Is iphoneography in your future?

// Is iphoneography in your future?

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Well last week, while doing some mindless reading online, I came across a Facebook post ripping another photographer apart. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, nothing new here. We have a photographer doing something new and we have the establishment just ripping him apart because they dont agree with him or its different. Nothing constructive being accomplished, just a bunch of people bitching. You know who you are. ; )

I did, however, think to myself, wow, this is insanity if it’s true. Someone is willing to work a wedding for $100 with their iphone! This has got to be a joke. Instead of joining the trolls and bashing this person without understanding their mindset, I opted to reach out to them and have them educate us on where this is going and how they see it working. I will save my conclusions until the end, so be sure to read and whether you agree or not, see if there is anything that can be learned from this and applied to your business. Here is the ad…

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SM >> So Nick, I have been reading a lot online about your new business model and I have seen it received with mixed reviews… thanks for taking the time to talk about it. As an entrepreneur myself, I am always curious about what needs or niche business people decide to fill and go after. To that point, can you tell us a little about your deal?

Nick  >> Well I really try and stay on top of social media and trends, what I’m doing now as part of my business is offering an Instagram Wedding package, taking advantage of the powerful camera on the iPhone 5, and the social media photo sharing network that is exploding today. It’s priced extremely low compared to your typical wedding package (starting at just $100) and targets people not able to afford the full production company for their wedding, but who still want a professional quality shooter at their wedding.

SM >> What inspired you to create this deal?

Nick>> I think it’s safe to say we’re all a member of some photographers’ group somewhere, or forum of our peers in the professional shooting world. It seems like we all have to deal with wedding inquiries from people that just can’t afford to pay us what our services are worth. A lot of photographers vent in those forums about how frustrating it is having so many “leads” fall through because the client felt they were overpriced, or they were undercut by another photographer. I coupled the affordability issue with the explosion of social photo sharing, and the dominance of social media today to come up with the “InstaWedding”. It’s my way of filling that void. There are a lot of challenges to this as a new product, and I’m not going to say it’s the perfect offer right now, but putting it on the table is a great way to refine it – and people are going to love the results, especially if they’re social media nuts like the rest of the modern world. I think a big challenge, or short coming of this kind of wedding, is that the older folks are gonna struggle understanding what exactly is going on.

SM >> So its not a gimmick? This is a legit deal? Not trying to upsell them or anything?

Nick >> This is a legit stand-alone deal right now. It does have it’s caveats to make it so that I don’t choke myself out with driving across the state to shoot a $100 wedding on an iphone. Right now, through my page people in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene can take advantage of the offer for $100. Anything outside that range, there is a charge for mileage driven. But other than that bit of fine print, a Benjamin Franklin bill will get a professional wedding photographer at your wedding.

SM >> Tell us about some results you have seen with this.

Nick >> The thing I’ve seen most of is blow-back from the photography community. The idea has been ridiculed in public and private, laughed off by some and outright mocked by others. Our business is pretty competitive, and one thing I know that gets frustrating for some shooters is competitors underselling the same products creating that feeling of “stolen” business – but this is an entirely different product, a new thing all together. I think people forget that all innovation started as the butt of industry experts jokes before they became fixations in society. Guglielmo Marconi, the man who invented long distance radio was actually institutionalized by his friends for his theories – let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. All joking aside though, apart from a few close friends providing tongue-in-cheek support for the endeavor, photographers as a group aren’t very receptive to the idea.

On the business side of things I’ve had a few email inquiries from interested parties, college students who really connect with the social presence I’m offering, and even a wedding from a woman who is on a fixed retiree income trying to help pay for her daughters special day. They’ve been pretty receptive to the concept so now we’re just locking in details. The price is the selling point for all of them, not everyone can afford to spend $2000 or more on a wedding photographer and still hope to survive financially, especially in this economy.

The other thing I’ve noticed, which I didn’t really factor into things, was a whole lot more traffic on my company facebook page – it may not have spurred a fire sale of new likes, but social reach is way up over 1300% according to the metrics on the page, and messages are coming in, and I get a few new likes here and there.

SM >> How do you stop it from cannibalizing your main business? Aren’t you worried you are sending your brides the wrong message? What if you book one of these 100 events and then a real bride tries to book you?

Nick >> Realistically I do worry about this cannibalizing my main business, which is why I’m already working on ways of improving this offer to make sure that I can still survive as a company. What I’m offering now should be looked at as a Beta test. I’m putting a product into the market, something that challenges the status quo, and seeing if there is a real interest in it as a product. If there is, I’ve got a few ideas on how to offer this and not become JUST an InstaPhotographer. That’s not a title I want, I’ve spent years learning how to produce a really great photograph and I have some great tools in my belt to get that done. So, right now I’m considering caps on how many of these I take on, making it a short-booking only offer where they could only book it within 2 weeks of the wedding, offering it as an add-on product to my main wedding clients, and to other photographers too. Those few photographers supporting me that I mentioned earlier, a few of them have already have taken me up on this offer and are presenting this option to clients like a photobooth add-on. That may be where this finds it’s footing, as an extra and not a stand alone.

You do bring up two issues here that I have been putting some serious thought into. The first being scheduling, right now I’ve got an open 2013 because I’ve been off the wedding circuit doing corporate work overseas, editorial fashion work, finishing my college degree, and I just earned my commercial helicopter pilots license. So I’ve been busy and away from bridal shows and marketing for weddings which is going to be changing now that things are leveling out. The Short-booking idea is the one I’m leaning most towards, keeping me wide open for full scale wedding bookings up until it’s time to cut the red wire. Alternatively, I work often with Interns from local schools. I bring them on as second shooters or assistants and I’m really picky about the quality of their work before I put them on my brand – if an InstaWedding conflicts with a full scale wedding I do reserve the right to send a representative photographer in my place, and I’d go with one of my interns.

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The second thing was sending the wrong message, which I don’t think will be a problem is this product is managed properly. It can’t be the only thing that people see, which means it needs to be done in moderation, tempered with the real deal wedding photos. I want a couple to see the quality of photography I offer and be inspired to hire me for a full scale wedding. Offering the InstaWedding is my way of sending a message to those couples on a budget, letting them know that there is an alternative than using their cousin Joe Snuffy and getting terrible shots they regret for the rest of their lives. It may be unconventional, but the real value in hiring a pro isn’t the gear he or she brings, it’s their eye and technique, photographers see the world differently than people with cameras.

I’m probably one of the more affordable of the wedding photographers in my peer group, my greatest mentor is regularly booking (and totally worth) $6000 weddings in Arizona, but even being as affordable as I am I find I spend just as much time in consultations as I do dodging attacks about my price and claims that they can get a wedding photographer on craigslist for $600. I’ve seen first hand what those craigslist fauxtographers do with weddings, and the results are always devastating for the families that take the short cut. Now there is a product option they can trust – a professional photographer, with a reputation and skill, for a price they can afford. The catch, they have to be forward thinking and open to a brand new medium.

SM >> I see you are still charging for prints… but how much can you make vs how it might impact your brand?

Nick >> The second part of shooting a wedding is selling the tangible goods, and the same goes for the InstaWedding. The products are inspired, and fun for couples to get and give. I’m estimating that a couple will spend as much on prints or more as they did to have me at the wedding in the first place. The photos are small by design, so the products are too, and because of that they’re relatively inexpensive which I think will inspire a customer to think about buying more products as gifts. Think about it like those impulse items at the cash register when you check out. They don’t put the $300 iPods up there, because they wouldn’t sale a single one. They put $2 packs of gum and $5 laser-pointers up there because they’ll sale a ton of them to people who didn’t even know they needed wintergreen and lasers. It’s my attempt at predicting consumer mentality for 2013 – I think that if we can offer really engaging products that are unique at a lower price, we’ll sale more. I really believe that the products offered in this will inspire people to shop, and at the end of the day people are going to have their minds blown by new ways of displaying their wedding photos.

SM >>  Are you worried about the referrals that might come in with brides on the lower end now?

Nick >> I love referrals, from anywhere. in fact I welcome them from anywhere, and if the low-end is where they’re coming from than it’ll be a volume year. Especially right now while we cut our teeth on this product and refine our approach the more of these the better and I’m leaving this offer on the table until I develop a really killer business platform for this kind of product. Before I can get there I’m gonna need to be in the trenches, learning what does and doesn’t work about this product, what’s appreciated on the exit surveys and what didn’t work. I think i’m onto something here, but we don’t know enough to really call it a slam-dunk.

I think a lot of the blow back from fellow photographers I’m seeing is because now brides have an option. Before they would either go into serious debt for a big production full scale wedding or suffer the consequences of hiring a craigslist fauxtographer, it’s a seedy punishment the photographer elite wish on people who don’t take the plunge for all the bells and whistles. Now the bride that can’t afford the full scale can still bring to their day something spectacular, and they dodge the burn of a bad shooter.

SM >> What would perfection be for you? Meaning… I see you charge a decent amount for your weddings… are you trying to upsell, etc and get this to a certain sales average to make it worth your time?

Nick >> Perfection for me would be seeing this become really popular as a wedding add-on, but also being a good time filler for the company. At the end of the day I’m not a full time wedding photographer, I prefer the editorial fashion world, and the corporate projects that take me overseas. My perfect year would be one where I’m doing a half dozen full scale weddings total all with the InstaWedding added into them. At the same time to have this as a stand alone product that I can send company employees/interns to I think would make for a great marketing tool. We’re bringing in small coins in the big picture of things, but we’re reaching people at no marketing cost, and there is real value in that.

SM >> Speaking of time, doesn’t this just destroy the value of your time? Wouldn’t your time be better spent working on marketing, family, etc?

Nick >> I consider this a form of marketing, the InstaWedding is relatively simple to shoot, and extremely easy to edit and upload. The trade off is my brand gets exposure and facetime with people that wouldn’t normally see an ad, or even have known that my company exists, and I’m paid to market to them. In this phase I’m willing to put my time into this because I really think that this is the next big, logical, evolution of our market – what I learn now will come back to me time and time over again, I believe that. While my competitors are musing in forums about their most recent email debate with a disgruntled shopper I’ll be handing out business cards and shooting a wedding while we’re sending out branded packages of prints to clients that in years past would have been looked over because they couldn’t afford to hire a pro on.

SM >> So what are your final thoughts about all this and the feedback you have received?

Nick >> Things are changing way faster than our industry is willing to adapt to those changes. We try our best, but we are still a profession of people clinging very dearly to the roots of photography, and the mantra that is as old as the camera itself – that only a professional with professional equipment is a professional. That just isn’t true anymore, the value of a professional still is paramount, but the equipment and the medium is changing as quickly as you can tweet about it. The mobile camera has reached a point where it is offering competitive quality and equivalent megapixel counts to some DSLR’s, and as a society we’ve never been so wrapped up in instant-gratification, social-connection, and media saturation, than we are right now. Instagram reached 5 billion photo uploads more than twice as fast as flickr reached the same number, it’s been out a fraction of the time as twitter has and it already has more members actively using the service daily. When facebook bought the service they crossed the 100 million user mark, and the app was being downloaded 10 million times a month.

This product, the InstaWedding is revolutionary in that it brings the world of photography a half decade forward into the present and makes a practical business application out of the social boom. It takes advantage of the social networks that are in place, the powerful camera products coming to us from developers, and blends them together into a product that is not only appealing but it’s wildly affordable. Like any new thing it still has bugs and tweaks to be sorted out, but it’s here and it’s not going anywhere. I will continue to offer the service and refine it this year, making it a permanent part of my company. The products we can offer will only continue to expand as the application grows, the quality can only go up as mobile cameras continue to improve with every new generation of tech.

From a marketing standpoint I predict this will become an instrumental tool in my sales and branding arsenal that will increase sales of full scale products, such as weddings. I guess, to wrap up I want to take a moment to reply to the photographers out there that are thumbing their noses at the idea right now. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876 and it was said that it had “too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication”. Right now a lot of photographers are taking the same ground that the Western union took back in 1876 – they’ve picked up the fight against the telephone. Well guys, it’s already rocked the world once, and I’m going to make sure that I’m at the tip of the spear as we get ready to use it to rock the world again.

My final thoughts >> Look I am not going to lie here. I think the idea is insane. Would I ever recommend giving up a Saturday for $100 or even $200?? No Way! I have other things to do. However, I also can’t sit here and lie and say that my mind hasn’t been spinning with ideas of how to incorporate something like this into my business immediately! Not next week or next month… TODAY! There is a part of this that is pure genius! One thing is undeniable. Today’s client wants immediacy. Nick is spot on with that. Every wedding I go to, I am surrounded by people stealing my shots with their iphones and posting online before we get to the reception. Most of the times, while we are in the church! How can i compete with that?

Today, we post teasers to Facebook the next day. Even then, I am behind every guest. What if there were a way for me to post during the event? Sure, I have a hundred other things to worry about on the day of the wedding, but imagine if I found a way in my workflow to incorporate this into my wedding day coverage. My first wedding for 2013 isn’t until March. I can tell you this, I will be posting events to Facebook real time and I don’t plan on charging my brides a dime! This is 100% marketing genius and will have every guest at the event checking my Facebook page with anticipation of the next shot being uploaded… That to me is priceless!

Nick has inspired me to think outside the box. Are you inspired or enraged? Sound off.

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Is iphoneography in your future?

with behindtheshutter time to read: 16 min
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