With strict Australian Covid-19 restrictions unlikely to return, weddings across the country are back on, breathing new life into the hardest hit photography sector.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, Covid created the largest decrease ever in the annual number of marriages, dropping by 30.6 percent from 2019 to 2020. An ABS graph tracking the annual number of marriages since the turn of the century shows the figure always sits above 100,000, except in 2020 where it dropped to just below 79,000. That’s a big fall from the 113,000 in 2019. And although the 2021 data isn’t published yet, it’s likely marriages again fall short of six figures.
Not every Australian state recorded the same drop in marriages. Victoria, where harsh Covid restrictions lasted the longest, suffered a 41.9 percent drop, followed by the Northern Territory with a 31.4 percent drop and NSW at 30.3 percent. The ACT, on the other hand, was relatively unscathed with just a 12.7 percent drop.
It’s pretty grim data, as the +30,000 weddings that didn’t go ahead left wedding photographers short of work. According to wedding vendor directory, Easy Weddings, the Australian wedding industry contributes as estimated $4.3 billion annually to the economy, with 54,000 wedding business recorded across the country. In Victoria alone, the wedding industry reportedly contributes $1.1 billion annually, and 36,000 jobs from 13,000 businesses.
It’s worth noting that a portion of the 78,000 marriages in 2020 were adapted to meet Covid restrictions, meaning tiny wedding ceremonies or eloping. In locked-down Melbourne, for example, only five people plus a celebrant were permitted at outdoor wedding ceremonies, and those five precious spots didn’t always include a professional wedding photographer.
But despite a big drop in marriages, couples were still planning and rescheduling weddings, and proposals still happened. It’s not like the pandemic made couples shun weddings altogether – it was just impossible for couples to organise their ideal wedding with strict limitations on gatherings along with restrictions on international, interstate, and even regional travel.
This caused a back log of weddings, and the ABS is likely to record a big uptick for the 2022 wedding season. EasyWeddings estimates there to be 150,000 weddings in 2022. If this is correct, it will likely be the biggest percentage increase and the most marriages ever recorded by the ABS Australia.
Burning out over busy schedules
Wedding photographers have experienced a big surge of business, leading to ‘a good problem to have’ after two years of being mostly out of work. Victorian wedding photographer, Rick Liston, found the huge demand for his services left him teetering close to a burn out.
‘Previously [weddings] were just on weekends and Fridays, and I would think, “I’m busy right now”. But doing 115 weddings in a season, you go: “Wow, that’s what’s physically possible?”,’ Liston told the ABC. ‘Having said that, I definitely don’t want to be this busy again.’
He likens being a wedding photographer to being a stand-up comedian, where you have to be emanating positive good energy as well as carefully capturing all the precious moments. ‘Physically and mentally, it was incredibly draining,’ he said. No one wants their wedding photographer to be slouching around the place and dragging their feet, ‘it’s that game face you’ve got to bring every day, so you wake up absolutely exhausted.’
Likewise, Melbourne marriage celebrant, Zena Lythgo, told The Guardian she had a record 19 weddings over a three week period last Spring. A growing trend is for couples to tie the knot at previously unorthodox moments, such as weekdays, in the morning on weekends, and during winter months when the weather is less reliable. Another Melbourne celebrant, Sally Hughes, told the ABC she did 70 weddings in three months, which is a normal year’s worth of work. And moving forward, she is already almost booked out for all of next year.
Liston describes the last two years as having two modes, ‘ghost town’ and ‘batshit crazy’. Obviously living in the ‘world’s most locked down city’, the ‘ghost town’ was a direct result of Victorian Covid-19 restrictions leading to a wedding freeze. And ‘batshit crazy’ occurred in those moments between lockdowns, when there was a rush to finally tie the knot.
Over in the US, Covid restrictions largely lifted in 2021. And this led to the ‘craziest wedding year of all time’ for Long Island-based wedding photographer, Michael Cassara.
‘I shot 46 weddings this year. A normal year is around 30 weddings,’ he told The Washington Post. ‘Twenty-four of my weddings this year were rescheduled from 2020, and I had already booked 18 weddings for 2021 before Covid hit.’
This is despite a portion of the wedding season taking place before the global vaccine rollout, meaning not all weddings were back to ‘normal’ and certain measures were in place like mask wearing and social distancing. And, like Liston, Cassara’s busy schedule left him close to burning out.
‘It took a heavy toll on a lot of my friends and a lot of other vendors. My clients were phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,’ he said. ‘But with a lot of people who were inquiring, or were scheduling their dates, there was a high level of demand, especially from parents of the brides and grooms. At some moments, it was almost like they didn’t really care that you’re a small business, or that you’re busting your butt for your client. They want results, and they want them quickly.
‘Meanwhile, we were doing double the work that we would normally do for a calendar year. I know a handful of other photographers who — this broke them. I’m relatively new to the industry, in terms of being a full-time wedding photographer. So I think I still have my mental sanity. But others, they’ve been in this for 20 years. And they’re just like: “Yep, I’m good. I’m done. I’m checking out.’
Many Australian wedding photographers, particularly on the East Coast, likely relate to the feeling of burning out or coming close to it. The busy wedding season created an exceptional workload for the industry, and this is likely to carry on for the coming summer and in to next year.
And for the time being, it looks like Australian State Governments have abandoned the ‘abundance of caution’ approach to Covid. Even the Victorian government, with its previously itchy trigger finger bringing about snap lockdowns, is ignoring the Chief Health Officer recommendations to reintroduce Covid restrictions.
So long as there aren’t any nasty surprises from the mutating virus, then Australian wedding photography looks like it’s due for a good run.