How to Specialize in Portraits and Why I Quit Weddings

A couple years ago I made the decision to transition into specializing in women’s portraiture only. I classified “women’s portraiture as:” boudoir, glamour, head shots, seniors, sisters, mom/daughter, family (marketing to mom), etc. This meant that I had to “quit” a few other photography fields. Which mostly meant quitting weddings and anything that didn’t fit into the women’s portrait category.
**If it’s not weddings that you want to quit then feel free to apply this to whatever category you don’t want to do anymore 😉

At the time weddings were over half of my income. I was terrified to quit weddings. All the other photographers I knew shot them. People also kept repeating to me over and over that “weddings are recession proof.” Weddings are also REALLY hard to get out of (IMO). You are super busy spring-fall with shooting and editing. Then the rest of the year you are swamped with engagement sessions and consults. If you’re lucky enough to get 1-2 “slow months” (which they’re probably filled with family sessions) you might have a LITTLE bit of time to reevaluate your business plan. Most wedding clients book 1 YEAR (sometimes two) in advance for their wedding which means you need to really commit to quitting them and plan it out if that is the route you’re looking to go. Not only is it going to take you a long time to transition but it’s really tough on your income because let’s face it having wedding money roll in most of the year is the bomb . com!!

I also kept reminding myself that although I did enjoy the couples and photographing their wedding there was SO MUCH stress that went along with it as well. The stress of finding second shooters, the stress of driving hours to and from shoots, having an unpredictable schedule/sleep schedule, never having weekends available, fading friendships from working 24/7 (they have weekends off, I didn’t), health issues due to stress (yup, you read that right), the fact that this was a once in a lifetime (hopefully hehe) event and the pressure was evident!

 

I knew if I quit weddings I could:

  • work M-F 9am-4pm (set my own hours)
  • Have weekends off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *sings a happy song*
  • Spend less time in a car for 6-8 hours every weekend ( i had to travel for 80% of the weddings I shot 2-8 hours or fly)
  • Make more money and spend more time growing my business
  • Have LESS STRESS. If for SOME reason the portrait session didn’t go as planned I could do it over (in most cases) as opposed to a wedding
  • Be free from 1-2 year contracts
  • Become an “expert” in one field

So, at that point I knew what I wanted to do, but there was still the fear of money. Were weddings more in demand? Would portraits create as much income as weddings did? Could portraits alone still create the same gross or more yearly? Do I have enough time to market portraits since I didn’t have to do a whole lot of marketing for weddings? I sat down and really answered all these questions out on paper.

By experimenting, reading LOTS and answering my own questions I learned that boudoir/glamour portraits are as in demand as you make them. Boudoir/glamour portraits rely heavily on marketing. When somebody gets engaged they know they need to find a photographer to capture their wedding day. However, somebody (usually) doesn’t just wake up and think “I want to be photographed today in my skivvies.” (LOL) Something has to spark them. Luckily Kim Kardashian helped to make boudoir popular, as well as popular culture, Victoria’s Secret (lingerie companies), media, Pinterest, the photography community, etc. So that helps educate people about boudoir a little bit. I also found that the more time I put into my marketing efforts the more my business flourished. 

So, I started my plan of transitioning out of weddings. I went from taking 25 weddings one year to 15 weddings the next year and then the last year I only took 10. All the while I was raising my wedding prices significantly, outsourcing more and more (listed in detail below), spending no time marketing weddings and only taking word of mouth referrals, and instead spent my time marketing portraits and upping the amount of portraits I would take in a week.

 

I also did a few things to help me transition easier:

  • outsourced my wedding editing to a trusted friend who I trained (no editing?! yup, mucho time saved!)
  • brought on a design intern (so I could spend more time working ON my business and not IN it)
  • outsourced my album design to my design intern
  • brought on a marketing intern (to help me market portraits)
Things I would not recommend doing:
  • Announce that you’re quitting (if somebody emails you about a wedding say you’re not booking them at this time but you would recommend so and so, thanks!)
  • Be angry at the weddings you currently have booked. Look, shooting weddings IS fun! If it’s not for you in the long run then make the best of it and move on when you can 🙂
  • Stop being a part of wedding related organizations. – Brides want to book boudoir too you know! 😉

All of this was going on while I was doing 2-3 portraits (M-F): boudoir, glamour, family, etc. As I transitioned I tweaked my prices/strategy for portraits so that I’d be able to gross MORE yearly and shoot MORE portraits. If you’re not sure how to price yourself I would HIGHLY recommend THESE pricing guide options. I’ve used them all 🙂 My average sale once implementing my new pricing was $1400. Then I thought, wow, I can do 2-3 portraits a week and make MORE (much more) than doing weddings over the course of a year. Here in WI people only book weddings June-October (it’s rare otherwise) so it limited my bookings anyways.

I’m proud to say that I DID IT!!!!!!!!! I achieved my goal of becoming a quitter! 😉 Transitioning slowly was key for me. It helped my business slowly transition from being wedding based to portrait based. It didn’t ever look like I closed up shop, just that I transitioned over time 🙂

I truly have to say I’v never been happier with a decision. I have been SOOO thankful to have my weekends back. Last weekend I organized my whole kitchen, cleaned, did laundry and cooked meals for the week. It’s the simple things in life <3. I’ve also been able to visit my family more, see friends more, spend more time with my main squeeze, etc. I’m working M-F 9am-4pm and then I get evenings and weekends off.

Here’s a summary of what I did to quit:

  • Decided what I wanted to quit
  • Made a pros and cons list
  • Ran the numbers
  • Decided how I was going to create that income somewhere else
  • Made a plan (don’t just quit because you had a bad day, really weigh the pros and cons)
  • Put my plan to action!
  • Stuck to my plan (if you’re tempted to shoot a wedding just look back at your pros/cons list)

Want some extra help quitting weddings and getting into portraits? Check out my Boudoir Certified program!

 

Molly Keyser of Boudie Shorts explains how she quit weddings and specialized in portraits and boudoir photography.How to specialize in portraits and boudoir photography and quit weddings by Molly Keyser of Boudie Shorts
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Molly Keyser

Boudoir photographer and business coach, I am dedicated to changing the world with the power of a camera. Originally from Wisconsin, I'm now in Texas, but I help photographers around the world learn how to go full-time with boudoir photography.