#LetsTalk Ep 3: Wedding Photography Biz (#CoupleGoals)

Part of me sharing my ongoing learning journey, includes conducting interviews with people close to me who inspire me in so many ways. Evan and Shannon are a newly engaged couple, who are running a wedding photography and videography business within the greater Toronto area. Part of the reason why I wanted to interview these two, is because of my strong admiration for their individual characters, and how complimentary they are to each other as a couple. Evan is a really good friend of mine, whose humility, charm and serving heart is one that I admire so much, I doubt he realizes how much he has impacted my internal growth for the better. Shannon is a genuine and soft hearted woman whose ability to appreciate the simplest things in life, and be grateful for everything that each day brings, is a treasure that I truly believe is key to human contentment. In late May, on Instagram I saw Evan on his knees proposing to Shannon overlooking the eiffel tower, this swavé move and love story had to be shared on this platform.

Evan is completing in business degree at the University of Toronto, Shannon just graduated from photography at Ryerson University. This dynamic duo was truly a match made in heaven. Just when Evan was getting fed up of the linearity of academia forcing business students to work in the financial district for their school placement, Shannon's love for photography did not have a strong business structure. That is when, the couple joined forces to run what is now a successful enterprise. Choosing to run a business as a couple is somewhat scary if you think about it. The wedding photography industry is extremely competitive, if you don’t believe me just google it. That’s why it begs the question, how do you keep the romance in a relationship? How do you separate business from personal and intimacy when running a company as a couple?

Full podcast Interview - Part I: Listen Here
Full podcast Interview - Part II: Listen Here

Q1. What was the starting point of Shannon Robbins photography?
Shannon - It started because I have been taking photos my whole life. I would take pictures of literally everything, from my dog, to my family, to dragging my sister to the forest and making her pose. I always enjoyed being creative, and so I decided to go to university for photography. Then my friend was getting married in 2013, and she asked me to be the lead photographer. I photographed that wedding, but even then it wasn’t like I wanted to do it (photography) full-time, at the time it was more like ‘I will photograph this wedding until I figure out what I want to do for living’. I think over time, photography started falling into my lap as people kept asking me to photograph their weddings. Then Evan and I started dating shortly after, at the time he wasn’t really into the art and I didn’t have an official photography business. But then, he (Evan) started to really believe in me and showing me that my photography could be a bigger thing, so it started coming together really well.

Q2. Being plugged into a community to facilitate success
Shannon - The first community that really exposed me to the possibilities of wedding photography, was my church, because everyone is getting married there. From that, the online wedding photography and instagram community has been welcoming.

Q3. How would you describe your brand
Evan - This summer was our first official wedding season, and we have learned through photographing different weddings that each wedding is so different from the other. Some weddings that we shot, we really enjoyed the style, others not so much. It is really hard to identify your brand and niche. Ultimately for us, our main desire is to create work that shows the genuine emotions and intimacy that these couples share with each other. Since each couple that we shoot is unique, it is hard to brand ourselves.

Shannon - I was told recently that, you should wait at least three years into your business before you brand yourself. Up until that point, you don’t really know what you want to do because you haven’t explored that many avenues. That’s why, I choose that route with our business because branding is so much pressure. However, Evan is great that way because he is always remind me the importance of branding as we learn.

Q4. How do you transition from what seems like an artistic skill that most people can pick up, to a business that people are willing to pay for?
Shannon - One, anyone can get a camera but just because you have it, doesn’t mean you know how to properly use it. Some people have the best cameras, but shoot on auto the entire time. It’s like me going to the store, and buying a lot of cooking books and call myself a chef, but then once you eat my food you won’t think of me as a chef. Secondly, in terms of creating a business, I am a photographer but the client experience and customer service provision sets me apart. Thirdly, weddings are very stressful and there is a lot of pressure, if you don’t love it and you’re not that passionate about it, you will get burnt out very fast.

Evan - A lot of people who pick up a DSLR, most of them don’t go into wedding photography. They go towards trendy stuff like street photography. For us, it’s not as much as a competition, because weddings are stressful and a lot of pressure that most people with professional cameras don’t bother going into as a job.

Q5. Setting your price point in a way that attracts willing-to-pay clients, but not so low that you are not making a living?
Shannon - What’s hard about charging towards the higher price point, is that people often see a number and think ‘that’s what you’re saying I am worth the day of my wedding’. Let’s say you charge someone $2,000, they may think ‘am I really going to pay someone that much just to take pictures the day of my wedding?’, but what they don’t realize is the amount of work that goes into being a photographer from the initial email communication exchange to the actual wedding day.

Evan - In any business, people are willing to pay for the value they see in you. If you are able to brand yourself in a way that shows off your value, that’s key. If you think of it in two ways, one way is the concrete way of thinking which is that I am providing a service from taking pictures, editing, and collaborating. The second way of thinking is more abstract; you are capturing memories and if you only get married once, you won’t be able to recapture this one moment where friends and family fly in to witness the start of your union. The abstract way of presenting your work, leads to people being more willing to pay for it because they see the value.
From the cost-based side, for us the profit margins are really high. Our startup cost are heavy, from camera gears, software, and website subscriptions for photo gallery delivery. However, we don’t buy new gears for each wedding. The heavy investment is at the start, but we recoup it after a few weddings. We then look at other photographers and see how much they’re charging. Some charge more because they have a stronger portfolio, so they can justify their cost through other means.

Q6. Describe yourself in 3 words
Evan - Laid back, joyful, and grateful.

Shannon - Simple, considerate, and loyal.

See: http://shannonrobbinsphotography.com/

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