There are some massive waves in society that are changing the marriage ritual, and some of these changes are washing over the wedding photography industry. Many of us recognize the examples but don’t see the trends. This resource tries to uncover valuable wedding photography advice from a sea of demographic data about the marriage ritual.

How can we better prepare for changes in the wedding photography industry?

how the demographics are changing

6.9 per 1000

6.9 per 1,000 is the marriage rate in the United States in 2016.  The most important trend to watch in the wedding industry is that while the U.S. population expands, fewer and fewer people are getting married as a percentage of the population (from 9.8 per 1,000 in 1990 to 6.9 per 1,000 in 2016,).

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Year over year, photographers are competing for a decreasing percentage of wedding couples while competing with an increasing number of wedding photographers.  Differentiating your style, your brand and your client experience is as important as its ever been.

27.4 and 29.5

27.4 and 29.5 are the average ages of women and men for a first marriage in the U.S. in 2017, the highest on record (Pew Research Center); in India, the number of women marrying at age 18 decreased from 47% to 27% in a decade (); WeddingWire users average age is 33 years old for men and 31 years for women.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: As the average age trends upwards, ensure that you are positioning your brand to speak and appeal to the changing demographic.

50%

50% is the percentage of married individuals 25 years and older in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less in 2015.  This is down from 63% in 1990.  For those with at least a bachelor’s degree the rate has only fallen from 69% to 65% over that same time period ().

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: This education gap in marriage might indicate that marriage is becoming a luxury for educated, careerist couples.  Adjust your marketing positioning accordingly.

17%

17% is the percentage of newlyweds who married someone of a different race or ethnicity in 2015.  Interracial courtship is growing because of online dating – beginning in 2015, one-in-six newlywed couples are intermarried; whites have the lowest rates of interracial marriage, but because of their lower replication rates (birth-to-death ratio), whites are a shrinking member of the potential wedding pool (< 50% in 2045), while all other U.S. minorities are growing in number (Pew Research Center and ); and these changes in the diverse makeup of the U.S. is not reflected in the marketing strategies of The KnotBrides, and Martha Stewart Weddings.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Diversify your portfolio to appeal to different cultures.  Show that you have experience and expertise in ethnic weddings.

HOW YOUR CLIENTS ARE SPENDING THEIR MONEY

$33,391

$33.4K is the average cost of a weddings in 2017 (down from $35,329 in 2016 (source: The Knot Real Wedding Study). This downward trend of the average wedding cost is also supported by a study by  (now at $25,760).

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: It’s hard to say whether these variances are due to actual changes or reporting issues/limitations.

$2,400 – $2,630

$2.4 to $2.6 is the average cost of wedding photography in 2017, depending on which report you view. The The Knot reported $2,630 (down from $2,783 in 2016); and WeddingWire reported $2,400 (the same figure as 2016).  Wedding photography accounts for more than 13% of the $79 billion industry ().  Photographers are 4th most expensive purchase in terms of wedding day expenditure.  The most costly purchases are (1) venue, (2) catering, (3) live musical band, (4) photographer ()

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: While there are variations from year to year, wedding photography isn’t going anywhere as a major wedding expense and a major revenue opportunity for photographers.

$1,912

$1.9 is the average cost of Videographer in 2017, down from $1,995 in 2016.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Photographers are still able to charge more, on average, than videographers.  If you’re deciding between the these two career paths, this information is certainly relevant.  If you’re operating one type of studio, and you’re considering expansion into the other, then again, this difference is worth paying attention to.

80%

80% is the percentage of millennials in 2017 reporting to WeddingWire and The Knot that they paid for almost half of their wedding (about 40%) while their parent contributed the remainder.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: This trend in increasing self-ownership of the wedding funds means that booking a wedding photographer becomes a more intentional experience for the couple, all of their self-interest is lined up to be invested in the experience.

how couples are meeting & when they are getting engaged

17%

17% is the percentage of individuals using online dating portals to find love (), making online the fastest growing “meeting market” for couples. Couples who use online dating tools are more picky because they are choosing from a bigger pool, and as a consequence, are reporting higher levels of happiness and longer lasting relationships (). The number is even higher, at 70%, for same sex couples.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Understanding your clients’ stories is critical for capturing their wedding day.  While you don’t need in depth knowledge of each dating app, familiarize yourself with the most popular ones, understanding their general demographic and how they work.  This may help you gain insight into your client’s stories and help you tell them better.

How Clients are finding their photographers

76%

76% is the percentage of couples who said they post about their engagement on Facebook according to WeddingWire but Pinterest outperforms Facebook as a key wedding pre-planning tool.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic:Invest the right amount of time and energy into social media.  Ensure you’re not spending all of your time on one platform.  And Facebook’s targeted advertising might be a viable purchase for photographers.

90%

Wedding advertisement dollars shift online and on mobile – more than 90% of couples say they searched for vendors online on their mobile devices.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Make sure your online presence is catered to the mobile experience.  This includes your websites and proofing galleries, but also extends to your Google My Business (Maps) listing, your The Knot and WeddingWire listings, and your social media.

9 Months

9 months is the average amount of time before their wedding that a couple is booking their photographer (via Weddingwire). This is around the same time as the purchase of the wedding dress.

Key takeaway(s) from this Statistic: Understanding the business cycle of wedding photography can help you plan things like your advertising spend and strategy.  It can also help you trace issues or trends back to events or changes that occurred in the past.

Other changes and trends in the WEDDING MARKET

Weddings are increasingly expressions of individualityThe Knot is reporting that giving guests great experiences has, on average, required couples to decrease their total number of guests while increasing their spending per-guest, allowing for custom entertainment fixtures (selfie-stations, games, sparklers, etc) to increase from 11% to 40% since 2009;  wedding photographers, now more than ever, need to be able to capture spontaneous candid reaction-photographs as a crucial part of the wedding day story (a visual trend that did not exist in the 1980s); and the pool of wedding venues is expanding as couples look for new and interesting locations to express their individuality: barns, industrial spaces, libraries, and museums are going to require photographers understanding a variety of lighting conditions and adapt

Wedding ‘casualization’ is disrupting established spending – so while the pool of wedding venues is expanding, the market dominance of David’s Bridal (60% of brides purchase gowns from David’s Bridal but this number is falling steadily) and other established bridal gown shops are under threat; Moody’s (a credit rating agency) has downgraded their value of David’s Bridal as year-over-year sales decrease and the forecast for growth looks bleak; market analysts are reporting that David’s Bridal could file for bankruptcy like gown maker Alfred Angelo; the cause of disruption in the bridal gown market is an increase in alternatives from rental shops like Rent the Runway and cost-effective volume sellers like H&M, Anthropologie, and Asos; as the market for wedding gowns expands, wedding photographers have an important role to play as the trusted advisor, in a recent wedding workshop sponsored by Adorama and SLR Lounge, instructor Paul Von Rieter discussed how he was able to scale up his brides by offering guidance through the vendor and accessory market, “I had to figure out a way to up the style of my weddings,” Rieter said, “that boiled down to me becoming my own stylist at every wedding I shot”

PHOTOGRAPHER STRATEGIES

What does all of this mean? Well, graduate level education is becoming increasingly common, giving more reason to defer marriage until late-20’s at the earliest.  Many of these consumers are very savvy, because of their age, educational level, and career aspirations.  Again, here, diversity matters for your portfolio. Immigrant Indian and Asian families, who carry deep, and profound wedding traditions, are going to be large purchasers in the U.S. wedding market in the coming years.

You are likely noticing a rise in personal vows over the last decade, as more couples take sovereign control of their wedding experience.  We have found that longer telephoto lenses help us capture more intimate portraits during the ceremony vows, these lengthy displays of emotion help lead to slightly larger wedding albums, giving us slightly larger album profits.

As the wedding industry gravitates towards more highly educated, wealthier, older clients, you should sharpen your cocktail-hour conversations for the engagement session.  The engagement session is where your clients learn to really trust you. Showing an interest in their expanding career options and a general curiosity about their life-stage is valuable and value-added.  They are not just judging you by the quality of your photography but by the quality of the experience they share with you.

As advocates of the marriage industry, it is our job to celebrate the  public union of families.  There is good data that marriage is, on the whole, a superior union to just cohabitation.  Wedding photography anchors the memory of that superior union, and hopefully, plays some small role in making people sustainably happy.

Note on accuracy

WeddingWire and The Knot‘s survey are not representative of the general population, but are instead samples of their own customers. They do capture some important info about wedding client behavior within their samples of 13,000 and 18,000 participants, but fails to meet any scientific benchmarks for generalizability off of its sample population (more than 2 million people wed, per year, in the USA). In 2016, The Knot reported that the national U.S. average cost of a wedding was $35,329, but Brides.com held their own survey and reported that the same average cost of a wedding that year was $26,522. The more than $8,000 difference between The Knot and Brides.com is their different survey groups.

There’s all sorts of sample bias problems with these surveys: participants aren’t randomly picked from the real total population; participants are self-selected (there is good reason to think that these participants are not ethnically diverse); the mathematical average is emphasized instead of the median, etc. Typical wedding expenditure looks a lot different when you ask about the median price of a wedding instead of the average (rare, extremely expensive weddings skew the average away from the median, as one reporter found). The Knot Real Wedding Study is, essentially, a marketing resource for the wedding industry. The national average wedding photography cost of $2,099 reported at Brides.com, or $2,630 reported by The Knot, or $2,400 reported by Wedding Wire, only tells us what “average” clients shopping on those websites are expecting.

Even worse, there are reasons to be cautious, knowing that occasionally these surveys lack basic numerical literacy.  Recent work from both WeddingWire and the Fairchild Bridal Group have mathematical errors in their reports.  So proceed with caution.