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Breaking into the Senior Photography Market


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Breaking Into the Senior Market by guest blogger Sandi Brandshaw

First off…I want to say thank you to Jodi for inviting me to blog here with you all! And…I also want to thank you all for welcoming me here! I am excited to share with you some of the ins and outs of working with seniors. I really enjoy doing senior work and I hope to be able to share with you some tips that will help you to grow your senior portfolios as well as offer ideas to make your senior work stand out.

But…before you can make your senior work stand out…you have to get those seniors in the door! The senior market is a very viral market, and if you offer great images and have seniors that are excited about your work then you’ll begin to see a domino effect once things get rolling. However, you can’t take advantage of that viral market until you’ve got some initial seniors to work with…and sometimes even their parents…that are willing to be cheerleaders for your studio. This is commonly accomplished by working with Senior Reps.

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Senior Reps have become a popular trend among photography studios. However, as the photography market has become more saturated and senior reps have become more popular…you’ll want to be creative with your approach to senior reps. If you’ve already got a portrait business established and you are looking to break into the senior market…your established clients are a great place to start for referrals. Everyone knows someone who is a Junior in high school. If you don’t have an established business as of now, but you want to begin with seniors…look around! Don’t be shy! There are high school students all around you…hair salons and nail salons, movie theaters, games, you can usually spot the kids who appear confident and outgoing. Juniors are the best age to work with as reps because they will be heading into their senior year…and many seniors get their senior portraits done during the summer heading into their senior year. So, it makes sense to work with Juniors who are willing to spread the word about your studio.

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Try to think logistically and socially when you are choosing Senior Reps. What high school markets do you want to break into? What areas/cities are you hoping to cover? Do you want a wide client base for seniors…or do you want to dominate the market for a couple of schools in order to keep your clients as local as possible? Do you want to work with a particular social group or club? Whatever your plan…work at it effectively.

If you are looking to have a broad client base…covering multiple schools then you will want to have at least one rep from every school that you are hoping to obtain clients from. If you are looking at a more local approach then you may want 3 or 4 from one school where word of mouth referrals will spread quickly. Keep in mind that regardless of whether the seniors your work with are officially your reps or they are regular clients…with the viral lifestyle of high school students…they will all become potential reps for you as you book additional sessions.

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There are a few important things to consider when choosing senior reps…

• Choose friendly, fun kids! Don’t base things solely on appearance. It’s far more important that you choose kids who are outgoing and involved and who are genuinely nice kids. They are the ones who will not only have an audience for sharing their experience about your studio…but, they are also the ones that others tend to appreciate advice from. A genuine, outgoing, fun, yet average looking, senior will make a better rep for you than a supermodel who is shy…or worse, unfriendly.

• Choose wisely for your market. Although, on an individual level, you do not need to base your senior rep decisions on economic status, you do want to choose kids who attend schools that are in your target market. If you’re in the portfolio building stage of your business…or your senior portfolios…then your target area may not be as significant of a decision. But, if your studio is geared toward a particular market or demographic then you will want to make sure that you are choosing reps from that area in order to see your business grow in that direction.

• You’ll want to make a decision on what you’ll offer them in exchange for their time and their commitment to spreading the word about your studio. Make it worthwhile for them…they are working for your studio! Offer them products for their personal use, their viral marketing use…and an incentive for spreading the word! I personally offer my senior reps a nice print package and a high resolution digital file for their own personal use…as well as additional products that will make it easy for them to share my business with their friends…web optimized images and referral cards…and an incentive for marketing for me…their senior session the following year will be at no charge and they will receive a print credit for every referral.

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And finally…MAKE IT FUN! I can’t stress that enough! One of the most important factors of success with your senior reps is their actual experience of working with you! Have fun with them! Shoot like it’s a party! Make a day of it! Everyone wants to share their fun experiences with others…if they enjoy being with you and you make it fun for them…they’ll want to tell their friends all about their experience with you. And that’s when things will start moving…

Good Luck!

I will be happy to respond to questions in my next post if there are any. So…if you’ve got a question or two please feel free to leave it in the comments section! I look forward to hanging out with you all over the next several weeks!!

‘Til Next Time!

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Need help with posing seniors?  Check out the MCP Senior Posing Guides, filled with tips and tricks for photographing high school seniors.

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  1. Shuva Rahim on April 13, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Great first post, Sandi! And your work is awesome!!! Look forward to the next one!

  2. Jeannie on April 13, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Hi Sandi,Thank you for sharing these tips. Seniors have been booking with me without the help of a rep, but they’re few and far between. I want to try getting reps for this upcoming school year. Thanks again for these great tips.

  3. Melinda on April 13, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Hey that was a really great post. I really like what you said about who to recruit and what to offer as an incentive/reward. I am just curious what types of products you offer to seniors when they order prints/folios, etc. I am new to Seniors and do not have specialized products for that group yet…but I have been researching. I just want to know what is popular. Thanks,Melinda

  4. char on April 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Hi Sandi!So excited to hear more about seniors! I love seniors myself and am working on getting my name out there! Would love to know how long a typical session is and how many locations in a session? Do you help style/dress their shoot?!! Your work is fantastic!!!!Thanks!

  5. Tira J on April 13, 2009 at 11:30 am

    That was a wonderful post Sandi! I am already a HUGE fan of yours, so this is just the cherry on the top! Here is a question for you. What do you do if there is another photographer in your area who is doing the same thing with Seniors? Thank you. Can’t wait for the next post.

  6. jen on April 13, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Great post!!! As I am starting, Seniors are definitely a target for me as I have a daughter in HS. How do you balance the fun, creative shots that they, the Seniors, love with the more traditional poses that their parents may be looking for? I like how you said to create a day just for them and make it like a party! Great stuff…TFS!

  7. Mary on April 13, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Great intro post. Along the lines of what Melinda asked, I’m curious about the products that are popular with seniors. I always think of the traditional wallet-sized headshots and haven’t kept in touch with kids since I don’t have my own. I’d imagine that these days they actually trade and post web images alot and it would be interesting to hear how that plays into your product line. Location/fashion shots don’t seem to be well-suited for wallet sized photos – so I’m curious what size/product is popular for student photo exchanges (do they still even do that!!?)

  8. Irene on April 13, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    OK, excuse my ignorance…but can you provide a bit more information on what exactly a senior rep does and what type of incentive you give them? I have done one senior session (LOVED it!!!) and one teen session and definitely decided I would like to do many MANY more. However, I have never heard of senior reps and am not even sure other photographers are using them around here. Any additional information for us newbies would be great. Thank you!!!!! (p.s. – I LOVE your photography, I am so glad Jodi chose to have you, you are incredible!!!)

  9. Tanya on April 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I have built a large senior business as well, I love the seniors, one of my favorite sessions. BUT this spring I have had a lot of trouble with this age group as far as stealing the images right off the slideshows & putting them on Facebook. What do you recommend about the fb craze and how do you handle it? Do you sell a low res. photo for fb? Thanks! I look forward to your next topic!

  10. Ellen on April 13, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Gorgeous images, Sandi, and great advice – thanks!

  11. Kelda Adams on April 13, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks for the great post! I look forward to more. My question is, do parents usually come with the senior on the photo shoots? If so, do you feel they affect the flow of the shoot for better or worse? Thanks again!

  12. Missy on April 13, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    I’ve never even thought about having a Senior Rep. Thanks for the tip.I do have a question. How do I make a photo session fun? I’m really enjoying taking Senior pics and feel like my personality is pretty fun, but do you do anything more? What exactly do you do on a shoot?

  13. ttexxan on April 13, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    I have been looking forward to this post all weekend!! Im soooooo excited about more info coming…My brother and I started a photography bus about 6 mo ago with no real client base in mind. We figured if someone has a photography need will fill it!! Boy were we wrong…taking pics of Infants way way different than Seniors :>)….However we have found the senior market to be the most enjoyable so far.As stated I have many questions and will be posting throughout your posts….I cannot agree with you more about having reps….We were late getting in the senior year but have had one referral after another from just shooting one senior!! We already have plans for Senior Reps this next year!!One question that is big for us is pricing!! At the moment we are basically giving services away. We charge $50 for a sitting fee that includes 1-2 nearby locations. If you have outfits with you go ahead and change away..We then have very low print prices with standard prints under $10. As stated giving away the farm…Our only package is 320 which includes print work of 100 and all edited proofs (around 30-50) for 220. I definitely want to raise prices next year!! How do you know what to charge and keep people coming in the door??? Most people we have come in contact love our work but would never pay 25 for a 5×7 much less an 8×10?? This makes it very hard….I guess our thought was start out cheap to get a good strong client baseAny advice would be fantastic..Also I would love for you to critique our work and get feedback!! What would be the best way to do this or is this even possible?? Lastly it seems like the trend is very bright and vibrant colors along with edgy processing. Is Jodi offering classes on this?? We have found this type of processing to be an art and difficult to reproduce at times…

  14. Kimberly Donohue on April 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    YEAH~ Good to see you here. Thanks for the tips! I love seeing your work and learning from you. Thanks!

  15. Kristi on April 13, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Thanks for this great post – I love your work! Can you share some specifics about how to make it fun and like a party (besides being your sweet, sunny self)?

  16. jodi on April 14, 2009 at 8:36 am

    thanks for all the valuable tips. i totally agree that the fun factor is a major part of the senior market. if you don’t make your sessions fun, they will find someone else who will!

  17. David Quisenberry on April 14, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Good article. Nice images.One thing I have learned over the last few years is you have to find a way to keep in touch with the reps. I have had success with Facebook. I find that more you connect with them whether it is to ask how it is going, do they need more rep cards, what is their input on a marketing piece you are going to send out, etc. the more they stay excited.The 2nd valuable thing I have learned is determine the goals for your reps. This saves alot of photog stress. They can be a source of names/addresses of peers, peer images for your marketing, and referral clients. For me, I put the least emphasis on referrals even though I know many photogs consider referrals the only reason to have reps.

  18. Kevin on April 16, 2009 at 11:29 am

    These images sure change the way that I see senior portraits being done. Great work! Looking forward to browsing the site some more.

  19. alexis on April 16, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Sandi-Looking forward to all your posts. I am in the process of breaking into the senior market but running into a few walls. All my friends have younger children and don’t know anyone in high school. I tried putting up a post on craigslist for a senior rep and someone tagged it twice! It was barely up for 24 hours and I didn’t get any good leads. So, I was wondering if it is beneficial to buy a list from a company and send out postcards to all the students on the list. Would love your feedback on this. Thanks!

  20. Cristina Alt on April 17, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Until I started reading photographer’s blogs that were in the US I had never heard of this.. it’s an awesome idea and I love it.. I’m just wondering how to bring it to Canada.. I think I have a few ideas 😛

  21. Jessi on April 17, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing your tips Sandi. I am a big fan of your senior portraits – they are beautiful and your girls are always dressed so cute and fun! Last year was my first year of using reps – it was to close to the end of the school year before I decided to use reps and neither were very outgoing…so, yes that is an extremely important factor in choosing reps. I had 2 reps and I gave away a whole lot of my time and product for them not doing a whole lot other than helping build my portfolio. This year I changed it a bit, so hopefully it will work to my advantage. They have to work a bit harder to earn their 2nd session free…they’ll need to recruit 3 seniors. I have 6 this year and all have made the initiative to contact me…so I know they are excited and want to do this.

  22. fredick on July 3, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Nice blogging. I bookmarked your site 🙂

  23. Holly on April 13, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Sandi,Do you then have 2 photo sessions with you reps? One for them to use to get referrals, and then their actual Senior photo session?? I am working on getting into this and already have 6 Senior Reps, and am basically just trying to iron out the details. I was going to do their Senior session in May so that they could get their photos out and start some buzz. Am I going about this the wrong way? Any feedback would be appreciated! Thank you,Holly

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