The lucrative market of senior photography can be quite rewarding for photographers. How to break into the senior photography market though can be a mystery though. Here are fifteen tips that you can use to break into it.
GIVE AWAY A FREE SESSION
My first senior session was a free session. The session was for a nephew of mine. That session snowballed into several paid sessions from his class. It also landed me more clients from the same school. Once you have done several sessions, you will have built a small portfolio that you can use on social media and your website (you have a website, right?) that will allow you to attract more senior clients.
SHOOT HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS EVENTS
This might be one of the most effective marketing tools I have seen and used outside of word of mouth. Note, it will not work for each and every school. For the most part though, it will attract more clients. Once the game is over, upload the images to social media and your website. Make sure people have the ability to purchase prints. Make sure that the people that will be viewing the images from the game will see that you do senior photography also. I have heard countless photographers mention using this technique and I have used it successfully.
SENIOR REPRESENTATIVE PROGRAM
The foundation of a senior rep program is simple. You, the photographer make contact with seniors at different schools to represent your brand. There are several different ways you can run your program. One way is to make contact with seniors in the schools you want to target. Offer up value based products such as a free photography session, discounts on products and discounts based on the number of referrals.
The benefits of the senior rep program are that it can get you into schools that you might not have gotten into otherwise. There are pitfalls to a senior rep program, so make sure you do your homework before pulling the trigger.
WORD OF MOUTH
This, by far is the most effective marketing technique. Your friends and family will promote your work to their friends and coworkers. Those people will be directed to your social media and website and next thing you know, you have more senior photography clients. Your previous clients will talk you up to potential clients. The effect can and will snowball.
Another way to work word of mouth might be a little out of the box for some photographers, but it can work out. In this day and age of social media, people will hop onto their accounts in no time to critique, criticize or offer up a bad word or two about an experience they have had. This goes the same for photographers. From time to time, you might see a post from someone you know about a bad experience they had. Reach out to them and offer to make it right. Offer to replace what they wanted at cost.
VALUE ADDED INCENTIVES
Value added incentives not only works with seniors but for any genre of portrait photography you want to do. On top of that, what you want to add is totally up to you. I offer two value added incentives into my senior photography sessions. The first is a complimentary family photography session for each senior photography session that I book. The second value added incentive goes back to shooting sports events. If my senior client is involved in the school's sports activities, then I will do my best to shoot at least one game. I will then add those shots into the digital collection as a bonus.
One of the value-added incentives that I use is location sessions. I have a location that I head to several times a year for astrophotography purposes. It is very rural, and it is very scenic. Normally, I would charge a client for the session, plus travel fee. I love shooting in the area and by going out there, I usually end up doing personal work before and after the session.
SPONSOR SCHOOL ACTIVITIES
One local photography I know has his name on billboards at the local sports fields. The seniors and parents will see those billboards. When it comes time for senior pictures, his name is going to be ingrained on the minds of those people that saw his billboard.
BLOG ON A REGULAR BASIS
The more you blog on your website, the better you will be. Yes, I am guilty as sin as I do not blog as much as I should. Blog about sessions and how great they were. My last senior session was just a few weeks ago and conditions were miserable at best. It was cold, it was windy. Typical Oklahoma Panhandle spring day. Yet, it turned into one of the best sessions ever for me. The client had her best friend at the session, by the way, who is a senior client of mind (word of mouth works folks). The interaction between the two during the shoot, plus already knowing the best friend made us forget about the conditions.
There are numerous things you can blog about. Blog about what clients should wear, what they should expect. Blog about being out in the community and being seen. The topics that you can blog about are endless.
GALLERIES THAT CAN BE SHARED ON MOBILE DEVICES
In this day and age where everyone is attached to their phones, having the ability to share a gallery on mobile devices is imperative. Even though my website gets good grades for being mobile friendly (yeah right!!!!), I do not like viewing the galleries on my phone. There are several companies out there that do provide a platform for mobile friendly galleries.
Sticky Albums might be the first one that comes to mind for a lot of folks. The foundation is simple. The photographer can create a branded client gallery and give that to the client. The client can access the gallery, which is loaded like an app on the mobile device. I have tested Sticky Albums and liked it.
The other one that I know of is PASS Galleries. With PASS galleries, you can deliver the client gallery quick and easy. I have started to use PASS a lot more. The two things I like about PASS is the app. I can access all of the galleries that I have uploaded. I can then use the app on my Iphone or Ipad for showing to clients, or potential clients. PASS offers a limited, free option for users.
SLIDESHOWS AND VIDEOS
I have messed around with creating videos for clients. There are several different options that you can use to create them, from free to fee-based applications.
As a photographer, you probably already have Lightroom and you can use the slideshow module. I will just say this, I do not like Lightroom's slideshow module, so I do not use it. I have used Windows Movie Maker, which is free. While it is very basic in nature, the user can create a very good looking slideshow using Movie Maker. I like to add music, so I utilize Youtube's free music library, but it is very limited.
Moving away from free options, Animoto seems to be very popular, even though the basic version is fee-based. The thing I do like about the Animoto option is the music library. Instead of hunting down music, Animoto is an all in one package.
Here is a video that I did a couple of years ago. It's dated and I need to update it, but it is a great example of what you can do with very little investment.
NETWORK WITH OTHER PROFESSIONALS
Networking with your peers on a local level might not be as visible as other marketing options, but believe me, it pays off. You might find yourself in a position where you cannot accept a client due to your calendar, but you can refer them. I have been in the position where I could not accept a booking for one reason or another. I referred that inquiry to a peer. That will pay off in the future. You might also find yourself in a position where you need an assistant. I have been asked to assist and second shoot for peers in the past and I have no qualms doing it. It is about building that good Karma.
CREATE YOUR OWN DIGITAL MARKETING MATERIALS
Each year, I create a magazine for my business. This year, I created two and one of those is specific to senior photography. Needless to say, if you are reading this, you already have the tools to create what you want. I use Photoshop and Open Office to create .pdf files that I can upload to the Internet. I have my current senior magazine uploaded to my website, I also have it in my Dropbox that I can send to inquiries. If you do not have a website, there are free options such as ISSUU that you can use. ISSUU is also a great place to draw inspiration from as many photographers have digital marketing products there.
So how do you create these materials? There are several different options that you can use. What I do is I will create image files in Photoshop. More times that not, I will add the text while in Photoshop. Once I have a page I am happy with, I will save the file as a .psd file so I can edit it in the future. I will then flatten it, and export as a .jpg. I will then use Open Office to put it all together. Again, I will save the file with the ability to edit as needed and then export as a .pdf. Once I have completed my final review, then I can upload it to whatever platform I want to use. I also download these to my IOS mobile devices so I can show them to potential clients.
NETWORK WITH THE COMMUNITY
Most suggestions I have seen has been to join the local chamber of commerce. If you go further than that, there are several different ways you can network. Be involved in community events. The town that I live in has an annual “spring fling” and artists are encouraged to show their work. This is a perfect opportunity for you to get your work out there. Of course, you will need to try this at least once and if it does not work out for you, then you can try other things.
I know photographers who will be at most community events shooting them. They put their work online and that draws eyes to the photographer.
WORK WITH FUNDRAISERS
One idea that I came across was to work with a school fundraiser to offer commissions or donations to the fundraiser for bookings. Example, the photographer donates $50 from every session booked in conjunction with the fundraiser.
LEVERAGE SOCIAL MEDIA
Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. Figure out how people are seeing your work. I had a recent conversation with a peer who booked a senior from another state. Another state as in about a thousand miles away. I asked her how she did it and it was simple, she had used an Instagram hashtag that was city specific. Brilliant idea that makes a lot of sense. So much so I am going to try it myself.
With Facebook, I tag everyone that I can and I encourage them to share across Facebook. I tend to get an inquiry or two based off one post that I have tagged appropriately.
CUSTOMIZE THE SESSION TO THE CLIENT
Face it, humans are unique in our interests. Seniors are the same way. There are the car guys, there are the cheerleaders, there are the athletes, there are the academics. My goal behind a senior photography session is to work capture those things about the graduating senior that makes them who they are. We are working with them to create memories that will last forever. We want to showcase that.
Before I schedule a senior photography session, I will send the senior a questionnaire that I have on my website. By answering those questions, I will find out details about the senior that will help me guide the creation of the photography session. Many times, I will create a “shot sheet” where I will list locations and what we will be shooting at that location. We might be on some back road with the senior's classic car in the shot, or we could have a blanket laid out with astronomy books laid out with the senior and her telescope.
Gone are the days when seniors put on the top half of a tux, stood in front of a backdrop in a makeshift studio. Today, we go to different locations, we have several different outfits and we have the ability to create images that will stand out.
MAKE YOUR WORK STAND OUT
When you are starting out, one thing you can do is research what other photographers in your area are doing. Everything from locations they use to processing style. Then answer the question, “how do I want to go about doing it?”
You will notice trends. One trend could be post processing style. There are definitely some trends that are sticking out right now. What do you want your work to look like? I see many people say “it will not stand the test of time.” I will disagree and say yes, any good/great image will stand the test of time to anyone with an open mind. The processing style will not matter. When I first started down this path, I saw mainly “light/airy” from most of the photographers in my area. I decided to go with “color pop” with most of my imagery. I went with “color pop” mainly because it is not really used. A local photographer that I know complimented me on my choice of post processing because everyone else has hopped on the bandwagon of “light and airy.”
Another thing to pay attention to is locations that other photographers use. You will probably find a photographer or two who's work stands out because of location. Not because they use unique locations all the time, but they will use the same locations for every session. Family, maternity, senior, whatever; you see the exact location in every session. There is that location here. The location is so overused that I allow myself to use it once a year period if that. With seniors, you can mix it up a lot. Weight rooms, football fields, basketball arenas, auditoriums. We are classified as creatives, “CREATE!”
Senior photography is very rewarding. Not only with the money that is available, but because it allows us creatives to really open up the possibilities to what we can create. Breaking into the market and making it a sustainable business can be a hard climb though. We have to utilize all kinds of ideas to attract the clients.
Hopefully, the tips I have offered will help you out. They are not fool proof though. You have the find the ones that work for you and go for it.