Having taught workshops all around US & Asia, and having worked with hundreds of photographer over the years, I can say there are definitely reoccurring themes as to why photographers fail to achieve their goals. It could be a host of different reasons, but here are my top 5 reasons why wedding photographer’s business fail.
1. Lack of technical skills
Believe it or not, many people jump into wedding photography business with very little technical knowledge. How does this happen? For two reasons. First, the technological advancement of modern cameras has been unprecedented. Even an amateur can take a pretty good photo the first time he picks up a camera. Second, with the over abundance of social media & access to information, it’s very easy for a new photographer to check out other photographers’ work and get a pretty good idea on what is considered ‘good.’ As compared to years ago before there were no Facebook, PInterest, Instagram.. it was a little more difficult to find a photographer whose work inspire you.
Photographers get easily frustrated when they can’t create the type of images they want through out the wedding day. They might be good at natural light only, or they might be good at flash photography. Wedding is a fluid environment that requires the photographer to think on their feet and react accordingly. Over time, a photographer will lose potential referrals and therefore causing business to suffer because of their lack of technical capabilities.
2. Not pricing yourself as a sustainable business.
Many photographers have other sources of income while starting out. It could be a supportive spouse or another full time job. Many people also have a ‘back up plan’ in case photography business doesn’t work out. While this is a great security to have, the major mistake a lot of photographers make is to price themselves too low, in the hope of getting more work. Since it really doesn’t matter if they book or not; they lower the pricing to attract potential clients. The price one would charge in this price range most likely would not be sustainable if it were a full time business. There is some merit to this strategy. After all, if there is no portfolio to backup the pricing; most clients would not see the value enough to pay a high rate. But the downside is that when a photographer is ready to raise their prices; they will lose most of the previous referral base on a much lower price point. When this happens, most photographers become frustrated with their business not growing or able to turn a profit. My advice would be to ‘always’ price yourself as if you were running a sustainable business. Yes, even when you are just starting out. There are many different business models. A low price/high volume studio can still be very profitable. But a low price/low volume studio would not survive, for example.
The one exception would be for those that are not seeking to make it into a full time business and will always want to do it as a hobbyist/part timer and not a full time job. While there’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with that, I am specifically addressing those that want to make it into a full time business.
3. Fear of failure
Fear of failure might be the single biggest reason why people actually fail. We all have fears, the trick is to turn fear into motivation, and not let it cripple your desire to achieve your goals. When I first started my business I still had a full time job. Although I had a full calendar for the year, and more bookings on the way for the following year, I was scared to death of leaving my day job. The fear of leaving the security of a pay check, benefits, 401K, you name it. I had every reason NOT to leave my day job as an architect. The fear was quite literally, paralyzing. As the great comedian Jim Carrey once said, fear is nothing more than obstacles disguised as practicality. The moment I was able to let go of the fear, that’s when I was able to fully grow my business.
As my business grow, I continue to face many new fears almost on a daily basis. The fear of not booking the next client when I raised my prices; the fear of not filing up all the seats for my first international workshop; the fear when I started shooting film and worry if my clients are all going to leave me… Bottom line, don’t let fear paralyze you. Let go of the fear and see how far it will take you.
4. Inconsistency in your work
When a photographer is starting out, it’s natural to want to experiment everything under the sun. Different editing styles, aperture, lens.. you name it. Especially nowadays with the abundance of information on social media, it has become increasingly difficult for a photographer to nail down a look that is unique to their brand. For me personally, it took well over a span of 3 years to really start to know what my aesthetic is. And to this date, I am still constantly refining my work.
When a photographer’s portfolio is filled with inconsistent styles, a potential client can get easily confused and have less trust in the photographer. Different style can be defined as editing, framing, composition, use of light, mood, or any other number of factors that make a photograph. My suggestion would be to experiment with different style as you wish; but only post on blog or website the most consistent work you can produce. Overtime, you will start to fine tune your style and eventually will be able to curate your way to a recognizable brand.
5. Not understanding your ideal client base.
At the start of many photographers’ careers, we all struggle to find clients. It could simply be because nobody knows we have actually started a business. As time goes on, more and more people will find out about the new business and hopefully the referral base will grow. However, with the need to grow a business many photographers will start taking on every single client that walks through the door. I see this type of posts on Facebook newsfeed all the time. “I am so busy! I have a family portrait session on Monday, corporate head shots on Tuesday, shooting food for the menu of a new restaurant on Wednesday, New born photo on Thursday, and weddings on the weekend!” While that may keep you busy, it will not keep your business sustainable. Specializing in one or two areas of photography will make you an expert in the field; therefore standing out from the rest of the competition more easily. We are in a society full of specialists, and consumer tend to put more trust in specialists than somebody who specializes in EVERYTHING.
At the very start of my career, I know I wanted to focus on the high end, luxury market. All the business strategies I’ve implemented all have led to where I am in my career. Granted there were times were I really needed a booking, but it was not my ideal market, I had to turn down the booking. Always remember it is a marathon, not a spring. Don’t base business decisions on short term gains.
Those are my top 5 reasons why wedding photographers fail; what about you? Share your mistakes and how you overcame them in the comments below!