Going Pro: 8 Questions You Are Dying to Ask a Professional Photographer

If you are just starting to think about setting up a photography business, read this interview style Q & A to get some insight from seasoned pro Lara White. To learn more about the business I am discussing, check out Geoff White Photographers. Let’s dive right in to the questions.

Q: When you say all packages come with digital negatives…what does that mean exactly?  Is that a fancy way of saying a photo dvd?

A: Digital negatives are in place of film negatives. I would expect a photo DVD to be for Facebook or otherwise very small files. All our wedding packages include the wedding day digital negatives in both high and low resolution, and we factor that into the cost. We designed our pricing so that we get paid on the front end. We do sell prints, but that has never been our strength. We designed packages as a front end model instead of a low hourly fee to start with the profit coming in on the back-end, traditionally through print sales.

Either model works, but you want to set your business strategy to play to your strengths.

Q: How many weddings do you shoot a year and are you happy with that or do you want to do more or less?

 A: We shoot anywhere from 25-45 weddings per year, and the answer is, ‘it depends'. On the one hand, I love when we have an especially rewarding year financially, but it takes a tremendous toll on your personal life and it’s very physically demanding. These past few years we've tried taking fewer weddings and providing a higher level of service. It’s a constant balancing act.

Q: Have you ever shot maternity or newborns or is that just not your thing?

A: Yes, wedding clients naturally lead to long term relationships and after they get married, so it's a natural fit. It's important to think about how you'll approach things like print pricing and digital negatives before it comes up. Your wedding clients will expect a similar set of studio polices, so you want to be prepared for how you'll handle this. For example, our session fees are $500, but for the amount of time and effort put into a session, there does need to be a product sale in order to make the session profitable. It’s not an area of focus for us, but its always nice to have something different.

Q: Where is a good place to start in terms of marketing?  Do you place ads, if so, where?

I can't recommend print ads for wedding photographers as the pricing is usually beyond reach and the return (in booked weddings) is minimal at best. It takes more than one full page ad to be an effective wedding marketing campaign. You’d need at least a year of ads, and unfortunately with the pricing model, it’s difficult to justify those costs when you are working with such a limited budget. You are better off to network and build relationships within the wedding industry. Instead of ads, put the marketing dollars into vendor albums.

Also look for smaller bridal shows in your area. Bridal shops, certain department stores and local venues will often have small showcase evenings that all the vendors invite their prospective brides to. With any marketing effort, you have to remember it's going to take time.

 Q: What are you using to edit your images?

We shoot in RAW, and found Lightroom to be a bit clumsy initially and we haven't looked at it since. We color correct in Capture One. I edit in iView, but Breeze Browser works too.

Q: You mentioned that you started out charging $5000 for weddings – did you lose any business up front by setting your price in that range?  

A: We decided to set our prices high right out of the gate, because we knew that was the market we wanted to go after. However, we dumped money into the business from the get go, and had professional brochures, album samples, wall samples, etc. and strong work. We made sure that no one would ever guess we were starting out. So the lead time for building up a business and clientele was pretty quick, but we had the cash and the business experience that allowed us to go that route.

Looking at the wedding industry now, I think everyone tries to go after the ‘high end' client and that’s not necessarily the best route for everyone’s photography business. The costs involved are much higher in serving that segment, and all that pretty packaging, customization and customer service costs add up very quickly.

In the Bay Area, I see a real need for a talented professional to provide more mid-level pricing while keeping their costs low. In a big city market like San Francisco, someone could really differentiate themselves by offering packages in the $3500 range if they can compete quality-wise with the more expensive photographers. Be careful to not give away the farm.

Q: Any ideas for how to stand out in terms of style?

A: You need to differentiate yourself somehow through style, pricing, services, etc. look at your local competition in order to see how you might do that. We did it through high pricing, extreme technical capabilities and strong use of color and lines. While our prices are high, we do include a lot of products and value for the money. We also go above and beyond in terms of customer service.

Q: I’m not sure if I should go after weddings or build a portrait business. What has been your experience?

A: With weddings it seems like there’s more money in the beginning, but over time, the amount of hours you put in call your earnings into question. When you break it down into an hourly wage, it's not pretty, and I would say that's pretty honest across the board for wedding vendors regardless what they are charging. Weddings are incredibly time intensive, so you really have to love it.

With portraits, you do a tight edit, you only retouch a small selection or what the buy, and you can do a lot more sessions, and over time, build up a client base and product base in order to maximize sales. It takes much longer to build up a portrait business, but in the long term the return for your time will be much higher.

If you choose to get into weddings, you will work a lot of evenings and a lot of weekends. It’s unavoidable. You won't be able to book jobs without meeting people at night, and you’ll probably meet with twice as many people as you book. For us, that's about fifty-eighty two hour meetings on weekday evenings throughout the year. That's over 100 hours in consultations alone. And then you’ll also probably want to go to lots of evening networking events with planners and such to get your name out there. So the time commitment is much greater with weddings, although there is a natural slow season for weddings during which most wedding photographers try to schedule their vacations and family events around.

Do you have any burning questions you are dying to ask? Let me know in the comments.

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