Destination wedding photography is definitely its own special niche. It…
Eric Hegwer says he is “100% wedding photographer.”
He studied Biochemistry, and became an actual real scientist. His love of photography led to shooting weddings for a few friends, and he developed a passion for it. After some time assisting other established wedding photographers, Eric went out on his own.
He’s so into it that he applied some of his technical programming skills to create a social networking website for wedding photographers, called the “Social Wedding Network.“ (Link at the bottom of this story.)
Eric likes to try new things and push his business into new territory. One such recent adjustment to his product line was to make a shift away from selling prints, and more toward the “iTunes Model” of selling images on a per-download basis.
His business has been doing quite well, so I asked if he would be willing to answer my standard nosy questions about his business model, workflow, and the current trends going on in the wedding photo business.
Eric is a very nice guy, and happily agreed. Thanks, Eric.
Grover: When it comes to business tactics and strategies, what have been some of the lessons you’ve learned in the past. What’s been a success? What’s been a learning experience?
Eric Hegwer: In in the photo world it seems there are too many photographers who have turned into salespeople. They try to convince you to purchase their product, or DVD, or widget that will help you become a better photographer. In every single case, without fail, these items have distracted me from finding my own style, made my wallet lighter, and their wallet heavier.
The only exception is PhotoShelter. Top notch customer service, easy to use interface, and a greatly needed product/service.
Grover: Who are your customers, and how do you get your images to them? What works, and what doesn’t?
Eric: My customers are not the usual buyers of photos. Primarily, I work with two distinctly different groups: Brides & Grooms and their Parents. The younger generation is very Internet savvy, and their folks, well lets just say some of the calls I get about how to access the photos on the web are very interesting.
All my proofs are delivered digitally. Selects for Final Prints and Albums are made using lightboxes in the PhotoShelter system prior to printing and delivery.
Grover: Can you explain the depth of your individual interaction you typically have with your customers? Does more individual attention result in higher revenues? How much is done online, and how much is done in person or on the phone?
Eric: I strive to provide each client with a spectacular experience, before, during, and after the wedding. Most of my clients first contact me by e-Mail. I’ll arrange to meet with local clients in person, while destination wedding couples arrangements are usually made via the web or phone.
Most couples decide to purchase a pre-designed package which includes different levels of coverage and “stuff”: Prints, Albums, and CDs of images.
On the 1-year anniversary, after all the contract is fulfilled, many clients choose to purchase large prints for the walls of their home. These oversize matted or canvas prints are usually one of the more artsy images from the wedding or engagement session.
Grover: What “products” do you sell/deliver to your clients? (Example: Prints, Royalty Free downloads?)
Eric: While I’ve put bridal portraits on coffee mugs and mouse pads, standard size prints and leather flush-mount wedding albums are my usual products.
Lately, RF downloads have been extremely popular. Based on the iTunes business model, wedding guests can view photos on-line and instantly download their favorites for only a few dollars each. These digital negatives are great for social networking sites like Facebook or blogs. Un-retouched, and automatically resized to 2400 px on the longest size, some guests have downloaded half a wedding for their own personal use.
Grover: How would you describe your overall diversification? (Example: Are you selling mostly prints, some stock, some editorial, some assignment work?)
Eric: I am a wedding photographer 100% I don’t do portraits, or commercial work, architecture, sports or editorial.
Grover: Are you seeing any trends in your business? Are there any portions of it that are growing faster than others? Are there any products that are more popular with your customers than others?
Eric: In the last few years clients have been asking for CDs of the images. At first I had a problem releasing files to them, as it meant the possibility of lost revenue after the wedding.
As we all know digital photography has changed the photo business model. By embracing the changes and giving the clients what they want, I have a stronger relationship, and more bookings.
Grover: How do you promote yourself? In what ways do you market yourself?
Eric: I am 100% referral based. I do not advertise. Instead I market myself to wedding coordinators, venues, and of course rely heavily on previous clients to recommend me to their friends.
Grover: What is your workflow like? Can you talk about the steps you take, and the products you use, to get from the camera to the customer? Have you discovered any time-saving methods?
Jason: As a RAW shooter I rely on Apple’s Aperture to help me quickly deliver proofs to my Brides and Grooms. I find it is important to be constantly shooting so no important moments are missed, and my team and I rack up around 60 gig at each wedding.
CF cards are downloaded to a X-Serve RAID and imported into Aperture. Selects are made, and batch processing is conducted to even out skin tones, pop colors, and sharpen before exporting the proofs directly to my customized PhotoShelter Archive using the PhotoShelter for Aperture plug-in. Selected captures are re-worked in Photoshop to enhance the image.
Clients get to see their wedding photos quickly. Proof galleries are sometimes ready before the couples return from their honeymoon.
Grover: How did you learn your craft? College? Learn by doing?
Eric: I studied Biochemistry, and worked in a lab for 7 years. My wife and I would travel on our 2-weeks of vacation, and I would take pictures. I got some lucky breaks and was able to license some images and make some money.
After shooting a friend’s wedding (very badly, I must admit), I was hooked. I tried to book some brides with my travel portfolio, and was, of course, completely unsuccessful. to build my skills and get some decent pictures to show, I offered my services as an assistant to some prominent San Francisco wedding photographers.
Soon I found myself working 40 hours a week as a scientist and assisting every weekend.
I watched and learned, and after about a year I was 2nd shooting, and shortly after booking weddings my on my own. When I looked at my finances, I was making as much with my camera as I was as a biochemist, and at that point (and with input from my wife), I gave my 2-week notice. That was 4 years and countless weddings ago.
Grover: Where do you go and/or what do you do to learn about new things, and keep up on the latest happenings in the industry?
Eric: The internet has been my biggest counsel by far. Using technology as a tool and to my advantage has given me a leg up on much of my competition.
I subscribe to over 300 RSS feeds and am an active member on several message boards. Only a fraction of these are actually photo related. I’ve found that when a new camera or other photo tool is released everyone and their cousin is suddenly writing about it.
In addition to photo topics, I read marketing and design blogs, wedding websites, and am a member of half a dozen social networks.
Grover: Where have you found creative inspiration?
Eric: I’m still looking.
Grover: In general, what would you say are the most important things for your customers? (Example: Ease of use? Quick turnaround times? Variety of products and services?)
Eric: My customers want their wedding photos immediately. There is no such thing as too fast for delivery. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “let me see the back of the camera” after I snap a candid, I’d be sitting on a beach with a little umbrella in my drink right now.
And of course allowing customers to have digital copies of the photos is huge right now. Even if they don’t do anything with them, they want to have them.
Grover: Are you keeping track of your website statistics, your Google rankings, and overall trends? If so, what tools are you using, and what kind of things have you implemented/changed/improved as a result?
Eric: Tracking website stats is essential now. Google provides everything I need with their Analytics and webmaster tools. Several years ago I changed from a static Flash-based website to a blog-site. Now I can update images when I want and incorporate relevant keywords with ease. By tracking the individual pages, I quickly learn what words and phrases are searched for, as well as how visitors navigate my site.
Grover: Do you have any interesting success stories to share as a result of using the PhotoShelter Personal Archive?
Eric: Earlier this year I implemented RF downloads right from the galleries. At first my print sales dropped, and I lost a bit of revenue, but when I examined the overall numbers I found I was making more money without having to spend the time preparing, FTPing, receiving and shipping prints to customers. Of course I still offer prints, but by far the ability for customers to instantly download wedding photos is amazing.
Grover: What was your business like before PhotoShelter?
Eric: I’ve been with PhotoShelter since June 2005. I don’t know what I would do without them. As my business grows, they scale right along side with me.
Grover: What features of the PhotoShelter Personal Archive do you use most often, and why?
Eric: Start to finish PhotoShelter has the features I need. As soon as I am able, I upload full-res digital files to them, and once I do, I know they are safe. If my hard drives fail, if my DVD archives get scattered in a hurricane, if my dog eats my CF cards (it’s happened), I know I can simply log-in and download the full-size originals.
Galleries and Lightboxes are also key to my business. They allow brides, grooms, their families and guests to easily view their wedding photos. If desired they can quickly order prints or obtain a digital copy. Lightboxes are the easiest way for brides to share their favorite shots with me. I can design albums based on their input. Some clients even use the 5-star rating system to order their favorites within the lightbox.
Eric’s Wedding Stock Photography: http://www.photoshelter.com/gallery-show/G0000U5_5eV5cQB0/
Eric’s Website: http://www.erichegwer.com
Social Wedding Network: http://www.uberBrides.com
Eric’s profile on Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/eric-hegwer-photography-austin