Business + Marketing

5 $teps for Pivoting Your Photo Brand Towards More Profit

May 19, 2021

By Stephanie Zakas

Ever thought about how you can pivot your photo brand so it becomes more profitable and you start to love what you do again? I had an epiphany of sorts when I decided to stop photographing super large weddings in Brooklyn and instead pivoted to shooting full-day elopements in Iceland!

[Read: 7 Steps to Making Your Brand a Photo Empire]

My very first job as an elopement photographer was like a light beaming down on me from the heavens. The couple flew me out from Brooklyn to New Mexico and we drove deep into the desert. After staying the night at a really fun, cheap hotel, we drove further into the desert the next morning so they could elope. It was adventurous and spontaneous, and the couple was up for anything.

Becoming an elopement photographer includes letting clients be themselves, like this fur-clad couple.
All Photos © Zakas Photography

That was eight years ago. I had already been photographing large weddings for five years at that point, but deep down I never felt 100 percent myself at them. I’m an introvert, not really into dealing with other people’s family and drama, and I’m not into the spectacle that weddings can be. My true creativity and superpowers get engaged when I can connect with the couple, capture them in their true essence, and give them a special experience. At big weddings, though, that means having only 30 minutes to an hour out of the day with just them. That’s why I decided to take the plunge, change my branding and my pricing, and move to Iceland to become a full-time elopement photographer who never looked back! Here’s how I did it (and how you can, too, no matter the photo pivot you want to make),

Step 1: Change Your Brand’s Focus by Changing Your Website

Zakas offers Iceland elopement photo coverage for all couples.

The biggest, most important changes I made that skyrocketed the transition was done almost completely on my website. I changed my marketing messaging from speaking about myself too much to relying on my images to sell my brand. It was important to not use too many cool-sounding phrases that were not clear on what they meant to potential clients—i.e. “‘authentic storyteller” and “lover of light”—and to speak instead to clients’ specific wants, needs and desires, showing how my brand could help them, and taking off all of the industry jargon a non-photographer wouldn’t even know about.

Step 2: Become an Expert—What’s Your Secret Sauce?  

elopement photo coverage at a waterfall in Iceland.

I changed the photos I showed on my site from city-based to an emphasis on nature, and became an “outdoor expert,” which was the key to opening the client attraction door for me. It’s important to figure out your market, your location of choice, the type of images you want to document and then make yourself the authority. Your potential clients should know without a doubt you are the person who can bring them what they want (and let them be who they want to be).

Stephanie Zakas website for elopements.
elopement photo coverage website offerings.

Once you know your secret sauce, your “magnetized clients” will find themselves magnetized to you—who you are as a person, not just a photographer. Some of the secret sauce I bring to the world is my ability to be so non-intrusive that I am able to sink back into the background and just observe, giving my clients the space they need to almost forget I’m there so they can enjoy being in the moment together. You might not think that your clients forgetting the photographer is there is a good thing, but for my clients and their personalities, it is.

[Read: A Guide To Elopement Photography When Couples Downsize Weddings]

Step 3: Find Your Marketing Mojo

Changing your mindset from simply saying “I offer photos and a good time.” Spell out what you do, who it’s for and why your clients need it. That will be key here for the rest of the marketing tips I dole out. Reframe your messaging to “I am offering a solution to your problems.” Then you will get hired by those couples who you are meant to serve.

Step 4: Optimize Your Website

I personally believe that your website is the most important marketing material you have. In fact, I get over 90 percent of my bookings from Google and SEO. Not only is it the biggest, most badass beast you can build yourself that will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you (while you’re sleeping), it is also the very start of your sales process.

Optimize your site with SEO, great copy and highly valuable resources your magnetized clients really want to see. Resources such as blogs and guides that you create must be actually helping your magnetized client and not just be for ranking. You need to serve up value so it converts into a client.

A great example of this is a resource I have, an Iceland Elopement Survival Guide that is targeted to my magnetized clients to offer help with navigating Iceland. My magnetized client avatar is searching for a local who lives in Iceland (which is high value for them), so when they stumble upon another person that has a high-SEO-ranking blog or landing page for Iceland, but who doesn’t live in Iceland and can’t offer a locals perspective or knowledge, they aren’t finding the help they are looking for. So for that specific avatar, they will not inquire with that other brand; they will contact the local who is found through organic search. Get my drift?

Don’t forget to optimize your photos on your site for SEO through your image sizes and alt-tags. Change out your photos to be photos your magnetized clients want to see and not what other photographers want to see. Show images they want on their walls—the sweeping landscapes they want to frolic in or the crazy waterfall they are dreaming of saying their vows under—photos that they can see themselves in (does your magnetized client love close ups or are they not into that?), photos with the type of vibe they are dreaming about for their wedding. As photographers, I think sometimes we get caught up in the trendiest photos, the coolest double exposures, but we forget we are here to serve people.

I preach over and over again that copying someone else—their brand, their copy on the site, their back-end business, etc.—is doing a disservice to you. The more unique and confident you are in yourself and brand, the easier it will be for the potential clients to also see and feel that. (Plus, Google knows when you have copied text from another website, so that’s double lame.) Your website needs to be clear, resonate with your magnetized client, have very clear calls-to-action and show them where to go next to work with you.

Step 5: Get Social With It

I use social media, Pinterest, and email for the rest of my marketing strategies to brand myself as someone who offers Iceland elopement photo coverage. The way I like to look at social media is like extra sprinkles on my brand cake. It shows more social proof, it’s another way to engage with potential clients, and it’s a way to make your captions targeted for the specific audience you are going after, showing them you are who they need. So if your want to pivot from large weddings to doing elopements like I did, for example, here are some awesome posts to consider trying: 

  • tips to help them with pain points they are experiencing (i.e. their timeline, how to pick a location and find the best venues).
  • show you understand their interests for their elopement with empowerment posts on why you love creating the type of day they are looking for. If they want to rock-climb, talk about rock-climbing.
  • describe how you and your brand executes the experience they want. Speak from your soul about your super powers, what it feels like to work with you, how you deliver what they are desiring for their day, and how to work with you with direct calls-to-action. 
Zakas photography Instagram page listed under icelandadventure weddings.

I’m not Instagram famous, but I still book from it with my 2.4k followers. In fact, I just booked a $15,200 elopement last week from Instagram. That’s because I use it as part of my marketing funnel to get people to my site. Personally, I choose to not put oodles of energy into a platform I don’t actually have control or ownership over, and an algorithm that takes more time to feed than I want to put into it, so I just use it as part of the funnel and not the whole shebang.

Iceland elopement survival guide

Pinterest is my next favorite marketing tool. I love it because it’s not a social platform; it’s a search engine, just like Google. It’s meant for evergreen materials—unlike social, which is very in-the-moment and then the moment is gone. With Pinterest, you can optimize your boards for your magnetized client, optimize the captions on the pins, and drive traffic back to your site. And while Pinterest recently had a major change on how they want people to pin—and a lot of people’s analytics dropped—I still think that for elopements and the wedding industry, it’s one of the most powerful marketing tools to use. With over 322 million users, 58 percent of them say they use Pinterest when looking to buy something.

The trick to marketing is that you want to put your energy where your magnetized clients are looking and then dish out all of the value they can handle. If your magnetized clients are on TikTok, then utilize TikTok. If they are on YouTube, then be on YouTube. If they really care about Facebook, then be where they are at on Facebook. At the end of the day, marketing is to be where your clients are and to deflect the people not meant for you.

Let’s Talk Money: How to Charge What You’re Worth

There are a lot of differences when it comes to photographing big, conventional weddings versus elopements, especially when it comes to pricing and the amount of hours spent working. In my elopement course Elope it BRAVE, I have an entire module on this because the differences affect the way you need to position your brand and marketing messaging. Because of these differences, such as the experience itself being completely unalike, I fully believe photographers should charge just as much, if not more for elopements than for a conventional wedding. 

[Read: How to Price Your Photography: Key Factors to Consider]

With elopements, especially in the high-touch, experience-focused business model I created for my brand, I am doing a lot more work for a couple than when I was documenting big weddings. The experience I’m creating is a once-in-a-lifetime event that can take an entire day. Because of that, the pricing structure is way different. My average for conventional weddings was around $3,500-$4,500 for an 8- to 10-hour wedding package with an album, and sometimes a second photographer. But, with elopements, my averages are $15,000-$20,000, with the lowest being around $13,300 and a few that are $10k+. The big difference in pricing comes down to the amount of hours I have put into my brand to hold the couple’s hand the entire way, my time planning and executing the day, and then the hours of adventure to create their story in photographs. As you can see, it’s a completely different animal than big, conventional weddings.

I’m also a big believer of creating value and not giving stuff to seem more valuable. My pricing does not include an album or print credits that come out of the profit, nor do I have a second photographer or any associates to pay. The pricing is for my time to create the badass experience for them, as well as my time photographing and developing the final product (image gallery). Printed products are extra. Why? Because I am building value all the way through and not using print as a way to ‘’value’’ stuff, as I call it. I’m not an IPS model, so I price their packages such that I don’t have to rely on any print sales afterwards.

[Read: What Does it Really Take to Photograph Adventure Elopements?]

This price is also for full-day elopements; I don’t offer any short or part-day elopements. The least amount of hours I will offer is 6, but that is rarely booked. That might seem like I’m not serving people by not offering an option for a few hours, so why would I not offer short-hour packages? Because my brand is based on creating the most awesome adventure day for them, and we just cannot do that in 2-4 hours.

It works for me because my magnetized clients are not interested in a short day; it doesn’t suit their interests. Only create packages and experiences your magnetized client would be bonkers over. If your magnetized clients would love a 2-hour power elopement, then create them. If they want a full-day, then create them. The difference is that with elopements, the hours are 100 percent more flexible, so take advantage of it. 

With big, conventional weddings, the hours are more or less dictated for you. There is an event that has a start and a finish that you have no control over. You book your hours based on a timeline that includes as much of the event or omits parts of the event that the couple chooses. Maybe you can add on a rehearsal dinner or a boudoir session, but there is not much wiggle room.

With elopements, I’m creating an experience tailor-made for the couple. They are coming to Iceland for a frickin’ adventure, so I am going to give them a frickin’ adventure. A lot of my elopements end up being multiple-day elopements so I can bring them to more amazing locations I have hand-picked for them. For your brand, you can have the same principles: find out why your magnetized clients are eloping—how can you facilitate a full experience to match that?

The elopement days booked are typically at least 8 hours, unless we are in the dead of winter with only a handful of sunlight hours. The package hours are long so we can hike, adventure, play in the wilderness, visit volcanoes and glaciers, swim in a hot river—whatever the couple wants. The fundamental difference of the type of day is it really yields more opportunities as elopement photographers to have a variety of hours, variety of days, and have much higher booking packages—which yes, is your ultimate goal!

Stephanie Zakas documented over 200 weddings, ranging from giant 650 guests in fancy NYC ballrooms to the most intimate elopements with only the couple as they traveled across the world, before she found herself and her passion and moved from Brooklyn to Iceland. She loves covering elopements because they allow her to do what she does best—connect with people, take the lead, sit back to observe, and create art that is directly influenced from the love the couple has for one another right there in front of her.