Wedding photographers adapt to couples who want instant images and less tradition on their big day

NEW YORK (AP) — More and more couples are throwing out the playbook for a traditional wedding — and posing new challenges for the people they hire to create the perfect images of their big day.

Getting married has traditionally involved a large reception, and rituals like cutting cake, multiple toasts and time for dancing. A wedding photographer would capture it all — and the newly hitched couple would then wait weeks or months for the pictures.

The pandemic and social media have upended those traditions. During the pandemic, many weddings turned into elopements. Social media images and videos took center stage when people couldn’t gather for a big ceremony.

Wedding photographers say some of the pandemic trends are sticking around. They’re being asked to shoot more elopements and micro weddings – weddings with 50 or fewer guests — and to provide faster photos and behind-the-scenes videos that can easily be shared on social media. That’s on top of the regular wedding photos.

Many photographers also find themselves much more involved in planning the wedding. Nina Reed of Larsen Photo Co. in Boulder, Colorado, says couples are increasingly relying on her local knowledge when planning their big day.

“Now I’m much more involved in everything from suggesting locations, building out timelines to recommending vendors and activities and really helping my couples plan for the whole day instead of just showing up to take photos of whatever they have planned on their own,” she said.

All of this means more work, leaving photographers to ponder whether they can do it all alone.

Kari Bjorn, owner of Kari Born Photography in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said that to keep up with what clients are asking for, he’s added some new services to his wedding packages, like wedding-day GIFs. He’s also considering hiring a “day-of content creator,” a job he’s noticed being advertised frequently this year.

“Essentially it’s a contractor whose job it is to shoot and publish phone content for the bride and groom on their wedding day so they don’t have to,” he said. “I feel like people really want to post things instantly as their event is happening.”

Jonica Moore, owner of Jonica Moore Photography in Brooklyn, New York, said adding more social content to packages would likely require her to hire another person to help with weddings.

“If you’re a photographer, you don’t really have time to do that,” she said.

Adding help would mean more costs for photographers at a time when many have already raised their rates due to inflation.

After a plunge in 2020 and a modest increase in 2021, the number of weddings jumped to 2.5 million in 2022 due to pent up demand, according to the trade group Wedding Report. This year they’re expected to total 2.2 million as the US returns to a more normal wedding cadence.

The cost of a wedding has gone up, according to data from the wedding web site The Knot, but not dramatically. The national average cost of a wedding in 2022 was $30,000, up $2,000 from 2021. In 2019, before the pandemic, that figure stood at $28,000.

Meanwhile, the average cost of a wedding photographer in 2022 was $2,600, up only $100 from 2021, although rates vary by location, time of year and the level of service. For example, the mid-range cost in New York City is $5,000 to $7,500, Moore said.

Bjorn raised his rates after the boom year of 2022 but had to scale back a bit when he received fewer requests than he had hoped for.

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Bjorn said. “(Rates) are a little bit lower now than they were at the start of the year, but still higher than last year.”

Sarah and Peter Olson, a husband-and-wife team who run CityLux Studios in Boston, are spending much more time creating social media content than they did in years past, and are hiring an assistant to “specifically grab content we can use for social media and behind-the-scenes type content,” they said. They recently started taking videos vertically in short clips so their clients can use them for social media reels on Instagram.

““We try to deliver teasers on social media within 24 to 48 hours,” Peter Olson said.

Another pandemic trend that’s sticking around is smaller weddings and elopements.

That’s a trend Reed, the Boulder, Colorado, photographer is banking on. When the pandemic shutdown hit Boulder, big weddings evaporated and elopements surged. She switched to shooting only elopements and micro-weddings and decided to do it permanently.

“From talking to dozens of couples who chose to elope during the pandemic, many of them used the restrictions as an excuse not to plan a big, expensive wedding that they were never particularly excited about in the first place,” she said.

Reed expects the number of improvements to remain above pre-pandemic levels going forward as couples realize they can put the money saved on the wedding toward a honeymoon or a down payment on a home.

Naomi Cataldo of Urban Row Photography in Baltimore, Maryland, said she hasn’t changed her offerings much due to demand for social media but now turns around photos in shorter time. She tweaked her editing process and brought it completely in-house to more fully control the timing. The process used to take eight to 10 weeks, but now she shares previews with the couple within the first week and the full gallery of edited photos within four to six weeks.

Meanwhile, Cataldo has noticed couples axing traditional wedding events like a bouquet toss or cutting the cake, and stretching out their wedding into a weekend celebration with all guests invited to a welcome party, wedding ceremony and brunch.

“Couples are asking for more personalized details and non-traditional, unique elements and events for their wedding day or weekend, and a lot less than just doing things for tradition’s sake,” she said.

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