WPPI Seminar Report: How to Thrive in a Down Economy

The 31st annual Wedding and Portrait Photographers International 2011 officially kicked off Thursday, February 17th with WPPI U, a two-day workshop geared towards emerging photographers who were given the opportunity to learn lighting, marketing and postproduction from pro photographers including Jerry Ghionis, Cliff Mautner, Doug Gordon and Dane Sanders. Sanders, author of Fast Track Photographer and Fast Track Photographer Business Plan, emphasized that photographers need to value their worth and not sell themselves short to clients, advice that seemed to be an underlying theme throughout the week’s course lineup.

Platform classes later in the week drew thousands of attendees, all of whom seemed interested in learning how to increase their business and continue making money in a bad economy. Popular topics ranged from how to price your wedding packages and upsell to clients to why you should be embracing new ways of storytelling, including the use of DSLRs that also record audio and shoot HD.

The Wedding Package and Beyond
It was standing room only in St. Louis-based photographer Sal Cincotta’s seminar, “Creating Wedding Packages That Sell.” Cincotta, who specializes in weddings and high school senior portraiture (he also writes a column for Rangefinder magazine called Behind the Shutter), wowed the audience with his high energy vibe and practical approach to building wedding packages from the ground up.

Four years ago Cincotta started a photography business that netted him just under $40,000. Today he has a million-dollar brand that includes shooting 50 weddings a year in St. Louis at $9,000 a pop, senior high-school student portraits done in an in-house studio, and countless family and baby portraits.

Cincotta is the first to admit that his photography isn’t all that amazing. “I’m a business person first and foremost,” he told the audience. “I definitely won’t win any awards. . . .” The key to his success, he went on to say, is using basic business practices that anyone can implement—that, and staying current in an ever-changing industry.

One way he stays current is by broadening his scope. Cincotta’s Studio C brand cranks out over 200 seniors per year (thanks to an in-studio photographer he hired to photograph high school seniors, as well as babies), while Salvatore Cincotta Films produces wedding videos for 10 to 15 clients a year. “Be engaged in video,” he advised the audience, “because it’s what clients want today.”

The highlight of his talk focused on building and pricing a wedding photography package while downplaying or eliminating a la carte services altogether. “Your packages should be based on everything that goes into your product, including your time,” Cincotta advised. “And we keep our a la carte prices intentionally inflated because we don’t want clients buying a la carte. If they do, we are going to punish them for it!”

If clients want custom services, he continued, then he recommends having them follow one of your standard packages, then add on to that. “Never operate from a position of desperation,” he summed up. “I want my clients buying where I have the most margin. My basic package exists just to get the phone ringing and pull clients in. No one takes the basic package. You can have three or four packages on the table but there always has to be pull through. Stop giving away the house on your first package.”

A Creative Explosion
Seattle-based photographer Jim Garner’s seminar “A Creative Explosion—Reinvent, Simplify and Thrive,” coupled a rock concert vibe with smart advice on moving yourself from being a picture taker to being a storyteller. Garner, voted one of American Photo’s Top 10 Wedding Photographers in the world, said that his wedding photography business is based on a fast growing phenomenon called “The Experiential Style.”

“It’s all about storytelling and story shooting,” he told us.  “My bride and groom walk, they play, they walk again—click, click, click—and within that time there are natural moments unfolding that I want to capture. Moments that are more important than image perfection.”

He continued: “Story shooting is a technique of capturing images with the simple goal of maximizing the fluid scenes during the day which will eventually be shown in the album. Remember, when you’re shooting you need to think in spreads.”

Garner’s profit-maximizing tips included the following: Orient your clients towards purchasing the finished result of storytelling shoots, the art book; put order forms in your proof books (a huge moneymaker, he says); think about giving clients a disc of RAW un-retouched images and a disc of proofed pages (color corrected) at 72 dpi that’s ready before they return from the honeymoon, so  they can post them to social media pages (another huge moneymaker, he says); and make extra money on items like wall art (10 x 10 and larger).

The Wrap Up
Other big-draw speakers during the week included Jose Villa, Elizabeth Messina, Jasmine Star and Jerry Ghionis, among many others, all of whose seminars had an emphasis on creating a unique voice while striving to keep up with what brides want and are willing to pay for. And what is that? Features that brides like the gamut from “red carpet” slide shows of the wedding (complete with champagne and viewed in a separate room for bride and groom and a limited number of their guests) to larger, fine-art quality wall prints to save the date image cards, rehearsal dinner coverage, engagement sessions, and video sales.

Bottom line: In a down economy you still need to market yourself and think of creative ways to get clients to spend money. The good news? There’s always going to be a market for images of once-in-a-lifetime memories no matter what the economy is doing.

5 Responses to “WPPI Seminar Report: How to Thrive in a Down Economy”

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  2. joe stemmer Says:

    Just got back from the WPPIU and WPPI Conference. It was a great learning and networking experience. I got to see several of the speakers mentioned and I can’t wait til WPPI 2012.

  3. Pam Kempton Says:

    This was our first experience with the WPPI conference. The trade show opened our eyes to new and innovative products to help in our business growth. The platform classes were beyond our expectation! Bob and Dawn Davis, Dawn Shields, Gary and Pam Box, Vicki Taufer, Elizabeth Messina among others shared insightful tips and techniques.
    Las Vegas was the perfect backdrop for this conference. There was plenty to do and lots of places to visit after hours. Ferraro’s Restaurant was a great find! Fantastic food, great wine list and professional staff. Looking forward to attending this conference again

  4. Brian Kohlman Says:

    I too just returned after my first experience attending WPPI-U as well as the WPPI Conference. WOW…what an amazing learning and networking experience. Of all the incredible workshops, Sal Cincotta, Jim Garner, and Dane Sanders were some simply the best. Can’t wait for next year!

  5. Brenda Hawkes Ficco Says:

    I have been attending wppi for the past seven years. Sal Cincotta seminar and workshop was by far the best experience I have had since I stared my photography business. You ROCK Sal.