Have you heard that the high school senior photography market and model programs are dying? I have … many, many times! Even from a photographer-specific business coach I once paid—needless to say, that didn’t last long. Let me tell you, those rumors have been around for several years, and they’re still wrong. So if you’ve heard that before, I have great news! As long as there are teenagers graduating high school, parents seeing their babies growing into adults, and professional photographers willing to provide a phenomenal experience for the senior and parent, there will be a market for high school senior photography and model programs!
The senior photography industry is constantly changing. Looking through the history of senior portraits, it seems that each decade represents a new trend in the industry. In the 80s, we saw “Glamour Shots” as senior portraits—feather boas, leather jackets, bright backgrounds, and a soft glow on the images. The 90s brought in more casual studio portraits complete with large numbers to represent the graduation year, high key backgrounds, fake brick walls, and those lovely folios that held six or eight or more wallet-size photographs. The 2000s started the trend of casual outdoor portraits in addition to the studio options. The studio portraits also included more options such as sports. The 2010s saw a big push into model programs and high fashion looks complete with hair and makeup options, with outdoor portraits being the norm.
High school senior portraits have evolved over the years to some incredible new heights. Gone are the days of sitting in the studio and posing behind a fake ivy wall. Today's seniors want style, fashion, hair and makeup. They want an experience that they will never forget. Remember, we are living in the experience economy. Consumers are willing to shell out big bucks for that one-of-a-kind experience. We have been shooting high school seniors for almost 15 years now. In order to stay relevant, we have to adapt to today's consumer. We live in a Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram world. These teens want to live that influencer life, and my job is to give them amazing images that make their friends jealous, but most importantly to provide them and their families with an experience they want to brag about.
After the excitement of the shoot day itself, the seniors can’t wait to see their images! In-person sales sessions are the way to go to be most profitable while providing the most valuable thing to your client—printed products. Even in these days of digital images and social media, teens still love choosing images for their albums and wall art. I recall one of my seniors recently saying at her order pickup, “Seeing them on the TV was cool, but seeing them in the album is completely different. This is absolutely amazing.”
Here’s how it goes—you’re being introduced to someone new and they ask you what you do. Your heart sinks a little because you know when you say, “I’m a photographer,” the response will be something like, “Oh my gosh, my sister is a photographer too!” or “I know tons of photographers!” making you feel like your passion isn’t unique and your skill is something everyone and their brother’s uncle can do. What if your response was more like, “I create killer portraits of modern seniors through rockstar experiences”? Now you’re legit! Here are five things you can do to take your senior portrait experience to the next level, whether you have a brick-and-mortar studio or not.
Push yourself to stay on the cutting edge. If your art becomes successful, you can offer products that will increase your sales and help you to work smarter and not harder. Keeping your bottom line without losing your mind . You don’t want to feel like you never have time to expand and nurture your creative flow. As creatives, we are typically only as good as our last print. The clients are always looking for that product that is new and unique. You must feed your creative side to be able to stay on the cutting edge and produce artwork that will become the sought after product for years to come.
The lighting technology world is changing more rapidly than ever. LED is no exception. I absolutely love the advances—anything that makes my job easier, convenient, and more fun. But I won’t sacrifice quality for any of that. If you know my work, you know I strive to get it right in the camera. I don’t use presets or extensive Lightroom or Photoshop processing to get my finished images. The images shown here are almost straight out of the camera, save for removal of blemishes and clutter.
I often hear things like, “What theme are you doing with your senior models this year?” And simultaneously I am hearing, “Senior model programs don’t work!” I believe the process of creating a theme and requiring each senior to dress in a certain way is confusing to your clientele. On the one hand, you are marketing a unique senior experience, yet you are lumping those same people into a concept of your choosing. The desired result does not match the process. Most senior photographers consult with each senior about who they are and what aspects of their personality they want to show visually. The goal is to create a customized session that reflects the senior. However, the group model shoot concept, in its essence, denies seniors the opportunity to be unique or even themselves, because a theme has been established and they must conform.
As you listen, you will unlock exactly what you need to craft personalized art for your clients. Human beings naturally align with companies who create personal, client-focused experiences, paired with great service and expertise. To produce the best client encounter possible, spearhead a collaborative effort with them to help them feel valued and provide expertly tailored service and craftsmanship. This mutual approach will differentiate your studio from other photographers and illuminate you as an expert portrait artist who cares about more than just the bottom line.
One of the best things you can do for your bottom line is not to learn how to photograph a better portrait or how to edit a cleaner image. It’s actually to study how to educate your potential and current clients on your end result ... your portrait product offerings. Most photographers I’ve taught are missing out on pre-sale product education, and when it comes down to the ordering session, they’re left wondering why they didn’t make more. The following strategies are specific ways that you can increase your sales starting today, by diving deep into your clients’ psyches and finding ways to better motivate higher sale averages.