What It Means to Be a “Full Service” Photographer with Lori Nordstrom
Today’s professional portrait photographer falls into one of two categories, or a hybrid of the two. The first is the “shoot-and-burner,” the photographer who charges one price that includes the session fee and the digital files from the session. The second is a “full service” photographer who offers contact with the client throughout the process and offers finished products that capture the experience. There are, of course, full-service photographers who now offer digital files in addition to the wall portraits, albums and other products that they sell, bringing the two categories together. Some might even say that this hybrid of both offerings, with both physical products and digital files, is truly a “full service” for the client.
The term shoot-and-burn came about with the emergence of digital and the ease of taking photos and then burning to a DVD to give to the client. Now there are thumb drives, living picture frames, iPads and direct digital download from an online proofing site, but the concept is the same. Typically the photographer who adapts this way of doing business is someone who doesn’t want to have much contact with the client, other than the session. This photographer wishes to deliver the final images and not hear from that client again until it’s time for their next session, as this is what fits her schedule and business.
Smart shoot-and-burners charge not only for the session time, the images themselves and the medium the files are delivered on, but also for the time they spend editing and preparing the images. This model has gotten a bad rap in the industry because the majority of photographers who are shooting and then handing off digital files are not charging appropriately for their time and talent.
The full-service photographer takes a different approach and believes in excellent customer service, educating clients on their options and helping with their selections, and creates beautiful finished products. Finished products may include prints, wall decor, albums, image boxes and more. Many full-service photographers have been in the industry for many years and don’t want to see clients end up without products in their hands or on their walls to enjoy for years to come. There are also many new photographers who see the value in creating something tangible for their clients and the excitement of seeing their work in print. There is something very satisfying about creating products that clients love and enjoy beyond the fleeting five minutes of social media fame.
Photographer Joy Vertz (www.stmphoto.com) owns two profitable portrait studios in Wisconsin. Joy’s definition of a full-service photographer is this: “A full-service photographer not only meets but exceeds her clients expectations, and fulfills services for them before they even know they are an option. The full-service photographer handles all aspects from start to finish, and lets her clients enjoy the process.” Joy’s studios create wall groupings based on snapshots of her clients’ own walls for them to see at their ordering appointment. These groupings allow the client to visualize what their wall will look like finished, which helps them with their final choices. A little extra time designing for the client ensures much higher sales.
Another portrait photographer who believes in the full-service studio is Teri Fode (www.terifode.com). “I’m a professional photographer specializing in beautifully designed modern portrait art,” she says when asked to define herself. This answer goes beyond “I’m a photographer” and opens up a dialogue about creating something really special. She believes in personalized service that begins with a consultation. Getting to know the client and customizing the experience has been important to staying profitable in our ever-changing industry: “I offer beautifully designed portrait products that I suggest during our ordering appointment, which is always in person.” Much like Joy, Teri believes it is important to design display options for clients’ homes and present those ideas in person to each client in order to customize the experience.
In my own business, being full-service means that my clients come expecting to be taken care of. They expect suggestions from me on where they will hang their portraits and how they will be displayed. I always joke that I get to play interior designer, and my clients love that I will be working with them and getting to know their decor style, colors and even their lifestyle so that I can design something specifically for them and the way they live. The experience is continued throughout the entire client interaction, from first phone call to final delivery and even into the follow-up. Creating a high-end experience and product keeps clients who value those things coming back again and again.
In a nutshell, full-service portrait photographers offer a personalized experience and customized products for their clients. Many full-service photography businesses, even those with a retail location, offer digital files alongside their portrait products. Some don’t, and there is a good argument for both sides. Photographers who choose not to offer digital files are fully focused on custom prints and products for their clients. I believe that if we don’t get products in our clients’ hands, the professional photography industry will begin to die.
There is an argument that without these products to enjoy every day in the home and to hand down to the next generation, our imagery will be forgotten. Let’s face it, most digital files will live and die on the computer. They may enjoy a few days of “likes” via social media, or even get stored away on a hard drive. But digital files are not forever, at least not at this point in history. All computers, all hard drives, all digital media will fail at some point. We now have computers being made without a DVD drive, as well as DVDs that were burned years ago that can no longer be read by some machines.
If we do choose to add digital files to our product mix as a full-service business, it’s our responsibility to educate our clients about digital files, how to care for them and even where to get them printed. Some photographers offer the digital file free with any wall portrait purchase. This allows the client to archive the image instead of it being the responsibility of the photographer. The client is also able to make smaller prints if desired.
However you decide to proceed with digital files, remember that it is your job to put a plan in place to educate your client. If you are offering digital files, be sure your clients know that their files should be backed up. Recommend printing their images, or offer a set of proofs along with the digital files. If you don’t offer digital files, be prepared to answer your clients’ questions as well as educate them on the value of wall portraits and heirloom albums. Offer watermarked web-sized files for sharing.
Your clients will want to share your work—and it allows them to advertise for you!
The Full-Service Portrait Photographer:
*Actively networks with other well-connected people and businesses that are in front of her target client.
*Schedules sessions over the phone, asks questions and gets to know the client.
*Offers a consultation appointment to discuss options and make suggestions.
*Personalizes the portrait session and makes each client feel special.
*Creates customized products.
*Meets with the client in person at the order appointment.
*Beautifully packages products and adds a small gift.
*Follows up with each client and stays in touch.
*Recommends the next session time.