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When the Internet and wedding photographers first got together in the early 1990s, it was a blissful union from the start. The computer became a canvas upon which images could be displayed and savvy photographers wasted no time posting their work online, to be viewed by the masses. The notion of a local photographer became an anachronism. No one was local, as long as their photos were on the World Wide Web to be viewed and admired by people everywhere. There was an explosion of Web sites created by businesses and individuals alike, and photographers got in on the action. As a result, many wedding photography businesses grew into full-fledged operations almost overnight. Nowadays, every serious wedding photographer has a Web site showcasing his or her work. In fact, the photographer's site stands as the preeminent means of attracting new customers, creating a brand, and ultimately growing a business. A lot can be said for a successful site. But as with much of the content on the Internet, there are countless shades of gray for the wedding photographer creating that online presence. Many questions abound, such as how to achieve the right aesthetics, organize pictures, and relay your personality and your business offerings, to name a few. We've spoken with three WPJA award winners who have struck a balance between creating a viable Web site, maintaining it, and growing a thriving business. LOGICAL SITE DESIGN IS THE KEY TO USABILITY For some WPJA award members, a large percentage of their inquiries come from their Web site. They are often traveling to different locales for weddings and do not meet many of their clients face-to-face until shortly before the big day. Subsequently, they depend on their site to effectively communicate their talents and services. Good organization is a key factor in helping them achieve that. It involves not only displaying the pictures and text in a logical manner but also doing so with an eye for creativity. One approach is to organize the pictures from every wedding into various categories, such as pre-ceremony, ceremony, portraits, reception, and details. Each category is located within its own "gallery," making it infinitely easier for the bride and groom to find a particular image. It's a smart and creative way to make sites user-friendly, and it proves that good organization does not have to be complicated. It's often quite simple. Photo by Hun Kim Your site's information architecture is critical for good communication. It doesn't matter how spectacular your photography is if your visitors aren't able to easily move through the site and find your work. Developing a successful navigational scheme, or interface, means creating a balance between the site's usability and its design. While slick graphic design is immensely valuable, it should never take away from logic and ease in navigation. As architects like to say, form follows function. Hun Kim, who also works alongside his wife, Grace, created a compelling but balanced design that highlights their three main specialties - weddings, engagements, and portraits - in a functional manner, all while capitalizing on a modern and dynamic look. MAINTAINING YOUR SITE AS A LIVING ENTITY The essence of the Internet is its ability to constantly reinvent itself. A Web site should be no different. Once you create a site, you need to nurture it as a living, breathing thing requiring constant maintenance and care. This is especially important for the wedding photojournalists who get the majority of their clients from online visitors. Most will find that they're frequently uploading new images but some neglect the design, which should also be updated to keep with the changing times. If you're looking to compete with the very best photographers' sites on the Web, you've probably hired a designer. Of course, this does not mean completely handing over the reigns to the professional to determine how the site looks and acts. As your site lives and evolves, its design should be imagined by you and guided by the designer, making its maintenance and constant improvement a joint effort. This can be made easier for everyone involved if you build a simple authoring system into the design, allowing you or your assistant to easily update content without having to be an expert in XHTML, JavaScript, or Flash. In this case, the designer may create specific named folders and page templates into which you can drop text content and JPEGs at your will. BRANDING YOUR BUSINESS Building a strong brand that is immediately identifiable to visitors is done through the aesthetics and design of your site, as well as through content. Often, brides and grooms know exactly what they want for their wedding day, and that includes the style of photography. Using your site to pinpoint and communicate a particular aesthetic will go a long way in attracting new clients. The visual "look" of a site can take years to develop, but with a little research and forethought, it doesn't have to. Says Hun: "Our objective is to attract clients that have a sincere appreciation for quality art, versus those who are just looking for a photographer that can fulfill their budget requirements." Hun and his wife have zeroed in on the type of client they want to attract. They know who their ideal bride and groom are. Once that's accomplished, the next step is to identify what they will respond to visually. From there, the photographer finds a balance between his or her individual aesthetics and those of the ideal client. Photo by David Murray With the overall style of the site doing its part in drawing clients in, the content needs to keep them there. Though the photographs are the main attraction, poor writing can have an adverse effect on your visitors and should not be overlooked. As a strong communication tool, the text should be up-to-date, readable, and well organized. WPJA winner David Murray accomplishes this by stringing his images together with words that "are a true reflection of the product given by us, and using words that reflect our elegance, fashion, photodocumentary style, and sense of fun." Murray extends the style and quality of his photography to the text, creating a more cohesive site. BIOS AND TESTIMONIALS: SHOWCASING YOUR CREDENTIALS The credentials pages of your Web site, including bios and testimonials, can tell your visitors who you are, what you do, and what you can do for them, though not everyone packs all of that information onto the one page. Generally there are two different approaches. First is the one Murray takes. He details his work in newspapers, the wires and magazines, and he notes his photojournalism awards. His intention is to emphasize his photojournalism experience so the brides know that "they're getting the real deal." Others utilize a different approach, whereby the bio page places an emphasis on the photographer's personality more so than their experience. Either of these approaches can work. The key is to keep the page simple, uncluttered, to the point, and personable with the language you use. Online testimonials, especially those from the clients themselves, can also be extremely effective in establishing your credibility, skills and working style. Hun's site has a dedicated awards and testimonials page, featuring client comments that confirm their supreme happiness with the results of his documenting their weddings. These types of endorsements tend to carry significantly more weight than the typical bio, no matter how impressive, and can be the deciding factor in compelling a potential client to contact you. However, make sure you have secured written permission before publishing a client testimonial. Ultimately, your online portfolio is the most influential tool you have in attracting new clients. The objective should be for every frame to be compelling, pertinent, and able to connect with the clients emotionally. It is the result of highly skilled professionals, and it happens when the photograph moves from being only a representation of its subject and its subject's story to one that everyone can relate to. THE CLIENT IS ALWAYS RIGHT When in doubt over the success of your Web site always defer to your clients. They will offer the most reliable, and therefore, valuable perspective. He notes, "Nearly every client we meet comments on how professional the site is presented, and many express that they hire us because they can tell how serious we are about what we do from looking at our site." In the end, your site should communicate to the bride and groom two things: the quality of images you will produce for them and the type of working experience you will have with them. When the site "speaks" well of both, people will notice. In the vast sea of the wedding photography business, that's exactly what you want. BLOGGING ADDS STICKINESS A good way to keep prospective clients engaged in your Web site is by devoting a section of it to blogging. Hun finds that it enhances the interaction between prospective clients and his online work. Several wedding photojournalists write on their blog about each wedding they photograph. Blogging gives greater insight into your work, while introducing brides to what it's like working with you. - by Lauren Ragland for The Wedding Photojournalist Association