Weddings in motion
Victoria Grech began her journey into professional photography like so many people bitten by the shutterbug: She discovered the magic of capturing a great photograph. Straight out of school, the London-based Grech passed up an opportunity to take over her family’s fashion business and instead went into investment banking. For nine years, she worked in the business of making money until a vacation to Kenya changed her perspective. To take better photos on the trip, she purchased a digital SLR with a 70-200mm lens. When her first photo came up on the screen, she was hooked.
Grech immersed herself in photography, learning and training as much as possible. It was a minor hobby until some friends got married and ended up with horrendous wedding photographs from the cut-rate photographer they’d hired. Grech shared a few of her “snaps” from their wedding, which the couple loved. Word spread, and before she knew it Grech was running a booming wedding photography business that received 52 wedding bookings during its first full year in 2010.
Business volume was great; unfortunately, Grech got her margins wrong. Due to the large volume of sessions, she got behind on retouching and had to hire a full-time retoucher. At the same time, she was charging a relatively modest fee, about $1,265 (U.S.) per wedding. And she included everything but the kitchen sink in her packages—an album, digital files, hours and hours of coverage, digital enhancements. By the time all was said and done, she was essentially paying clients to shoot their weddings. Having invested almost $50,000 to set up her business, she ended her first year with a $25,000 loss.
Obviously, something had to change, and Grech realized she had to do more than just raise prices. As she ventured into year two of the business, someone showed her a video shot on a DSLR. Grech knew this was the angle she could use to differentiate her work and build a higher-end brand.
After what she calls “a baptism by fire,” which involved a headlong plunge into videography and some on-the-job experience, Grech was able to start integrating videography as a successful product line for wedding clients. It took two to three years to master the medium. “It was a difficult process, in part because I didn’t know any videographers or photographers who understood all the elements of the cameras, the lenses, the lights, and the audio,” says Grech. “So I had to figure it out on my own. The only reason I succeeded was that I failed so many times. Still, I would absolutely recommend embracing your fear. It can really turn your career around.”
And it did. Even while she was learning the ins and outs of video, Grech was able to introduce it to clients as an add-on option. Her vision for the video—an atmospheric, cinematic piece in keeping with her photographic style—was so strong that she was able to sell video packages to several clients without having any client examples to show them. Those early successes helped her triple her profits within six months of offering video.
Grech has continued to augment her video and photography offerings each year. A couple of years ago, she went through a rebranding to position her business as a high-end provider of photography and videography to a limited audience. She now accepts only five wedding jobs a year and flies all over the world to photograph rich and royal clientele with the assistance of a team of four to 12 professionals. Investment in her photography or video services begins at around $15,000. Last year, her largest commission totaled about $38,000. She also maintains a steady base of commercial clients and manages VG Training Academy for aspiring DSLR videographers. She does this all from a home office—no studio.
Recreating your business into an upscale wedding sensation isn’t as easy as buying a DSLR with HD video capabilities and slapping a videography line item on your rate sheet. There’s a lot that goes into a successful video production and even more that goes into positioning yourself as a premium cinematography brand.
Understand the difference between fusion and videography. Fusion is a mixture of still photography and video and can sometimes be one-dimensional in that it may show a series of still images and short video clips that don’t add up a story. Video is more complex and requires cuts and storytelling. Think of a TV show or movie: You never see a single scene for more than 30 seconds before it cuts and changes perspective. That’s what a full wedding videography experience needs to do.
Start with fusion. Fusion allows you to dabble in video capture and artistically mix motion captures with still captures for a multimedia experience. It’s a way to experiment with the manual focus that will be required for full video shooting. And you’re not on the hook for a full videography experience with all its associated production issues.
Don’t dive into audio right away. Learn the video capture side first because that will make more sense to you as a photographer. Audio can be tricky and has a steep learning curve. When you do start to work in audio, consider hiring out the work to an experienced professional at first. That way you can watch and learn the art of audio and gradually integrate it into your offerings.
Good videography hinges on pre-production. You can’t just show up and shoot. Make sure you’re telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Plan out the scenes, the lighting, the audio, and how all those elements will fit together.
Become a director. Your biggest value to the wedding production is your unique artistic perspective. Especially at first, when your technical video skills are still developing, be more of a director. Set up each scene and the overall production scheme and then work with others to put the pieces together.
Don’t try to do it all. Concentrate on what you’re good at, and build a team to help you with the other elements.
Experiment first, profit later. You can learn many videography techniques on the job, but keep prices modest until you’ve perfected each element of the art form. You might even experiment on a few weddings without telling the clients. Once you have the process and the people in place and you’re certain of the professionalism of your product, you can boost prices for a healthy profit.
Never stop learning. You have to keep training to stay ahead of the curve. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind in this fast-moving field. Your best business investment is an investment in yourself.
RELATED: See a gallery of images by Victoria Grech.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.