Professional wedding photography is dead. Change is afoot. I see it all around me. Photographers who once charged £2,000 (~$2,700) for a wedding, now putting themselves forwards for jobs less than a grand. Award-winning photographers getting part-time jobs to supplement their income because they can no longer afford to shoot weddings full time. And it’s all a dirty little secret.
In closed groups and private conversations, we talk in hushed tones about how no one has ever seen it like this. How everyone is struggling. Panic-stricken professionals who have earned a decent living in the last ten years reduced to working for peanuts.
I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago from a good mid-range photographer who announced that he can no longer earn a living at wedding photography because everyone else is charging sub 1K.
I see posts on how there are professional photographers out there running three different brands so they can have three different price points, how there are newbie photographers out there shooting a 15 hour day, plus an engagement shoot and an album for £1,200.
I hear established photographers all moaning about the influx of newbies.How they are coming into the market at £800 and effectively stealing all their clients. It’s the end of an era…
Well, guess what… there have always been newbies. I was once one of them and no doubt you were too.
I bought a great camera and built a website and suddenly I was in business. I charged £450 for a wedding. I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t insured. I didn’t have a backup camera never mind back up equipment like lenses, or stuff like triggers and light modifiers and a dozen batteries and 20 SD cards in my pocket… s**t, I didn’t even have a flash.
After my first wedding, I burned all the images onto CD and printed out a label and stuck it on by hand. I did not have the first clue as to how a wedding ran, what was expected of me, and didn’t even shoot on dual cards. I was winging it.
Over the years, my experience grew. I realized I had to be insured, have a wealth of back up equipment, figure out how to actually run a business properly, and back up my images in three different places.
And, as my experience increased, so did my prices. And then I became one of those full-time wedding photographers that was ‘living the dream’. I wasn’t earning millions, but enough to pay the mortgage and put shoes on my feet.
And I remember hearing the old established photographers moaning about how all the newbies were taking their jobs. How they couldn’t make it pay any more. And I wondered, why on earth not? I was doing ok. What was I doing that they weren’t?
Well, here we are again.
Wedding photography is dead.
So, is it that suddenly brides and grooms don’t value wedding photography anymore?
I don’t think so.
In the UK, we’re not so big on photography in general. We see it as being a bit vain. We only value it years down the line by which point it’s too late. But clients still want photography.
We could blame magazines and blogs for giving brides and groom unrealistic expectations.. but that’s not really true either. Heck, when someone tells me I’m out of their budget, I send them links to two different weddings blogs who both advise spending a chunk of your budget on photography.
Is it the fault of venues?
Venue costs have risen exponentially in some areas and I know venues who charge between £10,000 and £20,000 just for venue hire… and then listen to photographers who say that the couple has spent so much on the venue that they now don’t have any budget left for photography. On the flip side of the coin, I know venues who are cheap as chips and then those very same photographers moan that the brides haven’t got the budget to spend on photography. Sigh.
So I don’t think it’s that either.
We could talk about photography workshops and blame them for giving away all the ‘secrets’. Training other photographers to steal their clients. But there have always been ways to learn about photography… I did it with books when I started out. Now there are other more interesting ways to discover how to hone your craft and fine-tune your workflow, whether that’s YouTube, podcasts or four-day workshops with a host of speakers from around the world.
And we could talk about how the quality of new photographers and mid-range photographers has become intertwined thanks to better more advanced cameras and how there is no longer a massive distinction between a photographer starting out in the industry and one who has been there for ten years already. And let’s not get started on the quality of images from the iPhone in your pocket or new mirrorless systems.
I don’t think it’s those things either.
But now I am going to tell you that it’s not just photographers. It’s the whole wedding industry. From florists to make-up artists, I hear the echoes of this ‘downward turn’. I hear the murmurs of the Brexit effect. I hear the winds of change.
And now I know what the problem actually is. I’ve finally figured it out.
The industry has changed. The way we advertise has changed. The way we shoot has changed. The way we do business has changed.
And we don’t like change. We’re creatures of habit. We like to do it like we’ve always done. Because that made us money. That was what worked. That’s the way we’ve always done it.
But now it’s not working. And still, and still, I see everyone doing the same things as they’ve always done…
Only now they’re doing the same things in a more frantic desperate way. Network, I hear them scream. Styled shoots, I hear them utter. Throw money at Facebook advertising, post to Instagram ten times a day. More and more of the same old s**t.
Just stop. It’s time to change. Time to change how you look at your business. Time to introduce a new way of doing things. Because the old way isn’t working. It’s time to strip back to basics, take stock and figure out what the future holds. It’s time to embrace new tech, new ways to get your work out, new ways to appeal to the clients you want.
Or you can continue to moan about how all the newbies are stealing your business.
See the change. Be the change.
About the author: Shelly Mantovani is a wedding photographer in Yorkshire, UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. For business mentoring, contact her here or visit her website. You can find more of her work and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. For wedding advice, tips and tricks, head on over to The Wedding Vibe YouTube channel. This article was also published here.