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The Ecosystem of Wedding Photographers | Are Wedding Influencers Hurting the Industry? | Des Moines Wedding Photographer

First things First

Today, I’m going to share some thoughts that might ruffle a few feathers.  It’s about the recent influx of online photography education superstars, and how they are impacting the wedding community as a whole.

I first want to start this post off stating that I am sharing my own personal observations and reflections based on my experience..  This is just me….so you can take it or leave it, because it’s purely opinion. Lol! With that being said, let me explain why I think Online Wedding Photography Courses might not be what I originally expected OR what is best for us all as a collective whole.

If you are a wedding photographer, you’re likely aware that there are lots of online courses available to better your skills as a photographer and business owner.  And you can conveniently learn from the from the comfort of your home! There are countless numbers of photographer educators out there, but there are a handful of very successful what I like to call “superstar”d wedding photographers who for sure have paved the way for higher end wedding photography education.  If you are a wedding photographer, you probably know at least one of them. You’ve seen their ads on Instagram or Facebook for their courses, and maybe you’ve even taken one of them yourself. Here’s a bit about my experience…

A Young Little Fish

Three years ago, I was newer to the wedding photography and still had plenty to learn.  I found this online education course that an amazingly talented and quite successful photographer had created and I was hooked! I became a sponge and wanted to take in everything that I possibly could!   I learned so much in a matter of a few weeks, and saw an instant difference in my work and with my business. It’s safe to say I would not be where I am today as an Iowa wedding photographer without this online educator.  I am also in good company with my success as I know other class participants have seen growth as well. So it’s not that these courses are bad – they ARE teaching people!

But here’s the thing….while I’ve seen growth in my own business and found success as a result of these courses….I believe they are hurting me.  And others.

Here’s how….

After speaking with a good photographer friend, who is not new at the game, a few things were illuminated for me..  Every year around, in the middle of the winter when wedding booking season picks up for us in the Midwest,, people tend to feel more anxious with the need to book clients. We are all trying to catch the same brides and hope to fill our calendars, and yet….we struggle.  Now, a lot of people say there are ways to fix this through marketing, improving client experience, changing your SEO, or any other number of ways….and they would likely be right. (And guess what, there’s courses for that too!) Others will say that the photography field is too saturated.  I have usually taken d the mindset that there are plenty of weddings to go around, there’s plenty of brides out there for everyone, right? RIGHT!?! . But then, I think about all of the people who had taken all of these courses. In ONE course alone that I have taken, there are over 2,500 students.  And they are ALL, talented, educated, and relatively new photographers. And that’s just ONE course. There are quite a few more.

Is the Pond Overpopulated?

Personally, I’m starting to realize that the wedding photography “pond” is full of a lot of little fish, and we’re all hoping to become a bigger fish and snag the pretty weddings.  But here’s the thing, when the pond is so full of fish, the fish don’t grow. And if they all are learning from the same BIG fish, they all start to look the same too.. They start fighting over food sources, and the quality of the pond water deteriorates creating sickness to the fish.  An overpopulated homogeneous pond can’t survive or thrive.

Sometimes, when I look at these educational groups and then my own local cohort of wedding photographers,I feel like a guppie. I was happily taken from the fish hatchery, and then placed into a small pond with a few large bass and about 500 other guppies, learned how to swim a little bit and eat a little bit to survive, but I will just remain a guppie.  My business will keep swimming along at an average pace, but I won’t be able to grow and be independent. The business won’t be sustainable or unique.

The big fish are making bank, while they continue to fill the pond with little fish.  And the fish never really flourish on their own….because the ecosystem is damaged and unsustainable.

Pretty bleak, isn’t it?

What About the Big Fish That Are Actually Swimming?

This also makes me think about the wedding photographers in my area who have been around for 10 years, and what this has done for their business.  The ones that are full time, making a profit and a living off of wedding photography, and not just primarily filling the pond with more little fish.  It’s become harder to charge a price that you are worth, when people have tons of other cheaper options, who were all taught by the same person, and the a similarly excellent good photography experience, but for half the price.    This of course does not affect everyone, and people who have built up credibility and relationships can still run very successful businesses, but the numbers of competition have increased. And I love my photography community so much, but I still need to book clients. 😛

So what happens to those fish?  They can either jump into the education game to try to supplement their income, which continues to pad their own pocketbooks, but also perpetuates the downward trend of the ecosystem by continually filling the pond.  Or…they can lower prices and compete on volume alone. I suppose a third option is just to try to be the last fish swimming and just tough it out. But…it’s NOT easy.


When the Big Fish Try to Become Educators

The massive increase in online course popularity is undercutting the local photographers who would like to educate and mentor. People are less likely to pay $1200 to a local photographer to mentor when they can spend less than $400 for an online course full of modules.  Some of these educators even use low pricing to get more people to buy their course, showing them the value its worth, but then charging much less.  But, then they teach how you can charge more for your photography. They are teaching a value-based pricing model for wedding photographers, and in the same breath running a volume-based model for their education. .  Some of these educators have grossed millions of dollars from their courses. This isn’t an exaggeration. And while yes, these courses are clearly meeting a felt need, I would encourage you to think long and hard about what it will do for your business in the LONG run.  Like….5 years from now. Many of these courses are geared towards moderate beginners, which I was in that position at one point. But…where will they get you?

Financially speaking, if you want to make a sustainable living off of photography, I would greatly encourage you to learn from people who MAKE A LIVING off of photography.  And not just off of education. For those in the Des Moines area, I really encourage you to seek out some local photographers and business coaches here and support your community.  Find someone who is rocking it out at their business and knows how to build a business that is profitable doing the thing you love. Because truly, when you look at some of these educators, yes they are still working professionals, but I guarantee you 80% of their income (just a guess!) is from their photography courses and not from paying clients.  

And just in case I wasn’t clear before, I want to say again that I have taken these courses, and I am one of the many who have benefited from the wedding photographer boom.  As it continues to grow, I do wonder how much more we can maintain. There has been so much good with this increase of photographers, like more educated photographers who will take care of their wedding clients! There are less wedding  photography horror stories, and hopefully we will help raise the bar for what quality wedding photography should cost. But, I also can’t help but feel some of the repercussions this rapid growth as well. Hopefully I can keep swimming in the pond and keep growing.  Here’s hoping!

Postscript

So I’m admittedly nervous about posting and sharing this, but I would love for any discussion and feedback to be beneficial, helpful, and constructive.  If your take on this is different, I’d love to hear from you. Or if you have thoughts on how to navigate this new dynamic in the wedding photography ecosystem, I’m all ears.

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Kirstie Veatch Photography is a Wedding Photographer based in Des Moines, Iowa.