Magazine Article


The Business of Referrals
Michael Erdkamp knows how to win wedding clients

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Michael Erdkamp

Many wedding photographers rely on clients to spread the word and get them business. After all, a happy client means a referral, right? Not always. Clients may be happy with their photos, but only a percentage will be so thrilled that they’ll tell their family and friends about it.

Michael Erdkamp, of Memories by Michael, in Villa Park, California, explains. “If a client expects to pay $4,000 and ends up paying $8,000, she isn’t going to run and tell her friends about me. I make sure all the expenses are laid out and in the contract. They know what they are getting.”

His strategy is paying off. At one event, he had eight former brides and a groom, half of whom didn’t even know each other. “Most clients meet us at their friend’s events. The majority of our bookings are referrals from previous couples.”

Erdkamp acknowledges his clients’ needs and addresses them directly. “I answer their questions quickly and honestly. If a client asks how much we pay for an 8x10, I’ll tell them. Honesty will score you more points.”

Most brides love to talk about their upcoming weddings, and he lets them, without pushing a contract or invoice until they ask. “I tell brides who don’t commit after the first appointment, ‘Sure, shop around, but call to make sure we’re still available.’”

Presentation Strategy

Studio Photography first heard about Memories by Michael from Rancho Las Lomas, a special event private estate in California. Ten years ago, Erdkamp attended a wedding there and it has been a happily-ever-after connection ever since.

“It’s one of those breathtaking, panoramic locations with dramatic backdrops. It doesn’t matter if you are three feet away with a fish-eye lens shooting an 18-member wedding party or capturing details with a 200mm wide open. Everything looks amazing.” A year ago, he emailed the event manager a Showit-Web II slideshow of his top 80 picks from a wedding he’d just captured. She loved it. “A 20-minute album presentation a few weeks later and I was in.”

Showit-Web II has also helped Erdkamp market his photography to prospective clients. He sends a link of a recent wedding to potential clients or to a bride having a wedding at that location, choosing the link based on where their event is being held.

“I had a wedding in July that had 6,000 viewings. The best part is you link the slideshow to wherever you’re selling the images, like It takes visitors directly to the shopping cart.” His online slideshows resulted in three local brides booking in 2006 over the phone and Internet without ever coming into the studio. Slideshow software can also streamline workflow. After a wedding, he emails the couple a custom Showit-Web slideshow of 50 to 100 images, set against their first dance song. “I found this really helps turn our favorites into album picks. We request that they use the cart for album picks or send them over in a Microsoft Excel document in numerical order.”

The first edit is done in iView Media Pro and renamed. The edited RAW captures are pulled into a second folder and processed using Canon’s DPP software before making it into the shopping cart. “Most of our clients purchase the hi-res files, so we correct the full set and archive to DVD before building the cart and slideshow.” The draft is emailed again for approval using Showit–Web. Changes are uploaded for clients’ final approval before sending to Leather Craftsmen.
Aceing the Basics

Be ready and be prepared. That’s something Erdkamp has learned in his 20 years of shooting. “Professionals miss great images all the time by getting tripped up on calculating the F-stop/shutter-speed thing. It needs to come naturally, like shifting from second to third gear.”After graduating from Brooks Institute of Photography, Santa Barbara, he worked at a senior portrait studio and was shocked at pros who didn’t know the basics.

Erdkamp learned the value of being prepared—the hard way—when Canadian Customs officials confiscated all of his gear 36 hours before a wedding. “It was lucky that I packed a 35mm film body for backup that they felt was the workhorse of my gear. When they later allowed one digital body and lens back in, I grabbed my 85mm f/1.2L. That experience taught me I can cover an entire 12-hour event with one lens. “

Four years later and owning just about every L series lens Canon makes, “I’d still pick that same lens,” he says. “I borrowed a guest’s zoom for the formals and a few shots at the reception. That bride later became my sister-in-law; we laugh today at something that wasn’t funny back then.”

In the Works

For 2007, Erdkamp is considering a blog to keep clients up to date on his events. And after attending a Denis Reggie session, he’s working on becoming more streamlined. “What he said really hit home: delegate a $10-an-hour task to a $10-an-hour employee. I still vacuum the studio and drop off the albums. I need to delegate.

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