Our next studio spotlight is Justin Buettner Photography on the west coast in gorgeous Sacramento, California. Justin is a one-man show who shoots 50 weddings a year and 50 engagement sessions as well! His on-location photography business has been up and running (or we may even escalate to “sprinting” with his great success) for 13 years and doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon! Part of this is thanks to Justin’s drive to be innovative in a competitive market, and there is no doubt that his fun demeanor and passion for his craft attribute to his longevity in wedding photography and delivery of wedding albums. Aside from the students he teaches and hires to help for larger events, he does most photography, image processing, and business himself. In his “free time” Justin enjoys cage diving with Great White sharks, spending time with his three daughters, making short indie films, and playing basketball.
In his survey you will find out his creative (and successful) approach of up-selling selling albums, the free resource that has helped to increase his photography and business education, and how Star Wars action figures helped begin his love for visual storytelling!
Justin, what is your strategy for selling albums?
I do things a little bit differently than most of the other photographers I know. I do not include wedding albums in my packages but instead I design a 90 page album that I send to them through cloud proofing at the same time I give them their images. This way the clients will be able to view what their album may look like before they purchase. The software allows them to make notes and makes the design process easier. In addition, this allows me the chance to design the album the way I pictured it as I was photographing their wedding. Allowing the bride and groom to select the pictures first I think limits the way I envisioned it and it puts amateurs in charge of the design process. Most people can’t look at a large collection of images that they themselves did not take and know how images would fit in the context of an album and telling a story. It has been my experience that most couples find it frustrating, time consuming, and annoying to have to go through and select their own images. The response to just getting a finished wedding album design right up front has been very positive.
I started offering the album design in my packages late last year, so the process is relatively new. However I am getting great feedback and it seems like it is a long term sales design. I think a lot of couples plan on ordering the album close to Christmas or on one year anniversaries. The plan involves me resending them the link on their 1st year anniversary reminding them that the album option is still there. So follow up is required but I expect an uptick in album sales from this process over the next year to two years.
How did you and your camera first meet?
I met my camera when I purchased it from the store. All joking aside I have also been interested in visual storytelling and shooting with cameras is something I have done from a very young age, including making movies with my Star War action figures as a child.
What do you love about shooting in your area?
I have the opportunity to shoot in perhaps the best area in the world. Being located in Sacramento allows me the opportunity to shoot in Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Napa Valley, San Francisco, the Northern Coast, and even Monterey. I get the opportunity to shoot at the most scenic, most beautiful places on earth and I have the unique ability to shoot one wedding in the mountaintops of the Sierras and the next day be at the Pacific Beaches and if I wanted be at the dessert the next day shooting a fashion shoot. I can think of no other area that has that kind of extreme variety.
After an event is done, what is your work flow from uploading the images from your card reader to delivering the album?
I immediately start editing on a wedding if I can. Sometime when I am shooting two or three weddings the same weekend I cannot. But I edit in the order I shoot. It is important for me to get my images as close as I can in camera as I shoot about 50 weddings a year and with that about 50 engagement shoots. My schedule is packed and I do all my own editing. A lot of my photographer friends try and convince me to farm out my editing, but I can’t let go of that control, and I do believe it is part of the artistic process. When I finish editing I upload a website, export the images out for the album, another set for the slideshow, and the final set of high resolution images I deliver to the client. I usually deliver all the images, slideshows, and album designs within 2-4 weeks from the wedding.
What is something your business tried and you learned from (either by it succeeding or failure)?
As a photographer I think you have to be constantly learning and trying new ideas. This can be new poses, new lighting techniques, or new ways to do business. The Wedding Photography world is constantly shifting so if you get complacent you will be bypassed. This year I made the switch from DSLR to Mirrorless. I am very glad that I did as it offers me a number of advantages. I have tried to do same day slideshows which worked to a certain extent (very hard to accomplish without a team, I have tried to do this while shooting a wedding solo, very tough to pull off). I can’t offer the same day slideshows at the moment because the file size on my Sony A7RII are too large to download and cull in a timely manner. But I am always studying and learning from new technologies, new business techniques, and new ways to pose and shoot.
If you had a magical genie lamp, what would you change about the photography industry?
I think it is always changing without the genie lamp. I think with people having cameras in their phones everyone considers themselves an amateur photographer now. Not to mention those cell phone cameras are getting better and better. I think it raises the stakes for photographers to up their game. As professionals we need to be masters of light and composition more than ever. The need for continued improvement is great for the industry and I love the challenge.
How do you find your customers? (expos, online advertising, print ads, referrals, high school advocates/models, etc.)
Clients find me from all sorts of different places. Social media, bridal shows, print advertising are all key, but the best way to find clients is from referrals.
What is your favorite website/book for photo inspiration?
Youtube is such a great free resource for almost everything. So many people now make great videos of how to do business, photography, or new techniques and ideas. There are some great paid sites too, but I just love how Youtube has allowed so much great information to be at my fingertips.
What was your first camera? What do you shoot with now?
I shot with my parents old polaroids and used my grandfather’s first VHS camcorder as a kid (this camcorder came in two gigantic pieces!). I am old enough I learned to shoot with film. My first digital camera was a Canon Rebel and I quickly bought the 5D series and also shot with the 1DX Mark II. My newest camera is a SONY A7RII and I am waiting for a high resolution version of the Sony A9. Ultimately all these cameras are great tools, but it is how you use them that counts.
If you could go back and time and shoot one event in history, what would it be?
I never look back, but always look forward. With that in mind I am excited for the wedding I am shooting this upcoming weekend. It’s a great couple and an amazing venue.