Jerry Tomko didn’t take a traditional route to becoming a full-time wedding photographer. He shot his first wedding in 1981 (his sister-in-law’s nuptials), and went on to commission wedding assignments from colleagues in the government subcontracting industry, where he worked on computers.
Then Tomko was offered an opportunity to become a sales rep for a wedding album and framing company.
“I got the chance to visit a lot of studios, meet a lot of people, and get a lot of ideas,” he says. “Eventually, as I traveled to photographers’ studios, I started teaching them how to sell and market themselves, how to upgrade their photography studio in the eyes of clients.”
With all of this on-the-road knowledge, Tomko decided to upgrade his studio in 2004 (he had continued shooting weddings in addition to his sales and consulting jobs) and immerse himself “full-tilt” in the wedding photography business.
“I went totally digital, upgraded my computers to Macs, went to every single seminar I could find, and learned the digital aspect of wedding photography.” It looks like this unconventional approach is paying off for Tomko. He has seen a dramatic rise in his wedding bookings just over the last three years—22 weddings in 2004, 35 in 2005, and 56 last year—and receives referrals from brides who haven’t even reached their Big Day yet. One of his wedding albums is set to be unveiled this month as one of the world’s top 10 in the PPA International Print Competition, in the Wedding Album category.
What ultimately helped Tomko develop his competitive edge was recognizing that he had to break out from the pack. “I learned very quickly how to do things differently, to give brides what they want,” he says. “I really work on my business and change things so they’re not the same, year in and year out.”
Building the Tomko Brand
One of the first challenges Tomko faced after upgrading his studio was that no one seemed to realize he had been shooting weddings for nearly a quarter of a century. “’Who is this guy?’ was the big question everyone asked in the beginning,” he says. “I sort of fell out of the loop by being associated with the sales end of the industry when I worked for the album and framing company. Some people remembered me, but for the most part, it was ‘Who is Jerry Tomko?’ It caused some problems, because many people thought I was a new kid on the block.”
To combat that, Tomko started interacting more with the photographic community.
“One thing I can attribute my rise to was joining the Digital Wedding Forum,” he says. “The quality of photographers on that forum really helped, especially the ones in Australia. For some reason, they were farther ahead than we were here in how they did things. What they did two or three years ago is just coming to the States now.”
Staying in front of prospective brides required Tomko to enhance his own style and methodology.
“I always wanted to be a leader and do things differently from other photographers right off the bat, to give the brides something else to think about,” he explains. “Right now, because of digital, there are millions of photographers out there. I have to stay different, because if my work and my albums look just like the other photographers’, then people will only shop for price.”
Toward that end, Tomko has jumped into the seminar circuit, traveling to the West Coast to pick up tips from the likes of Becker and Mike Colon.
“The nice thing is I’m usually the only one from the East Coast (and Pennsylvania) at these seminars, so I come back home and put a lot of ideas into action right away,” he says. “Some people don’t want to implement the ideas, or they want to take some time and think about it. I’m already going forward and working on the next new thing for next year!”
Tomko’s incorporated several of Kevin Kubota’s Actions, high-end tools that help photographers work with their images, into his work.
“I do a lot of image enhancement after capture using many of the methods I learned from Kevin,” he says. “I’ve taken three of Kevin’s workshops, and I’ve pretty much told him that every time he sells something, I just want to know about. If he sold his refrigerator, I would buy it!”