A couple of days ago, I received this email from Dan. My response follows Dan's message.
Thank you for the time you put into the education of your fellow photographers. I have a question that I think is on the minds of a lot of professionals today. That is how to approach the subject of escalation of photographers giving in and giving away their images on a disc to the client. I have stood firm on this point with my clients, I don't give them a disk but post their images online and give them a set of proofs in a binder to view.
This year alone I have lost several sales to competiors who are giving a disk to their customers that they can print from. This practice is much more widespread than I thought, after speaking to my pro lab, they tell me that the only thing keeping their lab afloat was the fact that they started to design and make albums. When a client gets a disk they take it to Costco or Walmart and have pictures made there, cutting the photographer and the lab out of the loop. After listening to my client's reasons for not booking, and research that I have done in the market I am calling into question my stance on the issue. Do you have any suggestions for incentives can we offer our clients so they don't leave our studio in favor of another that will give the images so they can print their own pictures?
The issue that you raise is something that new, as well as,
established photographers are facing, every day. Often, the potential
customer views us as a commodity -- they think that anyone who calls
themself a 'photographer' and is technically competent to remember to
remove the lens cap is the same as any other photographer.
They key is to build your 'brand'. While you can't do it overnight,
it can be done. You have to separate yourself -- distinguish yourself
-- from the 'shoot & burn' guys who are not only failing to maximize
their business, but who have the potential to destroy yours.
"Do you have any suggestions for incentives can we offer our
Dan, this is the heart of the predicament. Each of us
has to educate our clients. They think that they are hiring a
photographer -- someone to take pictures. Many of use think of
ourselves as someone who 'takes pictures'. Oh sure, sometimes we say,
capture images, preserve memories, but we still mean 'take pictures'.
So long as we think that way, and allow our customers to think that
way, we are doomed to shoot & burn.
As professional wedding photographers, we are STORYTELLERS. This is
really why people hire us (even if they don't realize it). Dan, who
can best tell the story of someone's wedding: The bride or the
photographer? Assuming the photographer understands the flow of a
wedding, along with the emotions, the beauty, the stress, the humor,
the expected and the unexpected, and is prepared to capture all of it,
then the photographer is more than someone who takes the pictures.
The photographer is the storyteller.
When a bride asks for a hi-resolution disc of the wedding images, she
thinks that she is going to save money. What she is really doing is
cheating herself of her memories, because she is ill equipped to tell
the story in a way that will depict the emotions, the beauty, etc.,
The first rule of building your brand is to be prepared to turn down a
job -- or risk even not being offered it, and being okay with that.
Early in my conversations with a potential client, I simply tell them
that I may or may not be the best choice for then. Then I explain
that statement. I tell them my philosophy: I tell them who I am
working for -- and it is NOT the bride and groom. Let me expand on
I don't, initially, discuss the photography. Instead, I talk about
the album that I will produce. The conversation goes something like
this: "When you first receive your album, it will be exciting, but it
won't have much value. I mean, it was just a couple months ago, you
were there, and you probably remember some of it. Your album begins
to have value when a ten year old climbs on your lap and says, 'Mommy,
you we so pretty.' But, when that ten year old looks up at you and
says, 'Grandma, you were sooooooo beautiful -- well, that's when your
wedding album has real value. So, you see, I'm not shooting your
wedding for you -- I'm working for your grandchildren."
That's it -- that's my wedding photography philosophy. If that isn't
what they want -- in fact, if someone doesn't have a tear in their
eye, when I finish, then we aren't a good match. Better to end the
conversation at that point.
However, if they truly understand what I've just said (what you've
just said), then I know that I have a client who values what I do,
well beyond a shoot & burn guy who is just going to take pictures, but
has no real investment in the outcome -- they way the story is told.
Once you have a customer who values you for what you do, then you have
to give outstanding service -- make them go 'WOW". Make them rave
about you. That's how you begin to build your brand, and distinguish
yourself. Certainly, if you already have a reputation, you have a
head-start. If you are new, then you may have to accept 'market-rate'
jobs, to get started.
Dan, do you have a blog? What is the address?
Go back to my blog -- mentioned above. Look at the archives and about
April or May of last year, I posted the first of a four-part series on
getting your photography business online. Read those articles. Make
note of Gary's 2-DVD set, called "Getting Rich as a Photographer".
If you don't have it, get it.
Obviously, there is much more to say, but I hope this gets you started
- or, at least, believing that it is possible. The DVD set is