Creating Customers from Concept Shoots with Jeff & Christine Tonkin


Creating Customers from Concept Shoots with Jeff & Christine Tonkin

Any photographer can set up and shoot a concept session, but sessions don’t guarantee referrals or produce clients who actually book a senior session. Why is that? What is the secret to making your creatively styled shoots more than just a fun time? What are the keys to turning them into valuable referrals and new revenues?

ENTICE your future clients

The phone rings. An email dings. Your next client makes contact with your business. What can you say that will pique their interest and book their session? Here’s what we say: “Book with us now and, in addition to your personalized senior session, you can be part of our popular DigiSmiles Summer Promotional Shoots and not pay an additional session fee.” This creates interest and urgency.

INVITE the early birds

Every year we invite seniors who book their session date eight to 12 months in advance to participate in at least one of our three concept sessions in the summer prior to their senior school year. Then we have them come to the studio for a preplanning meeting where they get to know our vision and us. They sort of become part of our team. After clients decide on a creative session, we encourage them to help design individual looks within that main theme or choose one of our preconceived ideas. For example, we wanted to shoot a vintage-circus theme, so we asked our clients which character style they wanted to portray. We took their creative interests and ideas, and tweaked them to fit the overall vision that we wanted in our final images.

INVOLVE your client

When your clients invest their time and creativity into the experience, they feel a sense of belonging and ownership, which is a powerful tool that you should be capitalizing on. The secret to getting your clients to talk nonstop to their friends about their creative shoot is involvement from both the clients and their parents. When we say involvement, we mean a lot of it. Give the seniors creative freedom to bring their own personality into the session, and then guide them to the final look that will best match your vision. Together, decide what is needed for their wardrobe and start the fun planning process. Seniors who aren’t part of the creative process have nothing invested. If the senior shows up on the day of the shoot with only the props and costumes you have provided, she is simply modeling for you and the images will not portray her personality. Your goal is to create ownership for the client so she will share what she is involved in and excited about.

We believe the moms are truly something special. They value the time, energy and hours of work invested in the shoot because they were part of the creative process. While the seniors might be enjoying the experience, when you get the moms excited about it, watch out! Let’s be honest. Sometimes the very excited teens do get a bit distracted with teen life and forget about their commitments. Bringing the moms onboard creates a project they can do together as they enter their senior year. The moms help them stay on task. They are so excited to be doing something fun and creative with their son or daughter that they usually do not mind contributing their time and effort. Occasionally, you will get a highly valuable mom with creative talents just waiting to be unleashed. Encourage her to participate. When they see how much time and energy you are putting into this fun shoot, it drives them to also want to help. The value of the shoot increases for them because they see your efforts and are part of your final concept. So now you have them involved, but this alone will not get you more than a couple new referrals booking with you.

INFILTRATE the media

Thank goodness for social media. Every time your client does something for the shoot with you, encourage them to put it out there on social media. Whether you are costume shopping, wardrobe fitting or assembling props, the senior and her mom need to be asked to infiltrate social media about the exciting experience they are having with you. Don’t be afraid to point out when an interesting opportunity for behind-the-scenes video or photo is about to happen so they can capture and share it. We have learned to be extremely specific about what should be included in their post so that it will promote your brand. If they share a fun video or behind-the-scenes photo with no mention of your brand or company name, that brings no branding or referrals to your company. For building hype and for your brand to grow, it is not too pushy to ask the client and a parent to type a fun comment about what they are doing in that moment and include your full company name while tagging your photography business. An effective post might read: “Look what we are doing today! Having a blast assembling props for my upcoming underwater photo shoot with DigiSmiles Splash Week.”

Who doesn’t want a sneak peek? Motivate your client to promote your company by offering a sneak-peek photo on social media if they have promoted your themed session multiple times. Even though you will post for your own followers, it is so much more effective for your clients to post their experience. Think about it. You want the friends of your clients to see why they should hire you for their senior portrait experience. The combined reach of your business posts along with your client’s posts has a much better chance to attract new clients. Betting on one client to promote you to their one friend will get you worse odds than a Vegas casino. At least half of our clients say they heard about us through multiple friends on multiple social media outlets.

You’ve already shared your behind-the-scenes pictures, so now release the final edited images with your branded watermark while you have the attention of your new followers. You need to release images while the fire is hot. Don’t wait too long, because you’ll lose the hype you worked hard to create. Once you release the watermarked images, ask your client to repost with a blurb about their experience.

Infiltrate as many media outlets as you can. Your local newspaper is probably searching for its next great story. Reach out and invite them to visit your destination to write an article on your unique senior sessions that set you apart from other senior portrait studios. Ask the reporter when the digital article will be published so you can share the link to their site and warn followers to not throw out that newspaper in their driveway next week.

INTEGRATE your brand

One of the best investments we made in our brand was a company shirt with our large logo on the back. Before we had company shirts, all our behind-the-scenes pics taken by clients showed our backs and their senior getting photographed, but nothing revealed the photographer’s identity. The shirts ensured that anyone glancing at behind-the-scenes pics would easily see that DigiSmiles was in action. In order to get that social media sneak peek, we ask the client to include our shirt logo in their behind-the-scenes photo.

In an effort to tie our brand together with the positive experiences clients will want to connect with, we started creatively naming each concept session. Our underwater photography sessions we started last summer are called “Splash Week” and our circus shoot was called “Under the Big Top.” Our fashion shoot featuring a newspaper dress, trash bag dress and a window screen dress was called “Alternative Couture.” Naming the sessions created unique and memorable marketing taglines that supplemented our brand. It is also important to get yourself in the “selfie” photos with your client so their friends see how much camaraderie is generated. Yes, they will buy prints, but don’t lose sight of the fact that they are really paying for your “services.” Your services include everything positive that comes out of the experience for your seniors and their parents.


Get real. Get over yourself. Get in front of your camera and push Record. Incorporate video into your marketing. For seniors, being personal, fun and spontaneous is much more relatable than producing a professional video message. You will want to have a parent, a friend of the client or your assistant record video during your concept session. We also use videos to announce our upcoming themed sessions, which is what starts building hype and attracts new followers. After we did this for the first time, the people who watched our video told us they loved it because they felt like they got to know us, and related to our goofiness. Be creative. When announcing our upcoming Splash Week promo shoot from our office, we wore swim goggles in our video. Silly? Yes. Memorable? Absolutely. Effective? Without a doubt! (See for yourself:

Many of us creative artists think really big and have great ideas just waiting to be brought to life in the form of a concept shoot. Your time is valuable, and creating customers from your concept sessions usually requires a significant investment of your time and money. Don’t wait. Start generating hype, gaining followers and driving revenues by booking referrals from your concept sessions.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the March 2016 magazine.

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