Turning Stressful Weddings into Glamorous Experiences with Phillip Blume
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I began to smile as the breeze swept across my hot brow. But my expression fell with a crash. All at once, shattering glass broke the quiet calm in the elegantly decorated garden. I spun around where I stood photographing a floral arrangement and regained my balance just in time to watch the dramatic domino effect—rows of precariously erected posts strung with delicate light bulbs, pulling each other down onto the stone terrace.
The starry ceiling that had floated above the reception patio crashed to the earth and now lay like a sea of sharp diamonds shining along the white-linen shores of draped tables. An electrical technician stood like a statue in the midst of the wreckage, fingers still clutching the last few unbroken bulbs—literally at the end of his rope, he let out a string of profanities that was even longer and then stormed off.
Having photographed hundreds of weddings over almost a decade-long career, I can say that weddings are not glamorous. They’re supposed to be, right? But they just aren’t. In fact, weddings are more often marked by behind-schedule makeup artists, self-important “church ladies,” overbearing mothers, insensitive toast-makers, impatient guests, inconsiderate Uncle Bobs and clumsy electrical technicians.
Notice a pattern here? If you answered, “Human beings are a hot mess,” congratulations, you win the Observant Photographer Award! But it’s not all bad news. If people’s general negativity can spoil a wedding day, it’s equally true that our professional positivity can profoundly change the atmosphere. Put another way, if I’m doing my job right, I know I can make even a stressful wedding look and feel glamorous—at least for the people who matter most, the bride and groom. My job is to protect them from the storm. It’s their wedding, after all.
Here are three steps you can take before, during and after every wedding this year to give your couples a more glamorous experience.
Early in their careers, many photographers make the same big mistake. Some never learn. We wrongly begin conversations with potential clients by making it all about us. It’s often a natural reaction that, although it seems like conceit, is actually the result of lack of confidence. I’m going to assume you are not arrogant or cocky. But you may not realize how it sounds to a client when you drone on about your experience, style, awards or yourself.
It’s a tricky balance to strike. Yes, if you’re more introverted and tend to avoid talking about yourself at all, you need to learn to self-promote and communicate credibility. This can still be a challenge for my wife, Eileen, my introverted counterpart at Blume Photography. Even after she’s won awards and taught photographers around the world for years, she still has to fight for the confidence to call herself a true photographer. She has told people, “Yeah, I’m into photography” as if it were a new hobby.
I love my wife for her humility, but her communication style wasn’t the best for business when she humbly told corporate clients that the brand-new state-of-the-art studio on our property was “just a little home studio.” It’s worth repeating: If you don’t talk highly about your own business when it deserves praise, it will become very hard for other people to do so.
Still, the less you talk in general, the less desperate you sound—and the more freedom you give your clients to introduce themselves to you. List your most important credentials in just a few strategic places (on your About page, in your email signature, on a handout bio), but become more obsessed with your potential wedding couples and their story.
When we reply to a wedding inquiry, our emails and phone calls don’t focus on a list of pricing and other information alone. That could wrongly communicate “take it or leave it.” Rather, we ask an enthusiastic set of questions that demonstrate our care and to keep the conversation going: When did you two meet? How did he propose? How’s the wedding planning going?
Or how about this: “Are there any wedding advice secrets you’ve wondered about? (They don’t have to be photo-related!) We’ve been blessed to serve a lot of amazing couples all over the world and have collected a lot of great ideas—so we’re excited to help in every way we can!” See what I did there? I was able to inject my professional credentials, but still make it about them.
A glamorous experience means your clients feel like stars. Stars get all the attention. So put the spotlight on your clients and their story first.
When you imagine a movie star’s glamorous lifestyle, what else do you envision? I immediately think about the lavish perks of the job—freebies and gifts!
Gift-giving is a universal way to make someone feel special. But it can be hard to choose the perfect gift. Ideally, you want it to be sentimental and personal. Giving your wife a dishwasher for your anniversary is technically a gift, but it utterly fails to accomplish its purpose of making her feel loved and glamorous. As a business that serves a particular demographic, you can come up with good gift ideas for newlyweds and then use them repeatedly to suit your brand. (If only I could give Eileen the same easy gift on every anniversary! I’d be set!)
We start giving gifts as soon as we meet a couple, even before they’re official clients. How many photographers do you know doing this? It’s rare, and a real driver behind our higher booking rate. When we meet a couple, we gift a simple bridal magazine and some fine chocolates to help with planning. No one sees it coming. Immediately they know we are photographers who will both meet and exceed their expectations.
After we receive their contract, we send a thank-you gift of expensive gourmet cupcakes—something completely impractical and celebratory. Many photographers we respect also send a marriage book at this point, a gift that shows your couple that you value them and their marriage. We love this idea; strong marriages are at the heart of what we believe in. Marriage books have been impactful in our marriage, too.
But we have worried about sounding “preachy” and haven’t really found a title we fully endorse enough to share with all our couples. (In at least one case we know of, a client canceled a wedding because she got offended by the book her photographer gifted her. If you ask me, her reaction was ungrateful and thin-skinned. But it’s indicative of how some people react to “advice.”) Instead, we now give empty journals couples can use to document their marriage.
There are other strategic opportunities to give gifts. If your couple has an engagement session, you can use the images for surprise photo gifts, such as honeymoon luggage tags or an easy ShootProof presentation that costs you nothing yet excites your couple and gets them marketing for you. At the end of our professional relationship with each couple, we like to surprise them with a gift card to encourage our now “old married couples” to keep dating. And I especially love the idea of gifting a photo Christmas ornament to past clients so our brand becomes a small part of their sentimental traditions every year.
When it comes to sending the right gifts or even getting rid of awkwardness in client communication, how do you get to know your clients more personally? Just ask!
Surveys are a critical tool in every serious business. We receive online surveys all the time from retailers, doctors, politicians, pest management and even fast food restaurants. So why aren’t we photographers making better use of them?
Our wedding survey asks our couples a seemingly useless question: “What’s your favorite Starbucks drink?” Everyone has one. And since Starbucks is almost everywhere, we are always stopping there for a latte on our way to a wedding shoot. We decided to deliver a surprise treat for our couples while we were at it. Now we know exactly what they like, and they feel super glamorous when we hand them something they love but didn’t expect. Believe me, the bridal party will take note, too. What better way to make an entrance?
Our surveys also ask for special family situations beforehand. Now we’re always sensitive and able to avoid the awkward “divorced parents” portrait moments that plagued our early wedding days. And because we explain that a full list of vendors makes it more likely for wedding pictures to get published, our couples provide every vendor’s web address and email ahead of time. Without searching them out, I’m able not only to deliver images quickly to vendors who appreciate it, but also to find publishers for weddings via Two Bright Lights—great publicity for us and a completely glamorous experience for our couples who likely have never seen their faces in a magazine before.
We even ask our couples, “What three words would you use to describe your wedding?” and “What do you hope your friends say about your wedding day?” This gives us insight into their dreams for this wedding they are putting so much energy into. I don’t take that lightly. I’m use those same adjectives and descriptions when I write our blog posts, social blurbs and emails to the couple.
It’s not that you want to tell people what they want to hear if it isn’t honest. But it’s known to be psychologically powerful to mirror a person’s attitudes and word usage when communicating. It makes them feel important and heard, which is what all people seek in valued relationships. If they feel their relationship with you is valuable, you’ll experience the same kind of business-sustaining word-of-mouth referrals that have allowed our business to thrive even without advertising.
If powerful and easy surveys aren’t a built-in part of your studio management system already (as ours are, using 17Hats), you can use a popular third-party survey maker like SurveyMonkey in the meantime. You can create and share a few different surveys this way for free.
Finally, to make posing more glamorous, it’s all about how the subject feels. Even if you create a “glamorous” pose, clients remember feeling awkward or stressed when they see those images later, and they don’t buy them. If they feel relaxed and spoiled during the shoot, even imperfect images sell like hotcakes.
During the wedding featured here, for example, I would never tell the cute little boy who ran into the couple’s shots “get out” or “no.” For one thing, he is the couple’s son. In my book, these authentic fun-loving pictures are just as good as the so-called perfect compositions I was trying to create. So I encouraged the silly antics, got some shots, then presented a positive idea: “Hey, buddy, do you want to come help me take some pictures?” Instead of making a child sad and stressing his parents, I made a little buddy and had a great time finishing the portraits.
Glamour is more than a look. It’s a feeling. And if there’s one thing I know from the best marketing research, it’s this: The approximately 50 percent of the market that spends more money and values artwork makes purchasing decisions based on a great service experience.
This part of the population has been termed “neos” by economists, and they are looking to feel glamorous. Don’t disappoint them this year, and they won’t disappoint you.
Watch my video to learn more about creating a glamorous wedding day experience, and visit the Photographers section of theblumes.co for a free “What’s in Our Wedding Day Emergency Kit” download.