September 01, 2011 — It's the million-dollar question: How do I sell killer packages while still making a profit? The answer is simple. Offer customers unique services of great value that don't cost you a fortune in time and money to produce. Ah, but it's the execution of that plan that you really need to know. I've been fortunate in my business to work with many of the top photographers on the cutting edge of the industry. Here are some of their tips to get you in the black. Let's break that answer down point by point:
Through work with our bridal site at Storymix, we've interviewed over 100 brides and two dozen wedding planners regarding their preferences for photo and video services. Research from theweddingreport.com shows that 70% of brides do not get video from their wedding. It's not because they don't want video. Our anecdotal evidence shows that it's because (a) they don't want to deal with yet another vendor and (b) they don't want a boring two-hour wedding video.
Photographers, such as Jason Groupp, decided to meet this need by offering fusion. He says, "I started by taking a point-and-shoot camera on shoots. Then I edited it together with the photos in iMovie. I use fusion as a marketing tool to generate buzz about my studio." says Jason. He posts teasers—very short form movie trailers—of the couple on Facebook.
What is Fusion?
Fusion is rather new to the marketplace. The 5D Mark II debuted in 2008 as the first full frame HDSLR. Much to the surprise of Canon, its usage went far beyond the traditional photojournalists for whom it was intended. Filmmakers, event photographers, advertisers...everyone fell in love with the shallow depth of field. Everyone...including brides.
Fusion is storytelling with both photos and video in one movie that the client can watch on their anniversary every year—your gorgeous photos capturing that perfect moment cut with B-roll footage of the kiss, their first dance and audio of the toast. It tells the story in such a personal, meaningful manner.
Jen and Steve Bebb are the pioneers in fusion. Their most popular product entails capturing photos and audio for the client requiring only a $200 microphone. Then they present the couple with a beautiful film on DVD. As their photos are shown, the audio from the father's memories of his daughter plays. Each film is unique and incredibly valuable to the bride.
Jen says, "With the creation of our Fusion Collections, we have of course raised our prices. But, as we were already near the top of our market with pricing, we wanted to make Fusion an attractive alternative for our clients without shattering their budget. Fusion add-ons start at $1500 for audio and $3500 for ceremony/speech coverage. About 80% of our clients order fusion with audio and 15% order a complete fusion video."
Fusion is really whatever you want it to be. The market is so wide open that you can define the product in your own unique manner. Fusion provides brides with a way to view their precious photos of the wedding day together with those special moments of video. The focus always remains on the photos, but the video is there to help tell the story.
It is also a time saver for the bride because she is hiring one vendor to provide two services. She doesn't need to interview another round of vendors and wonder about the product she will receive.
Here is where it makes sense to get creative with your package offerings. You'd like your bride to buy that wall print or canvas, as well as a custom designed album. Your bride may be thinking more short term and simply want a disc of photos and a Web video. By tying the product she wants to the product that will make you more profit, you both win. For instance, offer the Web trailer movie for free when she buys your top package of prints and albums. It's free marketing on the web for you, a beautiful memento for her and a nice profit from the prints that you otherwise would have missed out on.
Time and Money Commitment
Offering brides a product they want is great, but how do you know it isn't going to cost you a fortune in the process? It's important, when offering new services, not to break the bank in terms of time and money in postproduction.
Think back to when the workflow switched from film to digital. Sure, you saved money on the processing, but then you became tethered to the computer for 20 to 40 hours while editing each wedding's images. You also needed to invest in terabytes of storage for the latest computer.
Or how about when it became standard to use second shooters? You now have even more photos to edit. It's important when expanding your product offerings to also consider the commitment of time and money it would require.
That's when it pays to learn from the efficiencies of those who have gone before you. Jen and Steve Bebb wrote a fantastic manual on fusion photography, Photo Fusion: A Wedding Photographers Guide to Mixing Digital Photography and Video, which spells out how to shoot fusion as well as how to learn from their workflow.
Ken Sklute, Canon Explorer of Light, teaches workshops specifically on the journey from still photographer to fusion photographer. Ken says, "I began offering fusion by simply creating time lapse movies of the wedding setup in Quicktime Pro."
Certainly, you don't want to add 40 hours of video editing to your post-processing workflow. Getting started with programs like iMovie or ProShow will save you time and money. As your fusion business takes off and your prices increase, you may want to consider outsourcing the editing. Talented video editors can be found through organizations such as user groups for Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro.
But how do you start marketing a product you don't have? Chris Croy, a fusion photographer in St. Louis, began on spec. "I opened my shiny new 5D Mark II on a Wednesday and shot my first wedding movie on Saturday." He prepared the couple for less than perfection and didn't charge them for the Web version of their movie.
Chris now sells fusion to almost 100% of his clients, almost tripling his average package price. Better than that, he says, "I used fusion to bring my advertising budget to zero. Every client receives a short Web movie posted to Facebook. They are then offered incentives to tag their friends. Some of my seniors have tagged one hundred friends. Most of my inquiries come [as] Facebook messages."
But how do I actually do it? What camera? What mic? Help! The purpose of this article is not to teach fusion, but rather why it will help you rise to the top. There are many great teachers out there. Keep in mind a few things:
• Start small (personal projects)
• Get familiar with the equipment before taking it to an event
• Your focus is on photography, so make sure to get your photos
There are several different methods to film fusion events. One way recommended by Robert Evans is to collaborate with a cinematographer. This enables you to offer top-quality cinema-style movies without having to invest in the equipment and training necessary to film it yourself. Robert says, "I charge a $4000 premium for the full-feature fusion film."
Another method is to work with a second shooter; one shooting video, one shooting photos. Steve Neilson, from Grayslake, IL is a former videographer turned photographer. Steve says, "Because of fusion, we're getting more photography jobs. Where video was 100% of my business, it's now 25%. When we did only video, it was 100% weddings. Now, we're killing it with seniors."
The last method to provide fusion is one that requires amazing skill and experience. It's one that few have attempted, let alone turned into a successful business. That is the method of the lone shooter. L.A. photographer Leroy Hamilton, for example, takes up to four cameras on his shoots and sets up tripods to capture footage. "Most of my fusion gigs began as corporate photography shoots. They asked me to shoot some video clips as well. I sell fusion on close to 50% of my corporate jobs at over $1000 per 2 to 3 minute fusion video," he says.
What can fusion do for you?
Fusion is the marketing tool that entices potential clients to seek out your services. Following the example of these successful photographers, you'll see how fusion can increase your bottom line.
There are currently very few photographers offering fusion services across the country. Adding this service before your competition can set you apart.
For further education, here is a list of photographers teaching the technical aspects of fusion:
Jen and Steve Bebb
View a sample fusion video from Chris Croy:
Ariane Fisher is the Creative Director of Storymix Media, where she works with clients to tell stories with their photos and video http://pro.storymixmedia.com/fusion-editing.html. She is an Apple Certified video editor in Final Cut Pro and Motion Graphics. She has been featured on the ABC Chicago evening news and NBCChicago.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB3wlqynsbA&feature=player_embeddedhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB3wlqynsbA&feature=player_embedded