High School Senior Photography for Boys

February 28th, 2017


High School Senior Photography for Boys with Phillip Blume


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One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on my mom’s lap listening as she sang “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” to an audience of one. The audience was me, her biggest (or, more accurately, chubbiest) two-year-old fan. The 1984 Footloose hit lives on today as an anthem for momma’s boys everywhere. And I was most definitely a momma’s boy.


My family never had much disposable income, so my sisters and I had few professional portraits made over the years. Sure, a school photographer shot our annual portraits, but even those fell outside the rigid family budget. This year, my mom actually tracked down the daughter of our old school photographer, and, fifteen years after I graduated, finally placed her order for my senior portraits.


There was nothing flashy about my senior portraits—well, perhaps the borrowed tuxedo top I wore over plaid shorts against a blue backdrop. (The image, of course, was cropped above the shorts.) Yet my mom remembered and coveted those portraits throughout my life. Fifteen years and 14 grandchildren later, she still cares and finally owns them. And I’m still her momma’s boy.


Are you fully tapping your senior market by attracting boys? They and their mothers value the product you offer. Or do you, like most photographers, notice a huge surplus of female subjects? Come on already. Let’s hear it for the boys.


Here’s my list of strategies to help you appeal to more male senior clients. If I have the ratio right, adding boys to your bookings may nearly double your senior business.


  1. Direct mail


For most of our clients, direct mail is not a good marketing option. Blume Photography specializes in weddings and newborns. For all his snooping around, the postman still can’t predict wedding dates or due dates. But for seniors, it’s a different story. There’s a lot of information available about household makeup, and through direct mail you can target households that have kids in school within a particular district. How powerful is that?


There’s a huge benefit in marketing to boys this way. Even though you can’t know the gender of kids within a household you market to, I guarantee you boys are more likely to respond to your mailer than they are to the marketing pieces they see at school. Why? Peer pressure.


Even if your marketing pieces look fantastic, no kid will dare pick one up if it isn’t “cool.” And it ain’t “cool” for boys. First, their friends are mocking them for even entertaining the idea of a photo shoot. Believe me, kids in high school are even more aware of the female trend in senior photography than you are. Senior portraits are “for girls.” But if you can reach a good momma’s boy at home, he (and his mom) can unabashedly view and consider your call to action: Book now.


Search the Internet for easy direct-mail services offered by companies like infoUSA or even USPS. They’ll help you get started. Then make sure your marketing photos feature a male subject, even if the picture is secondary to one for your target female audience.


  1. Stylized portraits


When I was studying photojournalism in college, we called these “conceptual portraits.” As photojournalists, we steered clear of Photoshop. There was no tolerance for modified images; they had to be 100 percent “real.” But once in a while we got the chance to work on conceptual portraits, imaginative photo graphics to illustrate ideas. What fun. My favorite was a portrait I created of a local coffee roaster, whom I Photoshopped buried under a mountain of coffee beans.


Stylized portraits may not represent your typical brand or personal style, but it’s always fun to branch out a little. Fewer guys than girls are interested in a “vanity” shoot, to look cute or improve their self-image. But a lot of guys are obsessed with the sports they play, the bands they’re in, the cars they drive.


Make a presession questionnaire part of your senior workflow, and find out what your subjects are into. It doesn’t have to be the main thrust of your shoot, but take some time to feature what’s important to them. If you typically don’t touch off-camera flash during your bright, airy senior sessions, take the leap and start creating a few edgier high-contrast shots on the football field in front of those Friday night lights.


Remember, boys aren’t the only ones obsessed with sports, music and cars. You’ll probably start to see demand for this type of session from a whole new segment of the high school girl population you didn’t even know existed.


  1. Business partnerships


The most direct inroad to reaching a new client is often the most obvious. Don’t miss what’s right under your nose. What physical businesses do your target clients already visit? How can you reach those clients in those places by offering value to that business? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask before building a marketing strategy for any service you provide.


In reaching high schoolers before their senior year, we realized kids that age all go to the orthodontist. So we created a business relationship with an orthodontist that makes the doctor look good to his clients and adds value to his practice. We create high-quality gift certificates through the terrific Simply Color Lab, which we then gift to the orthodontist. He gives the certificates to his patients (well-qualified leads with disposable income) as a thank-you gift after removing their braces. And guess who receives that gift certificate directly? You got it: Mom, the holder of the purse strings and the lover of her baby boy.


As a result, we photograph as many, or more, boys than girls. It’s an introduction to our process, and we load their mommas up with information about Blume senior sessions while they’re here.


So what’s on our certificate? It doesn’t say, “Enjoy this free headshot from Blume Photography.” The certificate reads, “We invite you to enjoy this personalized session with award-winning Blume Photography Studios, compliments of Dr. X.” It’s from the doctor. This kind of marketing gives us the chance to talk ourselves up, but gives the good doctor all the credit while adding value to his services. What business would turn that down?


These are simple 10-minute headshot sessions at our studio. (Before we built our studio, we took headshots in front of a simple backdrop in our living room.) The sessions book up easily. We include a free 8×10, get additional sales via our amazing ShootProof online galleries, and tend to book a lot of senior and family sessions afterward.


  1. Male-focused products


Notice I didn’t say “masculine” products. I’d like to think I’m as tough as the next guy (or gal), but many of us can probably relate to not fitting the mold of “most masculine guy in high school.” I don’t think you need a completely different product line for the guys. But it does help to be aware of items that may appeal to guys more than girls.


The foundational products in our studio are senior coffee table books (from Graphi Studio and VisionArt Books) and gallery-wrapped canvases (from Simply Canvas). Favorite add-ons are personalized mobile apps (created easily right inside ShootProof) and graduation announcements (from WHCC).


Follow the trends in your sales. Boys seem more interested in leather book covers, whereas girls want photo covers. We offer both, but it helps to know when we’re creating a sample book for show.


Although boys seem to be less enthusiastic about sharing mobile apps with their faces plastered across them (you can view exactly how many downloads your apps get from ShootProof’s admin side), they do seem to order more graduation cards than our girls. During in-studio sales sessions, moms often force their girls to order announcements, while our boys more often seem excited about this product. I’ve wondered if the difference relates to the culture of sports card collecting and trading. When it comes to designing cards with a stylized portrait, they definitely take on that feel.


You can bet we’ll be experimenting with new print products (maybe something closer in size to a baseball card, maybe with stats on the back) for guys. How could this help you market to the whole sports team? Never stop thinking or innovating.


  1. Customize the experience


I never want any portrait subject of mine, boy or girl, to feel awkward. Even more than the finished images, I believe the way they feel about the experience in front of my camera is what matters most. That is what will sell your business: not just your portfolio, but the emotions clients carry away with them and talk about to their friends.


For girls, there are several go-to methods of creating an experience they won’t forget. Providing hair and makeup, for example, makes girls feel pampered and fulfills the expectations that magazines plant in them about what a professional photo shoot should be.


What about boys? What will make them go away talking about you? I tend to guide them into things I myself enjoy. We climb to out-of-the-way locations (whether it’s really necessary or not). I force fewer smiles and ask for more of those confident “James Dean” expressions. They aren’t wearing heels, so I get more active and shoot a faster shutter speed while they jump or run for action shots. If it suits their personality (do they go mudding or play football?), don’t even hesitate—make a bucket of mud and plan to get dirty for the last shot of the day.


Finally, don’t forget to create at least one good portrait of Momma and her boy (preferably before the mud starts flying). She’ll refuse, but remind her it’s a rare opportunity, and no one is going to force her to use it if she doesn’t like how it turns out. That alone can guarantee an extra sale for you, and an extra-meaningful image they’ll both cherish all their lives.


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Building a Successful Senior Model Program

February 28th, 2017


Building a Successful Senior Model Program with Curtiss Bryant

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The biggest obstacle we face as senior photographers is keeping ourselves in front of our target audience, the seniors. There are so many photographers out there vying for the same business that we can get lost in the masses. We can create amazing images and provide an amazing service, but sometimes that is not enough. In a digital world, the seniors are bombarded with hundreds of images a day, so they are becoming immune to good photography.


To them, it is just another image. We need to do more than take pretty pictures to stand out. Enter senior model programs.


Senior model programs have been around for ages. The old paradigm of doing free shoots and giving free prints for referrals no longer works. You have to create a program that they want to be a part of. We have created a model program that provides clients with an amazing senior experience for an entire year. They no longer get just a single session and rep cards to pass out. They get a year of pictures and a senior experience to remember.


Let’s look at how we do it.


Step 1 – Create the Framework


The framework you create is the most important aspect of building your model program. This is what sells your program to the seniors. Create a program that they want to be a part of.


Our program includes their senior session with hair and makeup during the summer. The senior session is the main reason they are doing the program. Mom wants those senior portraits, but we need to do more than that to create that amazing experience.


Starting in September, we do monthly themed shoots. These are essentially mini-sessions, and each of the models gets a 20- to 30-minute time slot. The shoots are creative, and are meant to provide them with a fun experience. We offer our models a variety of shoots, including underwater, powder paint, newspaper/trashbag dresses, pumpkin patch/fall sessions, ugly Christmas sweaters, black light, stylized sessions, sports, night shoots, cold weather shoots and wildflower shoots.


Be creative and think outside the box. The more creative and fun the shoots are, the more interest you will bring to the program. These images are purchased in addition to the senior images at the end of the year.


Step 2 – Create a Rewards Program


The one thing we loved from the traditional paradigm was the opportunity for the models to earn rewards for sending referrals to you. It is not required, but when they do it, we want them to know they are appreciated. We created a points system by which they can earn points not only for referrals but for other tasks, like sharing images on social media, tagging friends in comments on our flyers, taking selfies while wearing our T-shirt to different events and posting them on IG with our hashtag, or even bringing their sports teams to us to create sports posters. We do not restrict referrals to only seniors. We allow them to refer people to us for any genre of photography we shoot.


At the end of the year, they can cash in their points for various prizes. We have found that cash is the biggest motivator with seniors, so we have reward levels that include cash payouts starting at $25 and going up to $200 (cumulative). If they reach the top level (1,000 points), they can earn an iPad, plus all the cash prizes.


It takes 10 referrals to reach 1,000 points, so it is a goal within reach for all of them. The way most get referrals each year is by referring the current juniors to us for the next year’s program. We host our meetings in November, with signups due in December. Our program is exclusive in the sense that they have to be invited by one of our current models to participate. Rather than our having to market our program to everyone, the model team members are the ones who build it for us. We just send out the invitations once we get the names, and in return, the models get the referral credit for anyone who signs up.


Step 3 – Offer Something Big


Add something big to your program to make it more enticing. Each year we give away a cruise to one senior model. We are located in Florida, so cruises are plentiful (and cheap). If you cannot do a cruise, maybe do a weekend getaway and shoot in another city. If you cannot do that, maybe a VIP experience to a concert or theme park. The options are endless. The idea is to offer something that is a big reward that they all want to win. This ends up being a huge marketing tool for us because we post images and videos to social media while we are on the cruise, which builds excitement in the community. Plus, it’s a vacation and tax write-off.


Step 4 – Make Them Pay to Play


The biggest error with model programs is that photographers don’t charge for them. They do all the work for free in hopes that the models bring in paying clients. If you go to a restaurant, will a chef cook a meal for you for free in hopes of you telling your friends? No. So why should photographers be any different?


Charge to participate in your program. Models are much more active when their parents have paid for them to be in the program. They come to the monthly shoots, they refer people, etc. When they have skin in the game, they are much more active. We have four participation levels they can buy into. The only difference in the levels is the bonuses we include (a second cruise entry, a day at the spa, a destination shoot, etc.). The amount they pay is returned as a product credit toward their senior session, essentially making it a minimum order amount. If you don’t want to do that, fine. Make it your own and do what works for your studio.


Step 5 –Offer Destination Sessions (Optional)


The future of senior photography is destination shoots, so why not start now and get ahead of the curve? It is a lot simpler than it sounds. Just ask them to notify you of any trips they are taking. Many seniors travel throughout the year, so you can maximize those opportunities to provide them with an amazing experience while they vacation. Each year during spring break, we offer a weeklong destination shoot overseas as an additional travel opportunity (and a vacation).


We also find cheap trips throughout the year and announce them to our model team. Whenever we find a cheap flight, we message all the senior models and their parents about the opportunity.


The main thing with destinations is to just offer them the opportunity to do portraits in another location. It doesn’t have to be far. It doesn’t have to require a flight. It can be within a couple hours of your location. Most seniors have no idea that travel is even an option, so as soon as we mention it, their eyes light up. We do a separate sales session for destination shoots to maximize our sales potential. If they travel, they will buy images, guaranteed.


Step 6 – Party Time (Optional)


At the end of the schoolyear (April), we host a huge party for our seniors. We provide a full meal, a dessert bar, a DJ and our photo booth. It is similar to a mini-prom, and we require formal dress. Guests of the seniors have to pay for their own meals. We use this time to announce our cruise winner and pass out the rewards they have earned, and we provide each with a little thank-you gift. It’s a night out they can enjoy with their friends.


These steps give you a foundation to start building your program. You do not have to structure it exactly like ours. Take what we have provided and make it work for your studio. Make changes as you see fit. There is no right or wrong with model programs. They are constantly evolving. The goal is to provide your clients with an amazing senior experience that is much more than a single session.



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The Senior Experience

February 28th, 2017


The Senior Experience with Sal Cincotta


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Everywhere I go I hear the same thing: “Senior photography is not a thing here.” It’s not? So, you live in a part of the world where teenagers are not rebelling? Don’t want to be cool? Aren’t going through an identity crisis of some kind? Wow. You must live in a very unique place.


Here is what I know. Teenagers want to express themselves. They watch TV. They want to be popular. They are visual. They have interests that lend themselves to visual storytelling. How do I know all this? Because, like you, I was a teenager once.


Stop telling yourself there is no high-school senior market. There is! And it’s huge! The question becomes: Can you figure out how to tap into it?


I have been photographing seniors for over 10 years, and I have to say, they are some of the most fun and interesting shoots I get to work on. The kids have great energy. They love experimenting with posing and lighting. They have extensive wardrobes. Best of all, they get into it. They are open to try almost anything, from expressions, to outfits, to locations. And that opens up a whole new world of possibility for my creativity.


Here are some ideas to help you create an amazing experience for your seniors.


Make it about them.


At the end of the day, it’s not about you. It’s not about their parents. It’s about the kids. Let them be themselves. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a session where a parent was pushing her will onto the teens. They start fighting, it creates tension and everyone is miserable. Get involved, play referee. Find balance for everyone.


Recently, I had a mom trying to force a teen into a suit. He wanted no part of it. I asked him why. He said, “This is not me. I don’t wear suits.” Now, they get limited outfits during their session, and he wanted his sports outfits and casual outfits. I said, “How about I add one extra outfit to the session and we shoot the suit for Mom?” Problem solved. Everyone is happy and our day moves on.


The parents are paying, and of course we have to be conscious of that. If the kids are having a miserable time, they will look like crap in their pictures, and then no one wins.


Make wardrobe matter.


Year after year, senior after senior, we have fallen victim to the wardrobe they walk in with. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of these kids have a wardrobe that would shock Donna Karan. But they are not always the most conducive to photo shoots. Sure, your $300 jeans and T-shirt are probably a nice fashion statement, but will that be something Mom chooses to put on the wall in a large print? Probably not.


For 2017, we have begun to offer our high-school seniors a free dress from EnceptionRentals.com. That’s right, we are taking it to the next level. We want our seniors to have the most incredible experience with access to a one-of-a-kind wardrobe that they either can’t afford or that is too stylized for everyday wear. It’s a goldmine for photo shoots. When they come in to see their pictures and we have created something so unique, something they know they can’t get anywhere else, it leads to larger sales and, of course, an incredible customer experience.




This is the perfect opportunity to try something outside your comfort zone. The kids love knowing that they are going to be part of something new and different. I clue them in to the fact that this next shot may suck, but that it could be the coolest thing they’ve ever seen.


I get what I need to ensure the shoot goes off without a hitch, and then I pull them in and I say, “I have always wanted to try this new shot—are you down for experimenting a little?” Never once has a teen said to me, “No thanks, I am good.” They eat this shit up!


What do you want to try? There has to be something you have seen online, something the people you look up to in our industry have done and you have always wanted to try. I have been at this 10 years, and I still want to try new things. So, I guess my point is, stop making excuses and try it. You will become a better photographer for it—and, who knows, you may create magic and your client will be blown away by how the shot came out.


Get the beauty shot.


The number-one selling shot in my studio is not the big dramatic shot, it’s the beauty headshot fully retouched. I guarantee I am going to sell a 16×24 of this every single time. Parents love it—they are seeing their child in the most gorgeous of situations. Perfect pose, perfect expression, perfect light and flawless retouching. They are not having a friend do that. They are not getting that at the mall. This is an art form. Your job is to create the perfect storm. This will be the shot they are looking at for the next 10-plus years. In fact, if you nail it, you can pretty much guarantee you will book their wedding.


Now, just so you know, there is timing to make this all work. I don’t take this shot right out of the gate. A teen who just met you 10 minutes ago is probably not going to give you the expression you need—a natural one—when they just met this weird guy with a camera. They are not comfortable yet. I like to work through their first outfit and then, once they are comfortable with me and with being in front of the camera, I start working on a nice portrait. This has become something of a staple shot for the studio. Put the time into this, and it will pay dividends to you and your clients.




If you think what we do is a job, it’s going to suck the life out of you. Sure, saying something as simple as “make it fun” sounds obvious enough, but the reality is, so many professionals just act annoyed by the entire process. If you are that person who thinks clients are stupid and they should just do what you want, or that their ideas are dumb because they don’t understand photography, then you are the idiot.


Make it fun and collaborate with your clients. Once they have bought into an idea, the session becomes about something so much more than an image. The stories behind the image are so much more powerful and moving for our clients. I have had client after client come in to see their pictures and say something to the effect of, “Remember when you were taking that picture and XYZ happened?” This becomes the story behind the image, and that story will live in legend. They will tell their friends about it and remember it years later. That story can be good or bad—you control your own destiny here.


I love collaborating with clients on ideas. It doesn’t have to be overly complex. It can be simple things like a location or an outfit or a theme.


I will never forget many years ago when a mother called in to book a session. She said to us, “I don’t get it. You are the most expensive photographer around, and to me, it’s just a picture. But my daughter has to have you!”


I said, “No worries. I totally understand. How about this? Tell me a little about your daughter—what is she into?”


“She plays the violin.”


“Check this out,” I said. “Does she have a white dress? If so, imagine we head to a hilltop, the wind is blowing, big clouds behind her, she is playing the violin, the wind is blowing through her hair…”


She cut me off and said, “Okay, I get it. Let’s sign her up.”


That conversation is a collaboration. I now had buy-in from the client, almost ensuring a sale before I had ever created a single frame.


It is a combination of all these items and everything else we do as photographers and business owners that creates a one-of-a-kind client experience. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of that experience and how it will impact your current sale, and also the future of your company.


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Location Lighting: From Simple to Complex

February 28th, 2017


Location Lighting: From Simple to Complex with Michael Corsentino


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For me, anything beyond one light and a small modifier starts to fall into the complex category. Additional lights mean more stands, more sandbags, more triggers, more grip equipment, more assistants, extra time to set up, additional transportation logistics and permits. I opt for simple, especially on location. Sometimes, though, the shoot demands more complex solutions or a combination of simple and not so simple to get the job done.


In the shoot for this article, I was asked to photograph a spring fashion editorial on location for a high-end boutique. The location was a park. This required a lighting plan that would accommodate whatever the location threw at us the day of the shoot. Despite weather forecasts, you never know exactly what Mother Nature has in store for you. Conditions the day of the shoot can be anything from cloudy and overcast to harsh overhead sunlight or dappled light. You just never know, especially in Florida, so being prepared for all possibilities is key.


With that in mind, I put together a lighting plan that allowed me five options. The first tools on my list were a large 74-inch octabank with an 8×8 scrim. I chose this combination because I wanted to create a soft quality of light for some of the looks.


The general rule of thumb is the larger the modifiers, the softer the light they produce. When you’re working on location, a scrim or even a small collapsible diffusion panel can be indispensable for taming harsh overhead sunlight. Scrims and diffusion panels can also be used to create large softbox-like light panels used to diffuse either natural light or a strobe fired through it. I used a strobe for my keylight in conjunction with the octabank. I also chose a second strobe with a 7-inch silver reflector. I planned to use this second strobe with a color temperature orange (CTO) gel as an accent/rim light intended to replicate the warm specular light from the sun on my model’s hair and shoulders. I added this light in case conditions were overcast, which they were at several points during the shoot.


Along with four C-stands, grip heads, sandbags, triggers and other miscellaneous bits, the above equipment made possible four stationary lighting arrangements. I also wanted a setup that was flexible and mobile, something that would allow me to work quickly and easily, move the models from one location to the next, to shoot full figure and three-quarter images. For this, I chose my go-to setup, an Elinchrom 27.5 Deep Octa and Quadra pack and head system. This 400 watt-seconds head has more than enough power for the kiss of light I needed, with lots of juice to spare. Equally important, it’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for use on an extension.


The five lighting options I put together were as follows: scrim and octabank, scrim and octabank with gelled accent/rim light, scrim with strobe fired through it, scrim alone, single lightweight strobe and small modifier on an extension pole.


When you’re working with a combination of strobes and ambient light, you have two sources of illumination at work. Each of these needs to be controlled independently. This is easily accomplished using camera settings and the power output control on your strobes. Once you’ve locked in the aperture setting you want, one that produces the desired depth of field, you’ll need to adjust the remaining exposure settings to achieve a balanced exposure. In other words, an exposure that is neither underexposed nor overexposed. In a fully manual situation, which is my preferred workflow, you’ll use shutter speed, ISO and the power control for your strobes to control this balance. If TTL is your preferred exposure method, you’ll also have flash exposure compensation control in the mix. Find this on your camera body or on your strobe’s compatible TTL-enabled wireless trigger.


With respect to which settings control which light source, ambient versus flash, remember these simple guidelines: Shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed to the exposure, while aperture and the flash power control how much light is contributed by the strobe. In ambient light/flash scenarios, where ambient light is generally the dominant light source, flash serves as fill light and is therefore not the dominant source. In practical terms, this means when you’re making adjustments to create the desired balance between flash and ambient, you’ll use slower shutter speeds to increase the overall brightness of an exposure or faster shutter speeds to knock down the ambient light and create a more dramatic exposure.


I’m always looking for ways to keep things as technically simple as possible. This way I can focus on being creative rather than worrying about gear. One of the great things about shooting as sunset approaches is that you can use the sun as a warm-toned, specular accent/rim light for the hair and shoulders. For the images I shot later in the afternoon, in a meadow of dry grassy reeds, I didn’t need to introduce a second strobe and CTO gel because at this time of day, the sun was perfectly positioned and had the lovely orange contrasty glow I wanted for the accent light. Earlier in the day, I had to set up a second gelled strobe to create this effect. Always keep in mind that at the right time of day, the sun makes a fantastic accent light.


And when it comes to keeping it simple and still creating gorgeous pro-level lighting, nothing beats one light and a small modifier on an extension pole. Working this way provides maximum flexibility and allows you to move quickly from one location to another without ever lifting a light stand. Using an extension pole to hold your strobe also avoids any of the potential hazards of people tripping over light stands. Using this setup as your sole lighting solution avoids the necessity of a permit in many municipalities. Maintaining proper exposure is as easy as keeping the distance between the strobe and your model consistent once you have your exposure locked in.


Just as important as knowing when to turn on your strobe is knowing when to turn it off. If Mother Nature is giving you gorgeous light that’s consistent with your creative vision, use it. It’s always going to be equal to or better than what you create with artificial light—and, again, it simplifies things. Even in situations where the sun isn’t giving you ideal light, you can modify it using a scrim or diffusion panel to create beautiful soft light. That’s why I always have a scrim with me for location work. This tool diffuses the sun’s harsh light and also softens and broadens it. Smaller diffusion panels can be used, but in this case, size does matter. The larger the scrim, the broader the source; the broader the source, the softer the light.


When you’re working on location, lighting conditions can change at a moment’s notice, and you need to be able to accommodate those changes and keep shooting. The technique above, in which I used a scrim to create soft natural light, works perfectly when the sun is cooperating. But what happens when the clouds roll in and cover up the sun? Now you’ve got an overcast situation without bright sunlight for the scrim to diffuse. In this case, you can simply substitute one or more strobes behind the scrim to create a light source with even coverage. I did this using a single strobe.


Just be careful of the wind, which can become a major issue. A windy day can wreak havoc on scrims, octabanks, large reflectors, etc. To keep your gear from blowing over and your talent safe, you’ll want multiple sandbags on each light stand. Even with sandbags, it’s best to have assistants to mind larger modifiers in case the wind picks up.


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The Red Tape: Unwritten Photography Ethics & Guidelines

February 28th, 2017


The Red Tape: Unwritten Photography Ethics & Guidelines with Vanessa Joy


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This article deals with the unspoken rules that most beginning photographers follow only by accident. These rules, when broken, will easily get you blacklisted by your peers and colleagues.


First, let me assure you that if you’ve already made some of these mistakes, you’re not alone. I’ve made some doozies over the years. Sometimes I was trying to get away with it, other times I was completely ignorant and, truth be told, sometimes I was just asking for it.


Get involved in local and national photography groups. Behind the Shutter has a great online Facebook group, and provides opportunities to network in person at ShutterFest and Lunacy. Being in the online forums and groups gives you access to hundreds of photographers and keeps you in the know on hot topics in the photography world.


Examine how you work with your peers. In the community-driven industry and social media world, I can’t stress enough how essential it is that you maintain good relationships. You could be the best photographer in the world, but if no one likes working with you, your chances of have a successful business diminish greatly. I know you’re thinking, “But the client hires me, not them.” Trust me, you’ll be amazed at just how much other wedding vendor recommendations or condemnations can affect your bottom line.


Working for Other People


Every year I make it a point to be a second shooter on other photographers’ weddings. It helps improve my photography by seeing how others run a wedding. It gives me a chance to be more creative since I don’t have to worry about the staple wedding photos.


Let’s highlight the things you should know, and do, so your reputation as a second shooter and photographer does not become tarnished.


First, you need to communicate with the photographer you’re working with to determine what they allow you to do with the photos you take. There are 100 schools of thought on this. Some believe that if they’re paying you to take the pictures, you shouldn’t be able to use them at all. Others, like me, are okay with you using them, but not just anywhere you feel like it. Some will let you come shoot to build your portfolio but won’t pay you for the day.


Whatever the conditions are, make sure you’re clear on them with each photographer you work for so you don’t end up with an embarrassing and potentially reputation-ruining debacle in the end.


When I first started as a wedding photographer, I worked for another company. Back then, I had no clue that I was going to start my own business, nor did I have the faintest idea that there were rules about shooting for another company. Years later, when I went out on my own, I created my own website using pictures I had taken that I believed I could use. Boy, was I wrong.


When I was confronted about it, I was flabbergasted and stammered, “But I took them!” I couldn’t comprehend what photographers for years had known to be true, and what federal copyright states. If a freelance photographer is hired for a job, the images produced for that gig belong to the contracting company, period. Thankfully, after helping out the photographer I worked for with a website issue, he let me use the images. But it left a bad taste in both of our mouths, and certainly didn’t help keep the bridge between us intact.


Secondly, it’s not your wedding. If you want to get asked to second shoot again and build a good reputation within the photography industry in your area, remember this one. Don’t make yourself known to the clients or guests as anything other than the photographer working for XYZ Photography. Introduce yourself by your first name, and don’t hand out your personal business cards (but do hand out the primary’s business card). Don’t connect with the clients, vendors or bridal party on or after the wedding day.


Whenever you’re shooting a wedding for someone else, treat it like it’s your own. Do not call in sick. There are no sick days on wedding day. If there is an emergency, find a replacement for yourself before informing the main photographer that you won’t be able to go. They may or may not take your recommendation, but you’ll likely never get hired again if you abandon ship without at least throwing a life vest.


People Working for You


The first time you have someone work for you, it can be extremely nerve-wracking. You’ve hired someone else to represent you and your business—someone who, for certain portions of the day, you’ll have little to no control over. Hiring the right people is an art in itself.


Before you hire someone, research their work like you’re a bride. Don’t just look at their best 20 images of all time on their website. Ask to see a full wedding they’ve shot from start to finish. Find references for the photographer to make sure they’re hard-working and professional. Do they represent your brand and what you’re trying to portray on a wedding day?


Talk about expectations with your shooters. What should they wear? How should they act? Have a contract in place for a second shooter with all of your terms neatly written out. Even when working with friends, things can get sticky in business. It’s always best to protect yourself by having clearly laid out expectations for anyone you’re working with.


Give your second shooters and assistants general information about the wedding when you’re offering the job to them. Include the number of hours they’ll work and where the wedding is located, which may affect their decision on accepting the job. The last thing you want is to be stuck, like I was once, three days before a wedding with a second shooter deciding that they won’t be photographing the wedding because it was too far from their home. It was my fault for not telling the photographer that information beforehand. It was their fault for not even bothering to find a replacement on such short notice.


Send your second shooter a more detailed schedule closer to the wedding. It’s polite to send a final schedule at least three days before the wedding, if not a week. That schedule should include bride and groom names, start/end/ceremony/reception times, and all location addresses for the day.


Follow the golden rule with those who are working for you. Do unto others as you’d have done unto you. Treat people right, be understanding, forgive mistakes and always, always think like a CEO.


Rules You Didn’t Know Existed


The following are just some tidbits, some fun and some not so fun, that no one tells you when you’re following your dream of becoming a wedding photographer.


  • Some reception venues forbid you to eat cocktail-hour food. Others will get it for you.
  • Most reception venues won’t feed you unless the bride and groom pay for it. Some forget to do so even if it was paid for.
  • There’s no guarantee that you’ll be fed anything at all. Pack protein bars and water.
  • Typically you get fed last at weddings; sometimes you’re fed in the kitchen.
  • Some reception venues send you forms and contracts directing you how to dress, behave and even where you’re allowed to use the bathroom.
  • A lot of reception venues ask for proof of insurance, typically $1 million in coverage, and some ask to be listed as additionally insured.
  • The officiant at a wedding may restrict where you can take pictures and how (flash or no flash) during the ceremony.
  • It’s not professional to drink alcohol at a wedding, even when the bride and groom insist on it. It’s often forbidden by the reception venue as well.
  • Publically or even privately bashing other photographers or wedding vendors will come back to haunt you.
  • Earplugs come in handy during the reception.


Now that you know, you can’t play dumb. Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to these guidelines, so use your new knowledge wisely and do your best to play by the rules.


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Creating Different Session Types to Welcome Everyone’s Dollar

February 1st, 2017


Creating Different Session Types to Welcome Everyone’s Dollar with Blair Phillips

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Newton’s first law states that an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. If things could just automatically stay in motion, all businesses would be set. Unfortunately, we are always faced with an unbalanced force. To remain successful, you must possess the ability to continually change and adapt to the marketplace.


We have seen many changes in our business over the past 10 years, with the largest change beginning about a year ago. It was common for clients to pay an average of $2,000 for a portrait order. The general public has begun to lose sight of the value of professional photography. In years past, there were not as many options for a good portrait. Now you can get a decent image on a phone, use an app for a decent edit, and your image is ready for social media. Social media seems to be the most important reason for pictures these days. In response, our studio recently completely overhauled its offerings.


Just as retailers are closing more and more stores and innovating to protect themselves from the bite of online sales, photographers also have to find ways to stay relevant in the marketplace. It is easy to sit at a desk and find the lowest price in the world and have something shipped right to your doorstep. Americans are accustomed to getting what they want when they want it. So at our studio, we have three pricing tiers that fit almost every budget.


The first option we offer is the traditional session that we have offered from day one. It’s a two-hour shoot with unlimited sets, indoor and outdoor, followed by an in-person sales appointment. Hair and makeup are included. If they don’t want hair and makeup, the price for the session does not change. We explain that it is complimentary. With hair and makeup, sessions tend to be more inspired. This session is for the individual or family that is not as budget conscious, and are used to getting exactly what they want. You should always keep products and services that may be considered too pricy for the average client. You should not punish the client who will spend a lot of money. Always have the higher-ticket offerings available for those clients. Think of it as the parking lot of a shopping mall. You peruse the parking lot and find vehicles that range in price from $500 to $100,000. There are people from all walks of life who gather there, in search of similar things, with completely different budgets.


We were getting phone calls from people stating that they had a certain budget they needed to remain within. Some of those budgets did not fit within our offerings at the time. Realizing we were turning away potential income-producing customers, we developed our second option. We wanted to create a way to let them spend their money with us. Our second session offering includes a modest session fee that nearly anyone can afford. We fought the issue of people that only want the digital files for long enough. This session generally lasts less than an hour, with two outfit changes, and includes only the digital files.


We also offer 40 percent off the regular price of prints should they choose to order any from us. When they order through us, they get the very best color, consistency and quality. Think of this as an express session for the working family that wants the experience and quality that you offer, but may not have a big budget. This gets them in the door. You have not put forth a ton of effort, and have created a new client who will market in the community for you. This has allowed us to reach a ton of new clients who would not have come in for the premium session that we offered in the past. It has opened up another side of our business. The key is adjusting the amount of time you put into these types of sessions to ensure you maximize your profits.


We developed our third type of session for the client who loves our work but cannot afford our higher-priced products. I see no harm in making everyone’s money welcome. We offer a session that takes 10 minutes, on one set, and post the images online for them to order from. The key is to collect the session fee and a minimum order requirement up front. This way you are guaranteed to make at least that amount of money for your efforts.


There’s very little work involved. We would never be able to reach these clients otherwise. These clients often return again and again. This turns into a constant influx of small amounts of cash. We stack these appointments on certain days each month. These sessions are an in-and-out type of deal. Every dollar I bring in helps the bottom line.


However you view the photography industry, we can all agree that it is constantly evolving. There are not many things in life that remain the same for eternity, without constant improvements or attention. The photography business is not self-sustaining without your constant evolution and willingness to answer the call of clients’ spending habits.


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In-Person Sales: Overcoming the Top 5 Most Common Objections

February 1st, 2017


In-Person Sales: Overcoming the Top 5 Most Common Objections with Alissa Zimmerman

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The art of in-person sales is a terrifying beast for many photographers. I never wanted to be in the sales room because selling is very low in my skillset. Like many photographers, I didn’t have a choice. Even though I was thrust into this role, many photographers don’t have a choice because their businesses just aren’t profitable without in-person sales. If I can do it, so can you.


Here are five of the most common objections I have run into in the sales room over the past year in this new role. Role-play these scenarios with a friend, family member or coworker until you’re comfortable making the sale. Your clients can smell your fear when you’re not confident in the “why” behind your responses to these objections, and will pounce at any opportunity to take advantage of that weakness to score photography and products at a discounted price. Don’t let it happen. Remember, your answers should always be: “No,” “Why?” and “Can I offer you an alternative?” Without using this formula for any objections, your clients will eat you alive.


  1. We can’t afford it.”


This is probably the most common objection you will run into, especially with brides after their wedding. The post-wedding sale is the most difficult, but if it’s handled right, you’ll see extra income and a boost in your client averages.


It is crucial to set yourself up for success. Make sure your clients know your pricing before they come in for their sales session so they aren’t blindsided. I send out pricing the night after their photo shoot (engagement session, senior session, family session) or the day after the wedding. I attach the pricing document to the email I send to schedule their in-person sales session. This gives them a two-week window where they are able to process how much they are willing to spend. Of course, all of that goes out the window when they come in and love every single image (more on that later).


During the sales session, if your client is having a hard time pulling the trigger because of price, offer a payment plan. It’s important that they know the order will go into production once payment has been made in full. We have done payments split into two and up to six. The payment plan timeline can be worked out with your client that night, but get their credit card number before they leave so you can run it on the agreed-upon dates without having to chase them down.


  1. “Is an 8×10 big enough for my wall?”


I guarantee that at some point in the course of your career, you will run into this question. And I guarantee it will take everything in you not to crack up laughing when you hear it.


Of course, it depends on where and how your client is wanting to hang the photo, but in the case of creating artwork and the staple centerpiece of their home, the answer is no. But you can’t just tell your client no. You need the tools to support your response. This is why in-person sales are so important for photographers. A client with this mindset of needing only an 8×10 will never understand how small that is when looking at their images in an online gallery. Having them in your studio with your samples (all at least 16×24) hanging over couches, mantles and sofa tables is the only way for them to get perspective.


We showcase a variety of sizes and products in our sales room, and have smaller sizes hidden to bring out when this question comes up. When a client sees an 11×16 next to a 30×40 over a mantle, their entire mindset changes.


Something else that has helped with this objection is a tool called Room-Vu from a company called N-Vu. With Room-Vu, you can use preloaded stock images to show your clients what their images will look like on a wall. You can also ask clients to take pictures of the wall they want to decorate in their home so you can mock up their images using their actual home within Room-Vu. The value of being able to do this in person after they have just seen all of their images for the first time is priceless.


  1. “We just want the digital files.”


Ah, yes, the objection every photographer dreads hearing.


The first thing you need to determine is whether or not you offer digital files in your packages because the wording will be different. The main point you want to drive home to your clients who think they want only the digital files is that you are a full-service studio and your job is to create one-of-a-kind artwork for your clients’ homes.


If you do offer the digital files (which you should do only if your client purchases a certain package), explain that you’re a full-service studio and believe in printing artwork for their home, but that the digital files are available for purchase or included in your top package.


  1. “We don’t need that many pictures on our walls.”


This one is magic to my ears. I take clients through a narrowing-down process in Lightroom after I have shown them a slideshow of their images. We go through and sort out the images they don’t like. Through this process, the client normally ends up with an overwhelming number of images they love. That’s when I present the folio of our packages and walk them through the products listed in each.


This is your time to play trusted adviser and push them into the top package that includes an album: “You don’t want all 84 images in your home? No problem at all, that’s where an album becomes the perfect product to showcase your images without having to hang them all over your walls.”


As the trusted adviser, go through the package and show them the images that would look best as big wall art, and which images would be best to fill the album.


  1. “Can I swap out items in the packages?”


First of all, if you do not have this disclaimer written into your pricing sheets already, go do it right now. At the bottom of your pricing document, you should have a sentence with an asterisk in front saying, “*Packages cannot be altered.” This will save you when the question comes up because you can always refer back to the document you sent them in the email scheduling their sales session.


Your language here is very important. You want to point the finger at something else instead of just saying no because your margins don’t allow for it. We tell our clients that packages cannot be altered because they are tied to specials our vendors are running.


Also note that the packages should be structured in a way that shows the value of going into a package versus buying à la carte, so they are already discounted.


And we all know what Sal always preaches: You cannot discount a discount.


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Using Albums to Increase Sales

February 1st, 2017


Using Albums to Increase Sales with Craig LaMere


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When it comes to sales, there are a million ways to skin a cat. In photography, there are a million and one products you can use to sell that cat. My studio is product-based. We sell digital files, but they are the last option for our clients. Our philosophy is anything digital will at some point be obsolete, and products never will. Our biggest genres are high school seniors, families, weddings and boudoir sessions. While we don’t sell albums for families, we do sell a ton of them for the other three categories. This month, we look at my studio’s best-selling product: albums and books.


Time Management


When I first started shooting, I wanted every shoot to be 100 percent unique. I would find all new locations for every shoot, find new poses for each person or family, and design each album page by scratch. I felt if I was not shooting and creating this way that I was doing a disservice to my clients and me. When I was building my book of business, it wasn’t an issue to spend extra time finding a new location for each shoot or building custom pages and layouts. As my book of business grew and my other obligations to the studio grew, I found myself getting more and more behind.


I asked friends who were shooting way more sessions than I was how they kept up with the work. A few of them told me it was just a matter of time management and setting routines. They were right.


Albums and books are a fantastic way to sell a variety of images to your clients, but there are a number of pitfalls you need to be mindful of, or they can quickly become a loss leader and a pain in the ass to offer your clients.


Probably the most common mistake when selling albums is pricing. The actual cost of the physical album is not that substantial when put up against metals or acrylics and even some canvas displays. Where you get yourself in trouble is the amount of time you invest in the creation of the album or book. Time investment includes shooting, editing and layout.


Pay close attention to your time. The easiest way to gauge it is to take the amount of money you are charging and divide it by the number of hours it took you to shoot, edit, design and deliver your book or album—that gives you a rough estimate of how much an hour your are making. If you take too long, you get beat up; if you can do it faster, you win!


Fighting Your Need to Be Creative (All the Time)


Artful shooters have a tough time suppressing the need to be creative during client sessions. This might sound weird, since what we do is art. But it’s important to adopt a set routine for sessions. I understand the need to flex your creative muscles so you do not get into a rut or get bored. So learn how to accommodate both your artistic and business needs.


You need a system that incorporates posing, locations, post-processing and design. Have a go-to shot list you go through when you shoot your session. These are the shots you know are going to sell every time. These are the shots that are pretty much going to look good with any client. These are the shots that you have done so many times that you can tweak them to fit any client. Have a location list that you know is going to have great light at a certain time. You know how to get the best depth of field because you know exactly where to place your subjects. When you take your images into post, have a base system and an order for each image. Have a system that gives you consistent results. From there, you can get creative. The system for your layout should be tried, true and pretty quick.


This will get boring for some of the creative shooters out there, but you can fill your creative needs by scheduling your own personal shoots. I do it all the time. It is my time to cultivate the artist in me. I can go as wild and take as much time as I like, and it does not affect my bottom line. This allows me to grow as an artist, which carries over to my clients.


Planning for Spreads


I always ask clients to send me pictures of their outfits. This helps me streamline my shoot and prepare for the layout. I have talked in other articles about how seeing the clothes will help with picking out locations and choosing backdrops because of the color palette of the clothes, but there are a couple other advantages to seeing the clothes before the shoot. One is that you will have an idea of how many changes you are working with. Because my main goal is to fill spreads, the more the merrier; if a client sends you just two clothes changes, you are limited in image choice at the view and order session. It is hard to sell a 10-spread album or book when you have only two outfits.


With high school senior sessions, we want a minimum of five clothes changes, and not more than eight. We stay out of the studio as much as possible. The only time we are in the studio for senior shoots is when we shoot fashion or sports uniforms. Most of the time we are running all over the place to different locations. If they have too many changes of clothes, clients start to get antsy.


Our boudoir sessions are a little different. Although we are still shooting to fill spreads, we do not need the same number of clothes changes for variety. That’s because 95 percent of these shoots are in the studio or indoors on location somewhere, so we are able to change the looks of the outfits with lighting. You can take a white outfit and shoot it with a 4×6 and make it light, soft and airy. You can take the same outfit and shoot it with a strip light and grid, and make the image contrasty, dark and moody.


Shooting for Layouts


When I’m shooting for albums and books, my mind is in layout mode. When you shoot for spreads, you do not need a million images. You need only three solid images. With any one pose, I shoot a full-length, a three-quarter, a tight crop, a vertical and a horizontal. This ensures I have all my bases covered for layout purposes. You can have more than three images in a spread, but you don’t want a cluttered page. Spread sessions go fast.


Layout: Don’t Do It Yourself


When I started selling albums, I laid them all out by hand. I created the layout templates using clipping paths, and bought different backgrounds online for each spread. I spent up to 30 hours editing and designing each album. I had it in my head that each album had to be totally unique. I felt I would be cheating my client and myself if I didn’t do it this way. After a while, I realized my clients were never going to see each other’s albums, and I was not cheating my clients or myself by changing my process.


The first thing I changed was how I did the layouts. I had been creating albums for so long that I had a bunch of templates. If I needed a spread with two vertical placements and one horizontal, or if I needed a spread with two horizontal placements and one vertical placement, I was in business.


The problem was how long it took to place everything by hand. Then someone introduced me to this company called Fundy…and my life was changed. I could go on an on about Fundy, an automatic layout program. All you have to do is load your images, hit a button and choose a layout you like. You can easily tweak a layout in seconds. What once took me hours I could now do in minutes.


I also changed my album design. I had been painstakingly matching the background of the album with the images, framing each image, and on and on. It was so time consuming. Just as my shooting style has changed, so has my layout style. Instead of using all these crazy backgrounds, I use a plain white background for my pages, which has saved a lot of time in the design process—while making my studio more profitable.


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The Marketing Headshots Game Plan

February 1st, 2017


The Marketing Headshots Game Plan with Moshe Zusman

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When I first picked up a camera, I had no idea I was going to use it to photograph powerful CEOs, fly on their private jets to where they wanted me to photograph huge business deals and find myself almost too busy in my studio. If you’re starting off in weddings, it can seem like a pretty big leap to jump into a new genre of photography. A lot of people think it requires a completely different method of marketing, but it doesn’t.


When I first moved to D.C. from Israel, I started researching photographers in the area, and kept hearing the name of a celebrity photographer (no I’m not going to tell you who). Everyone knew him. He was marketing himself perfectly. The celebrities he photographed and put on his website weren’t paying him to be their photographer, but somehow he was photographing them regularly. Bingo. Marketing brilliance.


Marketing is much like math. Math is the same in every language, and marketing principles are the same in every business. Marketing is learning how to get your business out there and make it look attractive enough that people will want to plunk down their dollars to work with you. Everything in D.C. is who you know and who knows you. I knew no one when I came to the states, so if I can do this, anyone can. Here’s my game plan for marketing myself in the headshot world.


  1. Meet People


Photographers hate this part. A lot of us are introverts and got into photography because it put something between us and everything else. If you’re working with headshot clients, you’ll soon discover that being a people person is no longer an option, it’s a must. You have to learn how to bring your client’s best self out, which comes through conversation and getting them to let their guard down.


Thankfully my wife, Ashley, was working in a PR firm at the time and introduced me to a foodie who got me in to photograph top chefs, cocktails and food. I was growing my portfolio, but more importantly, I was meeting people—business owners, magazine editors and publishers, all people that I could network with to grow my business. You don’t need your own Ashley for this. Think of how you are already connected and start expanding your network there. As Tim Sanders says, “Your network is your net worth.” Networking and word-of-mouth became the cornerstones of building my business and life those first years.


  1. Photograph People


I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but work with me on this one. If you don’t have a portfolio, you’ll need one. If people don’t know you photograph headshots, you’ll need to do more of it. If you’re not comfortable getting people comfortable in front of your camera, you’ll need to practice.


This is where my headshot date idea came into play. When I was transitioning from weddings to studio work, I needed to create a portfolio. Unlike weddings, I didn’t need to spend the next year developing a portfolio. I could do it in a day. And I did.


I sent out invitations to everyone I knew and asked them to let me photograph them. In just a day, not only did I build a complete portfolio (exactly like we do at www.headshot-bootcamp.com), but I also practiced my lighting, developed my banter with my subjects and built relationships with people from all types of career paths. It’s one of the best things I did to jumpstart my headshot business.


  1. Make It Easy


Photographers spend so much time getting clients in the door, but when the client finally gets there, they’re met with obstacles. If you want clients to book with you and leave happy, you have to make everything extremely easy for them. This starts the second they get to your website.


My website (www.headshotdc.com) is chockfull of information for my clients. They’re first met with an Animoto video introducing them to me and my studio. They can then browse through my comprehensive portfolio and take a look at my pricing and packaging in the info section. The most important thing about the info section is the FAQ. Every typical question I get is listed there, along with a video summarizing the most important parts. I give my prospective clients everything they need to decide if they’re going to book with me.


Now comes the best part. When a client decides they’re ready to book, they don’t need to call the studio. They don’t need to send an email and wait for a response. Everything is done right through my website. Clients use Square Up (related to Square, the credit card processing service) to choose a booking time, type of session and add-ons, and pay right there on the spot. It makes my life easier because the system is linked to my Google calendar and, once an appointment is booked, it updates my calendar automatically. The whole process is fast, effective and super easy for the client.


After the session, delivery of the images is just as simple. I tell them they’ll receive their final retouched images within 48 hours of the session, and all they have to do is wait for an email. Using CloudSpot, I share the images with the client in a super sleek email with an easy-to-use photo sharing system. It doesn’t get any easier for me or my clients.


If you’re looking to change photography genres like I did, or perhaps you’re just looking for an extra marketing boost in your current business, these principles will help you out. Not only will they better your business, but they’ll better your life as well.


Check out this video to see a few more marketing tips for your headshot business.



Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the February issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.