Very often people forget that wedding photography involves much more than showing up on the day of the event to document it. In fact, making photographs is the easy part… It is the one thing that comes naturally to you, the photographer. But it’s unfortunate that for most wedding photographers, being creative with the camera does not necessarily mean that they’re as adept at the business side of things. At the end of the day, wedding photography is a service that requires efficient planning and management. So even if you’re great at what you do, if you cannot market yourself, your talent will not quite have the opportunity to show itself. But that’s not the case with Arjun Kartha, who has successfully located the fine thread separating business and photography, and staying firmly put on that line.
It was of course his sheer interest in photography, a love that began much before he started photographing weddings full time, that got Arjun to pick up a camera on a whim and photograph his friend’s wedding in 2007. It took off from there as he realized how much he was enjoying himself. At the same time, he realized something important. “I saw this huge gap between the way weddings were shot in India-which were highly templatised and representational-and the kind of storytelling and imagery that was happening in the West,” he said. This allowed Arjun to understand and realize that there is certainly a market in India for the kind of photographs that emphasize on storytelling.
“One of the areas where most wedding photographers go wrong today is that they think of themselves as artists” – Arjun Kartha
At the time when Arjun began his journey, the wedding photography landscape was still in its infancy. It wasn’t that there weren’t photographers shooting weddings… They just lacked the ability to create a narrative with their pictures. Back then, it was about making standard portraits of the bride and the groom, along with the families and guests who attended. So when Arjun entered the scene, it was natural for clients to be intrigued by his style of picturemaking. “I didn’t really have to market myself much,” he said. However, there were a few things that he realised back then… that if he strengthened certain areas, it would reap benefits years later. One of the first things that Arjun did was learn everything he could about how companies like the now defunct Orkut, Flickr and Facebook worked, and how he could increase his presence on social media. The other important thing was setting up his website and blog. “I knew that over time, the website would be the one pillar that would always remain with me. It would be my personal space, my shopfront to the world. I worked hard to build it and make sure that customers walked in. As for the blog, it was more like a promoter standing outside the store, distributing free lollipops to whoever passed by the store and inviting them to come in. And boy, it worked!” he said.
“One of the areas where most wedding photographers go wrong today is that they think of themselves as artists, and expect work to find them,” he said. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. “My favorite way of thinking about this is imagining how large corporations work. Take Coca Cola for instance. It is one of the top and highest rated brands in the world, and they have more marketing executives working for them around the world than you could fill a stadium with! The same principle should apply to photographers as well. The big difference here is that being a small business, chances are that you need to wear different hats at all time. Having your marketing hat on for at least 20% of the time you spend at work is critical. Photographers need to consciously think about whether they’re reaching their customers. And if they are, what is the customer’s journey? What is the sales funnel that you have that helps nurture an enquiry into a sale? If you consistently think about this, congratulations, you’re a marketing whiz!”
One of the best advice that Arjun received was that being a good photographer is only 25% of what goes into becoming a successful photographer. “At the time, it didn’t make sense to me. But the more I thought about it, I realized that being successful meant so much more than taking great photos,” he said. For him it was imperative that he constantly pushed himself to exceed the expectations of his clients. That they saw him not only as someone documenting their special day, but also as a friend. More importantly though, it was important for Arjun to have a team who had as much love for the job as he did. Only then would they be able to represent him best to clients.
Granted that the business side of wedding photography is as important as the photography part of it… But as someone who is starting out or has plans to join the industry, you need to ask yourself one important question… Why do you want to be a photographer? “Many young photographers I speak to nowadays are quite clear that they’re in it for the money; some because they think it’s easy and others because everyone else is doing it. The way I see it, there is only one reason why you should become a wedding photographer, and that is because you love people.” It’s such a simple thought, but a very important one. “You’ve got to make it about the people your working for and the kind of stories you’re going to be telling. It should never be about your brand,” Arjun emphasizes. And while you’re at it, he also mentions the importance of breaking out of your shell and being eager to learn from others… not just in the wedding industry, but photographers from other genres as well. There is so much that one can borrow from the various ways of storytelling that photography offers today. Arjun reminds us of the advice that we’ve been told time and again, yet very few of us pay attention to it… “The learning never stops. The day you think that you’ve learnt all that there is to learn, that’s the day you stop succeeding.”
Arjun Kartha will be at SILK INSPIRE 2017 festival to give a seminar and will be available to meet photographers. Get your ticket for India’s first Wedding Photography festival, and come meet him in Goa this October.