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The Story Behind My I Heart New York Engagement Sessions

I heart NY.

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for quite a while now. Don’t get me wrong; I’m honored to be asked by The Photo Life to write about ANYTHING I do, I just don’t like to write. I mean I have the world’s most neglected blog on the planet.  That said, somehow I have been able to amass over 6,000 tweets.

So, when I sat down to write tonight, I wondered what I could say to tell the story of my I Heart New York sessions in a new and different way. Recently, I’ve been taking a new approach to things. I’ve been making the conscious decision to tell the honest truth – no sugar coating – just raw thoughts and feelings.

So, here’s the honest truth about I Heart New York (IHNY).

About 8 years ago made the decision to walk away from my commercial photo business and pursue wedding photography on my own full-time. Ironically, I had been shooting weddings for about 13 years prior with a large studio, and I HATED it. But, I saw some exciting changes in the way weddings were being photographed, and I felt the commercial photography industry was going in the toilet.  And – despite how I felt – I was good at shooting weddings.

That said, I wanted my wedding photography to be different than what I had been doing for the “wedding photo factory” I worked for.  I needed inspiration, something to make me fall in love with what I do again. Shit, I was desperate!

So, I decided to take a trip to California for an informal photography conference.

To fully take advantage of my time on the west coast, I decided to meet some friends of mine in Los Angeles and set up a few “day after” shoots.  We shot at all the cliché LA places: Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, and of course lots of sunny beaches, all way up to San Luis Obispo where the conference was.  I hadn’t done shoots like this since I was working on my fashion portfolio, and suddenly I found my “production” skills really coming into play.  I had a blast, got some awesome shots, and most importantly, came home totally amped about photography again.  I thought, “Why not do this in NYC?”  So I did.

After about six of these shoots in New York, my wife said to me, “Jason, I’m really excited to see your enthusiasm, but will these shoots lead to some money?”  🙂 I didn’t have an answer for her, but knew it was time to think of a way to tie this into my business.

Then one evening while driving on the NJ Turnpike through the swamps of Secaucus, it hit me! What about offering stylized engagement shoots for my clients, featuring iconic NYC as their backdrop?  Great hair and makeup, clothing, and a unique concept for each shoot!

themed engagement session photo by Jason Groupp

When I first came up with this idea I wondered if my clients (busy entrepreneurs, Wall Street, and financial types) would really spend 4-8 hours with me shooting?  If they would pay for hair and makeup, go for a unique concept, and trust me through an experience like this.  The only way to find out though was to get on the phone and ask.  Not everyone was as excited as I was, but I found a few that were (mainly because I was offering these sessions at no additional charge).  I practically threw away thousands of dollars worth of my time and crew costs, but I did so knowing that I was onto something for my business.

My next hurdle was to find a way to stop throwing away money and start making it! How could I monetize these sessions?

The clients that had trusted me in the beginning sessions were blown away with their experience and they told their friends. These referrals gave me the creative outlet I needed, plus a great edge in NYC.  But the question remained, could I make money on these sessions?  THAT was gonna be tough!  Most photographers are giving away their engagement sessions, how am I going to charge $500, $1000, $1500, $2500 or even more?

After playing around with a bunch of ideas, and fumbling with it for a while here’s what I’ve found to be the best model for sessions that sell:

Sell the Experience. It HAS to be about the experience. It’s not an engagement shoot; it’s a really expensive date that you happen to have photographers along for.

Have Great Hair and Makeup. This is part of the experience. I have an awesome team I work with, that ironically, winds up getting hired by my clients for their wedding day.  That’s a win win.

Deliver the Experience. I provide a “concept” for each shoot that I lay out for them before hand. It includes clothing suggestions and story boards.

engagement photography session by Jason Groupp

Shoot for a LONG Time. You must get clients to commit to 6-8 hours of shooting with you, even if you don’t end up needing it. This was a big hurdle initially. Most guys don’t want to take pictures for that long. But, early on I found that while we could “get through” everything during a one-hour session, psychologically they needed more time to really get “into it.” A guy who knows he’s stuck shoe shopping all day with his fiancé will find a way to make it fun right?  This is the same concept.

Get them Drinking. Everything is more fun when you add alcohol right?  When clients come in for hair and makeup, I serve champagne and strawberries.  Later, we stop for a bite to eat, but I specifically choose places that have great signature cocktails – fun stuff that you wouldn’t normally drink.

Provide a Guest Book. From each session, my clients get a 20-page guest book.  This helps offset some of the cost in their decision-making process, and there is no better marketing than putting your work in front of every guest at the wedding.

Honestly, all of this took some tweaking over time, but the time spent doing so has enabled me to create a nice add-on revenue stream doing something I LOVE.  It’s a great way to try out new lighting techniques, and train my assistants in a no pressure environment.  Most importantly, I’m able to share an “experience” with my clients that’s always memorable.  We have a great time, and come the wedding day, we are best friends.  In the words of Charlie Sheen, I’m winning and loving it!

Written by Jason Groupp

photographer jason groupp

My name is Jason Groupp.  I’m from NYC, but I live in NJ.  Exit 135.

I studied fashion photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in NYC.  It was hard.

I have been shooting weddings for 23 years.  I think I’m pretty good at it.  It’s still hard.

Doing what I love, and following my dreams has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done. 🙂

You can visit my website – jasongroupp.com

Follow my self-deprecating tweets here – http://twitter.com/jasongroupp

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!