How to produce new and vibrant work to sell larger orders that keep our cameras running, that’s the question behind the style and artistic genius for today's portrait studio. Not just the question, but the whole horizon of how to make a living in the do-it-yourself photo world that will never change back to professional studios as the prevalent source.
Yes, I agree – I firmly believe – that an iconic portrait image of a little person will never go out of style. Yet one image doesn’t always tell the full story of a baby’s or child’s personality. Series imagery is where it’s at when you want to offer more purchasing options. Make more images on every sitting; group them to sell more. And of course you have to figure out how to get actual prints on your client’s wall, on the coffee table (or even on the dreaded refrigerator). Images on facebook are not your best sales referral tools; ephemeral, one-view snaps are not your goal. In order to be your silent, no-cost salesman, prints have to go on the wall, in an album or a contemporary press book. To look at again and again.
You’ve probably seen studio package pricing that groups three sittings in baby’s first year, with three prints produced in a multi-opening mat. Great idea, but how much more money could you make if there were three prints sold on each of those sittings, and the parents could get the prints right away, rather than waiting until the year has passed to get their portraits.
Limited theme approach
Most moderately priced sittings for babies and children – studios call these “limited” – typically offer only a handful of shots taken. This is usually what happens if a theme (like a fairy dress, holiday outfit or baby in a flower pot) is chosen. Limited time and shots equals limited results and limited client experience in my mind. Some studios find theme sittings fill in slow business times, but they remain a lot of work to set up and advertise for minimal dollars. Because the final appeal and possible expressions are limited by that very theme. Diversity of personality is lost in favor of a set scenario. I just can’t do this.
Child charisma approach
In my mind children are simply not limited in scope of mood or expression. This is not to say that I don’t pre-plan outfits, locations and style. Of course I do, but I also let serendipity creep in wherever possible. In fact I count on serendipity. My approach is to take as many shots as a child will tolerate. Controlling the set, but figuring ways to invite, to elicit the personality and temperament come out.
Series design and sale
My goal is to place a book or set of images prominently in the client’s home. In fact, the package combination of a wall print and a book with 30-40 images telling a little story is my ideal sale. The more options image-wise you offer your client, the harder it will be for parents to select just one and discard all the other cute expressions. And while expression does sell the image, it’s really important to take full body, 1/2 length and very closeup views. Lots of variety. Images from the back, eyes closed, heads turned away and even blurred action can all be valuable.
Caveat of too many images
Sometimes more is just too much! Don’t show every shot you take! If you show too many options (either the image library or final products), clients can become confused and walk away from beautiful work, or just order the minimum because they can’t decide. This would be a great loss to them artistically and your bottom line. Here, ruthless editing is the key. Throw out dupes before they view the series, and anything less than perfect or that doesn’t add content. Organize images in a visually pleasing manner that begins to hint at the story to be told. Use a very attractive presentation site like SmugMug, where pictures can be enlarged greatly. Include in your pricing a number of web-ready or snap-shot size files that will discourage theft.
Selling on line
Many seminar speakers will tell you you can’t sell large orders on line. They insist that you bring all interested parties together in person at the studio and sit there with them until they make up their minds. I find this totally impractical and out of date. This is simply something I don’t have time or patience to do. If the quality is there in the images, and the pricing and offering are right, selling on line is great. Do you hate being pressured to make decisions instantly? I walked out of a store recently where the salesman wouldn’t even quote a realistic price without a commitment on the spot. I just don’t care to inflict this approach on my clients.
Instead of the in house, in person sales, I do put images on line. Once they’re posted, I visit on the phone with the Mom and discuss her needs and her favorites in depth, while we’re both fresh and looking at the website. I should say that I’ve used Smugmug for years now, and their superior appearance and controls make my work sing. Show big to sell big. Did I mention that I do a significant amount of image optimization before posting? You bet I do!
My best sales tool kit is in this presentation is partnership with Sumugmug. One I edit carefully, and take time to put images in a sequence that has instant impact and storytelling, the site does my job for me. If I’ve taken 60 frames, I show 35-40, or whatever quantity is really good. Remember no near dupes!
Updating the historic 3-image approach
For a child’s group of three images, in the past I’d usually print all 5x7s or 8x10s to be mounted in a single multi-opening mat with frame. But these days speed and cost rule, and frames literally double both bill and time. It can also be a mistake to go too big, because parents run out of places to hang pictures. Smaller size and cost will bring clients back more often. These days a less expensive option both makes the sale and encourages return visits, in spite of discounters like Groupon.
Once three images are chosen from the sitting, I print them two ways. Larger for the wall, often in one canvas collage. As a second product I reduce the format to what I call “bookmark” size, and personalize with name and/or birthday, perhaps the year. This is perfect for gifting. Everybody, friends and family alike will want these for their refrigerator – or actually as bookmarks. Printed 2”x6” (two per standard 4×6), or 6-up on 8.5×11” inkjet, this is silly-inexpensive to print. A gift no one else will have.
Book + wall portrait approach
By far my favorite, the two product package is a wonderful presentation. I charge a set price, all for one money, sitting and products. Only variations are the type/size of book (press books are totally perfect style and cost) and final size of the wall print to fit the home.
The package plan removes the cost pressure. One favorite plus all the little expressions and fun images that tell the personality. Clients can pick as many images for the book as they like, because the design time hardly varies in the production. Sometimes as an adjunct sale I work with client snaps to create a child’s “yearbook” story. This collection from the past is also effective for Mitzvah clients for sign-in boards, memory books or decor.
You can’t make enough money to stay in business by selling just the digital file. Good portraiture is not just for viewing on the computer. These simple groupings are easy money to collect and lots of happy clients who come back again and again.