Market-disrupting wedding photography business Emotion Wedding Photography has brought in new investors with a view to launching in the US market.
Emotion chairman Michael Warshall told Inside Imaging that 20 percent of the business had been sold to investors, among whom are several of Australia’s top wedding shooters, with another 5 percent still on offer.
‘As we gained traction, we were approached by a number of photographers and business people I know who wanted to know if they could buy-in, as they believed what we are doing is the way of the future,’ Michael explained. ‘We decided to make 25 percent of the business available, which would allow us to scale much faster. We have sold 20 percent already and only 5 percent is left.
‘The US is a huge bridal market. We were planning to look at the USA by the end of 2021, but due to Covid, this will be probably 2022,’ he said.
He declined to reveal the names of the investors. In a podcast with US trade journalist, Gary Pageau, he said that the top end of the market had collapsed, leaving elite photographers to seek new revenue streams.
He said opening up to investing partners has generated ‘100s of 1000s’ of dollars of fresh capital for Emotion. One of the new investors was a ‘one of the most awarded photographers’, who had been doing 150 weddings a year with an average sale of $10K, but was now down to 80 weddings.
This, said Michael, is because the traditional wedding photography model is broken.
‘There are photographers in Australia who are at Grand Master level who do fantastic photography. They are all struggling, they are friends of mine and they are all struggling. They can’t get enough volume,’ he said.
The brides are a changin’
Only 20 percent of weddings now take place in churches and to generalise, modern weddings have become more informal and low key. Michael said wedding photographers have resisted adapting to the new realities. They expect to be able to sell a photo album for $3000 when most brides are only willing to pay around $400.
‘Three thousand dollar albums – that model is broken. It’s finished except at the high end – the 5 percenters,’ he said.
He said wedding photographers needed to ‘give the customer what they want, not what you think you want to make.’
He researched the market thoroughly via IBIS industry reports and surveys with brides: ‘They wanted unstructured, not posed photography, that captures the moment, and the most important thing was to get the digital files within 48 hours to share on social media.
‘And they didn’t want to pay more than $2000.
‘More than half the brides we do they have been living together from between 4 and 10 years,’ Michael told Gary Pageau. ‘They have the two kids, they have the dog, they have the mortgage and then they decide to get married.’
He said the modern wedding was more a ‘party with close friends’ than a solemn occasion.
It could be argued that Emotion is as much an IT business as a wedding photography business. Its key competitive advantage is its advanced online e-commerce platform which seamlessly links wedding photographers with brides; combined with increasingly automated image editing.
‘Photography is a cottage industry and a very laborious industry, with lots of back and forth interviews. You can’t produce that at $2ooo. Automation is the key.’
All photography is actually contracted out, with Emotion ‘head office’ only handling the booking and the image editing aspects of the wedding photographer’s role.
Using sophisticated software, Emotion has been able to reduce the ‘touch points’ – the to-and-fro between client and photographer – which in turn lowers overall costs. Michael said there were around 50 separate ‘touch points’ in each wedding photography booking.
‘We have eliminated most of the human touch points in communication and workflow,’ Michael explained. ‘We had the same questions asked by the brides: “How much and are you available on our day?”‘
‘With our new software they go onto our website, put in their date and wedding location and within seconds they get an email with our availability. Previously we had to check with photographers. Now each one of our photographers and videographers gets a digital calendar and they fill in the days they are not available. Once a bride books, our software matches the photographer’s availability to the bride’s location, the reviews that the photographers get, and the number of jobs that have completed for us.
‘So the ones that have the best reviews and are most reliable, get the first jobs off the rank.’
He said Emotion originally offered clients a selection of shooters to choose from, but contacting photographers – most of whom are part-timers – and waiting for a response slowed down the process.
‘If you go on our website now there are no photographers listed. It’s Emotion. You are booking us,’ he said.
‘Before we started Emotion, if someone told me a bride would book a photographer without meeting him or her I would say that would never happen. But that’s the Emotion model,’ he said.
He said brides found shopping around for wedding photographers too complicated, pricing was confusing, and they were often not sure of the bottom line.
To become an Emotion photographer you first need to apply then supply a folio of a whole wedding, rather than your 20 best shots, then supply biographical information, at which time you reach the interview stage. They also need various clearances such as a police check.
He said Emotion photographers are accountants, solicitors, bakers and plumbers. Only a handful make all their money from photography.
‘We pay the photographers reasonable money. They get $615 to shoot. They only have to shoot. They don’t have to do any work, they don’t have to edit, they don’t have to do anything. They just turn up, shoot and upload.
‘The average wedding in Australia is about 6 hours. So that’s $100 per hour,’ he told Gary Pageau.
‘Currently, we have just over 80 reliable contracted photographers around Australia. I have at least 20 more applicants, but due to Covid have not interviewed them.’
Most communication with clients is handled by automated email and text messages complemented by Artificial Intelligence. A Chatbot is about to be launched. Eliminating ‘costly human intervention at the back end’ is key to be able to offer a full wedding shoot for $1999.
‘The client gets our app and so does the photographer, so any changes from the bride’s side are automatically updated and sent to our CRM and the photographer.’
As for the move into the US market, Michael said: ‘It all depends on what happens in Australia because of Covid. We have not shot any weddings in Victoria since March. We are shooting in WA, QLD, and NSW, and SA. But there are constant changes to the number of people allowed to attend, so many people are holding off until they know that they can have a wedding the way they want to plan it.
‘We are getting at the moment about 300 inquiries a month. Once Covid emerged we totally slowed our advertising and marketing.’
He anticipated a big uptick in weddings next year.
‘However they will be different,’ he said.
To listen to the podcast with Gary Pageau, Dead Pixels Society, click here.