How a hobbyist photographer can successfully book family portrait sessions
Some hobbyist photographers are content to take photographs of their immediate family. Others find themselves wanting to gain experience shooting images of other families, and perhaps, make some money doing so. So how do they do it? Sometimes, it’s a matter of just saying, “Yes!” Last January, a good friend of mine (the mom in the image above) approached me at a birthday party and asked if I would take photographs of her family.
I’ll be honest: At first, I was really reluctant to do it. I’d never taken any family portraits, other than impromptu images of my immediate and extended family. But my friend was persistent, and eventually, I agreed to do it. And I’m really glad I did! Yes, I had to step out way out of my comfort zone. But in doing so, I had booked my first ever family portrait session!
While agreeing to shoot portraits of any family who asks is definitely one way to book sessions, more often than not, you’ll need to actively search for families to photograph—particularly if you will be charging money for your services.
WHO TO APPROACH
Perhaps, the easiest and quickest way to book family portraits is to approach your friends, extended family, and acquaintances, and ask them if they’d like you to take photographs of them.
Even if you don’t have any extended family living nearby, you likely know many families (and potential clients) through work, church, and school. Families who would love to have their portrait taken.
HOW TO GET THE WORD OUT
In our constantly connected age, there are a variety of ways to contact family and friends: by email, text, phone call, or using social media.
Which method will be most effective depends on where your friends and family spend their time. If your friends are frequently on Facebook, advertise your services there. If your family responds to your text messages faster than email or voicemail, use that route to communicate with them. Generally, communicating in writing is best, so you have the opportunity to explain what you’re offering, what you charge (or how many free sessions you will hold), and when you’re available.
Also, be sure to mention the geographical area in which you will be taking family portraits. Think about these questions before deciding where to schedule your portrait sessions: Are you willing to travel an hour or two to take photos? Are you interested in traveling to the family’s home? Or are you looking to take photos in a location near your home?
On your Facebook page, tell your “friends” that you are interested in taking family portraits. Provide the basic details: What types of sessions you’re offering (indoor or outdoor; 20-30 minute mini-sessions or full 1-hour sessions); how much you’ll be charging; how many photos you’ll provide them with; where you’re planning to shoot; and when (time of day) you typically shoot family portrait sessions. Also, list at least two ways a potential client can contact you to book a family portrait session: a phone number (indicate if calling or texting is preferred) and an email address work well. If possible, include a link to your online portfolio, too.
In the alternative, you could create a digital flyer (using Canva or an app) with this information, along with 2-3 of your best family portraits. Make sure the flyer is simple and attractive, so that your Facebook friends will click on it and view it. Kindly request that your Facebook “friends” post your information or flyer on their Facebook page, so you will gain more exposure. And when your friends share your post, make sure to thank them!
Some other ways to gain exposure on Facebook, include:
- Becoming “friends” with your clients
- Sharing family portrait sessions on your Facebook page, remembering to tag your clients (@ and their name)
- Regularly posting links to your new blog posts where you share your favorite images from recent sessions
- Joining Facebook groups where you can share your work and possibly advertise your services
Instagram is another way to get the word out to potential clients.
To make things easy for you, here are a few tips:
- Use the same image that you used on Facebook. (In fact, if you have an Instagram account, you can post an image to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and several other social media outlets simultaneously.)
- Regularly share your best images on Instagram, making sure that your images are watermarked.
- List your website or blog link in your profile. (Some photographers include their email address, too.)
To learn more about how to market your photography on Instagram, click here.
Twitter can also be an effective way to gain more clients, particularly if you have a large contingent of local followers. Make your tweets short and sweet, and include a link to your blog, website or online portfolio (like Flickr).
Although it may not be an obvious choice, some families post requests for portraits on Craigslist. Check the wanted ads (gigs > creative) to see if anyone is currently looking for a family portrait photographer. And of course, you can advertise on Craigslist for free, too!
As you start to shoot more and more family portraits, post your watermarked images on your Pinterest boards. Below each photo, list your name, business name (if applicable), and the geographical area in which you shoot.
For more tips on how to market your photography on Pinterest, click here.
Business cards are quick and relatively inexpensive to create and print. If you have knowledge of Photoshop Elements or Photoshop, you can create a simple template, insert a photo and some text, and then have the cards printed at a local or online printer. If not, you can easily use a template on a website like VistaPrint or purchase a template from an Etsy seller.
On your business card, include your name, contact info, and a link to your work. Slide some business cards into your purse and also stash a few in your camera bag. That way, if a current or potential client asks for one, you’ll have it at the ready. Also, include one or two business cards in each client package, along with the photo CD or set of prints.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO APPROACH FAMILIES?
Unlike senior portraits or weddings, family portrait sessions can take place year-round, provided the weather cooperates, or you’re set up to shoot indoors. Generally, though, the best time to approach family and friends is in the late summer or early fall. Many families (read: Moms) will want photos of their family taken in September, October or November, so they have beautiful images to use on their photo holiday cards.
Capitalize on this, and take on as many family portrait sessions as you can manage — not only to earn money, but also to gain experience and grow your portfolio.
WHERE SHOULD FAMILY PORTRAITS BE TAKEN?
It depends. What do you prefer — shooting outside or inside? Perhaps, more importantly, though, what do your potential (or current) clients like? Weather also plays a role as well as whether or not you have access to an indoor space in which to take pictures. If you happen to live in a rainy or cold region and want to shoot year-round, consider renting studio space. Some camera shops have small studio spaces that you can rent by the hour.
With an online presence, you will, over time, grow your following. And as more people learn about the photography services you offer, you’ll book more and more family portrait sessions.
REFERRING A PROFESSIONAL
As a hobbyist photographer, it may be difficult to meet the demands of all your potential clients. Either your more limited dates and times doesn't work, or the makeup of the shoot could be beyond your skills. Don't be afraid to refer your clients to a professional you trust if for some reason you can't make things workout for yourself. This is good advice for any photographer who works with clients. Reach out to the photography community in your area and get to know some people who you would feel comfortable sending referrals to. Who knows, they may even do the same, knowing you do some work here too on occasion.
About the Author
Jennie Harless is a hobbyist photographer who loves capturing life through her lens. Her favorite subject is her 3-year-old son whom she and her husband adopted at birth. Jennie and her family make their home in Northern California, but love to travel to places all over the United States. Her photography and writing can be found at The Life and Times of Jennie Rose and Jennie's Journey.