Portrait Meets Pageant: Breaking Into Pageant Photography

Portrait Meets Pageant: Breaking Into Pageant Photography

Portrait Meets Pageant: Breaking Into Pageant Photography with Blair Phillips

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January 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.

Love them or not, most pageants stand for a good purpose. They are intended to instill self-confidence, beauty, assertiveness. There are thousands of pageants held annually all over the world. The money that parents invest in pageants can be staggering. Statistics prove just how serious parents are about pageants, with 72 percent hiring a pageant coach. There are custom designers contestants rely on for the latest and greatest gowns. The amount of detail spent on hair and makeup is jaw-dropping. Some contestants sleep in uncomfortable hot rollers the night before a pageant. The great thing about pageants is that contestants can begin as early as just months of age. With the amount of money invested in how contestants look, photography is important. When they find a great photographer, everyone in the area will help make that photographer a household name. This was my thought several months back. It has proved to be a big moneymaker.

We surveyed a few pageant mothers and coaches in our area. We asked them to share some of their favorite images that stand out from the crowd. Most of the images were evenly lit and pretty boring. I realized then that this market was wide open for a good photographer. One of my favorite types of business is when you market for something only one time and it continues to create income for you. That is my idea of a successful marketing venture.

We reached out to a few pageant contestants we got to know during our research. We asked them to come into the studio for some test shooting that we would use for a campaign. We took that time to ask key questions to help create a great experience for future clients. We learned that we were right on the mark with our offerings.

Having a decent-sized area for them to get ready is important in setting the tone. They come with a lot of items and require a good amount of space. With hair and makeup, heat can overpower a dressing area. We have a small but powerful fan in the room that is a saving grace. Nothing makes a pageant girl more moody than sweating while she is getting ready.

Another important tip is to have everything set up and ready when they are camera ready. They feel fresh and at their best at this point, so do not make them stand around and wait for you to set up your equipment.

Lighting is what will ultimately make your work desirable in your pageant community. The eyes in the photograph have to be the main focus. I prefer large light sources. The larger and closer the light can get to my subject, the softer I can make it appear. I use three to four lights. Shooting into reflectors to create a bunch of light coming from different directions is key for me. I like to bring light from overhead and reflect that light back into my subject’s eyes. This creates a look that you do not see every day, striking and desirable.

People like what they do not see every day. They want to look glamorous. When I work with these clients, I talk through the lighting as I am changing it. I want them to feel like I am putting a lot of thought into what they are paying for. Doing this helps add a huge amount of value to what I am creating for them. I explain that anyone can take a picture, but it takes true talent and experience to produce spectacular lighting.

We explain that what they are paying for is for someone to take their beauty to a higher level. People undervalue their work and price themselves too low because they are uncomfortable talking about pricing. What makes this easier is to educate your clients on all it takes to create their images. Without doing so, clients think all you do is turn on a light and push a button. The more comfortable and educational you make their experience, the more they will spend and share their experience with others. That’s the ultimate payoff.

The pageant community can be very “click-ish.” Your goal is to appeal and be inviting to the masses of people. You need not get caught up in that world by showing any favoritism toward anyone at all. Do not post only the most beautiful and photogenic clients on social media. Make everyone feel just as important and appreciated. If you hear a conversation that knocks someone else in the pageant community, make it known that you appreciate everyone the same.

You will learn that hair and makeup are an integral part of the pageant world. Contestants often bring someone to do their hair and makeup before the session. It is a great idea to partner with a stylist in your area who can come to your studio should clients not have a person of their own. This person should have some experience with pageant hair and makeup. I never ask anyone for a price break on the services they provide here at the studio. Some people ask for volume discounts. That is basically asking your stylist to take money out of his pocket.

Once you get your feet wet in this market, word can spread like wildfire. We’ve learned that people from our area were traveling from up to four hours away for these types of images. No one else was doing them.

We now have stylists, coaches and pageant organizers sending clients our way. They often want to set up marathon days where we book and shoot clients all day. They bring a ton of qualified clients to the front of my camera. This is advantageous for the stylists as well, since they are making money also. They become a referral powerhouse.

We even think there could be a market to travel to other areas and set up for a day or two. Listen to and trust the input of the stylists. They know exactly what people are accustomed to receiving.

You can have some creative freedom, but you can’t treat these types of sessions like a high school senior session. You need to stay within the parameters of what they are used to receiving. During each session, though, I step outside the boundaries just a little.

This way, I begin to break down the boundaries of conformity. This has opened up a whole new avenue that I can count on for a great income for me and my family.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January 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.

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