zion brides logo top wedding vendors utah moab sedona grand canyon the knot wedding wire

Zion Brides Planning guide for southwest destination elopements

Including Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California wedding vendors

Planning your wedding in Zion, Sedona, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands?

BRIDES

ADVERTISE

Get Featured

BLOG

PLANNER
5 Ways to Grow a Wedding Photography Business in a Saturated Market
ashley justin photography entrada venue planner photographer venue zion national park planner event company business34

 

How do you become one of the top wedding photographers in a highly saturated area (like Southern Utah)?  Newer photographers have asked these two if people actually pay them $5k per wedding.  Not only is it true, but that was before tips.  Then photographers want to know how.  This post is to help share what Ashley & Justin did and how they made over six figures photographing weddings in one of the toughest markets in the country.

How to grow a Wedding Photography business

When my wife, Ashley, originally asked me in 2016 if I would join her in being a wedding photographer (in the overly saturated area of Southern Utah) I had to pass.  I didn't doubt Ashley would rock anything she touched, but even with her mad skills and my... ability to recognize those skills, I didn't see a route that could lead us to make a good income from it.  Ashley truly was (and remains) the kind of woman who wrangles and conquers anything she puts her mind to; I was more of an Excel/Research nerd who worked in an office.  I was a Senior Corporate Analyst for another business at the time and being a new photographer just seemed like a bridge too far.

Anyone can pick up a camera, right?

Honestly, I’d dabbled in photography (who hasn’t?) on numerous occasions and enjoyed art classes in high school. But most of that artistic interest took a backseat when I got my business degree and went into sales.  I didn't consider myself very artistic.

Then one evening in September, Ashley asked me to watch a workshop of a husband and wife team who laid out some of the tricks of the photography trade (how to properly backlight someone, how to compose a shot...).  She said if I watched it with her, we could eat Chinese food.

how to make money as a photographer ashley and justin photography 5000 full time income1

My wife and I shortly after we started Ashley and Justin Photography

Chowing down on some orange chicken, I watched half-heartedly.  I didn't want to say it, but part of me thought it might be a fun challenge to take on a new industry, but overall wedding photography looked like the bottom of a steep hill, with thousands of competitors all gathered fighting for space on the trail. 

When we finished, I secretly ran the numbers to see what the top photographers seemed to be making.  At the top, there were definitely some big hitters-- the trouble was how to break from the bottom echelon?  How do you compete with a crowd of other talented people all trying to do the same thing— make a full-time income in photography?

ashley justin photo tambra zion red rock chalet boho southern utah wedding photographer rockie mountain bride utah valley bride zion brides15 nikon best camera

If you're new to photography or have been at it for some time and still not getting the results you want, I feel you.  The long hours, the seemingly endless slog of duties, social media management, website building through drags and drops, video after video of learning all the tools and camera buttons, trying to get those first jobs over noisier people... it's a whirlwind.

To break into the top echelon of wedding photography vendors in Southern Utah, Ashley & I had to figure out how to stop looking into the mud while we waited for clarity.   What I'm going to discuss below wasn't easy to come by and is the cumulation of a lot of late nights, customer insight (which I want to claim some credit for, but Ashley is the ultimate client expert), and trial and error.   Once we figured out these steps, we started climbing quickly. 

How we faired through COVID

As a side note, (we weren't, ahem, immune to the struggle that caused, either, but we did fair better than most).  Thanks to networking, which we cover below, we not only stayed afloat but became one of the top photographers for the adventure bride!  Our prices for wedding photography were briefly lowered to accommodate brides during a tough time, but our elopement packages took off in a big way.

Within a relatively short time, we not only reached our goal of $5k a wedding (or $5.5k with tip), and it wasn't with a big Instagram presence or a major marketing budget, or even the best cameras on the market (though we recommend getting a good like this one to start off on the right foot), our strategy was fivefold.

That being said, here are my 5 big tips that took us from making $500 on our first wedding to $5k in one of the most saturated markets in America.

#1. You're Not a Photographer...

nikon camera wedding photography which cameras are best for weddings nikon canon lenses body

Photographers make pretty pictures, but clients want more...

The first thing Ashley and I agreed on going into photography was we wouldn't be 'starving artists'.  Right off the bat, we decided we were business people who took pretty photos-- not photographers who were trying to do business.

This meant in all our dealings, whether with clients or fellow vendors, we were professionals.   We felt that "artists" had the moniker of being notoriously flaky, unreliable, and more often than not "starving".  On the other hand, professionals got the job done!

Of all the steps, this may have been the most important for the groundwork of our business.  It helped us see through a different lens (pun not intended) when we considered our delivery time, our consistency, our process, our relationships with other planners, venues, vendors, etc., and how we engaged with the client.

It's true, in order for it to work, we HAD to provide a beautiful product.  Having gorgeous galleries just proved to be symbiotic with our business plan.  We knew that no amount of pretty photos would make up for a poor experience, and no great experience would make up for terrible photos.  The idea came when we heard over and over from clients all these horror stories of photographers they'd worked with.  This leads me to tip #2...

#2. You Need to Solve a Problem

ashley and justin photography southern utah elopements best wedding2 (19)

In order to do that, we had to understand our ideal client

As we'd scroll Instagram, we saw refresh-after-refresh of beautiful photos from so many new and tenured competitors.  If our clients wanted beautiful photos, it would be easy for them to find them.  How would we stand out?

Who is our customer?  I remembered from sales that people only buy when they see you have something that solves a problem.  That came from understanding your customer.  And our customers couldn't just be "people getting married".  It was too broad.  So we had to answer this question-- who did we want to attract?  If we knew what kind of client we wanted, we'd better understand the problem we'd be solving.  We knew we wanted "best-friends-in-love" as our client because that's what Ashley and I were.  We loved being together and building each other up.  We loved hiking together and making each other laugh.   So we built our brand around best-friends-in-love.

Super Tip: Never do this

Never say you're the photographer for 'everybody'. If you're the photographer for everyone, then you're also the photographer for no one. It's tempting because you don't want to miss out on a client.  But believe me, the actual result is no one thinks of you when they're searching for a vendor or giving a referral because nothing about your business stands out.  f you're not sure who your client is yet, that's okay. We'll go into that in another post.

What was our style?  Based on our client, we assumed they'd probably want mostly happier photos, so for our style, we went with natural colors and romantic poses.  We'd also never do overly demure or trending poses that involved the couple looking in opposite ways, seeming disconnected.  There wasn't anything wrong with those kinds of poses, we just knew it wasn't the right fit for our client.  We wanted joy in our photos as a style choice.

To get this client, we needed to do a few free shoots and styled shoots (it would help us show our couples what we were about).  Then when we were done and delivered the photos, we'd ask them for reviews to help build some credibility.  And, just as important, make sure we did step #3...

SOLVING A PROBLEM: By the way, these were the most common problems we heard from clients about other *photographers:

-"It took forever to get my photos back"

-"My Photographer ghosted me.  It's been a year, I still haven't seen my photos"

-"They were rude, impatient, or only seemed to want to know when they were getting paid"

-"Family photos on the wedding day took forever..."


*These were critical to us when we made our strategy (see the next step).  Clients give the best feedback when you're not even asking for it.   

#3. A Consistent Process: Building Blocks of Growth

ashley & justin photography southern utah rocky mountain utah valley bride st george wedding14

Professionals keep a consistent process that feeds their business

If I knew one thing about business, it's that referrals make for the best clients.  They're also the essential lifeblood of the service industry.  So if we wanted former clients to give referrals, we had to make sure we gave an experience that was reliable, positive and consistent.  It was referrals that got us up to $5k, so whether they filter in from clients, vendors, and/or both, new clients are willing to pay more if someone they trust recommends you.

That's why our process needed to be repeatable.  It was like eating at Subway.  No matter where you eat in the whole U.S., every sandwich is made the same way.  You always know what to expect.  When you recommend a restaurant to someone else, you want to be sure it'll be the same experience because it reflects back on you.  It's your credibility.

That's why every referral needed to have the same experience across the board.  To do that, we had a template.

Our Process-- every time

Note: *How did we deliver so fast?

-The moment we had sessions on the calendar, we would plan out how many days it would take to edit.  Regardless of whether it was a formal session or a full wedding day, we wanted it to be done within 7 days' time.  Sticking the schedule was critical (and often where your competition will struggle).  Your delivery doesn't have to be 10 days.  In fact, we heard customers say repeatedly they were shocked it would be so quick.  Within a month is still impressive.  But whatever it is, make sure it's consistent.  If you're doing weddings part-time, that's okay.  Just deliver within the time frame you promised and you'll build trust much more quickly.

#4. Make Some Friends In the Industry

ashley justin zion red rock oasis wedding planner Utah Wedding Photography Zion Brides St George Elopement12

As they say, "no man is an island"

I remember walking into our first bridal shop when we barely had a name for ourselves.  We knew that we needed to do some styled shoots to up our branding-- it also afforded us a critical opportunity to shake some hands and get to know some other businesses. 

We knew that, before brides picked photographers, they often visited jewelers, planners, venues, and wedding dress boutiques.  That meant our referrals would mostly come from them.

We needed to meet some of the bridal shops out there to get a dress for our model.  The only trouble was-- word on the street was that photographers ruined dresses-- they returned them dirty or ripped or both and refused to do anything about it.  That was an artist's approach.  To be professionals, we'd have to build some serious credibility.  That was easier said than done.

Our first shop told us they didn't work with photographers.  After hearing how some of their dresses came back, we understood why.  One photographer had returned a dress with mud all over the train, then told the shopkeeper, "Not my problem".  The shopkeeper didn't even get images to share on social media when it was all done.  So right away, we told her we respected how she felt and asked if we could do something else for her first.  It didn't seem right to make her stress about how we would handle a dress considering she'd never met us.  So instead we offered to do her team's headshots (and maybe a few shots of the boutique so she could share them on social media).

She said she'd LOVE headshots, she'd wanted them for some time.  So we arranged a time and let her team know to get themselves all jazzed up for the photos.  Not only did she and her shop love the photos, but she was also willing to let us borrow a dress for our shoot.

When the shoot was done, we returned the dress (cleaned based on her instructions) along with a thank you note and a link to the images of the gallery.  After that, we borrowed dozens of dresses and were sure to follow that same process.

Networking is more than getting someone on board with your business

It's solving each other's needs and building a relationship of trust.  They'll know when you just want to get something from them.  The relationship should feel like a give-and-take.  As they say, a rising tide raises all ships.

#5. Brides Need To See You Exist

ashley & justin photography southern utah rocky mountain utah valley bride st george wedding01 (1)

That's easier said than done, but it can be done

Getting Published

An essential step if you want your business to look more legit...

It's one of the best feelings to find out you're going to be published in an important magazine.  It plays a big role in making your business gain exposure through (typically) bigger accounts and websites, as well as giving you badges to add to your front page.  Customers are always looking for credibility with a new photographer they don't know, and this is a good one. 

Ways to get published:
 • Submit your work directly through websites like Utah Valley Bride, Rocky Mountain Bride, or Zion Brides depending on your gallery.  If you have an adventure couple who had their destination bride in Southern Utah, Zion Brides is the way to go!

• Get an account at Two Bright Lights and begin submitting to publishers.

Submitting directly

Sending galleries individuually

Most publications have their own form.  In fact, some may prefer to have exclusive content. Odds are they'll specify in the form.

Two Bright Lights

Submit to several publications

It's fast and usually allows you to submit to several publications in a short time.  It's great if your favorite magazine is available on TBL.

Getting Our Images in other businesses

This one's less obvious, but became a value to both side, fellow vendors and our own business...

Along with connecting to vendors, we also wanted to have our work shown where brides would be looking shortly after getting engaged.  So we used our HD printers to give large prints as gifts to the wonderful vendors who had helped us with styled shoots along the way.  The ring shop had provided us all the jewelry we needed, so we printed a few large images for their store.  The bridal shop had been awesome at lending us dresses, so we gave them prints of their dresses.

We also ALWAYS delivered our galleries (weddings, styled shoots, elopements) to any vendors involved so they could tag and share us with their own audience.  Vendors always appreciated it because then they had content of their own.

And, of course, when brides would ask, "Who did those?"  They would say, "It was these guys" and refer them to us.  

▶seo-friendly website

This takes a lot of time and research, but it's worth it...

Learning how to optimize your wedding website for search engines (Search Engine Optimization = SEO) takes a lot of time, both to learn and execute.  But once you have it down, your brand awareness can take off in a big way.  Here are a few high-level tips:

Make sure your images include search-friendly terms in their meta description, such as "southern Utah photographer", "Zion wedding photographer".  Also know that it's a fairly crowded space, so it's never a bad idea to include more terms others might not think about, like "top photographer elopements".  Do your homework here, it's worth the time.

Use a good host.  This hurt a lot at the beginning, as we were using a cheap host (we were just starting out and I didn't understand websites when I first started), and our site crashed frustratingly often.  It wasn't till we switched to a much more reliable host (we use SiteGround) that we found our site was more secure, reliable, and even had backups of our site if anything happened!

SiteGround: Ultra-fast hosting, free email, CDN, and backups.  Get 80% off for a limited time. (Recommended Affiliate of Zion Brides)

There's so much more to unpack here, but we'll go into that in another article.

SOCIAL MEDIA..

I'll be the first to admit I don't love social media.  I love the people I interact with, but it can feel like the beast that has to be fed.  

Funny enough, most of our customers didn't come from social media (they were referrals).  Our Instagram leads were often our lowest-converting clients.  However, we also found that not keeping up on Instagram had the potential to make us look like we weren't active or still in business.  In fact, referrals often checked our social media first before reaching out to us. 

Love it or lump it, social media is the beast that needs to be fed.  Be sure to keep it updated and active so any clients passing your content realize you're still in the game.  It's another cog in the wheel-- and while it wasn't our biggest direct funnel for clients, some vendors say it's where they get the majority of their leads.

Important Tip

When it comes to social media, only show the content that you want to attract more of.  In other words, if you want more of a certain kind of wedding or client, show as much of that on your feed as possible.  If you love outdoorsy clients, then showcase mostly outdoor content.  If you don't have the ideal content for the client you want, create it with a styled shoot.  

Bonus: Avoid showing too many 'detail' shots.  We've found most customers want to see people in your feed.  

 

These are 5 of the key items we'd highly recommend to anyone trying to grow in the wedding photography industry, whether they're new or tenured.  Not only will it give your business a big boost, but it's also something everyone can do (lucky for you, most people don't).  Want some help growing your photography business?  Just give us a shout in this form and we'd be happy to help answer your questions!

Have some questions?

 

 

Are you getting married or eloping?  Don't do anything until you've read this guide!

 

 

Recent Posts
zion brides logo top wedding vendors utah moab sedona grand canyon the knot wedding wire
The Top Resource for Adventure Couples & Destination Brides
Zion Brides feature wedding wire knot
ZB Team Since 2018
Zion-Brides-LATEST-Utah-Weddings-Logo
The Top Resource for Adventure Couples & Destination Brides
Featured on Zion Brides 2023 Dark Badge
ZB Team Since 2018

Follow Us

Zion Brides Utah Weddings Logo

Sign up to receive our free ZB Wedding Guide, as well as updates, inspo, tips, vendor insights, and more straight to your inbox!

Leave a Reply

Search Zion Brides

zion brides destination magazine elopements weddings southern utah fall 2022 cover

Zion Brides' First Online Magazine

The perfect digital guide for adventure couples bringing their wedding/elopement
to epic places in and around Southern Utah

NOW AVAILABLE
alt

SUBSCRIBE TO ZION BRIDES

Fun, interesting, dreamy posts from your favorite wedding guide

Welcome to ZION BRIDES

Our online inspo publication, started in 2018, has helped countless brides find everything from how to build their dream wedding to the vendors that can make it all possible.  We've achieved our mission of becoming the top site for adventure couples and destination brides and want you to see why!  Our staff has years of experience in the industry and loves showcasing the work of the talented members of the Southern Utah wedding collective.  Need Inspo?  Need Tips?  Need Vendors?  Let Zion Brides be your guide...

Zion Brides is honored to serve the Destination Brides of the World, especially those looking to have their destination wedding or elopement in and around Southern Utah.

Our inspiration covers all the most dreamy venues and locations from Zion National Park, Bryce, Moab, Snow Canyon, and more-- even showcasing incredible places like Sedona and the Grand Canyon. 

SEARCH ZION BRIDES

Need some ideas?  Looking for planners or venues?  Start here...