Photographing such an important event as a wedding seemed way too daunting, stressful, and risky. So, in the beginning I focused on family portraits and stock.
As my daughter got closer to having her Bat Mitzvah (the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood, typically done at age 13), friends started asking if I photographed Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
My marketing mind kicked into full gear. I had my own Bat Mitzvah (many moons ago) and was intimately familiar with the whole process.
I was Jewish and belonged to a local synagogue. I knew I had the inside track, but I was still scared to make the leap into special events.
I decided to scour the internet searching for professional Bar/Bat Mitzvah photographers whose work I liked. I was shocked at the amount of boring, stiff, posed looking pictures out there!
In my family portrait work, I always strived to create natural looking pictures of people just being themselves and showing the love they have for each other in their own personal way.
I thought to myself, if I can do this with family portraits, why couldn’t I do it with Bar and Bat Mitzvahs?
I finally found one pro photographer whose Bar/Bat Mitzvah work really spoke to me. It told the story of each family he photographed in a way that looked natural. The expressions on the faces of everyone were genuine. I felt every emotion as if I was there. I got up the courage to call him, and after three months of persisting, he finally looked at my portfolio and agreed to let me second shoot an event with him.
Like any other photography niche, acquiring the skills you need to feel confident in your abilities is super important. Photographing Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties requires a very different skill set than family portraits.
I had to learn how to handle very dark venues and challenging lighting situations where flashing colored lights are bouncing off of everything. Having a mentor to answer my questions was SO helpful.
Around this time, my Rabbi called and told me about a family in our synagogue who was going through some rough financial times. He asked if I would be willing to photograph their son’s Bar Mitzvah for free.
I jumped at the chance! Offering to photograph events at no charge is a great way to start building your portfolio and your business.
After photographing that very first Mitzvah all by myself, I immediately fell in love with this unique niche. Here is why:
– I get to spend an entire day with a family celebrating a truly once-in-a-lifetime event.
– I have the honor of documenting family history with portraits of all the generations of extended family who may have traveled great distances to celebrate this special occasion.
– While there is still some stress involved, it’s not quite on the same level as a wedding.
– I get to work with some of the best vendors in the wedding/event industry (DJs, venues, event planners, florists, etc.).
– I get to put my family portrait experience to use doing creative portraits several months before the event, and again on the big day.
– I have come to love working with “tween-age” kids. They are not quite cool teenagers (though they try), but not little kids either.
The Keys To My Success
1. Providing an incredible experience
That first Bar Mitzvah back in 2009 literally changed the direction of my business.
I now photograph an average of 30 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs a year. My mitzvah business has grown largely through word of mouth referrals and social media.
I have never paid a dime for advertising. I believe this is not only because of the quality of my work, but more importantly, the EXPERIENCE I provide for my clients. This is HUGE.
It holds true for any type of special event photography. You have to love working with people, and be genuinely interested in their stories. Once you provide them with an incredible experience, they will tell all their friends and your business will take off.
2. Package pricing
Another key to my success is the way I’ve structured my pricing. When I first started out, I had no idea what to charge. I took a couple of workshops on the business of wedding photography and learned to create packages for my mitzvah clients.
I initially charged $1,499 for full coverage of the event and created a couple of packages that went up from there. Packages included a variety of items (books, albums, digitals, etc.). I’ll never forget the first time I met with a potential mitzvah client (shaking) and presented my packages with sample books and albums. Without batting an eye, they chose my top package for $3,299!
As I got busier, I gradually raised my prices. At first, this was so scary! But I’ve learned that when people value what you do, they are willing to pay for it.
Now in 2019, I’m charging $2,499 for full coverage of the event, and my top package is $3,999.
3. In-person ordering appointments
I also learned to do in-person ordering appointments after the Mitzvah.
Many clients do not know what else they might like to do with their pictures until after the event, so I always put together “Post-Mitzvah” package specials for add-on sales of things like wall portraits, gift prints, and mini-grandparent albums.
4. Leverage into other income streams
One of the best things about Bar/Bat Mitzvah photography is the ability to leverage the business into other streams of income.
All of my packages include a separate family portrait session that we do three to four months before the actual event. It gives me a chance to work with the family before the big day, and we use these pictures for things like a guest book included in my top package. Anything else clients would like to do with these pictures is add-on sales. Just like with Mitzvahs, I always put together packages for this separate family portrait session.
Eventually, all of these 13-year olds will graduate high school and want custom high school senior portraits. And some day they may get married and need a wedding photographer. Future business!
By providing my clients with an incredible experience, structuring my pricing to make their decision-making easier, offering in-person ordering appointments for add-on sales, and leveraging my Mitzvah business into future streams of income, I’ve created a steady six-figure income for myself doing what I love. It’s not easy. In fact it’s a LOT of work. But when a client tells me how grateful they are to have beautiful keepsake photographs of their special events, it’s all worthwhile.