News + Features

2021 RF + WPPI Wedding Photography Tips and Trends

May 28, 2021

By Rangefinder + WPPI Staff

© The Foxes Photography

A portrait by The Foxes Photography.

As the wedding industry begins to rebound following the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, photographers will once again be making adjustments to their businesses. Micro weddings and elopements took the place of full-sized guests lists, with many couples opting for intimate backyard and park ceremonies and either delaying or cancelling their original plans entirely.

Traditional weddings may be returning, but that doesn’t mean photographers have to leave everything they’ve learned during the pandemic at the door. Photographer Trene’ Forbes told Rangefinder last year that she’s keeping micro weddings as part of her offerings, adding a link to the package on her site.

This month, we surveyed more than 300 photographers on the changes to their wedding businesses, as well as their general practices. It’s all part of Rangefinder + WPPIs monthly educational content to help reset their businesses this year.

For this survey, just over half use he/him pronouns, just over a third use she/her, 4% use they/them, and 11% prefer not to say. Respondents tended to be older, with 56% over the age of 55, but experience as a photographer was nearly even across the board, ranging from less than five years to over 30 years. 73% of photographers are full- or part-time pros, while 21% are advanced amateurs or enthusiasts.

If you’re looking to boost your business, look at some of our past coverage, including lighting techniques for wedding and engagement shoots, tips for photographing wedding details, natural and romantic posing for couples, and advice on how to make your business more inclusive.

When asked what types of weddings they photographed this year, intimate weddings (20-50 guests) and micro weddings (fewer than 20) topped the list at 48% with 47% photographers having photographed them, respectively, though 43% said they had photographed typical weddings (up to 150 guests), and 24% had photographed maxi weddings (150+). 26% had photographed elopements, which included just the couple and officiant.

The most common reason for micro or intimate weddings was local restrictions and health guidelines (74%), while 15% of respondents said the couple opted for a small guest list to save money.

For elopements, 42% of respondents pointed to the restrictions as their clients’ reasoning, though 27% said the couples decided to elope first and host the reception in the future. 15% said their couple eloped because there’s no longer the societal pressure to host a large wedding, while 8% wanted to save money.

For tips on micro packages, take a look at Trene’ Forbes’s in “Navigating the Micro Wedding for Your Photo Business.” For advice on adding elopements to your packages, look at Brandon Fox’s guide (which is helpful for pandemic or non-pandemic times) “A Guide to Elopement Photography When Couples Downsize Weddings.”

© Trene’ Forbes

Though some photographers told us not much had changed in their approach to wedding photography over the past year, besides mask requirements and relying on longer lenses to keep distance, others said that the pandemic had forced them to think on their feet or change up their style entirely.

“(I’ve had to) acclimate to last-minute spaces that haven’t been thought through as venues and figure out how to appropriately stage photographs that don’t reveal that,” one photographer said in the survey.

But these challenges have had creative benefits as well. “With social distancing I’ve become more journalistic in my work, which I am excited about,” another photographer commented. “I spend more time allowing the day to develop than being involved in the development of the day.”

In booking new clients, simple word-of-mouth reigns. Photographers indicated it was more effective than Facebook, Instagram, email or Google Ads and produced the highest conversion rate. For social media strategy, photographers preferred organic marketing over paid, as well as other tactics like Instagram takeovers.

Over the past year, 45% photographers said they shot anywhere from one to 10 engagement shoots, 42% said they didn’t shoot any, and a combined 13% said more than 10. Meanwhile, half of respondents said they photographed between one to 10 proposals over the past year, 44% said none, and 6% photographed more than 10.

On the wedding front, two-thirds of respondents said they photographed a wedding as the primary shooter in 2020 (18% said they photographed at least once as a second shooter), but the majority (60%) only photographed between one and five events. 19% photographed between five to 10, and a combined 21% shot over 10.

Most photographers said they travel for engagement shoots—68% do versus 32% who don’t. More said they travel for weddings, with 80% responding yes and 20% responding no. As far as how they’ll travel, 47% of photographers said they were willing to travel anywhere in the world to shoot a wedding, versus only 26% for engagement.

“Engagements used to be a ‘wedding package’ add-on for me, but now they exist as a separate project,” photographer Jen Huang wrote in her piece for Rangefinder “Pulling Off the Elevated Editorial Engagement Shoot.” “For many of my clients, my engagement shoots look more like elopements, or editorial wedding shoots. They’re longer, full-day affairs, involving multiple wardrobe changes, a full-time hair and makeup artist, a beautiful paid location and various props and details.”

“I had wondered why none of my clients wanted a more involved engagement shoot like this until I realized that I actually had to start offering it first,” she continued. “I began to dream for my clients, giving suggestions and options. Little by little, I found that my clients were genuinely surprised by my suggestions, that they loved my ideas but never realized it was within their reach.”

How much are photographers charging for their services? For engagement shoots, the most popular option among survey-takers was $201-$300, and the most popular features of the session include a one-hour shoot, one location, multiple outfit changes, image editing and a gallery of 50 images.

Meanwhile, 42% of photographers said the price of their most popular wedding package was between $1,000-$2,000, 25% said $2,001-$3,000, and 13.5% said $3,001-$4,000. The most popular features of wedding packages included hi-res files (65% said yes), an engagement session (56%), and an album (55%), while a second shooter (36%), photo book (21%) and slideshow (17%) were less popular.

Just over half of photographers said that as the primary photographer, they hire a second shooter. For those who are second shooters, 26% said they charge between $50-$75 hourly, while 21% each said $75-$100 or $100-$150.

If you’re interested in raising your prices for engagement or wedding packages, photographer Michelle Lange has a full guide on how to do so, trying a few different methods.

“When I was almost fully booked for the year, I would send out a slightly higher starting price point to the remaining inquiries I got…the price adjustment for the remaining inquiries of the year was a way for me to see if it had an impact on my booking ratio,” she wrote. “I have also gone the other direction and just upped my pricing a couple hundred dollars from one day to the next. There isn’t a right or wrong way to implement your new pricing, but if I can give you one piece of advice: Believe in what you are putting out there. Be confident in your rates. You can’t sell something when you don’t think it’s worth what it costs.”

Photographers largely said they spend more time behind a computer than behind their lens, with 58% saying they spend most of their time editing images, while only 19% said they spend the majority photographing. Nearly three-quarters said they don’t outsource any aspect of their business, but for those who do, editing was the most popular option.

Survey-takers were evenly split on whether they use presets, with 52% saying they don’t and 48% saying they do. (If you’re interested in creating and selling your own presets, we have a guide for that.)

Last year, photographer Sam Hurd provided some insight on how he streamlines his post-production in “Fast Photo Workflow.” Hurd estimates that he takes 250,000 images a year. “Every time I have to manually pop in and adjust some aspect of my workflow, I try to come up with a way that it can be automated, or adjusted for as early in the process as possible—particularly when it comes to importing and backing up new work,” he wrote.

As far as delivering images, most respondents said they deliver digital files (46%), with printed products (31%) and digital albums (19%) trailing in popularity. Dropbox was the most popular method for delivering digital images to clients.

Watch Now: Creating Portraits that Pop and get Susan Stripling’s Portrait Photography Guide.

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