Senior Photography: 10 Tips for Success
Whether you already are a senior portrait photographer or just thinking about shooting seniors, chances are you’ve seen no less than 100 differing opinions on HOW to do things in the senior portrait world. There are many people out there on the internet vying for the position of “senior photography expert” … but very few have the financial success to back it up. Let’s face it, you can be a great shooter and ‘have a passion’ for photography, but unless you are profitable then all of those opinions are just fluff.
What Makes Senior Photography so Challenging?
Running a successful senior portrait business is a full time job, as most of you already know…or are finding out very quickly. It’s a LOT of blood, sweat and tears - (If you are reading this at 1:00 am because you need an editing break, you know what I’m talking about). Not only do you have the typical photography-related issues such as continually improving your shooting and lighting skills, but you are working with hormonal teenagers and their often times helicopter parents while juggling makeup and hair stylists, styling sessions, trying to learn snapchat so you can reach more of your market, all while attempting to keep an organized business. It is not for the faint of heart!
I receive tons of questions over on my blog and Facebook page on a daily basis from other photographers asking me how I do what I do. Questions like:
- How do you communicate with your seniors?
- Do you do in person consults before a senior session?
- How do you make sure they show up prepared?
- Do you share pricing info with them up front?
- What to you sell in your collections and what are your most popular items?
- How do you make those flower crowns that you use in so many of your shots? And do seniors even WANT those anymore?
- How do you run your model program and how do I get clients in the first place?
- How do you handle overbearing parents?
- How do you find a hair and makeup artist to work with?
- How do I even start when there are SO many other photographers out there trying to do the same thing?
The list goes on and on and on....
In the last two years, my senior portrait business has exploded…I am busier and more profitable now than I have ever been! So I want to share some of my top tips that I have implemented and have contributed to my own success so you can utilize them for your own success. Here’s the thing, though… the hustle is NOT included. For any of these ideas to work, you have to make the decision to take action and follow through.
Tip 1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.
This probably sounds a little cliche but it’s the foundation for growing in your business. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, who can challenge who you are and motivate you to get you where you want to be. You will never propel yourself forward if you are surrounded by people who do not push you to be better; remember - growth is not comfortable.
Tip 2. Communication is KEY!
There is a big divide in the photography world when it comes to HOW we communicate with our clients. Some photographers will tell you the that only way to effectively communicate with clients is to meet with them for in-person pre-session consults; and if that is working for them, great. I do not do in-person consults. 98% of the time, I have not met my senior clients in-person until the day of the shoot. This is what works for me and has worked for me from day one. Why? Because I am excellent at email and phone communication. I may suck at other stuff, but I know I am great at this.
As you are emailing with clients, be helpful and informative with each email and try to anticipate their needs. Create templates for communicating as often as possible - everything from the first initial inquiry email to the follow up, and to the how to prep for your session email. Email is also a good way to get to know your clients if you haven't met them in-person.
Tip 3. Stop Stalking Other Photographers
Stop comparing yourself to other photographers and stalking their Instagram accounts. This is a big one! Do you think successful entrepreneurs spend hours looking at their competition’s social media accounts? No, they don’t. They are too busy going out there and making stuff happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t EVER look… just limit yourself and don’t get caught up in the ‘I wish I could shoot like that’ or the ‘I have to be perfect’ spiral of death.
Tip 4. Don’t Do it Alone!
Find a mentor or coach and take workshops when you can. I cannot stress this enough. If you are serious about your business and this is more than a hobby for you (or you WANT it to be) then you must invest in it. People have a tendency to think that just because it’s an artistic profession that photography can be easily learned. While you may pick up the artistry part quickly, the BUSINESS part of it, the part that keeps you doing it and putting food on the table, is often times the most difficult part for many people.
Tip #5. Outsource What You Can.
This is hard for us ‘Type A’ crazy people, I know. BUT, if you want to grow your business and have more time for your family, you will get over it and start delegating. Even if it is as small as having someone come in and help with invoicing or hiring a virtual assistant to keep up with copy on your blog, etc, I promise you, it’s worth it. I love my assistant, and she lives in New Zealand so she can work while I sleep!
Tip #6. Stay Organized.
This is the key to my life in general. Without my calendar and ‘to do’ lists, I would NOT be able to do what I do. If you are not an organized person by nature, then hire someone to help you learn or to do it for you. You cannot give your clients a phenomenal experience if you can’t remember bits and pieces of their lives - such as the names of their siblings, what they ordered, or God forbid if you drop the ball on an appointment, etc.
The second part of this is finding a good client management system. I have used others in the past, but Tave is what I have used since early 2014 and I love it. It has an easy-to-use interface and makes my life SO much easier.
Tip #7. Cultivate Relationships with Your Senior Clients.
Being organized will allow you to focus on the important things, and be service oriented, with your seniors. It is the little things that people remember, and they like to feel special. Keep note of birthdays and special events in their lives and genuinely take interest - nurture these relationships. However, do not go out and spend loads of money on cute pinterest-inspired handmade things that cost a bajillion dollars just so you can Instagram it and make people think that you are awesome… seriously - stay within your budget (organization, remember?)
Tip #8. Marketing and Social Media.
This is an entire article topic in itself, but THIS is key - especially for those of you thinking "there are no $3,000-$6,000 clients in my area." I really do believe there are, but you can’t just post pretty pictures on Instagram and hope that they come knocking on your door. Instagram and Snapchat are the places where my senior clients are (along with twitter), but the moms are still very much on Facebook so I have to be in ALL of these places.
It is exhausting, but not if you have a marketing plan and you’re organized (remember tip #6?). Learn how to market to your target client. Period. Also, streamline your social media with apps that can cross-post or schedule posts ahead of time - then you will really be creating efficiency.
Tip #9. Be Resourceful and Offer Value to Your Photography Clients.
Case in point: flower crowns. I see people post in various Facebook groups daily “Are flower crowns still IN?” Keeping up with trends is important for the senior market and there are differences from one part of the country to another. For example, in Southern California where I live, flower crowns are very much still "In" - most of my clients look as though they have just stepped off the pages of a Free People magazine and love anything boho… but not ALL my clients like it.
I take the time to get to know them (remember Tip #2), and if they want a flower crown, I’m going to make them one. It is another "something special" that I can offer. If you’re interested in finding out how to make an easy fresh flower crown, I created a YouTube tutorial with all the details.
Tip #10. Believe in Yourself.
OMG I went there…. yep, I went to that hokey "feel good" place. Because guess what? It’s TRUE. High level entrepreneurs don’t get that way because they think they can do it, they get there because they had the determination to know they could, and they did not give up. If you really want it, you can achieve it.
So, recognize your own worth but still be humble about it. It goes a long way!
Building any type of business requires a lot of work and hustle and building a Senior Photography business is no different. I promise that putting these tips to work will help you build a better photography business that will have your clients referring you to all their friends
Do you have any questions or comments about our Senior Photography Tips for Success? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share our tutorial using the social sharing buttons - we really appreciate it!
Renee Bowen is a Southern California photographer who specializes in upscale, edgy Senior Portraits. She is best known for her editorial, magazine quality images that tell the story of her client while shooting on location in and around Los Angeles. Renee also mentors and educates up and coming photographers both one on one and in small groups, as part of the Seniors Ignite core group of lead shooters, and is a founding member of the magazine SEEN. Born and raised in South Louisiana, she came to L.A. in 1995 and fell in love with an actor, subsequently had three crazy kids (all now teenagers) and is obsessed with Game of Thrones, Outlander and Free People. Wine and chocolate are always appreciated (and needed).