When he made the decision to switch from working in IT to full-time wedding photography, Trees On The Moon founder Vincent Cheng was already in his early thirties. At the time, he’d only been honing his craft for just over a year, with his interest in shooting, camera equipment, and editing software all only coming after he received his own set of wedding photos in 2009.
“I never thought that wedding photography could actually look so good,” he admitted. “I actually didn’t think about photography that much until I had the need to search for one for my own wedding.”
Speaking about how he got his career off the ground, Vincent candidly admitted that his start in photography was pretty unspectacular, with his early days full of trial, error, learning, and grinding.
“Long story short, I was broke after my wedding—I had to save for some months before being able to afford my own DSLR,” he revealed. “I began like anybody would, photographing anything that moved or didn’t move.”
“I soon realised that I had a natural inclination to be able to capture beauty,” he added. “But having said that, I also had to spend many hours really learning and practising my craft, whether it was through self-experimentation, reading books, online tutorials, or attending workshops.”
Plenty of the same followed until Vincent felt confident enough to start working on small projects, at times with other photographers, eventually publishing his work and taking on more jobs.
During this time, Vincent relied plenty on his prior experience managing IT projects at his old job to help him build what was then known as Vincent Cheng Photography.
“I was lucky to have that experience I guess, as it helped me to think about costs and budgeting,” he said. “Something that I learned and continue to practice is that it’s not how much you make, but how much you get to keep.”
It’s All About The People
Over the years, Vincent has managed to develop his craft quite significantly after paying close attention to other artisans such as Sean Flanigan and Fer Juaristi. He now describes his photography as people-focused, and prefers not to shoehorn himself into ‘vintage’, ‘classic’, ‘contemporary’, or ‘modern’ stereotypes.
“In a wedding, it’s all about people—family and friends,” he explained. “I want to be able to capture people in their essence and to preserve a beautiful memory for them.”
“My style in every wedding or any session of photography for that matter is to capture your life, your day, and that moment as it was felt.”
Closing in on 10 years since starting out, Vincent has expanded his business to something more than just himself, with his venture now renamed to Trees On The Moon. According to him, this rebranding was done with the purpose of representing the team that he regularly works with, instead of keeping it focused on a single individual.
“When I first thought of going into the photography business, I wanted a brand,” he explained. “But I couldn’t think of anything that could represent me, and it was only me at the beginning.”
“So the easiest thing is to call yourself, yourself, haha!”
Eventually, his team grew bigger and Vincent realised that he was consistently working alongside a band of like-minded creative individuals, which prompted him to rethink the name.
“The name Trees On The Moon itself doesn’t have a specific meaning—everyone knows there aren’t any trees on the moon,” he joked.
“But seriously, we came about naming ourselves that after the famous quote I love you to the moon and back’,” he added. “The moon has always been a romantic idea, so why come back? Let’s remain there!”
“It’s like landing in the right place with that special someone where moments are captured and remembered forever—I know it’s a bit abstract, but we love being different—we love the crazy!”
Working Within The Frames
Commenting on what type of audience his business currently targets, Vincent’s surprising answer was, “I don’t believe in a target market.”
“I believe that if people love your work, they’ll pay for it even if it’s above their budget—I don’t pre-qualify any enquiries that come in.”
Conversely, his business also holds fast to the principle of giving customers as much bang for buck as possible, and try their best to avoid yearly price increases as much as possible—even if other photographers choose to raise theirs.
“Every business has to be both sustainable and profitable, and a lot of businesses will increase their rates every year as costs increase,” he said. “We don’t like that and don’t practice that.”
“We haven’t raised our prices in the last four years,” he revealed. “Why? Because we always find ways how to work more efficiently—how to reduce wastage and find better solutions to automate our work, how to generate businesses with less resources, and how to market our services with less.”
When asked about financial figures, Vincent’s answer was a coy and cheeky “less than a million a month on average”, but when pressed, he managed to give away that his team managed to cover 54 weddings in total last year.
He added that this figure also included a fair bit of travel within the country and overseas, and overall made for an enjoyable but at the same time physically taxing vocation.
“I think the biggest challenge is health—people don’t realise how exhausting it can be for wedding photographers,” he said. “Having to lug around gear for more than 10 to 14 hours a day during wedding, you’ve got to be physically fit and healthy.”
“If you don’t take care now, you won’t be able to do this long-term.”
Getting The Exposure Right
Equally as challenging for Vincent right now is the task of balancing pursuing his art form as both a passion and a business.
“Being a photographer and running a business are two really different things,” he commented. “You may be a good photographer, but that doesn’t necessarily make you good at running a business.”
Here, he also went on to tell about some of the more challenging aspects of trying to grow a business like his, including the task of trying to market his brand.
“Marketing today is so active, with the likes of social media and the Internet—it’s really something you should learn if you want to be in business,” he explained. “The generation that’s getting married now come from the ‘Instagram’-era—they’re more picky in terms of location and decorations of their weddings.”
But still, Vincent is taking it all in his stride and is enjoying the process of growing Trees On The Moon into something that means more than just a bunch of photographers to its clients.
“When we started out, we really pursued awards, recognition, and media features,” he said. “Yes we have some of that, but these days, our standout moments are when clients feature us in their speeches, when we see them tear while viewing the same day edits on video, or when we get to shoot their weddings and then get called back to shoot their family portraits—these are the moments we treasure.”
Moving forward, Vincent is now simply looking to keep going the same route—growing his business, upskilling his team, and strengthening the relatively new videography portion of Trees On The Moon—all while sticking to the same approach that got him here in the first place—not being afraid to make mistakes.
“I have plenty of regrets and setbacks, but every mistake made and every problem faced has shaped me into what I am today,” he said. “People will tell you million things about what you should and shouldn’t do, but ultimately, you need to trust in yourself—make your own decisions and manage the outcome whether good or bad.”
Feature Image Credit: Trees On The Moon