Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Last Updated 26/01/22
I’ve been a wedding photographer in the UK for nine years now and during this time I have seen the industry go through many changes. When I took my first steps in the industry, Facebook groups were just in their infancy and no such thing as Instagram. The place to be seen was still at wedding fairs and paying to advertise on Facebook seemed ridiculous as the reach you got from organic posts was just so amazing.
Back in the ‘glory days’, many wedding photographer’s marketing was just throwing a few photos on their Facebook page and waiting for the enquiries to come rolling in. Sadly this also trained us to start to think that marketing was free, that paying for marketing and advertising was a fools errand.
I also remember wedding photographer’s feeling that the industry was saturated nine years ago. Oh how little we knew! Each year it seems more and more people jump into the industry.
And I don’t blame them. Wedding photography is a great profession to be in. It is a job which can fit around your full time job to provide a great side income. Something you can scale slowly until you are ready to go full time. Many even happily juggle two jobs and get the best of both worlds. It is also a job with great job satisfaction. I enjoy it far more than my previous career in the corporate IT world. I don’t miss those days at all.
However, with so much competition. It seems the most consistent problem we have is finding our ideal customer. Ask around in wedding photography groups and perhaps you might be surprised to hear that marketing tips and advice is more sought after than how to take better photographs. As I often say, there’s no point in being the best wedding photographer nobody has heard of!
A few years ago, a fellow photographer called Chris Giles wrote an amazing blog post on what marketing worked for him. I remember how useful I found his advice & experience and I was grateful he shared it. So with that in mind and years later, I thought the time has come for me to share my own experiences. Hopefully, it will help someone too.
Please bear in mind that I'm talking about my own experiences. I am not trying to say these are the ONLY ways to find your customers, just what I have tried! Your mileage will of course vary. Just because I didn’t have success in one particular area does not mean you won’t either and vice versa!
With that caveat out, let’s begin. And in no particular order let’s start with…..
SEO - Ie. Ranking on Google
SEO or to use the longer name, Search Engine Optimisation. Technically we are talking about any search engine though in reality, we mean Google. The defacto search engine most of us use.
And more specifically when I talk about ranking on Google, I mean the organic 'free' spots. Not Google ads. I’ve never actually paid for Google ads so I can’t really comment on how effective they are.
About seven years ago, I decided to have a go at getting found on Google. I look back fondly at those days as it was incredibly easy to get onto page one for “(location) wedding photographer”. With a liberal sprinkling of keywords around my site and alt texting appropriately, I managed to rank at the top of page one for both “Nottingham Wedding Photographer” as well as “Derby Wedding Photographer”. All with my home page and within a couple of months!
Those were the glory days and at its peak, about 50% of my enquiries came from people who found me via Google.
Sadly in such a competitive market, wedding photographers upped their game and after a couple of years, it became practically impossible to rank for multiple locations with the same page.
Nowadays competition with “wedding photographer (area)” keywords is fierce. And if I was starting out now, I’d have a good think about if the effort are worth the rewards that it will bring.
If you think being on page 1 will instantly bring you loads of enquiries then I’d suggest you think again. It’s hard nowadays, really hard. Not only is SEO information widely available. Google has also got a LOT smarter. It's always been a cat & mouse game between Google and SEO folk. And right now I reckon Google is winning.
But the amount of time you need to get your content optimised, create backlinks organically and not to mention all the other technical stuff like internal linking, passing core web vitals. It takes a lot of time and know how. Time you could be better off spending elsewhere!
And what for? To get to the top of the organic free listings? Even if you do. It's not all sunshine and roses.
Think of your typical search result for a wedding photographer. You have your paid ads first, then the map listings then finally the organic spots. So even if you hold the coveted position 1 on page 1 of organic listings, in reality, you're about halfway down or more to a viewer.
To make matters worse, you are no longer just competing with other wedding photographers but large companies like Hitched whose business it is to advertise other wedding photographers! Whilst it's certainly possible to outrank them, my point is that it is another company fighting for the coveted free spots. Only they have larger budgets and specialists helping them.
One strategy which is common nowadays is to tailor pages to less common/competitive keywords. Such as a venue or smaller village/town. Sure you might not get as many searches on these pages. And it may be months before you even get a single hit. But if you have lots of these venue/town pages then you only need a few to convert to get an enquiry. It’s what I call the machine gun strategy. Fire a lot of bullets, one will hit the target eventually.
So if I wanted to improve my SEO nowadays, what would I do? Well, there's certainly no shortage of people offering you their secret sauce....for a price. Companies who will promise you the earth but do little. My strong advice is to be VERY cautious as most of these SEO companies are simply selling snake oil. Those whom I would trust to do a good job will be out of budget for your typical wedding photographer.
The one thing I would recommend though is finding someone who can teach you the SEO basics so you can do it yourself. The right way.
So what am I saying? Is SEO worth it or not? My answer is that ‘it depends’. If I was starting a wedding photography business today then in my opinion, SEO isn’t the place I would start. But if you are established already and want to put the time/effort into creating the content and getting the backlinks then it is still worth being there as part of your overall marketing strategy. But like I say, it no longer is easy for competitive keywords and is not as effective as the ‘good old days’
When I was planning my own wedding, like many others I signed up to Hitched. That was a decade ago and back in those days, the secret sauce for wedding photographers was the forum. You’d pay for your advert which would allow you to post in their forum. You’d pop your link in the signature and it was like a little advert that readers actually saw. However, the dominance of Facebook groups has really killed off most forums nowadays and I am guessing Hitched’s forum was a victim .
Over the years, Hitched has also evolved and now is owned by The Wedding Wire. Businesses can sign up for a free account but this is pretty much invisible and understandably Hitched will be happy to sell you a package that will push you up their listings.
At the time of writing, you can purchase packages to be seen in various regions. And if you are happy to pay a bit more then they can even guarantee you a top spot (ie. Top of that particular region) or spotlight (ie. Near the top of that particular region). Otherwise, you just get a ‘premium’ badge which means you rotate in that regions listings with all the other ‘premium’ members.
If you like to focus on your local area like myself, it is a little irritating to find advertisers who are advertising as a ‘Nottinghamshire wedding photographer’ but actually based in Kent or Manchester. As a business I understand why Hitched do it.
I had a free account for years which never got any enquiries but last year I decided to give it a go and managed to negotiate a deal to have top spot for both Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire for £80 a month. I was told this was an exceptional deal (more on this later). I suspect everyone gets a 'exceptional deal'
As part of your package, you also get regular thirty minute calls with an account manager whose job it is to help you maximise your experience with Hitched. I'm not sure how much of an expert they truly are. My original account manager told me to put a low start price to draw people in but it didn't seem to make any difference even after I did. The next one told me some very dubious advice which I suspect was more to try and keep me subscribed rather than in my best interests. I will leave it there.
Overall, how was my experience? Well I'm conflicted if I'm honest. It's easy to rag on a big company like Hitched. But objectively, I can't say it was a failure but I wouldn't say it was a raging success either. Let me explain.
I did get lots of enquiries, however at the same time, the quality of those enquiries were low. 99% of the enquiries were the stupid canned messages which couples can send you at a simple click of their phone/mouse.
To make matters worse, it turns out that after they’ve messaged one photographer they are prompted to send canned messages to others. The problem with this approach is that whilst you get an ‘enquiry’. The couple actually wasn’t interested enough with your work to actually do some clicking and only sent you an enquiry because it is a single ‘oh why not……’ click. The result is they rarely replied.
I tried all sorts, quick email replies, calling, texting. The engagement rate was just incredibly low. Of those who did reply, most just wanted to know “How much?” And one thing I’ve learned is that if price is their main priority then it’s a battle I rarely win.
Some photographers think the leads are fake but I would disagree. I think there's just not a great deal of investment made by most couples using Hitched. So you have to accept you are playing the machine gun tactics again.
The nitty gritty.....Right, over the course of the year, I managed to get seven bookings via Hitched. Some would say that is a good result. Except as I explained to my account manager, that for me it was still the most expensive cost per booking I have across all my advertising channels. By a LONG shot. The cost per booking works out to be around £137 per booking. Which is a fair old chunk of change!
Don't get me wrong, if I was struggling to fill my diary then I’d happily pay that. But I am very lucky in that I’m not struggling this year. If anything I’ve been way too busy. And my feeling is I can replace those seven bookings easily without having to pay Hitched £80+ a month.
That being said, I would have been happy to extend my membership on a month by month basis but I was told that isn’t possible. And I simply wasn’t happy to commit for another year with no guarantees of anything. As often said "past performance is not an indicator of future"
So for now I’ve let my membership lapse.
Would I sign up again? If I needed the extra bookings then I would definitely consider it yes. I mean if I was struggling and someone said “Hey….give me £150 and I’ll give you a £1500+ booking.” Would I agree? Yes of course! But for now it just isn’t the right platform for me.
Much like Hitched they have become a very well known player in the market. With lots of planning tools and advice for engaged couples to visit their site and of course to make money they charge suppliers to advertise on their platform.
Again they do have a free business listing option and since 2017 when I started tracking enquiries, I've had 34 enquiries and this has got me one booking. But it was for a great venue and I didn't pay anything for the listing. So I can't grumble can I? If you are not on Bridebook then I definitely would recommend you at least sign up for the free listing. I mean getting even one booking is worth it for an hour or so of your time right?
In December, I updated my profile. Added my latest photos, tweaked the copy. Added videos and updated my reviews. I then paid to ‘boost’ my listing for three months. I spent more time on my Bridebook profile than Hitched.
The first day after I paid, I got two messages! What a great start! A better result than my first day with Hitched. I was happy.
Well, it’s late January now and in that time I’ve had a total of five enquiries. Again, the quality of leads has been low with two of them not even having dates and two with a total wedding budget of £4k.
To compare, in the same period I’ve had six enquiries via Hitched and I'm not even paying them anymore!
Of course, the jury is still out since it is early days yet. I’m less than a month into my three month subscription and there’s plenty of time for things to change. I will update this post as time goes on.
In the interests of balance, I do want to mention that a photographer friend of mine also pays to advertise on Bridebook and he says he gets around one booking a month but again with a very low enquiry to booking rate. Like I've said though, this post is about my experiences but thought it was worth mentioning that.
The key difference I can see between Bridebook and Hitched is that I can pay monthly with no minimum commitment. Personally I like that flexibility and I dislike being committed to a year with no guarantees of return on investment.
More info as time goes!
*UPDATE* April 13th
It's been four months now since I started advertising on Bridebook. How has it gone? The honest answer is I don't feel it has gone great. BUT I did get one good booking during that time, so the investment has more than paid for itself.
Most of the messages never reply. Some people sending messages don't even have wedding dates or venues booked. Some have quite low budgets. It's not been the best experience if I am honest.
For now though I think I will keep the advert up for a full year and see how I feel at the end.
When Facebook groups first started, it was so easy to just put together a few photos, some copy and paste it into as many wedding groups as you could stand. Sure your engagement rate was ultra low. But whatever, it was free! Machine gun strategy!
And this is how I started my career! Priced low low, I’d spam the groups and book what I could. For years I would also reply to posts in Facebook groups from anyone looking for a wedding photographer. However, due to the fact it’s free, the poor person posting would be inundated with replies. It isn’t unusual to get over 100 replies in under an hour on the larger groups. And that’s not including all the suppliers who would privately message the bride all trying to get the booking. I’ve even seen photographers in America throwing their hat in the ring for a booking in the UK!
It was a clumsy way to market but I got a few bookings a year, so given it was zero cost (except for my time), I felt it was worth it.
As I slowly increased my prices, the less effective it was. To the point where I don’t bother now.
Plus the Facebook algorithm is much smarter nowadays and the adverts you put into these wedding groups are far more likely to be shown to other wedding photographers rather than engaged bride & groom’s.
My advice is if you are trying to build a sustainable business, not to use this as a means to advertise. Nowadays, I pop on now and again in a few selected groups to offer advice only but as a way to advertise it is totally ineffective.
I will confess I have never had much success with paid Facebook adverts. That’s not to say it isn’t a good way of advertising. I know many wedding photographers who have built very successful businesses from advertising on Facebook.
But for getting enquiries, they’ve been a very poor return on investment for me. Why are some people getting loads of enquiries but not me? It puzzled me for a long time.
Eventually, through talking with some of my customers and others who would be my ideal client, a consistent message came out. Most of the people I spoke to simply didn't use Facebook! Not on a regular basis anyway. Typically they had Facebook accounts. They just rarely logged in to use it. My daughter summed it up eloquently. "Dad! Facebook is for old people!" Ouch! And just in case anyone is wondering why I was asking my child for research, she's actually 25 (yes I'm that old!) and will probably be looking for her own photographer in the near future.
In short, my ideal clients don't actively use Facebook, they use Instagram. In other words, I was paying to advertise on the wrong platform!
Again, I’m not saying you can’t get bookings using Facebook ads. Just that I didn’t get much success but at least I now understand why.
That's why last year, I pivoted away from Facebook and now put a lot more effort into my Instagram page. I will still occasionally throw the odd post onto Facebook just to show I am still alive rather than any expectation of gaining new business.
My advice for you here is to consider where your ideal clients spend their time. If they use Facebook then paid ads might work well for you. If not then you're just throwing money down the drain.
The other bug bear of mine was how ridiculously complicated and how little control I seemed to have over the Facebook Ad Manager. It often felt like an exercise in frustration! You'd just start to get the hang of it and blam! They'd change it.
If you do want to learn how to use Facebook ads effectively then I would recommend checking out Ben Cumming's Facebook Marketing Training course. When it comes to advertising on Facebook, Ben certainly knows his onions.
Firstly I have to say that I do not consider myself to be an Instagram guru. In fact I am very uncomfortable in front of the camera and don’t feel I lead a very interesting life where I can create stories about myself for others to see.
I also find it hard to find the time during a wedding to actively create stories. Weddings are full on enough without trying to think of interesting things to chuck onto The 'Gram! In fact, I struggle to find the time to devote to Instagram full stop. It just seems a never ending time sink!
The days of getting success by simply throwing a photo onto the ‘Gram and spamming 30 hashtags are gone. From looking at those who really have made a success of getting bookings from Instagram, it seems you need to spend a lot of your time creating content and encouraging engagement. Creating stories, replying to posts. Creating reels. I just don’t have the time.
Instead, my stories are very basic. Usually, I am sharing something funny that might have happened at a wedding. Or sharing some banter between my wife (who is a wedding videographer) and I.
I prefer to schedule my posts using Facebook Creator Studio since it is free. Rather than sign up to a paid service. And I make sure I tag suppliers whenever possible.
Like I say, even though I do not consider myself a guru and don’t spend as much time as I’d like/want to on Instagram. In the past year, I’ve had nine bookings where the couple have told me they found me via Instagram. Since Jan 1st 2022, 25% of my enquiries have come from Insta. Not bad for a platform I’ve spent no money advertising on. Crucially the quality of the enquiries are far higher too. Unlike the weaker ones from Bridebook/Hitched.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in the past year, is that even when a couple say they found me another way. They almost ALWAYS check out my Instagram account before getting in touch. That is why you should treat your Instagram feed as an extension of your portfolio.
Case in point was when my own sister was looking for her wedding photographer, she rejected a few names I sent her because their Instagram photos didn’t match what she saw on their website.
So even if you don’t push hard on Instagram you should still have your best work on there.
If I was starting a wedding photography business in 2022 then Instagram is where I would put a lot of effort into. I’ve seen some wedding photographer’s make a very successful business in a short time by using Instagram effectively. Now that may change in 2023….but for now, I think Instagram gives you the best bang for your buck.
If you want to get your head around Instagram more (And by god it's a big subject area) then you might want to check out Adam Lowndes Instagram workshop. He uses Instagram incredibly effectively and has shown outstanding results by being authentic, without resorting to trying to get a million followers.
When I started out, this was where most established wedding photographers would ply their trade. Getting into an established fair was nigh on impossible and remains so to this day.
The irony is that the best wedding fairs to be at are the ones you can’t get into. The organisers will have long waiting lists of photographers. One local wedding fair organiser has five large events and the photographer spots sold out in less than five minutes!
The cost of them aren’t cheap either. Popular established events at a wedding venue, you could easily pay £150 for a simple table. And at national level shows you’re easily looking at £2000+ for a booth. All with no guarantees of any bookings and more photographer stands than you can shake the proverbial stick at.
Again, some photographers do well at them. I’ve only ever done local venue fairs and open days, never a large national show type wedding fair.
Typically I’d get expect to get 1 booking from every fair I’ve done. Occasionally two. The best I’ve ever done is three from one fair (ironically one of the cheapest fairs I’ve done). But I have been to wedding fairs where barely anyone came along and I’ve had nothing.
My brand and personality is all about being laid back so I'm not the type to be pouncing on each customer trying to get a booking on the day or extract their email/phone number. Instead I often just let ppl look, grab flyers/brochures and engage them in conversation only if they seem genuinely interested.
One thing I’ve learned when you are at wedding fairs, is that networking with other suppliers is just as important as meeting bride and grooms. These relationships you can form will help you as you move forward with your business.
If you can get into the right fairs then it can work well for you. If you have the right sort of personality then that helps too. If you’re a shy introvert then perhaps this is not for you.
It’s gruelling to be stood at a table most of the day, waiting for couples to speak with you. Many times I've been stood there and have thought "That's it....no more wedding fairs for me!" Then a few months later, I hear of an opportunity and I'm in there!
However, this time I am sure! The only one’s I will do now are venue open days because I have a vested interest in turning up to support the venue in exchange for their support of me.
At the last fair I did, I got two promising leads from the event but during the same time period, I got four enquiries via Instagram/email! That hurt!
It is often said that the best enquiries are from recommendations by previous customers. And I get that. It means your customer loved your work enough to sing your praises to their friends/family. Or sometimes they’ve seen you in action already at a wedding. I've had quite a few enquiries from people who saw me working at a wedding and liked the way I worked. So either enquired for their own wedding or gave my details to their friends.
The key difference with recommendations versus advertising is that the trust is already there. You’re in a much better position than a ‘cold’ lead from someone who knows nothing about you. In effect, your customer is lending a bit of their credibility to you.
I don’t know how my stats compare with other wedding photographers but looking in Light Blue, in the past 12 months. 15% of my enquiries have come from recommendations. I’m happy with that. Obviously, the numbers will vary depending on what you get from other sources.
The one thing I will say is that recommendations are easier when you shoot a large number of weddings each year. What I mean is that if you only shoot say 10 weddings a year. You’ve only 10 potential couples singing your praises. Whilst if you shoot 50, that’s potentially 50 couples every year telling their friends & family about you. The cumulative effect over several years is massive!
I love getting recommendations. I find they are much easier to close and typically friends & family will be already used to the price you charge so it’s one less hurdle to overcome.
Supplier / Venue Referrals
As I mentioned earlier, I have found over the years networking with other suppliers has helped my business grow massively. Having other trusted suppliers sing your praises to couples and having photographers pass you referrals they can’t do has been a real game changer for me.
Just like client recommendations, the ‘selling’ has been done for you by the time they get in touch. There’s already an element of added trust because the supplier/venue put their name against yours.
I think this is reflected in my enquiry to booking rate too. For referrals, I am averaging a 50% closure rate. Compared to 15% via Google.
So how do you get other suppliers to recommend you? The honest answer is to be nice and be yourself! I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s the truth. If you speak to suppliers, I’m sure they will all have stories of when a wedding photographer has treated them badly.
Be the photographer who they want to work with. A friendly “Hi!” on the day goes a long way. Don’t assume that just because you’re the wedding photographer you’re automatically more important than the florist or make up artist. They have a job to do too. Share your images with them. After all, you can’t get a photo of the bouquet if the florist hasn’t done her job. You can’t photograph the bride having her makeup done if the makeup artist isn’t doing her job. You get the idea!
And of course venues. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard from wedding coordinators are photographers who take too long. If the couple are due to sit down at say 3.30pm, make sure you’re done by 3.29pm! Saying “I’m not done yet…I need another 20 minutes” means the wedding will run late. The food the chef has timed to perfection is now going to go cold. He/she is now going to get upset at the coordinator. Do they think they will be recommending you? Nope!
Another tip I picked up from chatting to a wedding coordinator. Apparently, a pet hate are photographers who turn up and the first thing they say is "Am I getting fed today?" I don't think I need to expand on why that is annoying. Don't do it!
Working with Fellow Wedding Photographers
Make an effort to get to know your fellow wedding photographers. It's nice to have friends with a lot in common and it's good to know if something untowards happened, you have people you can call upon to help.
It could be as simple as needing a second shooter. Or what if you are ill? When I caught Covid, I had two friends cover my weddings whilst I had to self isolate. People whom I've grown to trust and knew could do a good job.
I've been asked a few times, how do I get referrals from other photographers? And that's totally the wrong question to ask. That shows you are only thinking about it from your perspective. What YOU get out of it. A better question is "Why should the other photographer refer you? What's in it for them?" And I don't mean money.
It's all about offering genuine friendship and not treating the other photographer purely as a potential source of business. People can see through you if you have an angle. Play nice and most importantly compete fairly! Don't undercut another photographer because you know them, know what they charge and you want the deal.
If a customer mentions they have also spoken to someone I know, I spend the next few minutes bigging them up. It leaves the customer with a much better impression of you than if you slagged them off or undercut the photographer 'friend'.
In short, if you want other photographers to refer you then you need to give them a reason to want to!
Be the team player and understand in this industry that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Remember, wedding photographers aren’t special. We’re part of a team on the day of the wedding. All trying to make sure the bride & groom have the perfect day. If you want other suppliers to recommend you, you have to leave them with a positive impression of working with you.
Should I pay?
I've heard some photographers will pay a referral fee to another supplier if they get a booking from them. And I understand why they would do that. I did consider it but decided not to because I want people to recommend me because they genuinely like working with me and like my work. Not because they get paid.
Secondly I know if it were me, I would only give recommendations if I genuinely trusted them and liked their work. The money wouldn't be a factor. So I would like to think it's the same the other way around.
The only exception I can think of to this rule is if it were a wedding planner whose business model relies upon commission.
If you’ve made it here then congratulations! Marketing and finding your ideal client is the hardest part of running a wedding photography business. And arguably marketing is much more important than even taking nice photos. After all, there's no point in being the best wedding photographer nobody has heard of!
I hope my experiences have been interesting to read and hey, maybe it has given you some ideas.
I also hope by now you've realised is that there is no simple formula, or a secret place where brides are hanging out, just waiting for you to find them. Whatever you do it will involve a lot of time & effort. The market is still pretty saturated, although Covid has temporarily muddied the waters somewhat.
As small business owners, we don’t have unlimited budgets and time. So figuring out where best to invest the resources you have is going to be key to your marketing success. Play to your own strengths rather than blindly follow the crowd. Just because it worked for photographer X does not mean it will work for you.
If you’re a people person then you may prefer to invest in wedding fairs or network with fellow suppliers. If you’re technically minded then throwing time into SEO may be the way forward for you.
Ultimately whenever you ask other wedding photographers what sort of marketing is best. Usually what worked for them will also coincide to be the one that they put the most effort into.
Lastly, building a successful wedding photography business is like turning an oil tanker. Each step you take now will only make a little difference. With the right focus, bit by bit, step by step things will improve! All too often people are looking for a quick fix, a secret formula. And quite frankly there isn't one. It's easy to look at successful wedding photographers and think they got lucky or have some secret they're not sharing. In reality their success is probably largely because they worked their socks off.
I hope you found the information above useful and it is helps you figure out which direction you want to focus on. Feel free to email me with any questions and I will do my best to help. Please don't use my contact form as that is for wedding enquiries only. Much appreciated!
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