Should a Wedding Photographer Do a Bridal Show?

Dear Jasmine,
I was wondering if you ever did bridal shows, and if so how'd you go about doing it? I hear some people go all out with renting furniture and decorations, but I don't have the funds to go all out like that. Would it be a total waste if your booth isn't extravagant like this? I know first impressions are lasting ones, but I don't want to lose money I don't have.
Less Than Extravagant

Dear Less Than Extravagant,
Before I answer your question, I need to be clear about something: some wedding photographers spend $2,000 on a bridal show and walk away with a lot of weddings booked...and some wedding photographers spend $2,000 on a bridal show and walk away with squat. Without a doubt, I'd fall into that latter category (for reasons I'll get into in a minute), but it's important to know that what I say is just my opinion and isn't meant to be sacrosanct. Some photographers will likely disagree with my opinion, but their strengths aren't my own, so let's get into the details...

I've never been a fan of bridal shows for two main reasons: 1. The cost; and 2. The motive.

I've mentioned this before, but when I started my business, I didn't have any money. The little money I could save was spent on camera gear and there wasn't room for extras. The first bridal show I was asked to join has an admission of $1,250 for a standard 10x10 booth. At the time, my fees averaged $1,500 per wedding, so I need to book two weddings from that one show to make it worthwhile (had I booked just one, I would've broken even and that's a mediocre investment at best). Once I added in furniture rentals, transportation, printed goods (price lists, business cards, promos, a sample album), and snacks/goodies, it added another $1,000 to the bill (at minimum), so that meant I needed to book three weddings in order to make it worth my time.
I knew the odds were stacked against me because other wedding photographers had elaborate booths, multiple digital displays, and cool gifts (THEY'RE GIVING AWAY CUSTOM BREATH MINTS?!), while my booth would have looked like Little Orphan Annie and the Bad News Bears had a were in charge of my design.
At the end of the day, my booth could have done more harm than good, and that's a risk I wasn't willing to take. And let's be real, I didn't even have $85 to paint the hood of my car, where was I going to come up with $2,000+ for a bridal show?

I can't speak for every bridal show, but for the ones I've visited (both as a bride and, later, as a wedding photographer), I've felt like they were pointing brides in the wrong direction. Fill out a card to win a free engagement session!...Book today and receive a 15% discount!...No tax if you pay today! And, truthfully, some of those tactics worked because those brides went to bridal shows looking for bargains, a photographer who fit in their budgets. Sure, great connections and lovely weddings can come from a bridal show, but the strongest seller fares the best. Smart, savvy photographers can rise above and profit, but there are few.

And I'm not one of them.

I'd say I'm downright awful at sales. JD jokes when he says I couldn't sell him water in a desert...but it's the truth. I don't want to sell someone on the idea that I'm the best photographer for her wedding...I want her to come to that conclusion on her own. Brides go to bridal shows looking for photographers, but I want brides coming to me for me. I want them to know that I'm the best fit for them far before they pick up the phone to call me or send me an email. And that doesn't happen at a show.

So, Less Than Extravagant, those are the reasons why I don't do bridal shows. Sure, my business has grown to a point where I can now afford to pay for a bridal show booth, but I'd rather do something different...sell my own way, if you will. I'd rather take the money I'd invest in a booth and apply it towards Hurricane Sandy relief efforts...or, heck, offer my services at cost for a deserving couple who wants to marry, but lost everything during flooding. This might not be for everyone, but it works for me. If you don't have money to lose, then I heavily suggest you don't waste the money you have unless you know you can rise above the rest.

Stay Fabulous,
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Martino Mingione - I am glad your blog post ranked high on Google. It gives me pause to think this idea through some more.  03.27.14 - 9:52pm
David @ AiP Creative Photography - You know, I have done shows every year for about four years. Honestly, sometimes I book no one. Sometimes however, I book several. The overall turnout has been beneficial to me. For instance, I booked none directly from a booth I had at a January show in one city, but in the Fall in the same city I booked four. Then in January I also booked three more (which covered my investment about 15 times). So I think overall they are worth it, especially if you are good, different, and still need to get your name out there.  02.18.14 - 8:16pm
Zdenka - This is quite interesting to read. For me, I don't do deals at bridal shows, I only present my portfolio and that works huge for me... I got 30 wedding requests last 2 years just from trade show I did in Toronto... sadly I couldn't shoot them as I was on maternity leave.  02.06.14 - 10:37am
Cristal - So good to hear this! My husband was just asking me if I wanted to sign up for a show in the spring and I wasn't sure. I like what you said about your clients finding you and seeking you out because you are a good fit for them! Thank you, I'm enjoying all your wisdom on your newly designed site, thank you , thank you!!!!  12.14.13 - 5:58pm
Philip Schmitten - I disagree. I think Bridal SHows are a must-do. They get your business name out there to a definately targeted audience.  04.05.13 - 12:03am
Eli Powell - Thanks for your honest answer on this Jasmine  11.13.12 - 6:33pm
Tod p - I think shows are alot like flee markets, and although you are getting some exposure the profit to cost margin which also includes the time and energy you put into that equation more then likely will not equal profit...that being said there is something to be said for consistent exposure for the long run,but I honestly think there are better cost effective avenues to take.   11.11.12 - 6:27pm
Yuliya Callahan - I totally agree with you, I have done one show and booked one wedding//// not enough to justify   11.11.12 - 11:09am
Rebecca / Rockhill Studio - You said it SO perfectly!! I've been thinking I "need" to do a bridal show but this really hits it on the head for me!! The best compliment is when a bride comes to you and says I love your style, I want you, I choose you after looking thru all the other photographers out there. Not by any discount tactic you offer! Great advice!!   11.09.12 - 7:02pm
lyn ismael-bennett - Thanks for sharing, Jasmine. I just signed up for a bridal show in yeah....hope it works out for me!  11.09.12 - 2:48pm
Antonia Chick - Jasmine...than you for seems that everytime I log onto your blog, you seem to post about something that I am mulling over at the time. I have been back and forth with the idea of doing a Wedding fair (something that I am reeeally not comfortable with for all of the reasons you gave). Thanks for making me feel that it's ok to stand my ground on this one!  11.09.12 - 1:14pm
Jamie - Great insight Jasmine. That is a gorgeous image up there too by the way!  11.09.12 - 8:03am
Casey - Wise words. Thanks for the input, Jasmine!  11.09.12 - 7:53am
Avaleen - Thanks for your honesty and openness and for always teaching us something new. Sacrosant is my word of the day. :)  11.09.12 - 4:52am
Alex Hooper - a perfect moment cached in the photo, i like it   11.09.12 - 12:17am
Kevin John Cull - Thank you so much for this article, there is a certain pressure to get involved in Wedding Fairs (In UK) and for those very reasons you have mentioned I have never felt comfortable with the idea, I am starting out and need to watch the pennies, and have to think long and hard before investing in anything that's not going to practically make me a profit. Great website by the way, love the Magazine look, Fabulous! :-)  11.08.12 - 11:10pm
Jacqueline fronters - Thx for the feedback about these types of shows. I think I've always know that this was the case for me, but I felt pressured by other photographers by making me feel I was doing it wrong if I didn't follow what they said or what worked for them. We're all unique and should focus on our own strengths, right?  11.08.12 - 11:01pm
Priscilla Longshore - i would like do wedding showsbut im like you you it may be a waste,, a hard call to make when you are just getting started  11.08.12 - 9:06pm
Christina - How is offering a wedding at cost to a "needy" couple comparable to spending money on a bridal show? This is probably something that might work as good publicity for someone with the kind of readership that you have, not for someone who is barely starting out. Not to say that a bridal show is the best way to go. There are so many other cheaper and more effective options for selling yourself. My last comment is unrelated, but, I follow your blog pretty regularly, enough to notice how apologetic you are about your opinions. Reminding readers that "this is not the only way" to do this and that. I know people are critical, mean and rude. Especially hiding in anonymity, but if you've got advice, or an opinion, stick to it and make no apologies! People are always going to have something to say (I mean, just look at me!). I bet it's easier said than done, but anyway, I thought I'd leave some feedback. Keep doing what you're doing. For every person that disagrees with you, I'm sure so many more people benefit from your words. and thank you!   11.08.12 - 5:12pm
Christina Hastings - Thank you for sharing your perspective on that. I've been wondering the same thing, and it's very helpful to read advice on that.  11.08.12 - 2:30pm
Tammy - "but I want brides coming to me for me. " Excellent nugget of advice!! Me too!!  11.08.12 - 2:25pm
Jacek Siwko Photography - I am just watching Creative Live and looks like you just hit the hot subject. I agree with you, it's just our nature either you are good seller and going for bridal shows or you exhibiting yourself somewhere else. Good point!  11.08.12 - 1:06pm
Brenda Booze - Thanks for the feedback! I was battling with the same issue!   11.08.12 - 12:07pm
jaimi allen - I appreciate honesty and the reasons you come to your conclusions. I hate selling and trying to advertise myself. Everyone asks me why I don't. Same reasons you listed. Word of mouth, trust and they came to me for a reason. Thank you for sharing Jasmine! :)  11.08.12 - 11:56am
Ellie - I completely agree, Jasmine! I have tried the bridal show option, and to be honest... everyone there is looking for the most affordable photographer. We have ONLY gotten budget brides out of those shows after investing way too much money on them. There are far better ways to advertise and get brides that will pay anything for the work you do! :)  11.08.12 - 10:50am
Clarissa - Very well put. I agree. The b/w portrait of the bride is beautiful.  11.08.12 - 10:39am
ML Pipes - Thank you Jasmine, I've known both types of photographers that do bridal shows... My friend did 3, paid out tons of money, and never even got one darn wedding from any of them...And, like most, she's an awesome photographer. Then, there are those who do really well from a show. I don't know how to guarantee to get bookings... It seems like a crap shoot to me. Yes, I think there's other ways to make your money work for you.   11.08.12 - 10:37am
Leah - That being said, don't you think its a decent idea if you have a successful business then up and move to a completely new state where you have NO fan base, NO clients, starting from scratch.  11.08.12 - 9:51am
natalie delgado - Love it!!!Thanks J*!!!  11.08.12 - 9:44am
Aaron Nystrom - Thanks for the advice Jasmine. I have been thinking much of what you said about bridal shows, but there is a lot of pressure from well-meaning people who think I should go to a show because that is what people trying to start a wedding photography business do. I'll stick with my gut (and your advice) on this one.  11.08.12 - 9:24am
Randy - I get what you're saying - you prefer a 'pull' sell over 'push'. But a show is a 'commodity-push'. But I have to ask... why could one be at the show, with a booth, and simply not sell? Sit there with a table and two chairs and say you're there to meet with those who've already made appointments to speak with you and kindly direct them to your site where they will conclude she's the only one at the show who wasn't pushy, because she's that good, and here's her stuff, and lets call her.  11.08.12 - 9:01am
Christine Lewis - I agree with what you say, but I found that the bridal shows were the best way to get my name out there and meet people in person vs. just placing an ad in the paper. Once I started building the wedding business, then I got most clients from referrals. Do you have any tips for the person just starting out, the best ways to promote yourself without doing a bridal show?  11.08.12 - 8:57am
dan! - I've heard the other side of the argument recently, but struggled because it didn't sit well with me. thanks for the honest assessment here. I always appreciate your transparency.   11.08.12 - 8:29am
Nikki Commatose - Another excellent perspective I bet not many of us had looked at. Thanks for the great advice Jasmine. :)  11.08.12 - 8:26am
Breann Hollon - I have done 2 bridal shows this year. The cost for each was only $500 and even after I added in my set up total investment was about $750 (read here I have more furniture than I know what to do with and brought it all with me.) I hang some of my most recent work and only bring 1 album. I want to focus on the people and if I can make a connection with a bride I know we are golden. Out of my $1500 investment I have booked 5 $2000+ weddings. For me it pays off, but Its still a TON of work, and I still book more by word of mouth. I plan to do 2 more shows next year in surrounding areas just to get my name out more and meet other wedding vendors (networking with people is also a big part of the wedding fair). I say if its not terrible expensive to get in the it...go simple, display fabulous work, and rock your amazing personality. If nothing else you meet some amazing people and you can say I got out there. But if its not in your budget, don't over extend. And if you can't talk to people in mass groups rushing through isle, if that thought gives you a panic attack.....steer clear :)  11.08.12 - 8:20am
Klover Events - This is a great post. It applies to all wedding industry professionals, in my humble opinion. Well done, Jasmine!  11.08.12 - 8:17am
Dawn Gaddy/Greyson Steele Photography - Bravo!!!! We just hosted a wedding expo and we were the ONLY photographer. It was hosted by The Knot. We spent literally $2000+ and we gave away $5000 in giveaways and products. We netted ZERO! Well we might book an engagement session from the free wedding we gave away..... I so agree with you on this!!!! Total waste of money... brides looking ideas on a budget and leaving overwhelmed with too many options!   11.08.12 - 8:08am
M - you sound so smart when you throw around words like sacrosanct!  11.08.12 - 7:39am
Leslie Davis - such legit advice!   11.08.12 - 7:22am