Jocelyn Voo turned her hobby into big business by filling a void in the oversaturated wedding industry.
Now this is a big-picture idea.
Manhattan boasts hundreds of wedding photographers charging upwards of $4,000 to snap gorgeous pictures of your big day. But if you’re getting married at city hall, does your photog know which part of the municipal building catches the best light for portraits?
Or where to find hair and makeup artists that will doll you up at 5:30 a.m. so that you can be camera-ready — and first in line — when the marriage bureau opens at 8:30 a.m.?
Or what documents you need to bring to which clerk to get hitched without a hitch?
Meet Jocelyn Voo, founder of Everly Studios, who’s made a name for herself in New York’s crowded wedding market by catering to the couples opting for more intimate ceremonies at the city clerk’s office.
“City hall weddings are a niche not targeted as much … perhaps because of misconceptions that city hall weddings are very unromantic and cookie-cutter, like going to the DMV,” Voo, 35, told Moneyish. “And the truth is, you can customize your city hall wedding as much as you want. It can be just the two of you, or an entourage 20 people deep. You can have a confetti cannon when you exit the building. I’ve seen it all. I’ve done it all. And no two city hall weddings are ever the same.”
In fact, she said that newlyweds have started calling her the “city hall wedding doula” for her inside knowledge to navigating the red tape around municipal nuptials – not to mention finding the most picturesque nooks and crannies in the bustling blocks around city hall.
Take the “wedding garden” – an 8-by-8-foot cement area surrounded by trees and greenery across the street from the marriage bureau entrance. “It’s a good location if the couple wants a more natural, botanical aesthetic,” said Voo.
If it rains on your wedding day, she said there’s a beautiful archway on Centre and Chambers streets near the subway station that also makes for beautiful shots sheltered from the weather.
Or there’s a courthouse a block away with grand pillars, granite steps and ornate bronze doors that makes for a dramatic backdrop. “This is a more architectural, city-type look, while still being elegant and sophisticated,” she said. “One caveat is that there’s always an NYPD officer patrolling the entrance, but if it’s just the bride and groom, they’re usually fine with you taking a few quick shots.”
You can see why Voo has been named one of WeddingWire’s best photographers in the Couples’ Choice Awards for the last three years running.
“I’m not just a photographer, but also the wedding planner, concierge and psychologist,” she laughed. “I tell them what documentation they need, and the days and hours when there will be a shorter wait to get in front of the officiant.” (Insider tip: Fridays are busiest, so come Monday through Thursday. Early mornings between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. are less crowded, as are the afternoon hours from 2:30 until the marriage bureau closes at 3:45 p.m.)
And you’d be surprised how many couples come to the wrong municipal building. Getting married at “city hall” is actually a misnomer, since the marriage bureau is at 141 Worth St., four blocks north of the main city hall building on Centre and Chambers streets. “I’ve had couples call me because they’re lost. Or one couple left their marriage certificate in the Uber, and they had to chase down the driver after he left,” Voo said. “I’ve had grooms with nervous bladders who need to go to the bathroom every 10 minutes, and a bride from Ireland who got food poisoning the night before. But it was her last day in New York, so come hell or high water, she was getting married that day. She was a trooper.
“But I’ve never had a runaway spouse,” she assured. “Every one of my couples has gotten married at the end of the day. “
Before becoming the city hall wedding whisperer four years ago, Voo spent a decade writing as a journalist for sites like CNN, New York magazine and the New York Post (which is owned by the same parent company as Moneyish), where she specialized in relationship pieces.
“I was always fascinated by the psychology of love: Why people date each other, and what motivates people to stay together,” she said. But she was also passionate about photography, and would save up her vacation days to take two- or three-week treks to India, Myanmar, China, Mongolia, Morocco and Tibet, where she honed her craft as a documentarian photographer.
“It’s the cliche where your hobby just gets bigger and bigger and takes over your life,” said Voo. “I started off telling stories with words, and it gradually melded into telling stories with my images.”
Voo turned her passion into her profession by leaving full-time writing to freelance, which gave her the flexibility to teach herself the technical aspects of photography. Then she shadowed a wedding photographer friend to learn the bridal business, which she works to pay monthly expenses and support additional trips across the globe.
There’s a lot of money up for grabs. The U.S. wedding industry made $77 million in revenue in 2016, according to research firm IBISWorld. And the average wedding photographer costs $2,814 across the U.S., and $3,552 in New York.
So Voo created a website that she often updates with new photos and search-optimized content to catch couples looking for NYC wedding photographers. And she’s built a network of industry vendors that she refers to couples – and these vendors refer Voo to potential customers in return. “It’s a competitive pool, but for the most part a friendly one,” she said.
But after she snapped a British couple eloping at city hall a couple of years ago, she found her calling. “I shot one city hall wedding, I posted it, and then somehow organically these couples all started coming to me to do it again,” she said. “And I realized, because city hall is only open Monday through Friday, this was a good way to supplement my income.”
Most big weddings are held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so city hall ceremonies opened up an untapped weekday market to Voo. “Now my calendar is full all year round,” she said.
Voo shoots around 50 city hall weddings a year (usually one to two a week) starting at $900 per package, which includes two hours of shooting. Weekend weddings, which take eight hours or so, start at $3,800. But even though the city hall shoots are a fraction of the price, she does so many that half of her annual income comes from them. She’s even created a page on her website that details what steps couples should take in planning their city hall wedding, which has added to her street cred.
“Wedding photography is a business. It’s unsexy and unromantic to say so, but it really is,” said Voo. “And some people might have the most creative eye, but if they don’t know how to sell it, they are not going to succeed.”
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