Let’s bust a myth. There’s no right way to run your photography business.
Many self-proclaimed leaders make a boatload of money selling formulas for running your business. Well, here at The Photo Life, we don’t believe in secret formulas or overnight success stories. We believe the only right way of doing business is the one that serves your unique clients and grows your business the old-fashioned way. Hard work and happy clients are your foundation for success.
Different systems work for different studios, so the key is finding one that suits your clients and your business!
That’s why we’re eager to bring you the first of many “Town Hall Debates” here on The Photo Life. Town Hall Debates are a fun way of giving you an opportunity to learn how others do business.
This week’s debate is all about turnaround times. Kevin and David run successful businesses. Their systems work for them and their clients. Yet their viewpoints are very different. Do you agree or disagree, based on your unique business experience? Weigh in by leaving comments below!
MEET KEVIN SWAN
“Speed trumps quality in the real world of delivering images to wedding clients. Every hour that passes after the event makes your hard work less relevant. Learn to move faster.”
MEET DAVE WITTIG
“Yes, McDonalds can get you a burger in under 60 seconds, but I don’t think McDondalds is on most people’s list of favorite dining experiences.”
Chicago-based wedding photographers David Wittig and Nancy Beale, have been working side-by-side, capturing weddings and transforming them into art for the last ten years. Their own relationship, a myriad of friendship, partnership and marriage, aides their images, providing two perspectives of a singular moment—what can often be the most important moment of your life. Dave and Nancy have shot weddings from Maine to California, from India to France, and are always excited to add another stamp to their all-ready full passports. Their work, which examines a documentary feel and editorial style, is heavily influenced by their fine art backgrounds and training.
1) How quickly do you deliver images to your clients? What is your method for delivering the first images?
- Saturday: Slideshow at the reception, typically we present 30-50 images with quick edits done in LR or Aperture.
- Monday: 5-10 favorites images – usually from slideshow – posted to Facebook and tagged.
- Thursday: Draft #1 of clients’ album is presented online – approximately 100 images – without the ability to comment. We use SWAT’s “public” slideshow feature.
- Monday: Balance of clients’ images released online for them to start making album edits.
- Monday: Send clients a link to the slideshow where they can make comments and edits. We use SWAT’s “approval” slideshow feature.
There are many reasons for my workflow, but they center around album sales. My clients average $6-10k in album purchases on top of my shooting fees. By only giving them a small taste of their images (the Facebook post), when they see their album draft a few days after the wedding, they’re blown away!
I choose my favorite images and design a spectacular book. If you let your client choose the images, they typically take a long time and often pick mediocre shots because they’re inexperienced and choosing for political/family reasons—not for aesthetics. In my opinion, it’s a burden on your client to force them to choose their favorites for the album. They’ve put enough effort into making decisions for the wedding. As professionals, we should help and guide them—not drop more work in their laps!
It’s easier to edit a designed album than it is to start from scratch. By enabling clients to view their album early, they’re still emotionally engaged with their images. While the rest of the images are uploading to an online service to display photos and sell prints, your clients watch the album slideshow again and again, imagining it as their book more and more. By the time other images are ready to review, the clients are ready to make a few changes, but it’s tough to cut the album down any significant amount.
Customers all know what’s possible; they know how fast things can turn around. They want images on their phones and on Facebook sooner rather than later. Uncle Bob is at their wedding, and he’s shooting photos with his phone or his Rebel XTI and posting them on Facebook the same day. By the time you play around with your images, add your special sauce, make the white balance perfect in every photo, run noise filters, sharpen edges, and so on, your photos become irrelevant. You can post them to Facebook, but people are like, “Oh yeah, I remember that. Already saw it.”
The bride prefers high-quality images, but she’ll take whatever is first. The streams of Twitter and Facebook are living things, and whatever is NOW is what matters most. Posting images a few weeks later is far less important, impacting or valuable. Since Facebook is becoming the operating system of the web, I believe our businesses need simple, direct tie-ins. For example, I post slideshows directly onto my Facebook wall using SWAT. My goal is to make it simple for clients to post images on Facebook that are automatically tagged to me and my sites. This extra marketing results in additional bookings. I’d never suggest giving your clients mediocre work; the trick is learning how to produce excellent work quickly.
Speed trumps quality in the real world of delivering images to wedding clients. Every hour that passes after the event makes your hard work less relevant. Learn to move faster.
The full set of images is usually completed in 8-10 weeks. During our busiest times, it is usually 10 weeks.
Clients get a preview of images on our blog about 4 weeks after the wedding. At this point we have culled all of the final images and have gone through that set and selected 10-15 images that really stood out to us. It’s not an overview of the day, just the very best images. Then 6-8 weeks after the wedding we post a slideshow (using a service called Fotagraft.com) on our blog of about 100-150 images (depending on the event).
2) How quickly do you deliver physical products to your clients?
If they approve the album within a few days of receiving the first design, I can have the books in their hands within 3 weeks of the wedding. Plus, I have financial incentives in place to help prompt clients to make decisions quickly. I focus primarily on books, not on canvases or prints.
As soon as we have completed editing the full set of images, clients can begin the ordering process. From this point on, the biggest factor in turn around time is our client’s response time (which varies greatly), and our vendor’s production times. Our albums take 8-12 weeks to print and bind, and canvases take a week from ordering time. Because we have everything all edited the ordering process is quick and easy.
3) How do you communicate turnaround times to clients? Do you explain your philosophy to them?
I always under-promise and over-deliver. KISS turns albums around in 2 weeks, so I tell my clients 5-6 weeks. This way, if something goes wrong, I have time to start over and still meet or exceed their expectations. If everything goes right, I get to blow them away by delivering earlier than anticipated.
Yes, we consider the time and care we put into individually preparing each image to be an important selling point, and a differentiating factor from a lot of our competition. We want our clients to know that we spend more time on their images than others, and as a result the process takes longer. We discuss this in our first consultation with them. Most of our clients readily understand that speed almost always has a negative tradeoff. Yes, McDonalds can get you a burger in under 60 seconds, but I don’t think McDondalds is on most people’s list of favorite dining experiences.
4) Do you outsource your post-production or do you do it yourself in-house?
It’s a mix. I have an editor in-house, but I also do my own editing. I’ve also used Photographer’s Edit, which I enjoyed, but the turnaround time didn’t work well with my desire to get albums online the week after the wedding. Album design used to be entirely outsourced because it was a nightmare, but with SWAT, I’ve gone back to doing it myself.
No, we do everything in-house ourselves. We do not outsource our post-processing. While there are certainly advantages to outsourcing post-production (principally in terms of speed and cost), we have been unable to find any service that has an acceptable degree of quality and consistency. Admittedly, we have very high standards, but so do our clients. Trading quality for speed or cost savings is not in the best interest of our clients, even if it would lighten our workload. When you think about the fact that we are preparing images that will likely last multiple generations – 100 to 200 years, it seems absurd to sacrifice even the slightest bit of quality get things 3 or 4 weeks faster. 150 years is 7800 weeks, which means that when we are discussing 4 weeks we are talking about .0005 or less of an image’s lifespan. All the arguments I’ve ever heard for outsourcing relate to how a photographer’s life is made easier, or how their profitability increases, you never hear about why it might be better for a client. I believe that’s because it isn’t better for a client (unless the photographer is simply bad at color correcting).
5) Do you use Lightroom and Photoshop? Or just one or the other? Why?
I’m versed in Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop. We don’t use Photoshop in my studio; it’s too slow. I personally prefer Aperture, but we use Lightroom frequently too.
Aperture has a more consistent, pleasing UI—which is very important to me. If you’re using a program for several hours at a time, the better it looks and feels, the more enjoyable your task becomes.
Neither, we use Aperture and haven’t opened Photoshop in months. Photoshop is an extremely inefficient way to edit large quantities of images (and even small numbers of images). We can do everything we need to in Aperture, from culling, color correcting, adding film grain, and album design, to organizing, categorizing, backing up, and archiving our images. It may not be the absolute best in each of those categories (though it’s usually the in the top 2) but the efficiency that is gained by having one highly integrated tool is very worthwhile.
Do you agree or disagree, based on your unique business experience? Weigh in by leaving comments below!