One Wedding Photographer Calibrates Her Brand to Diverse Couples

February 8, 2019

By Petronella Lugemwa

Photos © Petronella Lugemwa

I was born in Uganda (despite what my accent may suggest), grew up in Zimbabwe and immigrated at age 10 with my family to Birmingham, Alabama, in search of a better life. My mission as a wedding photographer has become to help multicultural couples celebrate their love, heritage, families and stories through inspirational, vivid images that celebrate family, love and culture.

Growing up in Alabama was tough because I didn’t see people of different cultures being celebrated. I was treated differently because of my skin color and because I was a foreigner, so I learned to hide parts of myself, like my last name, Lugemwa, to assimilate.

This habit stayed with me for many years through my early corporate jobs until a few good friends called me out on it, and I began to slowly acknowledge those parts of myself that I’d so carefully hidden.

I wouldn’t learn how to fully articulate the multicultural niche of my photo business until I met Todd and Jamie Reichman of Reichman Photography. And yes, I have an MBA, but because I was so close to my business (it’s my baby), I invested in the Reichmans’ Atlanta-based no-nonsense business workshop to help me better refine my brand profitably. It wasn’t until Todd started questioning me about my heritage that the walls came down and the realization that I’d hidden a crucial part of myself became apparent. We began to position my business around what breaks my heart: celebrating one’s cultural identity. Before I Ieft town, we updated my website to proudly stand for multicultural weddings with this statement: I believe your cultural identity is beautiful.

I left the workshop with some ideas on how to attract my clients, including updating my website with identifiable visuals of ceremonies or couples that screamed multicultural, but it would take time before I truly understood my client. At first, I created an avatar and detailed description of them and spent money on a newspaper ad to attract newly engaged couples in my town, but quickly realized that my ideal client would never hire their wedding photographer that way. I began talking to people who were my ideal client to understand how they made their decisions and began recognizing patterns in their fears, hopes and challenges that would allow me to create better marketing tactics. For example, I might leverage the excitement of Beyoncé’s latest album release by incorporating her dance moves into a unique bridal party pose or formation or during a consult, or specifically address multicultural clients’ fears by telling them that their skin tones will look true to life in the photos and won’t be over or underexposed. I’m always researching how I market to my ideal client via social media or during consults.

Multicultural weddings are different because every couple incorporates different ceremonies, traditions, attire and food, so my team and I (consisting of a second shooter and sometimes an assistant) spend time beforehand understanding what’s important to the client. We are very knowledgeable about knowing what to look for and photograph when shooting Ugandan, Haitian, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Mexican, Bolivian, Thai, Cambodian, Trini, Jamaican, Guyanese, Ethiopian, Indian, Caribbean and Latin weddings, and when we come across a culture that we’re not familiar with, I ask lots of questions about what parts of a couple’s culture matter to them and research them online. We’re not afraid to dive in and fully immerse ourselves in whatever is happening at the wedding, and we have the stamina to keep up with the high energy that sometimes comes with being part of a multicultural wedding.

One of my favorite New York weddings was of an interracial, interfaith Muslim and Christian Nigerian-Jewish couple. They were referred to me by a venue coordinator who was in an interracial marriage and clearly understood the importance of hiring a photographer who knew how to properly photograph different skin tones, even though the couple didn’t book her venue. The couple and I connected immediately because I was very familiar with Nigerian and Jewish weddings and cultures, and I genuinely cared about them. They first had an intimate traditional ceremony a few days earlier, followed by a white wedding that included a chuppah, smashing the glass, white wedding dress, traditional Nigerian attire outfit change, foods that celebrated both their cultures, a family formal portrait session that included lots of photos of their extended families, a money dance, horah and a DJ that seamlessly kept both sides of their families dancing. We didn’t miss a beat or key moment because we knew what was coming and where to position ourselves to best capture those moments.

On Starting a Niche Brand

  • Your story, your power and your “why” lie in that very thing you’re afraid to share with the world. Ask yourself this question posed by Glennon Doyle Melton: “What breaks your heart? That’s who you’re meant to serve.”
  • Specifically describe your ideal client, why you want to serve them and what problem you can help them solve.
  • Talk to ten ideal clients that you know of via your network to understand who they are, their hopes, fears and dreams.
  • Speak to them as they speak and build a brand that shows that you genuinely care about them.

Petronella Lugemwa runs a New York-area based wedding and marriage proposal photography studio specializing in helping multicultural couples celebrate their love in a modern way. Chosen as a 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2018, she will be mentoring attendees and participating in a panel on style and trends at Rise + Shine, our three-morning workshop at WPPI 2019.

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