Like many things in life the original vision for the company did not play out in the real world and what we have now is very different from the vision we discussed three years ago. Our original plan involved a large amount of event photography, with some corporate and wedding work making up the mix. As it turned out we ended up shooting many more weddings during the main season with corporate and party photography filling in the gaps.
With any new enterprise it is important to make a plan and work the plan. We constructed a detailed business plan with financial projections and cost estimates. But flexibility is important so when things change you need to be able to revise your plan and change your direction. We never envisaged the scale of the wedding work that we would undertake or the domination of the Asian wedding photography sector to our work. Conversely it is important to recognise when something is not working. So many people get emotionally attached to an idea and stick with it beyond all normal reason. We are always trying to come up with innovative ways to improve our business, but we have a rule: try something once, if it does not work and you think you know why then change and try it again. If it still does not work then stop and try something else. We have used this rule very effectively in the application of our marketing budget. Everyone seemed to be spending large amounts of money on print adverts. We tried it, it had very little effect. We changed and tried again -still with no major impact, so we stopped. All our efforts are now concentrated on building a good online brand which is paying off.
Moving into the Asian market
From day one we had decided to concentrate on the mid to upper part of the wedding photography market. The margins were better and it gave us more control and the ability to be more creative in our work.
We received a number of enquiries from Indian couples who were looking for a more ‘Western’ approach to their wedding photography and we picked up on this idea and decided to market into this space.
Dealing with the unknown
Many wedding photographers do the same thing week after week – church or registry weddings, group shots, bridal portraits, speeches, cake cutting and the first dance. It becomes a routine, it is safe and it is boring. To improve your photography you need to step out of your comfort zone, move into more challenging situations. Here are some of the things that separate a typical Indian wedding from a traditional English one:
An Indian marriage consists of the main wedding day preceded by a series of events/parties/family gatherings which lead up to the main day.
Money. The average amount of money spent on an English wedding is £17,000, the average spent on an Asian wedding is over £30,000 (Research carried out by Asian bridal magazine Viya).
Size (Scale). An average English wedding is 80 to 100 people. An average Asian wedding is 500 people.
It is typical to arrive at the bride’s house at 7am to photograph her getting ready. When you arrive she will have been up for three hours already having her make-up done!
You will be expected to follow the couple through a civil ceremony, religious ceremony, reception (cake, speeches, dancing) plus possibly two more location changes back to the bride’s house and then back to the groom’s house. It is not uncommon to finish close to midnight.
Hindu ceremonies are different to Sikh ceremonies which are different to Muslim ceremonies which are different to Chinese ceremonies. Indian weddings of any religion have many things in common even if the religion is different. Hindu ceremonies vary in structure greatly even though the religion is the same.
Indian timing is something very different from GMT. Indian weddings run in their own time zone. Things get done, but don’t expect everything to happen when it should. Careful planning is important but be prepared to be flexible.
There are few places able or willing to cater for a wedding of 500 to 800 people. This limits the choice of venue for the reception and often large un-photogenic halls are used, often away from any parks or green areas making bridal portraits challenging.
You are being invited into the homes and lives of people who have a very different way of celebrating a marriage and it is important to research carefully so that you do not offend anyone and also that you don’t miss anything important on the day. What might seem like a trivial event might be an important part of the wedding ceremony.
Multiple camera teams
The majority of English wedding ceremonies are covered by a single photographer hired by the bride and groom. Sometimes a videographer will be present. Many Indian weddings involve the bride’s family hiring two photographers plus a videography team (often two people). The groom’s family will often do the same. So it is possible to have four photographers and four videographers present at a wedding. Often it is difficult for the guests to see the bride and groom through the sea of cameras and lights.
It is common practice for friends and relatives to be allowed to stand up and take pictures during the ceremony. Often these guests have large expensive cameras and no worry about blocking your view.
All of the above issues show how difficult and challenging it can be to photograph an Indian wedding. However, the benefits are also great. If you price your packages realistically, you can expect to be selling your top-end packages with multiple parents’ albums and lots of after-sales prints. In addition you can obtain work to cover the prewedding parties which often occur during the week and Asian weddings are often on a Sunday, so can be done in addition to your traditional English work – if you are up for it!
How to deal with your first Asian wedding
When we were booked for our first Asian wedding we were very conscious that we were attempting to do something a little different from our regular work, so we set out to make sure that everything was covered. Here were our priorities:
Do a great job for the client. We understood that the Asian community works by referrals, so the effort that we put into this event should be paid back again and again.
Do a great job for ourselves. We were looking to build a website, demonstration album and DVD slideshow from this wedding.
How did we achieve this?:
Preparation, lots of research so that nothing would come as a surprise. Overkill: We had three photographers working on the day (although we only charged for two). We started earlier and finished later than the client originally asked. This allowed us to deliver beyond the client’s expectations and provided a full set of images for our portfolio.
Post production. Much more time than normal was spent on the post-production work, both in editing the event and analysing the results.
Client management and setting expectations. Our client understood that this was our first Asian wedding and we worked with her to make sure that we understood everything that would happen on the day and covered all the important events that she wanted.
The resulting shoot and demo album has lasted for over two years and has been the basis of virtually all our sales into this market.
Talking of sales!
Selling a wedding photography package to the Asian community is more like making a sales pitch to a committee than the traditional discussions with the bride and groom. Many Asian weddings are paid for jointly by the two families and each family needs to be consulted before a purchase is made. It is not unusual to have five or six people arrive at the house for a presentation. The bride, groom, parents and siblings are often involved and it is very rare that a decision and signature is obtained in one sitting. Be prepared to hear lots of differing opinions, the younger generation will be looking for a more modern reportage approach and the parents, aunties and uncles will be looking for more traditional groups and portraits. Try to keep both camps happy and you will get the order.
Expect to have to negotiate on price. It is expected that your price list is a guideline to be discussed and form the starting point for a discussion. As long as you are reasonable and patient, you will be able to sell your premier package into this sector again and again. Cost your time sensibly and do not give things away.
Asian wedding photography can be incredibly hard work, long hours, multiple days and very large weddings. It can also be very rewarding both creatively and financially. It really helps to keep you on your toes and the lessons learnt can be passed back to your traditional work.