Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Engagement Photo Sessions

Of all the services we offer, the one least used is our Engagement Photo sessions. Like a number of other photographers in the area, we offer these to any couple considering hiring us to cover their wedding. In our case, it comes with no cost, and is available (currently) whether or not you book us for the wedding. The couple is not obligated to make any purchases from the session. Personally, I believe the value in this proposition is lost on most young couples.

There are a couple of reasons for offering this as a service. None of the reasons has anything to do with selling more prints. The obvious one is the likelihood the couple will retain us after seeing our work. Another is the chance for us to try new techniques and approaches under realistic scenarios, where the results are non-critical. For couples that have already booked our services, this gives us a chance to get the couple used to working with us. We learn more about their personalities and their reactions to each other. An added benefit is a more relaxed couple in front of the camera on their wedding day.

For the couple, there are tremendous benefits from taking advantage of these services. This is a great opportunity to “try before you buy”. You get answers to any questions about a particular photographer’s personality, style, professionalism, etc., over the course of a 1-2 hour session. Before you see what the photographer’s work looks like, you’ll have a good idea if you can work with this person over the course of one of the most stressful days of your life. You also get the chance to practice being in front of the camera for an extended period. You can try different looks and different poses. You get to see just how creative you can be, all while learning how to be comfortable in the presence of the camera.

Naturally, this intent is more than a practice run. The session you have with the photographer you ultimately hire will provide additional images for your families, and your wedding album. Both sets of parents and grandparents will want images of you before you truly set out to begin life as a new family-to-be. You will also likely want “before” images. Even if you don’t make prints to frame, these images make a wonderful addition to your wedding album.

Pay attention to the no-cost engagement photo offers, but only if they come with no purchase obligation. They aren’t exactly free, as the photographer retains the right to use any images from the session for promotional purposes. If you’re not comfortable with that, then don’t take the offer. If you are, then take advantage of the offer, and the situation. Give the photographer and their talents a test run. Give yourself a test run in front of the camera. If you do nothing else, have fun.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Photography Shopping - Price is important, but......

At least 8 out of 10 wedding photography consultations I get start off with this question: “How much do you charge for a wedding?” Occasionally I get additional information. “We need about 5 hours”. If we weren’t focused on providing full-service to our clients, I could just throw out a number. Some shoppers would say okay, others would ask additional questions. Either way, the prospective customer is not in control of the conversation.

Photography is not something one shops for on a regular basis. However, the approach should be as any other major purchase. A typical approach is to set the dollar amount you’re willing to spend. As a starting point, no one would find fault with that logic. If your only criteria is price, you’re going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiations. Price is a very important concern, but you need to understand what’s included for that price. Let’s look at a different example.

You’re buying a car. Your budget is $1500. You walk into a used car dealer and tell the salesperson “I want to buy a car”. You’re likely to get one of two responses. The first is ”How much do you want to spend?” This is a test. It’s not a test to see how much money you have. The answer will tell the salesperson you either know what you want, or haven’t a clue. If you answer with the dollar amount without any additional information , the salesperson is likely to point out the car in that price range that provides them the most profit.

If, on the other hand, you walk into that same dealer and say, “I’m looking for a 2-door compact sedan, something that gets at least 20mpg, with less than 30,000 miles, similar to a [fill in name brand here], that is less than four years old”, you’re going to have a very different conversation. You don’t even have to mention your budget. You can go from dealer to dealer, asking the same question, and effectively price shop with confidence. The difference? In the first example, you give the salesperson the opportunity to sell you something that’s to their advantage. In the second example, you dictate the terms, based on what you want. You are now in a position to basing your price comparisons on similar products.

If you shop on price alone, you have no way to do effective comparisons. A $1500 wedding package will be very different from photographer to photographer. Services will be different. Print and album options will be different. Comparing two packages of equal prices is like comparing apples to coffee pots. What will be common are packages that are the most profitable to the photographer. At best, they are the studios guess at what you might want.

Starting your price negotiations by explaining to the photographer, or any other wedding vendor, exactly what you’re looking for makes it a lot easier for the vendor. We instantly know we need to focus on providing you what you want, as opposed to convincing you to buy something. Take control of your photography consultations by being specific.

Your wedding day is supposed to be all about you. The couple getting married is supposed to get what they want, the way they want it, based on their budget. We as photographers are supposed to serve you, and give you what you want. To do that, we have to know what that is. You tell the caterer, florist, wedding coordinator, bridal gown maker, decorator, etc., how you want things, down to the placement of the napkins on the dinner tables. Why not do that with the photography?

Decide in advance how much of your day you want captured in pictures. That will determine how much coverage you need. Decide how many locations you want to have pictures taken: bride dressing, groom dressing, portraits, ceremony, reception, etc. Do you want an album? If so, what size and how many pages? How many prints do you really need? What size? This minimizes the chances of paying for extra prints you have no use for. Put the answers to those questions into a list and give that to every photographer you contact. When you do, and you get prices based on your list, you will be making comparisons on equal packages, and easily see what is or is not a good deal.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How much photography coverage do you really need?

In the days of capturing weddings on film, both the wedding couple and the photographer were well aware there were a limited number of frames that would be shot. The focus at the time was on the ceremony, the reception, and a few formal portraits. Finding a photographer that would shoot candid shots was a bonus. There were, and still are, approximately 18 images that capture the essence of a wedding. Extra shots meant extra cost. The bride and groom had to be conscious that they were going to be expected to pay for any shots over and above what was previously agreed upon.

For the photographer, to shot extra frames meant to incur processing and printing costs on the speculation that someone was going to buy them. Frequently they would not. Back then, one of my typical packages contained 12 8x10 images and 48 5x5 images, all assembled in a leather bound album. To get down to those 60 images, I would shoot no more than 84 images, which amounted to two additional rolls of film. Those of us that were very accurate with metering and composition were rewarded for our efficiency with lower costs. Those that weren’t were penalized.

In this day of digital, we can shoot to our heart’s content, without any additional hard costs. I say hard costs, because the more images that are shot, the more images there are to edit. With the popularity of the photojournalistic style of wedding coverage, each of us now captures 10-15 times the number of images we used to shoot. I attended a seminar recently given by a photographer that captures a staggering 5,000 images per wedding. Naturally, only a fraction of those images are actually presented to the bride and groom. What does this all means to you, the wedding couple?

Your wedding coverage options are now wide open. If you cannot find a photographer that covers the entire day, my suggestion is to go for as much coverage as you can afford. Of course, you’re not going to have all of that printed. However, if you’re goal is to tell the story of the day, that implies the entire day has been covered. If the all-day coverage is not an affordable option, your work is cut out for you in deciding what to have covered. What will help is very careful planning on how you lay out your day.

The ceremony, reception, and portraits are a must. Special activities and cultural traditions are likely to have equal priority. Where it starts to get dicey is the pictures of the bride and groom getting ready and covering all of the reception. If you can’t cover it all, you’ll to Here’s some planning tips you can use to optimize the coverage you have.

  • You can save precious time by selecting shooting locations other than the ceremony and reception sites that are either very close to, or along travel routes between, those two locations.
  • Carefully planning the timeline will help to, but be careful. Don’t plan the timeline so tight that something has to be sacrificed if one of your activities is delayed.
  • Take your formal portraits before the ceremony. If the entire wedding party knows they have to be ready to take pictures before the wedding starts, the chances of the ceremony starting late are minimized.
  • If one of your goals is to have formal family portraits, let everyone in the family know about it, in advance. Let them know when and where the photos will be taken. Make this point repeatedly. This is not their wedding. They are going to forget and wander off to do other things. Your coordinator can be a big help with this.
  • Immediately following the ceremony, things are the most chaotic. If you plan on using the alter area, plan to have the church cleared as quickly as possible, except for family. Work out a shot plan with the photographer so they can shoot this sequence quickly and efficiently.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking. They all revolve around a central theme; planning. Good planning solves many problems, and makes for better pictures.