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:
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.
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.