Image © Keith Appleby.
The wedding album has been the customary way of keeping up with the Jones for generations of newlywed couples. Books of mounted prints were taken to dinner parties and passed around friends, parents and guests, and brought out on anniversaries for a good dose of nostalgia. Quite simply, you didn't commission a wedding photographer without having an album of pictures. What would be the point in that?
Nowadays, there is a point. The ways in which people play with images are now only outpaced by the new technologies that allow them to do so. Albums exist on social networking websites such as Flickr and Facebook and portable devices such as the ubiquitous iPhone. Slideshows are played back on flatscreen televisions and if prints are required, they can be made for a few pence and delivered the next day thanks to instant on-line ordering.
Amazingly, the hardcopy album is still popular today despite the digital onslaught, but it's undergone a few obvious changes. The most obvious of these is a move away from traditional mat albums, in which photographic prints are held in place under mounts, towards printed books. Brought about by advances in digital printing and fuelled by the public's exposure to ever-increasing amounts of editorial photography, this trend has snowballed in the last five years. Some photographers now only offer this option, including London-based wedding photographer Keith Appleby.
'When we set up the business five years ago, we made the decision to only offer printed-page, photo-book type albums,' he says. 'I use the Italian supplier Graphistudio, who are hard to beat on price, and the quality is great. Clients hold these things in their hands and they are always impressed. We can offer a wide variety of paper types, from Fujifilm's stunning metallic media though to normal photographic finishes and even a matt paper. I also occasionally use Booked Images, and I'll flirt a bit with Queensbury this year too.'
Appleby, whose background is in advertising and catalogue photography, says that this approach has made him feel more secure. 'I used to watch wedding photographers at work and run a mile, but now, with the sheer flexibility of digital photography, I think it's made (weddings) that much easier to shoot,' he says. 'It gives the client a better product, at the end of the day.'
Indeed, ask any jobbing wedding photographer about digital technology and the phrase 'flexibility' pops out sooner or later. Stuart Bebb has been photographing happy couples since 1980 and says the flexibility of digital album printing methods makes couples feel special. 'If you have a flair for design then you can work with your clients to produce exactly what they want, something unique,' he says. 'That's worth something. It's the biggest change in album production over the last few years. In the past it would be one picture per page and everyone's album would be the same. Now that's all changed and I can offer a bespoke service.'
But new albums only generate new revenue streams if they are sold properly, and social photographers have had to work hard at learning how to sell them. Bebb charges clients for his time, for example, and sells products such as printed albums and reprints afterwards. Appleby, on the other hand, is championing the package approach to maximise on upsell potential. 'I realised that if I charged separately for my time and my products, then over half of my customers didn't go on to order an album from me,' he says. 'They would have a few reprints, but I was missing out on all that upselling. Now I sell it all as a package, with an album included. No discussion. The prices are higher, and I am, effectively, always making that album sale.
'It's also handy that the money is traditionally paid up front a month before the big day,' he adds. 'That's essential, because many of my clients take over a year to finalise their choice of pictures in their albums. They are all busy buying houses and having babies.'
Appleby also sees 'the package' as a way of differentiating himself from other photographers. 'You must be different from the guy down the road, and not just in the quality and style of your photography because that will always be subjective. Albums are flexible enough in design and layout to allow you to build packages that are different from anyone working around you.
'Crucially, I never advertise what album suppliers I use. I don't want customers looking at the end product and saying "That other photographer only charges a grand, but you charge five grand". Then you just get into a price war, and that doesn't take account of the fact that your photography is five times better.'
Customer is king
Bebb has had clients who like to take full control of the album-making process, though, leaving him out of the loop. 'I recently shot a wedding for a couple where the groom is a graphic designer,' he says. 'They just wanted the hi res files and that was fine by me, I still make a decent amount off that because he pays for both my time and the use of images. I've heard of photographers giving disks away, though, and that's just scandalous. It says you have no respect for your own work and you are, in some respects, debasing the market for everyone else.'
Bebb is not on his own here - most photographers know of instances where disks of high-resolution images are given away so the client can make their own album more cheaply, but most try to avoid it and few admit to doing it. Bebb is more positive about social media, though, and will release images for that kind of use. 'If people want a set of low res pictures on Facebook that's fine,' he says. 'They've bought other products and they credit me (on Facebook), which is just good PR, really. We are also creating slideshows of images for mobile phones, plasma screens and other devices. I'm very excited about products like the Apple iPad - think of the opportunities there.'
Even still, the humble wedding album seems pretty secure, as long as it continues to evolve. Anyone at the recent Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers convention in London would have noticed the huge number album designs on the market, including many traditional options for those not wanting the printed-page option. But with the number of wedding photographers increasing and the number of couples tying the knot decreasing year-on-year, you will need to stay on top of new trends to survive.
Keith Appleby - applebyphotography.com
Stuart Bebb - stuartbebb.com
Booked Images - bookedimages.com
Graphistudio - graphistudio.com
Queensbury - queensberry.com
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