there's a really healthy discussion going on here and I have been following the thread since it started. I wish I could have posted my thoughts on this earlier but I am currently in Paris and have been quite tied up till now.
Many of the guys who have posted, have provided invaluable insights into how the industry works. I personally think its been generous of them to share their views. I am going to share with you why I became a full time photographer and how we now charge $6000 for a standard 10 hour package. This is my take and I hope you are able to take something out of it for your own benefit.
I first started photography seriously with this forum. I was a serious hobbyist, like many of you are now. Clubsnap have been really kind to me. It provided the initial breakthroughs when I started posting my wedding works on the wedding sub forums. Forum members started refering their colleagues, friends and relatives to me. That got me started and eventually, I made the jump to full time wedding photography, in June 2006. Actually, it was more like a plunge. I went in almost blind so trust that I am really glad to be alive and sharing this with you guys here in this forum.
There were pull and push factors.
I was a regional sales manager, before I became a photographer. I was really happy with my job. It had a decent salary, a car was provided and petrol and handphone bills were also paid for. However, I was really passionate about photography. As with most wedding photographers here, I started shooting for my friends weddings. That was back in 2004. Soon enough (about a year later), I was getting a number of referals. I started shooting about 3 weddings a month on top of my full time job. The company, that I was working for, meanwhile was expanding and were looking at setting manufacturing plants in the region. My workload for the coming year was going to increase significantly. Thus, I had to decide. I couldn't juggle both anymore. It was one or the other.
Back then, the rationale was really simple. A little too simplistic but I thought it would work. If I could get 4 couples a month at $1500 a couple, that would bring in $6000 and if I worked from home, there would be little overheads. The main cost then was album and print cost. I just wanted my business to be lean. It was simple. If it was lean, it would be easier to exit if things don't work out well. I was 29 then, and should have been able to get myself another job, if the photography bit didn't work out. $6000 seemed enough.
I also remember meeting up with some of the more senior photographers, gown designers and florists. The common advise was not to do this full time. The industry was struggling and rates then were hovering around $1500-$2500 for AD (10 hours coverage with 300 prints/coffeetable).
I am not really a big risk taker but I really wanted to do photography full-time. I was really passionate and felt that it was a risk worth taking. I talked to my wife and had her full support. She was in senior management then and we figured her salary would have pulled us through and at the least, I could always cook her dinner when she gets back from work now that I work from home plus I am Baba... so can cook la. =)
Thats how I started out. I met my clients at my 4 room HDB apartment in Toh Yi Drive. However, the first two nights after I quit my job was the worst two nights of my life so far. I was scared. I started questioning the sensibility of my actions. When I went full time, we only had about 8 jobs spread out over a 6 month period. It was not going to be enough and I was seriously worried that my wife would have to suffer because of this decision. Already, we had lost our car, which we had to return to the company. There would be big lifestyle changes.
So, driven by fear, I took up any job that came along. I started advertising on Singapore Brides and participating in the forums. Jobs started flowing in quite quickly and I was beginning to feel that it might work after all. I started raising my rates to $1800 in 3 months and another 3 months later, I raised it to $2000. I raised the rates because I felt that there was a demand for my works and I really wished I could do lesser jobs but at higher rates. However, in the first year, I continued taking up any job that came along. I was also encouraged that the enquiries didn't slow down despite the increased rates. Eventually, I started charging about $2500 after the first year.
I was still overwhelmed. The year ended with about 110 weddings. It was mostly through word of mouth, advertising in Singapore Brides and perhaps the most important of all, getting talked about in Blogs.
It was great but I was totally tired by the end of the first year! My style of photography leans towards the emotive and romantic. I am extroverted. I am excited and passionate when I meet new people. I love making friends and I like getting engaged on the day of the shoot. The energy level required is really high, with the way I shoot. Besides, as business grew, I started having to spend more time on matters which was outside of photography. I spent more time answering emails, meeting clients, getting the contracts sorted out, delivering the albums, decorating the room where I meet my client, sourcing for new album makers... the list goes on and on. All these were on top of post editing and the actual shooting.
Then, I met Kuang (39 East) and it was, in a way, a defining moment. We have heard about one another through mutual friends but never met and we thought it would be nice to meet up for tea for a little chat. What I took away from the meeting was that I couldn't possibly go on shooting 100+ wedding every year, especially not when I am doing this on my own. (I think Kuang almost fell off his chair when I told him how many we were shooting in a year.) I probably would want to consider not working from home and separating my work life from family life, especially when i have a kid. Also, that I have been understating my cost. My simple model was just that. Too simple. There were many other expenses which were not factored in.
In the following year, I did my sums and convinced my wife to join me on a full time basis. I needed help and she would be the best person for me to handle my emails, bills, contracts and schedules. Eventually, she would also help me with my DI work. I was convinced that we should stick to what we do best... shooting (and perhaps editing). All else should be done by someone else. Beth joined me and we raised our rates to $3500. We had worked out the expenses and the time spent on each wedding. We easily spend about 23-25 hours on each wedding. We spend 10 hours on the actual shoot, 4 - 6 hours on the DI work, 4 hours on laying the album out in photoshop, 1-2 hours when we meet the client and 1-2 hours physically doing up the album (We still do some of our albums ourselves in our backyard.) I also needed to pay her a salary. We also started factoring in the advertising fees with Singapore Brides and subsequently, the magazines. We were also getting in new album suppliers from overseas on top of the ones we get locally. If the rates are gonna be at $3500 instead of $1500 just a year back, we had to justify the increase. In a nutshell, albums got better and we spend more time editing the images and the images were getting better.
We also had our baby, Kyra.
We were also fortunate in two aspects. First of all, Singapore Tatler named us in their Best of Singapore list for Wedding Photography and that really boosted our profile. We also started getting placings for a number of our images in WPJA and AGWPJA. In the first two years, it was a conscious effort to win these awards. We were new and young and i felt that we needed credibility if we are to reach out to new customers. We were still doing alright with the referals but we needed a bigger base to work from if we intend to raise our rates. Another boost, interestingly, was from Andrew and Janice's wedding. More specifically, it was from Janice's blog. It was pure luck. I first met the couple at their friend's wedding where they were in the bridal party. They were a really nice and sweet couple, who look absolutely gorgeous together. I ended up shooting their wedding. It was only after the wedding that I found out she blogs and her blog was pretty well read http://ickleoriental.livejournal.com. She posted her wedding images on her blog and we started getting many enquiries from her readers and friends. We were also getting known in the Livejournal community. Till today, 3 years on, we still get couples who first knew us though her blog.
By the end of the second year, we could manage better. However, my ideal was always to shoot about 50 - 60 weddings in a year, with proper help. We were still doing quite a number of wedding in a year, especially now that we started shooting pre-wedding and overseas bridals! The style of photography is also pretty different from what it was and so is the shooting method. I spent a lot of time with my couples and I shoot at really weird hours for the best light. I have found out that if you genuinely have the couple's interest at heart and care and love them, your works will show the passion and drive that you have for them. You have to search within yourself why the couple means so much to you and its not always about the money. That will come naturally when you get the first bit right. It sounds rather commonsensical but I believe it could just be as simple as that. We get lost in pursuing our craft and perfecting a certain identity in our images that we forget that its really all about the couple.