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Article by Eric Minton for PPA Magazine
From the moment Roberto Falck meets new wedding clients, he starts working on the end product: a slickly designed album chronicling the couple’s big day. That day may be more than a year away, but once the contract is signed, the owner of Roberto Falck Photography in Brooklyn, N.Y., begins a strategic step-by-step photographer-client engagement, attaining a level of trust essential to creating the kind of end product that is paid for in sales, hugs, and a lifetime of repeat business.
LEARNING BY DOING
A native of Quito, Ecuador, Falck developed an interest in photography as a child flipping through his father’s collection of National Geographic magazines. After taking a couple of college photography classes, Falck moved to New York, where he continued his learning by assisting commercial photographers for two years. “It was a great education because I would work with different types of photographers in a short period of time,” he says. “In one week I would experience a portrait commercial shoot, a still life shoot -jewelry or food—and a fashion shoot.” In 2004, Falck started photographing weddings part time, and two years later he opened a storefront studio. Shortly after that, he met Rachel Elkind, a fellow photographer and now his business partner. Together they lead a team that includes a studio manager, a post-production expert, and an album designer. In addition to weddings, which account for half of his business, Falck does portraits and commercial work and is build ing a fine-art international portfolio. Falck lists four ingredients for a successful wedding photography business: a great product and service; a good team to support that product and service; solid relationships with professionals in the industry, such as other wedding vendors; and staying in touch with your client base. The last two are his roadmap through a wedding process, and through is the operative word: The gig doesn’t end when he delivers a set of photos.
The key to navigating this journey is his photo albums, which he estimates account for 30 percent of his wedding business income. More important, it directs his work on the wedding day and provides the foundation for building a trusting relationship with the client. “It’s all about planting seeds so you can harvest at the very end,” he says.
SEEDS OF TRUST
The first seeds are planted at the initial meeting, typically six months to a year before the wedding day. Falck not only introduces the album concept, he also goes over the entire process, timeline, and contract in detail. And he schedules an engagement photo session ASAP—“to keep that ball rolling,” he says.
About 95 percent of wedding clients book engagement sessions, but the fee is only for the session, not the product. In a pre-session meeting, Falck works out location and logistics with the couple, and a week after the session, the couple reviews the photos at the studio and purchases any they like. Each meeting allows Falck to get to know the couple and build rapport. The selection appointment is not just an opportunity to generate sales; it’s an hour talking about the images. “In that meeting I get a sense of what they like or what they don’t like about themselves,” Falck says. “It’s one thing to say what they like about themselves and another to see images of themselves and say what they like about themselves.” It’s feedback Falck uses when he photographs the wedding.
About two months before the wedding, Falck reconnects with the couple to start planning the timeline. More than establishing his work schedule for the day, Falck’s role evolves into one of adviser in planning the wedding. He brings his experience and relationships with the other vendors to bear in helping the couple schedule the day. “I’m not just a vendor,” he says. “I’m a big part of their day because I’ve been helping them plan their wedding for a while.” On the wedding day, he says, “They give you a big hug, they’re happy you’re there, and it feels great.” It also means the trust is there. “They know I’m going to create something good and make them look good. I’ll bring them to the right light, and they will follow that without questioning.” They also become his allies in group photos. It’s much more powerful when somebody everyone knows displays absolute faith in the photographer, which makes managing groups easier.
TELLING THE STORY
As he shoots the wedding day, Falck has the album in mind. “To design a good album, you have to think about it when you are shooting,” he says. “How will these photos come together—as two verticals or one vertical and one horizontal? I’m thinking about that.” Each spread is a chapter, a mini-story, he says, and the photos in it “have to go together to tell that story.” Thus, he is cognizant of creating spreads in different locations. “That dictates how I manage my time at the wedding,” he says. “Years ago, I would be super excited about a brick wall and I’d stay there. While the photos would be different, the theme is the same, and after a while the photos start to look the same, and that affects sales.” Not to say that locations dictate his work; light is the essential ingredient. “The important part of the portrait is the people, and they have to look good. A nice location might catch your eye, but if the lighting is not there, it doesn’t matter if it’s a good location; it’s a bad portrait.”
Two months before the wedding day, Falck nails down a post-wedding studio appointment to review the album. Though this meeting comes six weeks after the wedding, Falck stresses the importance of getting this on the calendar when the couple’s excitement is still waxing. After the wedding, that excitement begins to wane, “and it gets harder to schedule things,” which ties directly to sales, he says. “The closer to the top of the curve, the easier it is for them to spend money and for us to finalize those sales.” During the post-wedding meeting, Falck explains his thematic thinking behind the layout of the album and allows the couple to add or delete photos from the draft design. The second draft is sent out a week later, and final changes can be determined in a phone meeting before the album is sent to the printer. About 95 percent of his clients have their wedding album in hand within six months. Falck allows the couple three rounds of changes, after which he charges an additional fee. If the book isn’t finalized within a year, another fee is tacked on. That has never happened, “but you have to have those clauses in the contract,” he says. The contract the couple signs at the begin ning of the process establishes the number of pages, and often Falck goes beyond that number in the first draft. “They have to make a decision of what to do: keep everything we put together, or do they want to narrow it down to what they initially purchased, or do something in between.” The majority does something in between, he says, estimating an upsale average of about 10 percent of the initial investment.
Yet none of this comes as a surprise to the couple. “Upsales can happen only if the client is comfortable with the process, and they should be comfortable at that point because we have spoken about it from the very beginning,” Falck says. In the early days of his studio, Falck says, “We might not have communicated as well what they should expect, and there would be people who pushed back at the end. But now, because we say all this at the very beginning and say it over and over, it’s clear. Surprises are not good.”