The High End Bride-More Trouble than it’s Worth, or Worthwhile? Part 2

Last week we looked at some of the benefits to marketing your photography to a high end bride  Today we’ll be looking at the other side, the cons of serving a high end clientele. We’ve built our studio around high end brides, and while it has its ups, it also has its downs. Consider these issues before you decide which market to go after.


High End Brides Have High Expectations

One of the things that is most important to consider before you even consider marketing to high end brides-can you perform consistently at that level? You don’t actually need to be a highly talented photographer, contrary to popular opinion. You can be “pretty good” and still get by. I’ve seen it many, many times. In fact, if you think of the “rock star” photographers, have you ever felt disappointed to see it was more “average” than “awesome”? That’s ok. Many photographers built their success on their marketing savvy and their personality.

However, you do need to be able to perform at a higher level consistently, and produce work that is consistently good no matter the circumstance. What I mean is that you have the experience to handle whatever comes your way. You can show your best wedding or your worst wedding, they both look gorgeous to an untrained eye.

Ugly venue? No problem, you’ll find gorgeous lighting somehow. Shutter stops working during the ceremony? Got a backup. Plus-size bride? You know how to make her look great. Hail storm? You make the most of it, creating moody images that the bride will love. Portrait time eaten away by a slow makeup artist? You’ll be faster and get those same shots in less time. With a smile, of course.

If you cannot perform consistently every time, you are not ready to go after the high end bride. If you book a high end bride from a highlights portfolio that is not consistent with what your average work looks like, you will live to regret it, believe me.

Smaller Client Pool

When you are servicing the high end bride, the simple fact is there are fewer of them. If you are the only high end studio in your area, great, those brides will have no problem finding you. But if you are competing with several (or several dozen) high end wedding photography studios, you’ll have to work harder to book them, and constantly stay ahead of the competition. This can be quite exhausting and requires a focused commitment of time and money.

Takes Longer to Build Up Clientele

One of the biggest challenges to going after a high end bride is that it takes much longer to build up a profitable clientele base. Because you are offering a more expensive service, there are fewer brides who can afford your services. Many of the traditional marketing methods will not work for you. Online ads, SEO, local advertising (search engine optimization), bridal shows, mass market wedding blogs and websites etc. will do little to nothing in terms of bookings. Even client word of mouth is much less effective, as all the brides friends and family are not likely to automatically be able afford your services. You’ll have more inquiries and consultations that end in no, as it turns out the bride cannot afford you. This means a lot more time spent dealing with leads that go nowhere. And let me just assure it, it doesn't matter how many times you ask the bride if she's looks at your packages, half the time the bride doesn't care about the costs, and so she sets the meeting hoping whoever's footing the bill will go for it.

As a high end wedding vendor, you are much more reliant on vendor marketing and referral lists, and these take time, often years, to build up. This is something that many new photographers don’t take into account. If you need to be profitable right away or within the first couple of years, you’ll seriously need to consider if this route is right for you.

Higher Costs & Time for Presentation Materials

When you are going after a high end clientele, you’ll need to present a high end experience to your clients. They need to feel the value in all the “extras.” All those presentation materials help to reinforce the value of your work and the good decision the client made to invest in you.  Everything from your studio says “quality.” The downside to this? It can become incredibly expensive and time consuming. Labs are always coming up with creative ways to offer us new high end presentation materials.

I have seen “couture” albums bags at over $50 a piece. When you add in custom proof boxes at $25, quality shopping bags, ribbons, tissue, nice boxes for prints, name brand waters for your consultations, etc. it adds up fast. And the problem is, as creative, we LOVE the packaging. So it’s easy to lose site of how it’s all adding up. Before you know it, you’re spending upwards of $100-$200 per client just on these extras alone. That’s a big chunk out of your studio profits. And it doesn’t end there. This kind of thinking can quickly get out of hand. You begin to think you need nicer clothing for your consultations. You need a nicer car to show up to weddings (even through they’ve already booked you by the time they see your car). Many “high end” wedding photographers unknowingly drive themselves right out of business as these costs simply sky rocket. So always keep an eye on the bottom line, and make sure your still profitable.

What do you think? It is worth it? Or is it more trouble than it’s worth? Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jose February 27, 2016 at 10:51 am

Great read! Several insights that will be a useful reference to our business.

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Derrick May 10, 2014 at 5:48 pm

I really appreciate all the great information on here, I am in the process of creating a more high end pricing and packaging for the higher end brides, I will be sure to stay connected on here, once again thank you all for your input.

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Tanya Malott March 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

“You don’t actually need to be a highly talented photographer, contrary to popular opinion. You can be “pretty good” and still get by. I’ve seen it many, many times. In fact, if you think of the “rock star” photographers, have you ever felt disappointed to see it was more “average” than “awesome”? That’s ok. Many photographers built their success on their marketing savvy and their personality.”

I would mention, as I did in your previous post, that at the high end, you can’t always show your best work…..so you may think the people at the high end are “average” but maybe they have less to choose from. I definitely feel that some of the greatest work I have ever done, is work I can never share publicly.

Also, I think shooting at the high end is a bit like winning American Idol. You can’t be just a talented singer, though you can’t win without that. You really need to be the whole package. To shoot high end weddings, you need to be a talented photographer, great with the clients, good at marketing, easy to get along with/work with, probably socially well connected, and a whole lot of other intangibles.

A really good friend of mine started an agency of Pulitzer prize winning photographers who would shoot weddings for a very affordable price. Many of his photographers are truly outstanding, and I love hiring them as second shooters. But he also found many of them couldn’t quite break into the high end kinds of jobs I shoot regularly. We would often discuss how it might be because too many journalist photographers lack the personality skills for dealing with brides, or the presentation skills, or maybe the company lacked the branding to open doors at a higher level.

Also, you can’t really do the high end and the low end. Either you sell to a mass market, or an exclusive one. A bride having a million dollar wedding would never hire a $2000 photographer (even though that person might do an amazing job). But she might wear fake diamond earrings. There are some things she can afford to cut corners on, and some she will not risk. A photographer charging $2000 is a risk. She is thinking, “If they are really any good, why aren’t they charging more?”

Ironically, the $2000 photographer who shoots 50 weddings a year ($100,000) could actually be making more money than the $15,000 photographer who shoots 10 ($150,000), because all the costs of the more expensive photographer are higher: the equipment, the marketing, the packaging, the overhead, the travel, etc.

It isn’t enough to simply be a great photographer. And once you are working at the high end, it doesn’t take much to damage your reputation. Photographers at the high end have to be consistently good, because just one job could do irreparable damage to one’s entire business.

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Jaimie Woodruff January 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

Just as this says, there are pros and cons to both sides. I’ve talked to several other photogs and other various types of vendors and the one thing I’ve found is that everyone has their own preference. Having considered myself an “affordable” photographer since going into business, I’ve found that there is certainly a large enough market out there. When brides are slightly more concerned with their budget than they are having absolutely phenomenal images, I find they are less demanding and are happy with their images no matter what. But now that I’m doing photography full-time, I had to re-evaluate my pricing to include 4 wedding packages ranging in prices, services, and products. This allows me to still attract the budget conscience bride and possibly more “high-end” ones, hopefully, maximizing my earning potential.

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Lara White January 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm

you have great perspective Jaimie. It’s all about what works for you as a business owner, and what approach is going to be most profitable for you. It’s not necessarily about the work-we all know photographers charging way more than we think they are “worth, and we all know photographers charging way less than they are worth. It’s about the photography business model. We have clients that really stretch to afford us-and they believe in photography and believe in us- and treat us like celebrities or royalty. No pressure from them, they are just SO HAPPY to have us there, and love everything we do. On the other hand, we have clients who are in over their heads with the budget, and because they are paying so much in their minds, they have set the expectation bar impossibly high-and this comes across to every vendor in those situations. The client that is never happy with anything or anyone.

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Susan Hydzik November 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I agree that the higher end client is definitely having higher expectations, but we have found since raising our prices a few years ago, that we attract clients that actually pay more and expect less. Lower paying brides always wanted more editing, more photographs, more, more more. Higher end brides see the value in “less is more” and understand paying extra for extra work.

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Suzy Clement November 1, 2011 at 8:51 am

Totally agree, especially the point about needing the experience and skill to manage any shooting situation and make it look good – no, great! I actually think that is the standard for ALL wedding photography, but there’s no question that the stakes are higher at the “high end”. Not to be too self-promote-y, but this is a big point in my new book, Weddings: From Snapshots to Greatshots — the idea that while we can influence certain aspects of the day and our environment, many others are out of our control and we must learn techniques to “make it work” under many various conditions. Love also your points about marketing and the time it takes to work up to this clientele. Definitely doesn’t happen overnight… for me, it took years. It was all worth it for me but it wasn’t easy!

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Lara White November 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Suzy,

Thanks for chiming in! I wrote this post because I think there are so many different niches to explore with photography, and high end weddings are not for everyone. People hear you can earn $10,000 per wedding, and they do some quick math and set themselves on a path without further exploration. There are pros and cons to every type of photography niche and its so important to take the time to evaluate your options before jumping in. Great book by the way, I saw it in Barnes and Noble the other day, it was quite exciting! Suzy’s new book “Weddings: From Snapshots to Great Shots” is available via amazon.

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