For wedding photographers, the pandemic has been a blow to their business. But even after big events started making a comeback last year, COVID continues to significantly affect the wedding photography business landscape.
The wedding industry has been decimated by the pandemic, and while recent studies have shown most believe the photography industry is returning to normal, the effects of COVID on event photography, and in particular weddings, are hard to ignore and are far from over.
Based in San Diego, Sara France is a hugely successful wedding photographer, is a Sony Imagery Crafter, and is a mentor in the company’s Alpha Female program. She spoke to PetaPixel on the challenges of navigating her wedding business since COVID, but because she also works as an educator and instructor, France is uniquely placed to also explain how other wedding photographers are adapting to the changes that the pandemic has brought to the wedding industry.
A huge difference between the wedding industry of 2019 and that of 2022 is who is still spinning.
“There was a huge turnover of photographers. So many photographers decided they wanted to do something else as new photographers came into the industry,” she says.
France explains that those who have decided to keep their business during the pandemic have experienced an ever-changing business landscape. Photographers have gone from managing postponements and helping clients at the height of the pandemic (while also figuring out how to survive without active weddings) to now having to fight to avoid being crushed under the weight of a massive influx of work now that many are resuming ceremony plans in person.
“It was a huge amount of adjustment and many are still trying to figure out the new normal. For our businesses, we hope they come out of this stronger, with better practices and strong relationships,” she says.
Those who have withstood the pandemic still face what can be seen as both a blessing and a curse.
“Last year we did the job twice with all the carryovers [from clients] who paid in 2020 but couldn’t get married until 2021 or 2022. So photographers feel overworked and in many cases underpaid,” she says.
“Many photographers are seeing an influx of weddings like never before and need to figure out how to scale and manage volume while they have it.”
Of all the photographic disciplines, wedding photographers are generally among the most community-oriented. National and regional fixtures and matches were common until 2020. That has changed.
“The lack of communities and in-person meetings, coupled with the high turnover of photographers, has left many without the community they once had,” says France.
It is not only the sense of belonging and support that is now lacking, but this high turnover has led to a more practical problem.
“The lack of community has also made it difficult to find and hire second quality photographers or assistants,” she says.
The threat of disease is great
While many are acting as if the pandemic is a thing of the past, wedding photographers are aware of the truth: it’s still a major concern.
“There are also a lot of last minute changes because people have COVID,” France explains. “I’ve seen wedding party changes and last minute adjustments due to people getting sick, and on top of that there’s a new group of people insisting their wedding vendors be vaccinated. “
Predictably, wedding photographers who used to “move on” when sick are no longer able to.
“I’ve had to step in more than once now for someone who contracted COVID and couldn’t film an event,” France says. “You need to have backup options in place for these situations so your clients aren’t the ones who don’t have a photographer. In addition, your contract must now cover you for this situation.
Challenges foster opportunities
Although wedding photographers face challenges, there are opportunities to succeed and fill in the gaps left by those who may have changed careers during the pandemic.
France says photographers need to keep a few things in mind in order to tackle the various new challenges that wedding photographers are facing.
“First of all, take your time,” she says. “Get help and make sure you don’t overwork yourself. Outsource where you can, as it will help you manage volume fluctuations”
On this note, France says that it is important to reconstitute as best as possible a united community.
“Get up. If something happens to you and you are sick, you need photography and office assistance. Some of my favorite resources are Shoot Dot Edit, Tave, Sony Community, and Gusto,” she says.
“Draw from your community. Everyone is struggling and needs help right now,” says France, and adds that it’s even a good idea to help other vendors, especially wedding coordinators.
“If there’s a market that’s had an even harder time with this, it’s wedding coordinators. They’ve had to plan the same wedding twice and have sorted out every problem you can imagine. The more you support others , the more grace others will have when you are the one who needs help.
It is also important to know the value of wedding photography work at this time.
“Raise your prices,” she says. “Your prices should be at least 10% higher than they were before the pandemic, if not just for inflation. If you haven’t lifted them, you now get a discounted rate.
She also says it’s important to be as thorough as possible in communicating with customers.
“Communicate with customers about your policies and be very open and honest – it will help tremendously if something does happen,” adds France. “If you don’t have a clear policy, talk to your fellow photographers and get one and make sure you put it in writing.”
Although she says it’s hard to think of all the demanding circumstances, there are a few things worth considering:
“What happens if you get sick? What happens if the wedding has to be postponed? What happens to their money? Can they use it in the future? How long and how? She suggests. “Putting a time limit and limits on things is a great way to manage expectations.”
The loss of many wedding photographers means customers have a much smaller number of photographers to choose from. This means that those who have weathered the worst of the pandemic are well positioned to fill those gaps.
“Now is the time to look at relationships and marketing. Turnover in the industry has left new opportunities everywhere and there has never been a better time to be in business and to rise quickly”, she says.
As long as photographers are prepared and have the right headspace, France says that, at least from a business perspective, the results of the pandemic are not all bad.
“I think there are good and bad consequences of the pandemic. People are more excited than ever to get married and they appreciate the value of having the people they love all there and together. They are ready to celebrate and the weddings have a new energy around them,” she says.
“People understand change better and are more flexible. I think after going through so many changes, you just get more understanding.
Picture credits: Sarah France