When I was a kid, it seemed like TIME magazine…
Portrait photography stands out from other professions because it encompasses many different niche specialties, including families, babies, seniors, corporate, celebrities – and the list goes on. But despite the difference in subject, the overarching key to success remains the same: portrait photographers must be approachable while also professional, and able to connect with their subjects in order to create memorable images.
In this post we focus on top portrait photography trends for those family, seniors, and kids. We spoke with several seasoned portrait photographers — many of whom provided even more tips and insights in our guide to Growing Your Portrait Photography Business.
It’s clear that portrait photographers today are focused on environmental shots, acquiring smart business skills to set themselves apart, and spending time with their clients in-person in order to make bigger sales. Here’s what they had to say on those fronts and more:
Shooting Style: Environmental
By far, the majority of portrait photographers say that stiff, traditional studio shots of years past are just that – dated and no longer in demand. “I rarely photograph in the studio,” says Florida-based portrait photographer Kara “KiKi” Lamm. “I prefer to photograph at locations that provide a natural backdrop and open areas to work in.”
Other portrait photographers described a more photojournalistic approach to work. “My shooting style is candid, creative, editorial, and natural,” says Niall David, whose business is based in the San Francisco Bay area.
That doesn’t necessarily mean photographers have completely strayed from posed shots – many clients also want group portraits that are more posed than candid, but having an outdoor area as your backdrop makes for a much more engaging series. When in doubt, let the subject choose a place they love – it will put them at ease and help the shoot go smoothly.
Photographer Experience: Newcomers
Like many specialties, veteran portrait photographers feel like the market is becoming increasingly saturated with aspiring part-time or full-time photographers. “The volume of newcomers entering the industry is staggering,” says Calgary-based portrait photographer Sean Phillips. “I’ve had several former clients in the past year buy a new camera and start taking on clients of their own.”
“I think it will always be the case that new photographers out number the old,” adds Bay Area portrait photographer Jennifer Chaney, who was also profiled in Growing Your Portrait Photography Business. “What I have noticed is that if people can make it to the five year mark, they are likely to be around in five more years. This is usually due to the fact that they’ve invested a lot in learning how to run a business and shifted the focus away from learning how to take pictures. If the business side of a photo company is ignored for too long, people tend to start dropping off and closing their doors after two years.”
Jen Basford of 3 girls photography believes that those photographers with real talent will be able to set themselves apart, which is “dictated more by their approach to business and marketing than anything else.” So while acquiring the skills to produce great images may becoming more and more common, your ability to run a sustainable business is much more likely to bring you success in the long term.
Pricing: Rising With Experience
Some photographers are hesitant to raise their prices for fear of driving away potential new clients. But as Kara Lamm says, “if you’re spending money on equipment, classes, and programs to better your photography, you should be rewarded for the new creativity you are implementing in your business.”
“As I grow my business I have logically been raising my fees alongside the growth in my skills, expertise, and access to better ways to deliver a higher quality and caliber of work to those who hire me,” adds Niall David. So if you fall into this camp of continuing education, make sure your prices reflect that. Ideally you should be raising your prices every year, assuming you’re expanding your creative and business focused horizons.
Portrait photographers who are committed to growing their businesses also push themselves to book more clients every new year. They start offering more a la carte options to their packages, such as photo albums, prints on specialty papers, or more digital downloads. Many portrait photographers offer three different packages, which all include a sitting fee, online gallery, and one specialty print (i.e. canvas wrap or metallic print). The purpose of including at least one specialty print in the base package is to entice clients to buy more prints – otherwise the images often end up sitting in the online gallery or DVD and never seeing the light of day.
Print Offerings: New & Unique Materials
Packages can get more robust with different add-on’s, but most portrait photographers try to keep it simple so clients aren’t overwhelmed by too many options. Instead, they like to offer a few new or unique print offerings – this helps keep their businesses fresh and competitive. Kara Lamm, for example, has seen an increased demand in canvases, but also started offering prints on rag and watercolor papers that are presented in shadow boxes. It’s add something different to her packages and gets clients excited about working with her.
Meanwhile, Niall David has been selling more and more metal and acrylic prints over the last year. “After learning about the uniqueness of them, clients are in love with the modern but classy feel of these types of artwork products,” he says.
Portrait photographers are also increasingly asked for digital files in addition to prints. Interestingly enough, it’s typically for the purpose of sharing those images online. Jen Basford says that offering digital files allows her to “meet the clients’ needs with how they share images in their daily lives.”
Advertising: Online & Low Cost
A magazine advertising salesperson once told Jennifer Chaney that it takes an average of six months worth of print ads to drive new client to pick up the phone and call a photographer. After that lesson, Jennifer said “no” to paid print advertising and like many photographers today, turned to online marketing.
There’s an ever increasing number of reasons to explore online advertising – you can typically target your viewer by their location (Google AdWords), interests (Facebook Ads), and click activity (retargeting).
More and more portrait photographers are also turning to “free” online advertising – i.e. Search Engine Optimization, which also highlights the value of having a good website. “My site ranks very well for my target keywords and I get a steady stream of business from Google,” says Sean Phillips.
Offline, word of mouth referrals is what drives much of Niall David’s business these days. He also believes that clients need multiple touch points before they’re ready to contact you, so he tries to stay active in a number of different verticals. For example, email, Google, Yelp, flyer, etc. “I really do believe that potential clients need to see you in a few places before they finally trust your reputation and build up the necessary rapport before sending an email or picking up the phone to learn more you.”
Social Media: Facebook
Among portrait photographers, image-heavy Facebook is clearly the social media platform of choice. For photographers who typically shoot couples, families, and seniors, this is where their client base is hanging out. ” Everyone seems to be online these days, so knowing where your ideal clients are spending their time is critical,” notes Jennifer Chaney. “Most of my clients are on Facebook.”
Kara Lamm says that if used well (i.e. posting frequently to people with the same interests, location, etc. and even advertising on Facebook), Facebook’s algorithm will actually start referring your business to local clients. Facebook can also act as a branded portfolio and place where you can easily share images with clients. One great client satisfaction tip is to post a few select images the day after the shoot, before you deliver the final package, to get clients excited about their images. Ideally they’ll share them with friends and family, and help spread more word of mouth referrals.
Client Service: In-Person Meetings
Despite all the time we spend harping on the importance of building a strong online presence, having in-person meetings is more critical than ever. “My average sales are up significantly since I switched from online ordering to in-person sales sessions,” says Sean Phillips.
Portrait photographers definitely prefer to do the hard selling (with class, of course) for prints and products in their office or studio space. “I can share images from their session in a relaxed environment while giving clients the ability to see the types of prints and artwork available to them in person,” adds Niall David.
At the end of the day, portrait photography is a specialty rooted in customer service, and the happiest clients are those that feel taken care of from the moment they first contact you. Successful portrait photographers go above and beyond for their clients, sending surprise photo albums months after the shoot and even friendly emails wishing their kids a good first day of school. This is the kind of star treatment that high end clients have come to expect, and will send them running to tell anyone in need of a photographer about you.
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.