Wedding photography is a particularly insular business, with very few talking outside of their small groups of trusted photographer friends and most working alone.

This situation doesn’t help anyone. Sometimes it’s good to know that other people are struggling with what you’re struggling with, just to make it a little easier to deal with.

With that in mind, I decided to do the first UK wedding photography business survey to understand where photographers are at the moment with their businesses. It was enlightening!

You can see the key points on the infographic above.

What are the key lessons?

What do I take from it? Here are some thoughts:

  • Photographers are more confident than they were 3 years ago. That’s great news!
  • Photographers really enjoy their jobs! (But they’d really prefer not to have to choose images, or do admin and finance).
  • The vast majority of photographers are managing to earn a living from their photography business, with some reporting they are even earning more than they need. However, I think it’s fair to say that few are getting rich.
  • Photographers still believe the market is over saturated, with too many amateurs offering cheap deals and discounts for very little cost. That is having an effect on their ability to charge a real living wage for a quality product. It encourages customers to price shop, rather than quality / style being their priority.
  • Many photographers mentioned they would like the industry to be licensed and regulated in order to reduce the occurrence of poor quality photographers.
  • Marketing is the key area that all photographers still struggle with, with many noting they can’t seem to find their customers.
  • It was very encouraging to read that 83% of photographers will do what it takes to make their business succeed. That’s a very positive statistic! Businesses that don’t welcome change generally don’t succeed.
  • It was interesting to read that a third of photographers still haven’t done any training whatsoever, but it was telling to find that only 13% of training was rated as “all fantastic” and with nearly 25% being in the poorer category. Clearly, trainers are not doing all they can.

Conclusion

I would say that wedding photography is not a broken business model, which I hear discussed at times. In fact, only 5% of people ticked that option. There is plenty to be look forward to in the future if wedding photographers are willing to develop their skills and improve all areas of their businesses.

My one question mark from all of this is that regulation of an industry can reduce the amount of amateurs, it’s true. However, improving your own business in all areas will do the same job. Regulation has never been talked about, so I wouldn’t wait on it.

I’d like to thank everyone for being involved in this project and hope it’s useful for the UK wedding photography community.

What next?

Find out more about the business of wedding photography in my article to help photographers understand how to run a business.

And if you like this… sign up for my newsletter to find out more about SEO, marketing, business, post production, photography skills and training opportunities.

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  1. Reply

    Great article, really interesting to read. 🙂 Thanks

  2. SHARON MALLINSON WWW.SYMPLYPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK
    Reply

    What a fascinating article – thanks for sharing!

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We’ve all got our ideas about what is right or wrong in our businesses, but as someone who has trained and mentored many photographers, I can confirm there are common mistakes that new and old businesses alike make.

So. Here we are.. it’s the countdown which could save your livelihood!

10. You’re copying others

It’s very easy to copy others. However, the rarer something (good) is, the more people want it and the more you can charge. Conversely, the more generic something is, the easier it is for customers to price shop.

Instead of doing what others are doing, offer something different in:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Branding & website
  • Customer service
  • Photography style & quality
  • Products

Know your competition so you can steer clear of them and constantly re-appraise your competitive market every 6 months to see what they’re doing.

9. You’re ignoring SEO & social media

More and more brides are finding their photographers online. Wedding magazines are largely a thing of the past now, as an advertising medium, but SEO and social media are right where people are.

So, you need to put aside time to work on your online presence. Hint: pinterest is great!

8. You’re scared of change

Businesses that stand still are actually moving backwards because others are moving forwards. An example of this issue was a videographer I spoke to, whose business was failing. I pointed out most videographers had moved to DSLRs but he gave a long list of reasons that he couldn’t switch, none of which were really real.

So, every year, look to improve something in your photography business. Write down the areas of your business which are in the worst state and aim to fix 2 or 3 of them a year.

7. You’re not shooting for you

To keep yourself fresh and full of ideas and enthusiasm, you should shoot for yourself at least once a month. Have pet projects which will allow you to see photography in a slightly different way and which can feed back into your paid work.

You have a long career ahead of you, so enjoy some of it!

6. You’re wasting your advertising budget

It’s common in business to hear that advertising should cost you around 10% of what make back. If you are paying thousands in blog advertising, magazine advertising, wedding fayres, ineffective adwords campaigns and so on, and you’re not making at least a 5 fold return on your investment, you should be looking elsewhere.

Do the figures and always know where your customers have come from. Cancel those advertising streams which simply aren’t worth it.

5. You don’t have a financial plan

70% of wedding income might be over the summer. Plan to avoid cash-flow issues with ideas such as:

  • Have other winter work (training, portraits, specialise in winter weddings, go abroad and shoot in their summer).
  • Pay yourself a set monthly salary and leave the remaining money in your business.
  • Produce a budget forecast for the coming year with income and known outgoings – including tax. This helps spot months you might need more income, and help you understand what salary you can afford.
  • And finally… put some extra money into savings for a rainy day.

4. You underestimate the importance of brand

People tend to find it hard to look at what they themselves have and so often disregard the importance of a clear and strong brand in the modern market. 30 years ago customers would look in their yellow pages for the three local photographers, but these days they can easily see hundreds.

Your brand needs to stand you apart and be an honest reflection of your business ideals.

3. You don’t know your profit

“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity” is a truism in business. Too many photographers focus on income without considering true profit – or if you’re really on it, your take home pay. Do you know how much all of your products cost?

Typical costs you should know and plan for include:

  • Albums, prints & samples
  • Travel & accommodation
  • Training
  • Equipment & repairs
  • Insurance & professional fees
  • Accountancy & bank / paypal fees
  • Telephony
  • PC & online software
  • Website, branding, & hosting
  • Advertising
  • IT (computer, storage & backup)

2. You’re fixated on kit

If you find yourself asking your favourite photographer crush “what lens they used for this shot”, you might be a kit addict.

Don’t worry.. it’s common among photographers. It’s true that equipment does matter, but it should not occupy your every waking moment, and if your business is failing, it’s the last thing you should be looking it. Instead, spend money on learning about and improving your brand, sales and marketing.

Only ever buy equipment which will provide you with a clear return on investment.

1. You have no business plan

I’m constantly surprised to find that photographers don’t have a business plan; if that’s you, you’re in good company since I’ve yet to come across a single photographer who does have one.

Decide where you want to be in 3 years time, and work back from there; work out where you need to be in 2 years to achieve your 3 year goals, then work out where you need to be in 1 year, then 6 months and 3 months. Constantly update this to give yourself quarterly goals which head you in the right direction.

If you don’t have a goal to head for, the only guarantee is that you won’t achieve it.

Any questions?

I hope this has been useful. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. In the meantime, you might like to sign up for my newsletter, if you’ve not already done so.

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The Canon EF 50mm 1.2L USM would be my choice if you forced me to shoot a wedding with just a single lens.

It still surprises me saying this because I really didn’t like 50mm lenses initially, having tried the much cheaper Canon f1.4 and f1.8 lenses, but the results I can achieve with this one lens make it my overall favourite.

Read on to find out why that’s my view…

Popularity of 50mm lenses

Fast 50mm primes are popular with photographers. They are the closest to our own eyes, which makes photos produced “comfortable” to look at. I think Jasmine Star might have been the first particularly well known photographer to bring them to weddings, although there were photographers before her using them.

Canon-EF-50mm-f-1.2

It’s easy to see why. Shooting a 50 wide open brings a level of romanticism to the shot which you simply don’t get with other lenses, or at least that’s the case for the better quality 50’s out there.

Overall, it’s the optics of this lens which really shine. Everything else is good, but Canon knocked it out of the park when creating the look this lens produces.

Quick roundup

Pros

  • The way the lens renders the scene is just beautiful.
  • From f1.8 to f2.8 it’s very sharp.
  • Focus accuracy is exceptional, especially considering the low DOF.
  • It lets in a large amount of light, which lets you keep your ISO lower.

Cons

  • It’s not cheap, although good value within it’s category.
  • It’s prone to Chromatic Aberration, but Lightroom removes most of it.
  • Sharpness tends to suffer wider then f1.8, so I very rarely shoot at f1.6 even.
  • Focus speed is not particularly fast.
  • It’s a known “problem lens” with people reporting focus shift issues.
  • It’s not as sharp as other lenses from f2.8 to f5.6.
  • It’s not the lightest or smallest lens in the world, but I don’t find it heavy like the 85mm 1.2.

Construction

The Canon 50mm 1.2L is built to work in the toughest conditions. Unlike the 50mm 1.4 which needs to be treated with kid-gloves, the 1.2 has never let me down in 5 years of ownership, even with a few knocks.

It’s weather sealed too, so you can use it when the wedding-weather-gods aren’t particularly shining on you.

The lens hood is easy to put on and take off, which is one of those things only photographers who work fast really care about!

Lens characteristics

This lens might have been partly responsible for the vintage low DOF photography which has been so popular recently. There’s something really old and beautiful when shooting wedding details and brides were really wow’ed by the effect from this lens. I was one of the early adopters in the UK and I booked a tons of wedding based purely on this!

What it is about the lens then? Well, photographer often talk about “creamy” when they’re describing the out of focus areas of the shot – the bokeh. I prefer to describe more technically it as lacking harsh edges. I really disliked the Canon 50mm f1.4 because of the the harsh bokeh. The Canon 50mm 1.2 just doesn’t suffer from that.

Light into canon 50mm 1.2

Lens flare with the canon 50mm 1.2L at f1.6

Then there’s the way it deals with sunlight behind the subject and flare. If you shoot into a setting sun fairly wide open, the light just seems to flood a section of the frame and photographers have been using that to great effect.

The Canon 50mm 1.2L is built to work in the toughest conditions.

It’s the overall photo which really shines. Everything else is good, but Canon knocked it out of the park when creating the look this lens produces. I’d even go so far as to say they’re going to struggle to improve on this aspect of the lens.

Sharpness

Where it struggles though is in the area of f1.2 to f1.6. It’s just not that sharp – at least compared with some of the more modern lenses. I’m happy with that personally and rarely shoot it wider than f1.8 as I find the depth of field is just what I need at f1.8 anyway.

It’s also not as sharp as the Canon 50mm 1.4 from f2.8 onwards. For me again, this is fine. I never shoot it at any other apertures than f1.8 and f2. It was designed as a lens to shoot from f1.6 to f2.8. It’s a very specialist lens.

It’s certainly not a great studio lens where you’d be shooting at f8 all day. For that I’d take the also exceptional Canon 24-70 f2.8 II instead.

Shoe shot 50mm 1.2

Wedding details photographed with canon 50mm 1.2L

Auto focus

When I was new and working in studio, I thought the accuracy of auto focus was guaranteed. Then later I discovered it wasn’t quite as simple as that and in fact it’s more complicated with the different focus points playing a part. Then even later I discovered there were certain lenses which could be relied upon more than others.

As a professional wedding photographer, I now know which lenses I will rely on most for certain jobs, if I want tack-sharp images (and I’m very picky!).

How does the 50mm 1.2 fare then? Very well on the whole. It’s not my most accurate lens but the amount of keepers I receive from a day (and I’m very very picky) is extremely high.

canon-50mm-1.2-focus-accuracy

Sharpness and focus accuracy of canon 50mm 1.2L

What is amazing though is I run couple sessions in AI Servo mode with them walking towards and away or moving their heads; even then focus is very accurate when using the correct focus point on a 5d3. This is a massive plus point for me!

Where the lens struggles a bit is in particularly low light (think 1/60th, f1.8, ISO4,000, tungsten light), where it may hunt more than some lenses or just not quite hit the target compared with other lenses. This is slightly exacerbated by the speed of AF, which is slower than the Canon 24-70 f2.8L II or 35L for example; you’ll try to focus on something and, by the time the lens has focused to infinity and back, you’ve missed it. That doesn’t happen often though.

For that reason I tend not to use it when I need to absolutely guarantee focus in very low light conditions. However, when there is a usable amount of light available, focus is accurate and quick enough most of the time.

For the reportage photographers out there, the lens is fast and accurate enough to capture fleeting moments of guests laughing and joking around, or kids running around.

Wedding guests 50mm 1.2

Reportage with Canon 50mm 1.2L

You will read online though that there is a known focus-shift problem with the lens – this tends to be when shooting at mid apertures and doesn’t seem to happen with all copies of the lens. I’ve never experienced this problem but I believe it does exist. If you’re going to buy one, make sure you can return it if you get a turkey!

Compared with the competition

When I bought my copy 5 years ago, there really weren’t many particularly good 50’s on the market. Now, though, there is some competition:

  • Canon 50mm f1.8. Cheap and cheerful and recently updated; I wouldn’t personally class this as a professional lens for a wedding photographer though.
  • Canon 50mm f1.4. A lens I kind of hated; with harsh boken and a poor design which means it can (and did!) break at just the wrong time, I don’t recommend it. However, it’s a better lens if you wanted to use it in studio.
  • Sigma 50mm f1.4. The first 50 Sigma produced; I would recommend it more than the Canon 50mm f1.4, but the new Sigma Art lens is way better than this 50mm 1.4.
  • Sigma 50mm Art f1.4. The new kid on the block; I’ve not tried one yet, but people report it’s very sharp and I believe them. My view is that Sigma generally still have a way to go with AF and have some copy variation problems. In terms of the optics, it’s sharp but slightly clinical looking maybe and I prefer the dreamy look of the Canon 1.2 L. It’s a good choice, but I still prefer the Canon.
  • Zeiss Otus f1.4. I just had to mention this; it’s about £4000 and doesn’t have AF… but it has the most incredible optics and is very much at medium format quality. Not likely to be found in many wedding photographers kits though.

Conclusion

It all comes down to this; should you shell out what is a very significant amount of money for this lens?

And the answer from me is a resounding “yes”.

I would take it over any other 50mm lens on the market, even though it’s not the sharpest. More than most, this lens has real fans and I’m not the only one. In fact, I’ve been known to quip;

The Canon 50mm 1.2? You’ll have to prise it out of my dying hands.

However, this lens is a little like marmite – some love it and some don’t, especially for the price. So like with all major equipment purchases, maybe the sensible business decision is to rent it and any alternatives (such as the Sigma) first and then buy it if you like it? Lens purchases are quite serious since you’re usually using them for 5-10 or more years.

Looking forward…

It’ll be very interesting to see what Canon do with the version 2 of this lens, given the exceptional quality of their recent lenses (the 35L II, 24-70 f2.8L II and 16-35 f4 IS particularly).

wed3-30

Canon are producing exceptional optics and incredible AF and lenses remain the main reason I wouldn’t sell my Canon gear. However, when it’s replaced, I really hope they manage to retain the characteristics of this particular lens because it’s what people love.

Being really honest though, I’m not sure I see any reason to update. It already does everything I want.

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  1. Jennifer Holliday jenniferholliday.co.uk
    Reply

    Great to get a working review of this lens thanks Phil

  2. Rob Dodsworth robdodsworth.co.uk
    Reply

    Ah man, I’d talked myself out of this but now I’ve got Ebay open and Paypal at the ready. Dang it! Great review and images Phil!

  3. Martin mgiddings.com
    Reply

    The next best thing is this lens has dropped in price in the last six months and is a bargain on top of what it does! Not cheap but worth it.

  4. Reply

    Thank you so much for this review, I’ve been in two minds about buying this lens for a while & you’ve helped me decide 😉

  5. Reply

    I have been on the fence between which version of the 50mm I should purchase for wedding photography and this post sealed the deal for me. Any thoughts on the 35mm? I did some research and decided on the 50mm but I am curious about any potential use cases that you might find it handy.

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