The entire world is going through the most weird time now. In a time when the world almost stopped turning because of Covid-19 pandemic, freelancers and owners of boutique companies in wedding industry, like almost everybody else, are faced with some unexpected circumstances. Couples and vendors alike, are wondering when the weddings will be allowed again, in Turkey and in worldwide.
I asked my friends and colleagues about how people behind these boutique wedding vendors are affected, and what they foresee about the future of weddings.
Belgian wedding and family photographer Stijn Willems is one of them. The unexpected start and growth of the pandemic has chocked him, like everyone else. “During our low season, our son was born, our third child. And during the beginning of the year I took my time to finish all my edits and spend time at home”, says Stijn. “I was thinking I would start again in March with family session and weddings. I think I just did a few family sessions before the first signs of COVID-19 in Europe started emerging. I was trying to keep calm and, letting clients know that it will be okay and we could still shoot outside. But it got worse and worse, from just having sessions outside to no session at all. It all happened so quickly that I was a bit dumbfounded. Suddenly everything had to stop for 3 weeks at first, but it has already become more than 7 weeks and we are still counting.”
My friend Ufuk Sarışen was recently listed by Fearless Photographers as one of top 10 wedding photographers of 2020 in the world. His destination weddings were especially affected because of the travel restrictions casued by the pandemic. “Since this crisis started in early March, it caused the reservations for the second half of 2020 to stop. Which means I was unable to secure enough photoshoots for 2020. And the most of the remaining weddings are rescheduled. All rescheduling clients, except one, chose 2021, especially May and June, as their new date. Because most of these are overseas weddings, it is important for flights to be allowed again. There is still a huge uncertainity.”
I already knew Ufuk was reaching out to his clients to give them a piece of mind. “As soon as the pandemic started, I emailed all my wedding clients, and informed them about the actions we would take against possible risks. I assured them that their retainers would still be valid to use for their rescheduled wedding, or for another kind of photoshoot, like a family or couple photoshoot. I’ve received highly positive responses, and we started discussing new dates with couples. Only one of my couples insisted on a date that I was not available, and I was able to set them up with another photographer. Overall, the process went more smoothly than I imagined, and we didn’t have major problems.”
Christophe Viseux, French wedding photographer in Canada, is another vendor who faces big challenges. He says; “As of now, I have had 4 weddings canceled, and 2 weddings postponed to 2021. The fall weddings are still scheduled and fingers crossed, I really hope it stays that way. July is the most distant month affected at the moment as I usually take some time off in August. This is a very challenging situation for everyone, couples, small business, and freelancers alike. As a wedding vendor, I am trying to be as understanding and flexible as possible but I also have to protect my business and to handle the 2020 loss. Hopefully, the fall and the 2021 season will make it up for it.”
Usually Turkish couples start their wedding planning late, compared to European or North American couples. And they seem to postpone the decision to cancel to the last minute. Gökçe Okçuoğlu is one of two partners of Bridelymade boutique bridal and design store in Turkey. She observes that the Turkish couples are hopeful to go ahead with their weddings this summer. “In a few days after the press releases on March 16th, all of our March and April weddings were postponed. In the following days, the same happened with May weddings. We are still monitoring the situation of our June weddings. As of beginning of May, only %10 of out June and July weddings postponed. We feel like June and July weddings will not see the same rapid postponements that we experienced at the beginning. One common feature of the weddings that were quickly postponed was the fact that they involved family members who are living abroad and will not be able to attend, due to flight restrictions. It is impossible to know with certainity what will happen next, especially in times when we wake up to new notices and announcements everyday. But we believe that the summer weddings will still be held, with some new rules and restrictions. If even reopening the shopping malls, with some restrictions, is currently being considered, we think similar regulations will be applied to weddings.”
But as I write this blog post, I received the news that it may not be possible to do weddings in Turkey until September. Like Gökçe mentions, we hear new announcements every day. According to the latest action plan announced in Turkey, 3rd stage of normalization in the country, which includes allowing gatherings like weddings, is expected to start in September. Soon after that, I have received a call from one of my couples, who had already rescheduled their June wedding to September. They said they decided to postpone the wedding until 2021. Looks like allowing weddings in September won’t necessarily mean that all couples will have the confidence to invite many guests to their events right away.
Stijn Willems does not believe life will be back to normal before September either. “On March 17th Belgium went in ‘light’ lockdown. This meant no school, no daycare, no work and all non-essential travel not allowed. Our couples are still allowed to get married at cityhall but nobody is allowed to attend, no witnesses, no family and no photographer. All venues are closed and we are still waiting on which measurements need to be taken for those venues to re-open. Perhaps this summer some intimate ceremonies may be allowed, but I am not sure. In Belgium we have a tradition of long wedding days with lots of food and drinking, dancing and absolutely no social distancing. To be honest I do not expect that weddings will be allowed soon. Hopefully we can have some longer days starting September but for now it is all speculation.”
Weddings are not allowed in Spain either. That is a country that was deeply affected by the pandemy. Spanish wedding photographer Miguel Onieva says; “Now in Spain it is not possible to celebrate weddings. Probably in the end of May or beginning of June will be possible to do small weddings with some restrictions in some regions of Spain, if situation gets under control. Many couples in Spain are moving their dates, for example one of my weddings first changed from may 2020 to october 2020, and finally changed to july 2021. I think we need to help them as we could as vendors.”
Since this period has lots of uncertainties for couples, they seem to hold off planning their weddings for now. Many wedding photographers, myself included, see a huge drop in new inquiries. Only in the last few days I have started to receive calls from prospective couples.
But at least other boutique wedding vendors who don’t have to reserve the actual date of the wedding for their couples, like Bridelymade, seem to start receiving calls earlier than photographers. ”
The pandemic also urged vendors to review their business models, or look into different markets. Christophe Viseux had already taken first steps in that way. As wedding photographers, we are subject to seasonality and long-term bookings. It usually comes with its benefits (visibility, cashflow, etc..) although the pandemic is showing us the limitation of relying exclusively on this model. This is something I have had on mind for the last 2-3 years and as a consequence, I did start extending my services to corporate photography. It will help as I feel like it will resume sooner than weddings due to the gathering restrictions. I am glad I began to diversify back then but that is something I am going to push even harder. It’s obvious now that it can be quite risky to focus on one type of activity only. Ideally, it would be great to develop some sort of online business or something that can generate passive income from home — not necessarily related to weddings or even photography. I will have to dig a bit further into this and explore new sustainable business models once life resume to normal.”
Miguel Onieva started focusing more on giving workshops. “In my case, I used to offer more professional photography services other than weddings, like business events, families, photojournalism, so I’m developing new strategies about these markets. But in these isolation days I have done many 1 to 1 workshops online, for photographers from all over the world who want to improve their photography or company to the next level, taking confidence in my experience. I will do more of these in the future during the pandemic. In my opinion, the market won’t be the same until many months, with receptions full of friends celebrating without any restriction, but we will adapt together, of course.”
Bridelymade, on the other hand, tries to foresee what the weddings will be like in the coming months, and they started to expand their product line accordingly. “Top priority for all of us now is staying in good health. But we should also be aware of the fact that, we will see dramatic changes in the way we do business after the pandemic. We think the couples will prefer boutique events and ceremonies in the second half of 2020 and in 2021. Especially if no vaccination is developed soon, the couples will not be as daring to make long-term financial plans as previous years. It will harder to make huge downpayments to venues, bridal salons, or wedding planners, compared the last year. We also envision the planning periods will get shorter, and number of ceremonies getting planned within a 2-3 month perios will increase. So, we decided to expand our ceremonial dress collection. Instead of tailored wedding dresses, we will try to focus on designs that can be delivered after a single alteration. We have already started working on this, and started offering a ceremonial collection of almost 15 pieces.”
I also imagine that the weddings will be smaller and more intimate in the next period. Two of my couples, who had to postpone their large weddings, are revising their plans to do a smaller destination wedding instead. Another one of my postponing couples decided to get the ceremony out of the way now, and tied the knot at the city hall, without having any guests, and broadcasted the ceremony live on Instagram. I think more couples will prefer an elopemet later this year.
Most wedding vendors are run by actual human beings. And those people are trying to adapt not only their businesses, but also their lives, to circumstances. Ufuk Sarışen is now able to find time for personal life and his relations with his neighbours: “I am watching videos of some great workshops and discussions by important photographers over the internet. I will spend more time on this in the coming days. Meanwhile, I have written 48 blog posts about my 2019 and 2018 weddings. I was going to write them anyway, but I was able to work more in detail, and with a system, during this period. I can also find a lot of time to photograph my family in this period. I always have the camera in hand, which I rarely did at home before. Of course, we are having quality time with the family. I live in a residential complex of single houses, away from the city centre. Backyards of all houses face each other, so we started to meet with our neighbours and friends more often, while observing social distancing. Days are fun in the backyard. I realized that I really missed spending my days without a schedule. We started excercising and hiking. One thing that this period helped me with is to take a break from social media. Many times I forget my phone in my room. Ironic, but this is my state of mind in these days.”
Wedding vendors are not immune to the pandemic, both economically, and physically. Miguel has been infected, and he recovered later. “I have spent domr time in the hospital for the COVID-19, but now I have recovered. I feel like a new person, with more clarity about what to do in my life. I spent my time giving online workshops to photographers, and improving my skills reading and studying new things.”
When Stijn Willems started yearning taking photographs, he decided to start a photography project that can benefit both his business and his local community: “After things settled in first few weeks, I finished all my edits and I started to miss photography. Especially the fact that how an image can evoke emotions. I saw the idea of window/door portraits surfacing online. With my kids, I started going on lots of walks or bicycle rides and started shooting some door portraits of our neighbours standing outside. After posting a few online, more people started to request these portraits and I started planning longer and bigger walks and bicycle trips.”
Stijn also took a self-portrait with his own family the same way. He delivers similar images to people who he photographs.
Stijn explains how he works on the project: “When planning our trips I never planned when I would do it or how the light would be. I send them a text and when arriving with the kids, and I took about 5 images, and that was it. This took about 30 seconds. And it is this simplicity that I like so much about it. Almost everybody is locked in their home and feel the same. But these 30 seconds makes them smile and enjoy something else. Some families told me they were looking forward to get my message all day, and afterwards they were so grateful with their image. I also received so much feedback of other people that they enjoyed this series so much. For me this was a moment were I could appreciate the power of a photograph, it also made everybody following this series feel connected with each other. So far I shot more then 100 portraits which helped me to gain a bigger local following and have some articles written about this series. I hope that I can use this momentum to reach more families and book more small sessions to cover a little of the loss due to weddings being cancelled.”
And myself? Well, when I finally started photographing days of my own family at home, with a documentary approach. Some members of the Fearless Photographers community started a Facebook group where other photographers are documenting and sharing their own social isolation days with their families. After looking at their photographs, I realized that my son is too grown up to give hilarious images 🙂 I am also using this time preparing for a very difficult certification exam on project management. Wish me luck 🙂
If you want to follow the people mentioned in this post, here is a list of their Instagram profiles;
and of course, me, Erkin Agsaran, on Instagram 🙂