Business + Marketing

How to Fill Your Calendar with Dream Wedding Clients

May 27, 2019

By Laura Murray

All Photos © Laura Murray

I constantly hear photographers talk about how they are not booking nearly as many clients as in previous years. They say that the market is more saturated than ever before. And it’s true—with the barriers to entry at an all-time low, the market is overflowing.

While anyone can say they are a pro photographer, not everyone can book themselves solid year after year.  

So how can you distinguish yourself, cut through the noise and fill your calendar with dream clients

A collaboration between 5280 Events and Siloh Floral Artistry, and the final images strongly represent my brand’s aesthetic.

My Business Model Over Time

When running my metrics, I noticed that 100 percent of my 2019 bookings came from professional referrals, with 80 percent from wedding planners and 20 percent from other wedding photographers.

But it wasn’t always this way for me. In 2011, I had zero inquires from professional referrals. At the time, all of my clients were coming from personal connections, wedding blogs, Google and Facebook.

My business shifted in 2012 when one of my brides (who had found me on the blog Grey Likes Weddings) also hired a wedding planner, Kara Delay with Love This Day Events. That one relationship forever altered the course of my career.

While chance brought us together initially, Kara and I continued to work together. After that first meeting, I booked 18 additional weddings with her over the next seven years. Since my first wedding with Love This Day in 2012, my average booking rate has almost tripled. I attribute that, in part, to the strong professional relationships that I have built over the years.

I had this bride standing motionless for this shoot with Bluebird Productions and Prema Style, but there wasn’t enough of a wow factor so I asked her to throw the bottom of her dress to create movement. That often resonates well with my clients. 

Playing the Long Game

The year after I worked my first wedding with a planner, 23 percent of my weddings came from wedding planners. The year after that, 42 percent. And the following year, 50 percent of my booked weddings came from wedding planner referrals. Each year, my percentage has continued to grow, and as I noted earlier, 80 percent of my booked clients from 2019 have come from wedding planners. 

The change was gradual, and the key was nurturing my new and existing relationships with strong communication, then delivering an exceptional experience for both the planner and my wedding clients. As I’ve moved more toward a high-end clientele, I’ve prioritized the entire experience for both planner and my couples as much as the end result of beautiful photos, because I’ve found that overall experience is what sells me, not just having a great portfolio of images. I always work to exceed expectations whenever possible, whether it be by mailing my clients little surprises throughout the engagement process, anticipating any questions they might have, or by delivering their full galleries sooner than I quote them.

Stephanie and Scott were old college friends of mine who wanted anniversary photos to celebrate this stage of their lives. Stephanie had a specific vision and it all came together beautifully, styled by Lewis and Levy.

building relationships that will fill your year with dream clients

1. Pay attention to the relationships that come into your life serendipitously. Kara didn’t refer me for that very first wedding (we had never met prior to our client bringing us together), but she soon pitched me to her clients because I was able to earn her trust. I built that trust by being quick to respond to emails, arriving prepared and early on wedding days, working hard and with a smile all day long, delivering images consistent with my portfolio, and ultimately, I think, because she enjoys me as a person.  

My professional relationships are genuine and many of the wedding vendors I work with have also become some of my dearest friends. I truly care about them, both inside and outside of work, and I do my best to make sure they know that by checking in every couple of months and sending them personalized notes. 

2. Attend events that will put you in front of people you want to work with. Check local Facebook groups for upcoming events in your area. I live in Denver where we have an active community of wedding professionals—there’s always something happening.

Oftentimes, venues, bridal dress shops or other vendors will host industry parties with an open invitation. Ask around to other photographers for what events they are attending in the upcoming months.  

Not seeing what you are looking for in your area? Host your own event. It can be a casual gathering for happy hour at a local bar or a collaborative party that you throw with several of your friends.  

Also, take a look nationally at conferences or workshops that are a great opportunity to meet new people. I love attending Rangefinder’s WPPI conference in Las Vegas to connect with photographers from across the world, and I attend the luxury wedding and event conference Engage Summits to meet people across all sections of the wedding and events industry.

I had first photographed this bride’s sister’s engagement, rehearsal dinner, wedding  and later, her anniversary and baby photos.  When her sister got engaged, she was quick to recommend me.

3. Look for ways to maintain your existing relationships. I recently attended a local industry event and had a great conversation with Amber Fairbanks, co-founder of Banks & Leaf, about her upcoming wedding season. That one conversation led to a new booking less than three days later! She initially thought I would be the wrong fit due to style for this couple but pitched me on a whim because of our conversation. That booking would never have happened had I not attended that industry event and spoken with Amber in person.

Our relationship has been a slow progression. Amber and I first met at another networking party a few years earlier, and our initial experience working together was for a styled shoot collaboration with her business partner, Gabby Greenleaf. About six months later, a bride found us separately and booked us both. My first wedding with Banks & Leaf came together serendipitously. But I consistently did good work for them, earned their trust, and Amber and Gabby referred me our next three weddings together.  

4. Relationships are reciprocal, so try to return the favor whenever possible. Some of the weddings that I worked with Kara were referrals from her, but I was also able to refer her to clients that had found me first.

My calendar is consistently filled with clients who have a sophisticated and elevated sense of style. The planners know and understand my offerings, and they fully understand their client’s priorities. They are able to play matchmaker for a harmonious client/photographer relationship. 

Laura Murray is a Colorado-based film photographer whose work has been featured in BRIDES magazine, and on Style Me Pretty and The Knot. She is also a WPPI speaker.

Related: Six-Figure Wedding Photographer: The 3 Building Blocks of Branding for Your Ideal Client

7 Steps to Making Your Brand a Photo Empire

What Happens When the Wedding Photographer Becomes the Wedding Client