses. LaCour Niesen: We were influenced early on by a diverse set of mentors with radically different approaches. While it’s natural to be influenced by industry icons and think, “If it works for them, it will work for me,” copying other photographer’s styles sends an ambiguous marketing message to prospective clients. Learn to innovate instead of emulate. What’s your favorite gadget or tool for 2009? Vazquez: Two essentials for me include the iPhone and Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Garner: The BODA lens bag. Wouldn’t shoot an assignment without it. Scheufler: Lightroom, hands down. Evans: The Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
rachel lacour niesen Husband and wife team Andrew Niesen and Rachel LaCour Niesen, along with business partner Mark Adams, established LaCour in 2002 in Atlanta. American Photo ranks their work among the top 10 wedding photographers in the world. LaCour clients are typically well traveled, working professionals in their mid-30s who seek authenticity in their photographs. They share the belief that a wedding is about a wedding, not about a photo shoot. Clients value the studio’s storytelling photography. Seventy percent of LaCour weddings take place outside the Atlanta metro area. www.lacourphoto.com
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Comment on overall bridal industry trends you see. Garner: We haven’t seen major shifts this year. Clients are still focused on choosing the right touches to make their experience special and memorable. The trend, particularly with photography, seems to be “stay the course.” Evans: Unfortunately, budgets are a bit lower in this economy so brides are choosier. They may be downgrading vendors or skipping some wedding services or items. Vazquez: In our geographic market we are seeing more studios cutting their prices in order to keep or attract business. We prefer to educate clients on our value and experience, not reduce costs. On that rare occasion when we feel the client is definitely worth it, we’ll bend pricing 5–10 percent. Scheufler: Clients’ budgets are definitely tighter, but they still want that dream wedding. Because of this, many brides are
doing a lot of the wedding themselves to cut costs, whether that means making the flower arrangements or having the ceremony in their parent’s backyard. I find that couples who really want great photography will pay for it. Memories are a priority. LaCour Niesen: I believe imagemaking is being democratized, meaning that entry barriers are lower than ever. It’s imperative that professional photographers focus on discovering, honing and marketing a signature style. Photographers should answer essential questions: Who are you? How do you approach photography? What is your style? Can you articulate this to your client in two sentences? Is your branding and marketing message consistent with who you are photographically? Do your images work together to reinforce your identity or do they work against each another? And most importantly, what artistic inspiration
do you have outside of the photography world? Start with finding yourself. Then the clients will find you. Dream clients are the ones looking for the photographer rather than a photographer. The most successful people in any field stand out because of a personal investment. They have found a way to express who they are through what they do. How much of your wedding business is online? Evans: About 75 percent of our business is online. We market using the Web, host all images online and ask brides to preview their albums online. But I love meeting with clients one-on-one and the studio gets plenty of walk-in traffic. There will never be a replacement for personal interaction. Garner: We focus heavily on advertising online. Our Web-savvy customer requires it. Our site and blog are two main tools that reach clients. That said, we do not post our images or album pages online, nor do we outsource our creative work. We find in this economy that our clients want more service and we feel that Web fulfillment and outsourcing would diminish our brand. As a small boutique studio, we understand that our upscale clientele would rather have a proof book, or proofs and an order form, than be given a link to view wedding photos. Scheufler: I would say 99 percent of my business is conducted online. Couples research, connect with friends and talk with one another. We live in the age of “get it to me now.” For a wedding
jessica scheufler Jessica owns and operates Sublime Photography, a wedding and portrait photography boutique based in Atlanta, GA. With partner Lindsay Mast, the studio recently added Sublime Cinema, featuring the work of Emmy-award winner David Mast to capture moving pictures for the modern bride. Only three years in business, Jessica’s work has appeared in Jezebel, Atlanta’s affluent lifestyle magazine, and her article “10 Tips for Surviving Your First Year in Business” appeared in the March 2008 Rangefinder. www.sublime-photography.com
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photographer, that translates into “get the images up as soon as possible.” There is such a small window of opportunity for sales after the wedding; the honeymoon phase is short. Couples are ready to move on by the time they get back from the honeymoon so you have to be a step ahead of them. Outsourcing my album design has been a huge relief because I know my designer will have the designs to me in a week or less. Quick turnaround along with imposing a client deadline brings higher sales. What is your secret for growth? Evans: Robert Evans Studio has been in business since 1994, but prior, I cut my teeth working for three other photographers. Success comes from a combination of hard work and consistency. And these days it’s also having the right pricing structure and enough diversity to attract a variety of prospective clients.
Scheufler: I’ve always been a proponent of quality over quantity. There are plenty of cheap photographers, and they usually never make a great living because they don’t charge enough to sustain a business. Shooting fewer weddings may mean waiting for that client who really gets what I do. I connect with couples that love my work. From there, I just keep the relationship going. My best referrals always come from my best clients. Being selective regarding clientele means that the weddings I shoot are going to be fun, and feel less like work. I want to continue to love what I do because it is so easy to burn out in this industry. Garner: We focus on only 15–20 weddings per year (down from 50–60 weddings per year) and strive to hand-hold each client as they go through our studio. We aspire to have lifelong clients and feel that work is far from done once a client receives their wedding book. There is huge potential, both financially and relationally, when you view
clients this way. It is far more enjoyable and rewarding working with fewer clients. Can you share your predictions for 2009? LaCour Niesen: Last year, LaCour photographed more than 30 weddings. This year, we will likely photograph 20. That is partly due to the economic uncertainty and partly due to increased selectiveness. We are becoming more careful when considering which weddings to take on versus which to refer to our secondary brand, The Decisive Moment, or to colleagues. We started The Decisive Moment in 2004 and it’s experiencing a growth spurt. In 2008 The Decisive Moment shot nearly 50 weddings and we anticipate 70 in 2009. This second business allows us to be selective and maintain a premium price point at LaCour, while never alienating our established referral network. Vazquez: We’re tracking solid business into 2009 and we reason that we’ll be even with 2008. Garner: We are projecting 2009 to be our best year yet. Our decision to slow down bookings gives us the time to be wiser with our expenses and workflow. Evans: We’re anticipating roughly the same revenue for 2009 as in 2008. The studio will cover 20 weddings, and we’ve been steady with our family and kids work.
anthony vazquez In 1999 Anthony founded Anthony Vazquez Photography after receiving his BFA from NYU. Many of his clients are bankers or hail from the fashion industry. The studio’s coverage area includes New York and neighboring states, plus international bookings. Anthony has traveled the world in his pursuit of creating amazing images for his clients. His celebrity photography has appeared in InStyle Weddings, The Knot and Long Island Bride and Groom. www.anthonyvazquez.com
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Scheufler: 2009 is expected to be our most profitable year to date. Partnering with other photographers allows us to service clients better, and to divide responsibilities according to individual strengths. Working together gives more flexibility with time, and keeps us fresh. Along with the merger, we started a children’s portrait party business that is growing steadily. What is your highest margin product? Evans: Our best margin items are reprints: 8 x 10, 5 x 7 and 4 x 6 images. Garner: Our GraphiStudio art book spreads offer the highest margin. Couples love them! Our books average 25–35 double page spreads and contain an average of three to five images per spread. Our basic rule is cleanliness, simplicity and timeliness. A second high margin product is our J. Garner Photography signature prints created by Buckeye Color Lab. Albums: What do your couples love? Evans: Most of our brides are traditional and veer toward classic books. Many like the Leather Craftsmen albums. We’re moving away from highly edited photos and our page layouts most re-
semble magazine spreads with simplicity of design. There are more requests for albums from Couture Books. Brides love the oversized books where up to 300 images can be featured. LaCour Niesen: Clients seek us out for our classic, timeless approach to storytelling. We use Queensberry’s extraordinary leather with matted books, which enable us to showcase images at large sizes and inset into simple mats. There are no bells or whistles; just black leather, black pages and subtle mats. Images take center stage. It’s consistent with our philosophy that the album is merely a vehicle for sharing the client’s story through generations. They aren’t buying an album from us, they are investing in images that form the foundation for their family legacy. Vazquez: Albums from GraphiStudio remain our best seller. Couples are now often opting for the larger 14 x 18 books with panoramas. Trends: What are your brides grooving to? Scheufler: Now more than ever, brides really want to be the star of the show! They’ve grown up with reality TV so it makes sense that they’re moving to a cin-
ematic-style of photography. Brides and grooms crave a richer viewing experience and want to not only have an album they can touch and feel, but an album with a multimedia spin. Garner: The Seattle market is responding to a new style of wedding photography that we are experimenting with—something we call “the experiential style.” We now give more time on the front end as our gift, slowing things down and prioritizing experience over the actual act of taking pictures. We’ve found that this technique leads to extraordinarily, natural and free-flowing moments, extending the day not only for our couple, but also for us. Evans: One of the most important things to remember is that whatever you’re selling, you need to be 100 percent behind that product and market with enthusiasm. If you’re excited about your work, it’s going to rub off on customers. We love our new fusion videos, and so do clients. Vazquez: Brides are more sophisticated and are asking for cleaner yet edgier looks with less photo editing work applied. Our work is heading in a more fashion-style direction, whereas before photojournalism was all the rage. Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots (www.renegade-pr.com) and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.
Are client budgets up or down? Evans: Couples this year are certainly more dollar conscious. We’re not discount- ing, but we’re finding ways...