Deal 7: How to make money through your photography
A Guest Contribution by Meghan Newsom.
When it comes to planning for sessions, seniors are some of my favorite people to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I love families, children, engaged couples and wedding ceremonies.. but seniors are close to the top of my list.
Why, you may ask? It’s simple: seniors are excited to model, seniors are some of my best marketing tools, and seniors know what they want. They also have a great sense of style, which translates well in their photographs.
When a high school senior books a session with me, I do several things right from the start to help them know I am excited about working with them. I also do my best to get to know them so I can tailor their shoot to fit them perfectly. I find that if you do these things, your session will not only run smoothly, but you will have a client who LOVES to refer you to their friends.
1. First things first, let them know how excited you are to work with them. Since seniors are all about social media, I tweet about how excited I am to work with them and plan their session a few days after they book with me.
2. Next, I send each senior I book a tailored questionnaire so I can get to know them better. Some of these questions found in their questionnaire include:
3. Even though seniors are on top of the latest styles, they often need help when it comes to deciding what to wear to their session. So, a week before their session I send them a link to a pinterest board I have created to help give them specific ideas of what to bring with them. This small act not only helps your client, but it will also help you achieve the look you want in your own portfolio.
The morning of the session, I contact my client to make sure they know what time and where we are meeting up. I make sure they have their outfits picked out, and give them one more opportunity to ask me any questions they see fit.
During the session I do several things to make the couple of hours I have with them memorable and stress free (and fun!!) for my senior client. You can do this too by doing the following things:
1. Seniors are at an awesome stage in their lives, they have their whole future ahead of them. Talk with them, ask them questions, find out what their plans for the future are. Encourage them and invest in them while you are with them. They will feel appreciated, valued, and will feel confident hearing assuring words from an adult that isn’t their parent.
2. Most seniors have never been in front of a professional photographer other than the cheesy pictures their parents had them take when they were younger. Make them feel comfortable. Praise them when they look good in front of the camera. I love to turn my camera around and show them some little peaks of how well they are doing. THEY LOVE THIS! It will encourage them to keep up the good work, and will give them confidence in their appearance.
3. Posing. You may have some go-to poses you use for your seniors. But since each person is uniquely different, you need to have several tricks up your sleeve. Enter my i-phone. Recently I have been taking screen shots of poses I am inspired them and putting them into albums on my i phone. When I hit a rut, I whip out my phone and look at my posing guides. At first I thought this was like “cheating” during a shoot, but my seniors LOVE IT! They think it is so cool that I thought of them enough before hand to plan for their poses during their session. Again, this makes them feel valued. I have a great Pinterest board to help you out if your stuck in a rut.
4. Props. I love to bring small props for my seniors to hold or sit on during their session. This could mean an old folding chair, a cute beach hat, an old quilt.. or even some books. Some people feel really awkward in front of the camera at first, so these little props give them something to do with their hands while they are adjusting to your presence.
After their session, you can keep up the “hype” by doing several things:
1. The following day post a “teaser” or “sneak peak” photo from their session onto facebook. This is another reason why I love seniors. They will share that teaser with all of their friends through social media, which means more publicity for you and your business!
2. The following week, after I have edited all of their images, I will send ten images to them through PASS. They will also share these images through facebook, and it will give them a great idea of why they should purchase a disc with ALL of their high-resolution images from me.
3. As soon as I have all of their images edited, I will order a custom book for my seniors and send it to them along with a really appealing package. The package includes a hand written note, business cards, and other little goodies I sneak in for them. They always love how personal I make these for each of them (another great reason so send them a questionnaire and get to know them well during the session!)
4. After they have their images, blog all about their session, including images they haven’t seen in the ten I sent them. This blog post will also be shared through social medial to their friends and family (more free advertising!).
In post processing senior photos, always remember that you are photographing for their parents as much as you are your senior client. I keep “fad” type editing out of the equation because I know ten years from now their parents will want a solid (not overly processed) image on their wall.
Instead of using “fad” editing techniques, I always let the style speak through the locations I choose. You can easily do this by choosing old brick buildings, abandoned farm houses, fields of cotton etc. The seniors love this, and their parents will appreciate the timelessness of the photographs they receive.
It is not hard to rock a session with your seniors, it just takes some extra things to go above and beyond so they know you appreciate them and want to know them. All of those extra things will make your client feel special, and will translate into those coveted word of mouth referrals for you and your growing business!
Meghan Newsom is a lifestyle and wedding photographer located in Northern Alabama. When she’s not writing for her lifestyle blog, cooking up gluten free recipes, or taking pictures, you can find her exploring outside with her husband and pup.
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August 15, 2013 04:59 am
I think that, while bruceberg's advice is sound, a lot of photographers who shoot Senior Portraits do not only take those jobs. Many are family/lifestyle/wedding photographers as well - "Portrait Photographers" are a whole. Selling prints is a lucrative business if you can sell. Our job is primarily to educate the customer on quality and what sets us apart from the countless fauxtographers out there in the world.
Say you raise the cost of your sessions by one hundred dollars. Provide so many photos (we'll say ten) that can be made an 8x10 at largest and still look nice for Grandma and Grandpa and Aunts and Uncles. If you feel you can sell 8x10's, then include high res for 5x8's or 4x6's for small, basic frames that they can give as gifts. Provide them with a disc of lower res images edited for facebook. You can leave a small signature or unintrusive watermark in the corner but don't be disheartened if it gets cropped out. Don't give up on selling prints, but still provide a positive experience for your client. If you don't feel like including a disc with some higher res images, gift them a gallery warp or framed photo. Give them something where they can tangibly see the difference in quality and feel like it's worth the extra money.
You can still give them an amazing experience without trying to make 6k. I know that when I have kids, there is no way in hell I will be spending that much on prints...
August 2, 2013 10:00 am
This was such an extremely helpful and well written article! Thank you so much!
July 24, 2013 09:31 am
Thank you for all the solid advice and tips!
July 2, 2013 04:25 am
In my opinion, bruceberg is talking the reality of this profession. If you want to be a professional over the long term, his advice is something you should think about.
July 1, 2013 03:22 pm
From reading some of the posts, I realize that some photographers have no concept of making photography a successfull long term career. You won't stay around if you are averaging $200-$400 per client. Decent money if you are doing 3 a day 4 days a week. That comes to 12 clients @ say $300=$3600 a week. But that is GROSS sales, not NET profit. A huge difference. Selling 1 8x10 really costs you about $75 if you include time-not just $3 for the print. Yes, Portrait photographers do NEED to control their work or 1. you won't make a good living and 2. the client gets raw, non-enhanced images, not the best art that you could have provided them. Sure, give them social media files of images they order once the order reaches a certain threshold, but don't get stuck into giving them a high res file for cheap.
Plus, if your prices are low, you tend to need to photograph LOTS of clients to generate a good income. What happens after 2, 3, 4 years? You burn out.
So new budding photographers not only need to improve their photography skills, but more key is sales, pricing and business skills. Learn to pace themselves and not work over 40-50 hours a week and enjoy life and refresh oneself.
Last year I had a HS senior sale of $6k, a wedding sale of $15k+ , I can't get that if I'm pricing my work too low.
Not to "push it", but I do speak all over the country 6 times a year. July 15th, I'll be at the Professional Photographers of New Jersey near Rutgers, September 8th, at OKC at PP Oklahoma and in November 17th possibly in Portland OR.
July 1, 2013 11:09 am
As a senior photographer also, this is an fantastic post!! Love!
June 30, 2013 09:18 pm
A lot of photographers are concerned about losing control of their images - and if you're doing some kinds, then sure - but we're talking portrait photos here. You're getting paid to take photos to give to someone, so there's no real point to holding onto the rights too tightly. You get paid, you take some nice photos that the kid will treasure, and you hand them over as a finished product.
At the end of the day, they're going to edit, crop, change, share, and do whatever they like with it, as should be their right if you've been paid to do it. By all means, do a takedown if you see some shitty dating website using the photo for their 'hot teens in your area' advertising, but don't put the reigns on too tightly and weave a contract that prevents them from using the photos on their Facebooks or anything. Just make sure you retain the rights to use the good ones in your portfolio and you're sorted.
June 30, 2013 03:52 am
paul- you are right, high school senior boys do not enjoy participating in the senior portraits as much as girls do. Most of the time when I take photos of high school senior boys, it is because their mom really wants to document this stage in their lives vs. the girls who are itching to get their photo taken.
June 29, 2013 06:44 pm
I've mostly seen girl photopgraphs in your contributions and pinterest pages. Do boys actually participate as much in these high school photo sessions, or is there a difference ?
Darren, now if we could also get such a good article on photographing real seniors, not "juniors", I think that would be useful to many of us readers.
June 29, 2013 07:49 am
I was a senior photographer back in the early 70's. And I can say things have changed a lot. We did ours in a studio, with different backgrounds. And a few location pix's. Back then everything was pretty well canned and one senior pix looked pretty much like another....... with the exception of the out door pix's. There you could get creative. Glad to see how things have changed over the years.......
June 29, 2013 07:31 am
Thank you for these tips, i particularly like the one on engaging them during the session as an opportunity to invest in them. I also appreciate John's comment, a reminder on the real business of photography. Thank you
June 28, 2013 01:30 pm
So sorry about the confusion on seniors! ha! I can totally see how that could be misunderstood, especially since America is the only culture who makes such a BIG deal about senior photos. But hopefully this advice will be able to be used on multiple platforms with multiple clients:)
And as for the DVD and copy write release. I totally understand the argument that when you give your clients a copy of their high-res images you never know know they are going to print and display them (thus possibly giving your business a bad rep). I have gone over this multiple times myself. Right now, this business model is what works best for me and what my senior clients want.. which is not to say it's best for everybody! But like dougs said, I would MUCH rather a client use MY photos (which on the copy write release statement it says they CANNOT change or edit them in any way) vs. scans they take of prints or i phone pictures of their prints on their social media. Seniors LOVE to LOVE themelves, and now with social media being so popular they only want those files (while their parents ALWAYS order prints from me because they see the need for them). I also am very assertive with my clients in telling them where I want them to get prints and where they should NEVER get prints if they print things out themselves.
But like I said, this business model works for me right now, but it's not for everyone! Thanks so much for your input!
June 28, 2013 08:22 am
Awesome post! I like the advice about wardrobe and appropriateness in one of the comments. I can't tell you how many senior portraits I see that teeter on the brink of boudoir photography. The other trend that irritates me personally is to put irrelevant props in seniors' hands. The most common example I can think of in this case is a person who doesn't know how to play guitar... holding a guitar. It makes me think, that in the future, this individual in the picture should endeavor to learn to play. Will he continually be the non-playing guitar holder whenever someone who knows him looks at the photo?
In our new digital age, there are so many people with cameras out there just snapping really crappy shots. When I make a photo, I want it to be remembered for the quality of the photo. I would like to think that in a hundred years someone will look at my photography and like it. It will still be current, or at least it will be like Mathew Brady's photos (an excellent body of work of the who's who and whazzit of the 1860s) and have an interesting timelessness about it.
All that being said, I would rather sell the pictures to the customer and let them print them on anything (even 20# 8-1/2x11 plain white copy paper) than have to haggle over and retask on printing pictures. I would rather see them cut and paste and do their worst to my photos, because they get what they want and the photos are cherished even in their mangled beauty. With millions (or soon, trillions) of images being produced daily around the world, the likelyhood that the picture that I took will be misrepresented as an awful image is low.
What is highly likely? Disappointment of customers who cannot get prints of pictures before a big event, because I am too busy with my day job or taking pics. I would rather sell the images to the customer than disappoint them by being notoriously evasive or hard to reach or stingy. When they want more photos to give to Aunt Agnes... they can go to Walmart or upload them to Walgreens and print them off. Or, likely, Aunt Agnes will have already seen them on Facebook and will just love the way I made her darling neice Petunia look, and she will have already printed them. My fee for photographs is a primarily a fee for my time and expertise at taking photographs, and not for me to be in the business of being a photo printer.
I still retain rights to the original images even though I allow them to be printed by the customer.
June 28, 2013 05:41 am
I concur. Selling the disc gives the clients raw images (not retouched or typically enhanced in any manner) and hurts both them by not getting the very best and you but diminishing the sale.
Ansel Adams didn't just have a great eye, he used post processing to create his works of art. True professional photographers should do the same.
Shoot and Burn might be a fine side income, but to truly create a business that will sustain you past 3-4 years as a full time occupation, it is not the way to go.
June 28, 2013 05:19 am
"with selling a disc with their images on it. That is a continuing battle here. The photographer owns the images"
Yeah, but the problem is, these are high school kids that are going to scan the prints and post them on facebook anyway if you don't offer them in digital form. I would be much more worried about having a crappy scan of a 4x6 print posted on facebook (or worse an iPhone pic of a 4x6) than I would be about what they are going to do to those photos in Picasa and then post them for their friends to see.
Senior pictures are like wedding photos for kids. Except that you get a month (or more) to put together the ultimate wedding album and really work to make everything perfect. With senior pictures, they want something they can have and show off for their entire last year of high school.
As for the cultural aspect, I expected there to be confusion. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, so I knew exactly what the topic was about. However, I knew there would be others that were clueless. I'm surprised Darren knew what they were. :)
June 28, 2013 02:50 am
In the U.S., senior shoots are a very big thing. I liked the article, but strongly disagree with selling a disc with their images on it. That is a continuing battle here. The photographer owns the images and therefore has control over the quality of the production of prints. Selling off the photographer's rights in a CD, means the quality of any reproductions is beyond the photographer's control. Any cheap, poor reproduction could be connected with the photographer who produced the image - not a good thing in the long run.
June 28, 2013 02:35 am
I've recently seen too many "sleazy" senior photos. I guess one tip I'd make is to avoid that kind of shot. I think you touched on this by helping the seniors choose a good wardrobe, but even a good wardrobe can be worn wrong.
June 27, 2013 07:57 pm
Thanks for a nice tips! Great ideas for pre-session questions.
June 26, 2013 09:28 am
This is great advice! I've had a couple seniors contact me recently about doing their senior portraits, so this is perfect timing! Can't wait to do these sessions!
June 25, 2013 02:34 pm
In LatinAmerican cultures, a big to do is the quincieñera (15 years old) celebration, more so for girls than boys. Some of the sessions I've seen are more elaborate than some pre-wedding sessions. Here's a session I did a couple years ago.
June 25, 2013 12:59 pm
thanks for the feedback all - we've updated the title to 'high school seniors' :-)
June 25, 2013 12:10 pm
Another reader who came looking for hints on how to photograph their grandparents. :P
Is this an American specific thing? There was certainly nothing like it when I finished high school here in Australia - we had annual class photos all through school, and everyone took snapshots during the week or so when we were finishing, but nothing official/professional. Is there a market for this here now?
June 25, 2013 09:52 am
Haha, I was so confused when I started reading this article after clicking the title. I see John and I where on the same page with this.. Too funny.
June 25, 2013 09:40 am
Thanks for the information. I've been doing some research into how to reach the market of high school seniors. This is a borderline age where sometimes the parents are still making the decisions and sometimes the kid gets to make the decisions. Marketing needs to be aimed at both so that which ever person is making the choice can choose you. Thanks for your help.
June 25, 2013 04:57 am
I read this article thinking you were talking about photographing the elderly (seniors). I was thinking, hmm, I don't see how some of these things apply. I finally got it.
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