All Photos Courtesy of Emily Voss
While it may seem to the outside world that a portrait session begins and ends with clicking the shutter, we, as professional photographers, know the session itself is the least time consuming portion of working with a client. In order to have a highly successful and profitable session, it is important to prepare the client both for the session and the sale before they ever step in front of your camera. In the case of Senior Portrait Photography, it can be a delicate dance as you must create images to satisfy the needs and wants of the senior as well as the parents who will ultimately be making the decision on what to purchase in the sales room. While there are numerous ways to go about preparing your senior and family for their portrait session, I will provide you with insight into the system I use that results in a fun, productive session (that doesn’t drag on for hours), a happy senior who is eager to share the results of their session on social media with more potential clients, and a mom and dad who can’t wait to get your products on their wall and coffee table.
See More: Creating a Client Portrait Checklist
The Initial Call
It’s quickly approaching senior season, your phone starts to ring and the name on the caller ID is not a previous client or a number you recognize… could it be your next senior client? This first phone call with your senior, or more commonly his/her parent, is an extremely important conversation to determine if it will be a good fit for both parties, as well as to get them excited about the prospect of working with you. It is important to remember that not every person on the other line is your client. It is essential in the first contact to be transparent about your services, products, pricing and experience to make sure it is a mutual fit. It is better to set up expectations on the front end, especially when it comes to pricing and budget.
Otherwise it is likely there will be disappointment from both sides in the ordering session. You will be disappointed when the sale falls short after you have labored over creating a series of brilliant images for your client. They will be disappointed that they are unable to afford all of the prints and products they have visualized in their home if the first time they see your pricing information is during their ordering session. For this reason, on the first phone call we are adamant about sending over our packet of information on not only the VOSStudios experience but also the cost of sessions and an overview of product pricing. We encourage the family to sit down and look over this packet thoroughly before booking their appointment. Once the email goes out with this information, we leave it up to the potential client to decide if it is a good fit and if they would like to book a session. At VOSStudios, we operate under a very low-pressure system and want the clients not to feel chased but rather confident in their decision that we are the studio that will meet their needs!
Scheduling the Session
After the senior and his/her family have decided they would like to work with us for their senior portraits, we will gather additional information and get them on the schedule. Most of our seniors book their photo shoot four to six months in advance giving us plenty of planning time. On the second phone call we learn more about our senior’s interests, passions and general ideas of what they are visualizing for the images. We encourage them to begin collecting ideas for their session as well as going through the images on our website and social media to see what visually appeals to them.
At this time, we will collect all of our new client’s contact information as well as a deposit. Additionally, we will schedule a 15 minute appointment one month prior to their photo shoot for the senior to come in with their family to meet us, see the studio and create a plan for their upcoming session.
Another helpful tool that we have discovered over the years is the use of questionnaires prior to the consultation. While it might seem these would be most beneficial for helping us to get to know our new client, it is even more useful in encouraging our senior and his/her parents to start brainstorming for their session and visualizing the types of products they would like to purchase. This is again beneficial in increasing our sales later on as the family is getting used to the idea of purchasing wall art, collages and albums as opposed to an 8×10 and handful of wallets.
We have created a separate questionnaire for the senior and the senior’s parents. We ask that they be submitted prior to their in-studio consultation. This way, they are guaranteed to come in having thought about what they would like to get out of their senior session. In the questionnaire for the senior, we ask them to provide us with their social media accounts so that we can tag them after their session, as well as a link to any Pinterest boards they have created with senior portrait inspiration.
We ask them to fill us in on their hobbies, style, favorite type of music, images they are drawn to on our site and their vision for backgrounds or locations they would like to visit. The questionnaire for the parents asks them to describe not only their vision but also what they want to remember most about their son/daughter during this stage of life. We ask them to tell us about the decor style of their home, where in their home they would like to put the images and what their major portrait session goals entail.
While the in-studio consultation takes a significant amount of time when you multiply that 15-20 minutes by the 100 seniors I photograph throughout the summer and fall, I feel very strongly that it is worth the time expense! The consultation fulfills a variety of needs and in my opinion cannot be replaced by a phone call. I am a very efficient photographer and while I love the time I spend with each senior, I do not see the need to shoot for more than a few hours with each client.
Many photographers brag of extended session times upwards of six to eight hours. I know that with proper planning I can get exactly what the client wants and needs in a quarter of the time, save myself time and energy that can be spent elsewhere in my business and end the session with a senior who is excited but not exhausted.
By meeting with the senior and his/her parents one to two months in advance, we are able to talk through all of their ideas, nail down specifics regarding location, props and backgrounds and ensure that we will not be wasting time the day of the shoot formulating concepts. Additionally, the senior will have a list of exactly what to pack, lessening the incidents where the parents must return home for a forgotten football, dance costume or guitar amp.
On the day of the consultation, I take my clients on a tour through the studio so they can see my wide variety of backdrops and start to get further ideas of what they are visualizing in their images. During this process I also get to know the senior and his/her family, which helps me to form a better idea of what to expect during the session. Additionally, they begin to establish trust in me resulting in a much more relaxed senior as soon as he/she steps in front of the camera! During the consultation appointment we go through any images the senior has saved to his/her phone or tablet, offer suggestions for clothing and styling, and determine whether the client is interested in having their hair or makeup professionally done for their session.
The final piece of the consultation that is essential to a successful photo shoot and sale is going over the studio policies to make sure that everyone is on the same page. While they have already received the policy sheet via email, I like to go through it with my clients step by step in order to avoid future misunderstandings. Once the parent of the senior has signed our policy sheet as well as our model release form, we encourage them to take their time in the studio to ask questions and look through our display albums and products.
By the time our new senior and his/her parents leave the studio they know what they need to prepare and bring to their photo shoot, have begun to formulate which products will look great in their home and are enthusiastic about their upcoming session!