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10 Tips for Becoming a School Portraiture Photographer

The Business of School Portraiture

By Courtney DeLaura

The pre-school and school portrait business, in general, is typically a scary subject for portrait photographers—very much a photographic area that many wouldn’t dare consider. Visions of cattle call-like lines of children, little black combs and ugly backdrops flash before your eyes. I know, because those are the exact visions I had when I first thought of school portraits.

At the very beginning of my business, I evolved from a student of photography taking great pictures of my children to a very determined businesswoman. However, I had some obstacles. My greatest challenge was that I was very new to the area, which meant I didn’t have a large network of friends, or a community of people that could help me spread the word about my portrait business. I also had older school-aged children, so playgroups and the days of preschool moms meeting for coffee were long gone—I was in need of reaching a ton of families in a timely, cost-effective manner. Through this necessity, my pre-school portraiture program was born!

In many cities, large and small franchise studios have a monopoly on the public grade schools and high schools. However, there are many private schools, preschools and daycare centers that are open to the idea of using someone new. It not only is an amazing way to reach many families, but it can be an amazing way to generate a substantial income.

10 Tips for School Portraiture Photographers:

1. Be organized times 10 – you have to be very organized from day one. You will be talking with tons of parents, teachers, and school directors/principals. Create an effective workflow and organizational plan for your school portraiture business. I use an online system that I simply adore!

2. Before you present your program, look at your calendar and make a decision about the amount of schools you want to photograph. Do not over-book yourself. School portraiture is time-consuming and you must give each school 110%. Once you have plotted your plan for the school portrait season, book those schools and STOP. I know it’s hard to say ‘No’ to a school, but you will thank me later.

3. Pricing is always a touchy topic, and even more so when you are creating separate pricing from your normal portrait sessions. From the beginning, make it apparent that your school portraiture is different from the typical school photo and that it deserves a little bit more of an investment. Also, make it well known that this is not the pricing of your portrait sessions—this is a special rate for lucky schools.

4. Treat each child who sits in your chair or stands on your backdrop as a mini session. Once you get that in your head, you will capture awesome shots of the child. Throw out the window the typical, and do something different. I promise parents will appreciate it.

5. Get them to giggle, dance and move around. Parents will purchase more when you have a sequence of shots that show their children having an awesome time. It creates higher sales and makes people talk about you! That is the goal: make some money and getting your name out there!

6. Become a friend, not a hindrance. When you are in the school, be extremely friendly with the staff, parents and children. Treat the staff well and give them discounts on orders they place. Many times, preschool teachers also have children who attend the same school. Bring thank you gifts to the teachers and to the director/principal. Gift something small that shows how much you appreciate their support and for choosing you to photograph their children.

7. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be TOTALLY different from the typical school portrait photographer. You want families to feel a sense of gratitude that you came to their school. You want them to be excited each year that you are coming back. When I say different, think of all the things that the typical school portrait photographer is and do the opposite—use awesome backdrops, take many different shots from different angles, let parents view before they order, and offer a few products that school portrait photographers don’t offer… Keep it simple, yet different!

8. Keep the quality high but not has high as your full portrait sessions. I don’t mean do a ‘bad’ job or have them printed on the cheap, just make sure to leave your clients desiring what they see on your portrait site. Do not bring all your best props and furniture or create the same high-end set you would in your studio or at a client’s home. Make sure it is cute and fun and chronicles the child’s age and personality, such as the image below:

exampleone 600x289 10 Tips for Becoming a School Portraiture Photographer

9. Be true to you! Do not conform to what you think families will want or what I have shown you. Be true to your style as a portrait photographer. If you like deep, rich tones and colors then make sure your school portraiture looks the same. If you like light, bright colors then do that same thing when photographing a school. You do not want a huge disconnect from what you do in a full session and what you do at schools. If people loved what you did at the school enough to call and hire you for a full session, they are going to expect close to the same style. I realize that many times schools will have limited space and lighting, but you will still want to create images that everyone recognizes as yours!

10. All is done: Make sure all your hard work is not in vain. Add parents to your studio mailing list and include in their school portraiture order a thank you card with an exclusive special on a full family portrait session. Keep the communication open and be sure that they know you are more than a school portrait photographer.

exampletwo 600x240 10 Tips for Becoming a School Portraiture Photographer Coutney DeLaura is a portrait and lifestyle photographer, who has a booming school portraiture business. Her new guides and marketing materials can help you enter the field of school photography. Check out her site: Get School Photo. Check back tomorrow for a fabulous contest to win some “get schooled” products.

 10 Tips for Becoming a School Portraiture Photographer

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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16 Comments

  1. 1

    [...] 1 votes vote 10 Tips for Becoming a School Portraiture Photographer The Business of School Portraiture By Courtney DeLaura The pre-school and school portrait [...]

  2. 2
    Tanya says:

    This could not have come at a better time!!

  3. 3

    Thanks for the information. I am interested in seeing the final processed packages and where the packaging is done. Thanks.

  4. 4

    WoW! I have been trying to do this for the past year and a half.
    http://www.poshpreschoolportraits.com
    The big problem we are having is Life Touch. They have contracts with everyone in our area.
    I wonder if she has advise for this…

    • 4.1

      I work for a decent size company that does school portraits and Life Touch is a problem for us too. Life Touch is everywhere and you can’t compete against them. They are so big that they are willing to give the jobs away for next to nothing to keep the business from any could be competitors. The images they get are very hit and miss but the bottom line for many schools is the cost. They give extra large commissions that anyone smaller than them couldn’t match otherwise they would go out of business. Your best bet is to explain that you can’t compete with a company like Life Touch in terms of price, but in Quality of pictures and customer service you will beat them hands down. If that isn’t enough for the school than they probably aren’t an account you want anyway. There are plenty of schools out there that don’t care for Life Touches antics and confusing price sheets. Be you and care about the schools and you will do fine.

  5. 5
    karen gunton says:

    thanks for the great tips. i did my first pre-school portrait photos a few months ago and would agree with everything you said. i learnt a lot and would do things a little differently next time, but i would definitely do it again. one mistake i made was not having someone with me to show families the shots immediately and get them to order on the spot (i gave them a proof disc 2 weeks later along with a free 5×7, and my sales were lower because of it). i would also add that if you wanted to start out small try doing a similar thing for a local playgroup or mum’s group. this really helped me figure out my organization, pricing etc on a smaller scale.

  6. 6

    I am so so proud of Court and she is ONE talented and warm girl .. love her lots.

  7. 7
    Caitlin says:

    What online program do you use for the workflow/organization? Thanks!

  8. 8
    Lisa Hensley says:

    I am so excited about this, I have been trying to come up with my own marketing packages unsuccessfully for months. I can’t wait to put her marketing plan to good use. Thanks for bringing this site to my attention.

  9. 9
    Angie Kosa says:

    Yay! Word of the day is Giggle!!

  10. 10
    Diana says:

    Very exciting…

  11. 11
    cathy says:

    Thanks for the great advice! I just got started with some preschool portraits out in Hawaii. Any tips on getting the kids to smile?? I need some fresh new ideas to mix it up a bit. :) Thanks :)

  12. 12
    Anel says:

    awesome article. I started pondering on doing the same since I just started my business and this really has given me a clear way to do it! thanks!

  13. 13
    elmer cuaton says:

    Hi Courtney,
    Im Glad i’ve found your site, I know this is your Business I Started Photography 1 year and 4mos. from now My gear is limited since my budget is not enough I hope you Understand. I just want to ask you how to set up the Class portrait with Amazing result I mean the set up of the camera im Using D90 wid 24-70mm nikkor with to studio lights (chinese made) 200w each with Umbrella my tripod not really good also So im very careful.(chinese made)hope you can help me for free.

    sincerely.
    Elmer.

  14. 14

    I am looking for suggestions for how to write a contract for preschool setting. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!!!

    • 14.1

      I am also trying to figure this out as well… I was contacted by a very small private school and they want me to do fall and spring photos but would like a proposal… I am not really sure what to do…

  15. 15
    Tracy May says:

    Hi Courtney,

    Thank you for this information. I am a photographer based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa and I shoot 2 or 3 schools a year (more than enough for me) but I feel that I spend a lot of time processing the images after the event. You mentioned an effective workflow and that you used an online one. Could you give us that site. I try to do something fun & different each year with my schools and one school in particular loves the more fun style (so much better than the stand school stuff that has not changed in decades) but I have a very time consuming workflow on photoshop and would love something I could just drag and drop. Any ideas??

    Here is a sample of what I have done in the past.

    Many thanks
    Tracy

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