Noted filmmaker and photographer Cheryl Dunn’s documentary in progress, Everybody…
Jennifer Basford runs 3 Girls Photography based in Oklahoma, which specializes in high school senior portraiture. From videos to fashion shows and competitions, Jennifer’s website and marketing zeroes in on her clientele. Over the years, she has perfected client targeting, which she spends time refining every year. But, she says, it all comes back to relationships. Telling the story of any teen standing in front of her lens requires that she have a connection with that subject.
Jennifer shared with us her system for getting to know people, learning body language, and understanding her clients’ needs – all the key ingredients for telling a story and capturing that perfect moment.
How do you develop your own storytelling style?
That’s hard, it’s something I’ve struggled with for years and I continue to refine. But if you’re just beginning, you have to allow yourself the freedom to screw up. Find people you can emulate, and start experimenting. Remember, you have to spend some time figuring out your own style, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
How do you capture personalities?
There are many types of emotions and to be true to every client you have to be able to capture a range of feeling. Not everyone is going to be happy and giggly.
To capture this range, establishing trust with your clients is critical to helping you tell their story, especially with the elderly who are from a different generation. And if you’re photographing the Millennial generation and you don’t have that element of trust, nothing you get from them will be real. So when photographing them, in particular, be natural, and don’t force them to look or feel a certain way.
As a portrait photographer, how do you tell a story through a single image, or a series of images?
To tell a story through a single, it’s important that you put your subject in the right environment. In the beginning, make sure things are up and your subject can get comfortable. Once they are, start shooting as you speak to them. You’ll find that they start begin to relax – they move their body a little more normally and open the door to more “real” moments.
If you’re trying to tell a story through a series of images (vs. a single image), try to keep your subject in the same outfit so you can let their movements and mood progress naturally. Everything someone wears makes them feel differently, so if you have someone change outfits, the story can take a completely different turn. One outfit could be fun, flirty and casual, and another could make them feel confident and beautiful. You’ll notice they stand completely differently.
How do you make connections with your subjects quickly?
You’re not always going to have the benefit of an hour or two with someone, but you can tell a lot about a person right away. For example, when I meet someone I’m shooting, I always greet them with a hug. I can tell 90 percent about someone based on how they react to my hug.
Also, all of my sessions start with makeup, so I have had a solid 30 minutes with kids before we even start. My sessions are set up to give time to get to know someone. In addition, I know a lot about who’s coming in a good two to three weeks ahead of time by checking out their social media profiles. I follow people on Instagram, and learn things about who they are, including for example, how much their friends mean to them, how much they care about fashion, or if they’re bold and outgoing or quieter and more reserved.
How have you developed creative marketing ideas that appeal to your teen audience?
Relationships have always been the base of everything we do. I have never done traditional marketing, though I do have an MBA and a background in business. We’ve always looked for creative ways to do marketing. I could beat people over the head with ads but that’s not going to be my target audience. So we developed a different way of reaching our audience.
Doing marketing videos for us was a natural step, which we began doing two and a half years ago. It lets people get to know us. Seniors get to see behind the scenes what the experience will be like. No matter how much I’ve checked out the seniors before they come in, they’ve checked me out more. And they should.
We profile our ideal client every year to make sure we’re still on target. We go through a process where we literally decide our ideal target client. We define it down to a single person. I profile where my ideal client goes to school, where she hangs out, what her friends are like; does she care about causes, is she active in school and the community? I may never get that exact person, but if I gear my marketing towards that person, then what I’m doing is drawing in all types of clients that relate to a certain part of that and have an aspect of her in them. We tweak that every year to make sure we’re reaching the right people.
What’s the best skill a portrait photographer can have?
You must be a people person. Reading body language is also something that I’m personally fascinated with has greatly helped me connect with my clients, much more so than my camera. A shutter speed is a shutter speed and an f-stop is an f-stop, but if you’re not connecting with your client and you don’t understand that one little tilt of the head shows that a client is feeling confident, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to capture something great.
For more great tips from portrait photographers who have created successful pricing structures, check out our free guide, Growing Your Portrait Photography Business. It’s 31-pages packed with do’s and don’ts on how to target a new audience and showcase your unique brand.