Before I created Fstoppers, I was a full-time wedding photographer. Over that time, I designed a handful of wedding albums as both show albums and as client albums. To be honest, I never really enjoyed the album-making process. Now, the tables have turned, and for my wife's first year anniversary gift, I decided to make an album with images from my own wedding. How will my wife respond, and will I enjoy the process? Let's find out!
As many of you know, I started my photographic journey as a wedding photographer. All in all, I shot weddings full-time for about 12 years, and during that time, I made some great business decisions and some not-so-great business decisions. Looking back, one of the worst business decisions I made was my approach to making (or not making) wedding albums for my clients.
Like most photographers, I absolutely loved my job. Despite what some people might tell you, being a wedding photographer can be a lot of fun, and it can be a much more social job than most other genres of photography. You get to meet couples early in their relationship and witness perhaps the greatest day of their lives. As a wedding photographer, you are surrounded by your client's favorite and most important people in their lives. You get to meet their families, joke around with their friends, capture serious moments, capture funny moments, and sometimes, at the end of it all, you wind up building long-lasting relationships with these newlyweds. Often, they become repeat customers as they ask you to photograph their children or even hire you to create images for their businesses. Once in a blue moon, the payoff is even greater, and you build a genuine friendship that is worth way more than any monetary value.
Those are the things I love about being a wedding photographer. One of the things I was never excited about with wedding photography was receiving that email months (or even years) later asking about the wedding album they paid for in advance. Don't get me wrong, nothing feels more fulfilling than seeing a completed wedding album with your best images that perfectly showcase a couple's entire wedding day. It's such an amazing feeling when you receive a finished wedding album that is hot off the press and ready to be mailed out to a client. For me, it was the process of getting to that finished album that made me not want to book wedding albums at all!
Why Making Albums Gave Me Anxiety
So, you might be asking yourself, what exactly was so bad about designing a wedding album? For me, there were a few distinctive aspects that I found less than enjoyable. First, I do not like having work over my head that sits incomplete for long periods of time. Most of my clients would email me saying they loved the photos, but when it came to picking out photos for their wedding album, that process, on average, would take over a year.
Lee Morris had a client, let's call her Brandi, who still hasn't completed her album, and it's been 15 years! It's an ongoing joke, but at this point, I think we all enjoy the fact that this album still hasn't been made, and perhaps it never should be, just so the joke can continue. Brandi has become one of those rare life-long friends who started off as a wedding client. She has become such good friends with Lee and I that I invited her and her husband to my own wedding. Over the years, Lee and I have shot Brandi's friends' weddings in Germany and France and vacationed with her and her husband, but I must say, she isn't the normal wedding album procrastination story. I don't know what it is specifically, but most brides from my experience just don't make it a priority to set time aside to pick out their favorite images for their wedding album.
Another aspect of the wedding album-making process that I never enjoyed was having to design the book from scratch. I can objectively say that I'm a pretty good wedding photographer. I can also objectively say that I am an awful graphic designer. The two skill sets couldn't be further polar opposites. While I do enjoy culling and curating the best images from a wedding, I absolutely hate trying to figure out how to turn a blank page into a finished layout. As I explain in the video above, when I was shooting weddings, most album companies didn't have super sophisticated software that made building an album from scratch easy.
My third most hated part of the album-building process, and the most frustrating, was trying to find ways to easily proof a final layout with my client. Nothing worried me more than sending an album off to be printed only to find that an image I picked or a layout my client didn't approve accidentally made it to the final album. Could they look past it and still cherish the album, or would I have to eat the cost and print off a second album to keep a client happy?
I Believed My Own Bad Advice
These hurdles helped influenced me to make perhaps the worst business decision of my wedding career. After just three years of shooting weddings, I decided my new policy was to try to persuade my clients to not purchase albums from me. My thinking was if I could get all my revenue up front with the shooting fees, photo booth fees, and engagement and bridal sessions, I would be totally happy and content if my wedding clients never came back to me for anything wedding-related again. I want to be clear: I love almost every client I've ever had the pleasure of working with, but the anxiety caused by constantly thinking one day, five brides would all ask for their wedding albums to be designed and delivered in a one-month window was something that gave me nightmares.
My solution: simply give my clients all the high-resolution images and hope they never ask for a wedding album.
Do Not Be Like Patrick
It's now been six or seven years since I've photographed a wedding for money, and looking back on my wedding career, I can't help but wonder if my business was as successful as it could have been. My average wedding was about $3,500 back then, and I made a modest five- to six-figure income year after year. However, when I talk to colleagues who are shooting weddings today, I'm pretty shocked at how much more money they are grossing. Much of that money comes from offering brides a full wedding album and sometimes multiple albums for their immediate and extended families.
When Saal-Digital reached out to me asking if I'd be interested in creating some sort of content for them, I was a little nervous. How would I feel about diving back into my least favorite part of the wedding photography process? On one hand, I was excited about making my own wedding album which was perfectly timed with my own wedding anniversary, but on the other hand, that reoccurring nightmare of 10 brides asking me why their long overdue album had still not been completed felt all too real. This was just one album, though, and it was my wedding, and it was for my amazing wife, and I had no real deadline except October 10th. I've always said if something scares you, it's best to just tackle it head on, and so, I pitched the video idea you see at the top of this post.
My Experience With Saal-Digital
Fstoppers has worked with many different album companies in the past, and so, I was vaguely familiar with Saal's reputation and quality. I remember filming Lee and Mike's video, where they critiqued three different albums/portfolios. Those three albums were made by Saal, and they looked great. After glancing at the Saal-Digital website, their Professional Line albums with the extra thick (XT) paper really looked slick too. Unlike some of the album companies I used a decade ago for my own business, Saal offers a ton of options ,which makes it easy to find the exact style you are looking for regardless if you are making a show album, a portfolio album, or a more traditional wedding album.
Of all of my complaints about making wedding albums, the biggest issue was by far designing and proofing an album quickly and easily. Saal Digital uses their Saal Design Software which you have to download onto your computer, but it is extremely easy to use and very streamlined. It's also intuitive to use which is super important to me because I absolutely hate having to learn how something works as opposed to just jumping in and figuring it out.
As you can see in the featured video above, I was able to build a 42-page album in about 90 minutes. Keep in mind, this time did also include me retouching a few blemishes on my groomsmen (Cristin and I, of course, looked flawless) and adding just a little polish to some of the best of the best images. Our wedding photographer, Lenisse Komastu, did such an amazing job that a lot of time was simply spent trying to decide exactly which images to feature. I have no doubt that if I were designing an album that I personally shot and had already culled through once before, I could have designed everything much quicker. The Saal Design Software made it incredibly easy to quickly build layouts, change layouts, and pre-visualize how everything was going to sit on the page.
As I was building my own album, I discovered another feature that, looking back, probably would have been a godsend in my own business. On the top menu, you can export a lower-res pdf file that shows the entire layout of the album in its working state. You can then email this file to your client and have them proof or critique the design of the book. I'm sure other wedding album companies offer this now, but back when I was shooting weddings, not every company offered a way to preview the album without also giving your client access to the wholesale prices, markups, and full editable project file. This is a nice touch that I think could even be further expanded. My dream software would also allow some sort of collaborative mode where you could video chat or share a project with the bride themselves while still hiding some of the administrative options and base prices.
After everything was designed and painstakingly proofed on my end, I added my two albums (one in white and another in black leatherette) to the cart. The order took about 10 days from receiving it to arriving on my doorstep. This is an incredibly quick turnaround time that would make me feel confident in dealing with those clients who want their albums yesterday. The packaging was solid and robust, and opening the premium gift box to reveal the shiny acrylic cover with leatherette binding is sure to create an emotional response. I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I designed these two albums on a uncalibrated monitor, but the images in the book still matched up perfectly. I don't know if that is a testament to Saal's print quality or to Lenisse's original workflow, but the images look absolutely beautiful! As I mentioned in the video, I probably should have picked two different papers just to have a better idea of how the matte and glossy papers differ, but I'm a little partial to matte paper and just stuck with that for both albums.
Saal-Digital's Exclusive Deal for Fstoppers
Since this is a sponsored post by Saal-Digital, we asked them for a special discount code for any of you that might want to test-drive their services. They agreed to give all Fstoppers readers a one-time 50% discount on any size album you want to create. If you are looking for an album company to partner up with for your own business, if you need to build an album for an existing client, or if you simply want to create a kick-ass show album featuring your best work, this is an incredible offer that runs now until the end of the year. Since Saal-Digital caters to multiple markets, you do have to use the corresponding links to take advantage of this deal.
Save 50% on any Saal-Digital Album by using the exclusive Fstoppers Links below:
Link for US customers: https://www.saal-digital.com/lp/photobook-14172/
Link for UK customers: https://www.saal-digital.co.uk/lp/photobook-14174/
Link for EU customers: https://www.saal-digital.eu/lp/photobook-14170/
Conditions: 50% off your first photo book order. Coupon requests valid until 12/31/2022 only. The received coupon is valid for the entire Photo Book range. A combination with other coupons is not possible. Not applicable to shipping costs. Redeemable once per household.
My Advice Looking Back
Today, I can more objectively look at my previous wedding photography career and more accurately assess my best and worst business practices. At the time, I was much younger and simply wanted to complete a job and move on to the next job. Building wedding albums months of even years later was such a heavy cloud over my shoulders back then, but looking at the process with fresh eyes today, I think I could have easily found a workflow that would have allowed me to sell more wedding albums anxiety-free. There is no doubt that over my 12-year career shooting weddings, I definitely lost at least $5,000 profit per year by not promoting or upselling my clients on a wedding album. That's a lot of money to reinvest in your business or simply invest in your future, and having just built an anniversary album so easily for my wife, I regret not taking this part of my business more seriously when it was my main source of income.
I'm curious what other wedding photographers think? Do wedding albums, parent albums, and complimentary albums help bring in a significant amount of profit for your business, or do you get the same anxiety I had and try to not sell your clients on albums? If you do make it an effort to sell more albums upfront with your shooting packages, what are some of your most successful marketing tips to help achieve your goals?