We had the wonderful opportunity to hold a Zoom meeting and Q&A with Christine Hochkeppel, founder of Salty Broad Studios! She is a well-known and well-loved photographer on Cape Cod who has been making an extraordinary effort to keep her business going during the current pandemic. Surprisingly, business is picking up for Christine now that things are falling back into place in the industry, and she expects to see some incredibly unique weddings in the following months. Read on to hear about her experience with COVID-19 and how she remains motivated during this challenging time.
Q: How long have you been a wedding photographer on Cape Cod?
A: I’ve officially been in business as a Cape Cod wedding photographer since February 2018, but before that I was working part-time shooting weddings as a staff photographer at different newspapers. I’ve been doing that since 2007, and I’ve lived in several different places before settling on Cape Cod.
Q: How has your life as a photographer and your experience shifted as a result of COVID-19? How have things been changing for wedding photographers right now?
A: Things have changed a lot. 2020 was feeling like it was going to be a huge year for the wedding industry for a lot of reasons. The year itself was sexy and couples were excited about getting married this year — some had reserved their dates years in advance. There was a big focus on 2020 and a big increase in sales based on our numbers from 2019 to 2020. When things started to shut down, we had to face the reality that a lot of our couples didn’t really want to face: large groups were not going to be able to get together this year at all. We still don’t know exactly how that’s going to play out, of course, but many of my colleagues in the industry and I had some meetings during this time to discuss what we’ve been learning. We all collectively decided to advise our couples to have a backup plan and prepare for the worst case scenario. Basically what I’m seeing is that couples have decided to just go ahead and get married and then postpone their celebration. Just to get rid of this stress, a lot of my couples are postponing to 2021, moving their dates out a year, and having a small wedding. I’ve even received a bunch of new inquiries for intimate celebrations, so things have actually been okay. I’m feeling better about it than I did when this all went down. My wedding business is just a portion of my annual revenue; I also do headshots, photos for businesses, family portraits and senior portraits. I feel like the focus for the remaining part of the year is going to be working with my current clients and trying to accommodate new clients that may want smaller celebrations. I’ve been especially busy with engagement sessions that all got pushed back. I tell the couples I work with “Hey, the silver lining is that you get two parties!”
Q: What efforts and adjustments did you have to make in order to continue your business? Did you have to make any big changes?
A: Every couple had a different situation, so that was getting extremely complicated for me. I ended up hiring a lawyer to help me write amendments to my contract so I could make sure they were solid and would hold up. I also spent a lot of time creating value content, doing social media and writing blog posts. I did a blog post about ten intimate locations on Cape Cod that are lesser known. People should take advantage of this opportunity to have their wedding in the most bizarre and awesome places ever! A lot of couples who are off-the-beaten path are drawn to my brand because that’s who I am — I’m a little off-beat myself. The LGBT community also flocks to me and these couples want to do more adventurous stuff. I made this list of fun places to consider, like getting married on a kayak, and I went out and actually photographed each place (https://saltybroad.tumblr.com/post/613049040408657920/10-unique-and-off-the-beaten-path-places-for).
If you try to Google these places, there aren’t many great photos of them, so that was a fun project. Mainly my big pivot was deciding to take pictures every day, even though there was no money coming in. It’s still an internal struggle because it’s hard to keep motivated when you’re not sure if what you’re doing is making a difference or really matters. However, the overwhelming response from my audience has been super positive and everybody loves this project that I started called “Together Apart.” It has its own Instagram feed — @capecodtogether — and basically for the entirety of quarantine I was out photographing how Cape Cod has been affected by the pandemic. I started out just photographing small slices of life, then I started getting access to bigger things like COVID testing, or people who are experiencing homelessness. It’s been super fulfilling and has been a way for me to get back to my roots in photojournalism —people really enjoy it. They were stuck at home and wanted to see what was going on on Cape Cod without putting themselves at risk. Recently I had the opportunity to photograph a funeral, and part of the project that I feel very strongly about showing is how we grieve during this time. I find it incredibly ironic that I’ve gone from photographing weddings to photographing funerals — two very different parts of life that people celebrate and come together for.
Q: How are your current communications with clients going?
A: I firmly believe that it was important for me to reach out to my clients first because I could see why they may not have wanted to start a conversation, especially if they were feeling anxious. I think a lot of them appreciated that I took the first step to reach out. I had a few brides who were just feeling very overwhelmed and we had Zoom meetings where I basically just listened and helped them. I feel like I create a friendship with every couple that I work with because we end up spending so much time together leading up to the wedding and on the wedding day. Through those conversations, couples were able to figure out what made sense for them moving forward. I really appreciate the different personalities that I’m working with. So far it has been a lot of communication and a lot of juggling — a lot of what I spend my time doing is answering emails and Zooming — but it’s been good. My wife and I got married in 2019 and we’ve both been thinking, “Wow, what would we do if we were in this situation?” I’m also a fan of The Office, so for my couples who are having their first unique wedding in a place where they normally couldn’t have a lot of people, I’m just calling it a “Jim and Pam.” If it’s just a few guests, go somewhere really wild and make it really memorable.
Q: How do you plan to approach the summer season for weddings and events? Are there any mini weddings that you have planned in the coming months?
A: Oh yeah! The first one is next Saturday! It was supposed to be a big wedding, but they are continuing on with their plan to get married and then having the actual bigger party in September next year. I plan to do everything as safely as possible and follow the preferences of the couple and their family. I don’t think anything will be much different from what I usually do besides wearing a mask and taking precautions. Essentially everything will just be smaller. There are couples who are doing a smaller wedding, but still want the full-length package for their photos.
Q: What does the future look like for you and other wedding photographers who have been affected by COVID? Do you think this will be a lasting change, or do you think we’ll get back to normal eventually?
A: I do think that things will change. I think that weddings will stay on the smaller side for a while. It’s disappointing because with bigger weddings there is more to photograph and there’s a bigger budget usually. Because of my journalism background, I just kind of roll with things and adapt to whatever gets thrown my way. I don’t think it will have a massive impact on me in the next year, if anything I might even book more weddings. I think the whole world is changing — particularly in the U.S. — and things will seem very different. I’m usually a hugger and obviously that’s not going to happen. I can live with it, but it’s definitely a situation where I’ll just have to express my warmth and my genuine friendliness in some other way. I care about my business and I want to stay in business, but I don’t care about it more than I care about keeping everyone safe.