Let’s be honest – it’s a tough time to build a successful family photography business. Just sit down for coffee with anyone running or starting a business and you’ll hear chatter about how new technology and undercutting by beginners make it harder to book clients. It’s a conversation that, quite frankly, I’m tired of having. And I think it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems photographers face when working to build a client base.
Recently, while at a popular tourist destination with my own kids, I noticed how many parents were carrying around DSLR cameras. I estimate it was at least half of the parents there. Sure, my camera was bigger than their cameras, but we all know that the camera doesn’t make great pictures, right? The eye behind the viewfinder does. And, whether they are right or not, these parents believe that their higher-quality gear guarantees professional-quality images. Couple that with the popularity of the iPhone, photo editing and sharing apps, and these families are documented more visually than any other families ever in history.
I would argue that this is the bigger problem we face when trying to build a successful family photography business. The key to building a successful family portrait business now lies in answering this fundamental question: what can I give my clients that they don’t already have?
When so many consumers have access to high-end camera gear, it is not enough to take pictures that they think they can simply get themselves with the timer function or the help of a friend. In today’s market, you have to find a way to provide them with something unique. Something that they can’t get themselves.
I think there is a two-part answer:
The first part is the experience that a client has at a professional portrait session. The second part is the photographer’s creative eye.
The Portrait Experience: have you ever taken family photos with the help of your self-timer? How frustrating was that? Maybe you had to bribe your kids (and your spouse) to make the shoot go smoothly? I know that bribery happens at professional portrait sessions sometimes, but as a photographer, you can create an experience for clients that they can’t get elsewhere and they certainly can’t create themselves. It is also a wonderful way to infuse your personality into your work – to help set you apart from the pack. To do that, you only have to look inward at things you enjoy and find unique ways to bring them to your client’s experience. If it is unique to you, it is also a wonderful way to get clients to spread word-of-mouth stories about you and your business! I truly think that a key to building a successful family photography business is to create an experience for your clients that YOU would enjoy. Build a base of repeat clientele who are passionate about you and your work. Give them something besides your photographs to be passionate about. But, that brings me to the next part of the answer – creating photographs that evoke a passionate response from your clients. To do that, you need to nurture your creative eye.
Your Unique Eye: If you take images that are unique to you, no one can copy you – not other photographers and not clients themselves. I would argue that it is more important than ever to develop your own eye and your own unique style. I know that everyone is saying that, but understanding how to do it is more complicated. You can’t scour other people’s blogs and Pinterest to see what is popular. That would defeat the purpose. You have to look for inspiration from within. What interests you in the world around you? Outside of the portrait world, what photographers and types of photography interest you? How can you bring that to your own work? What personal projects can you do to help explore that part of your creative personality? It is important to create an online presence that showcases your signature style. Make sure that when people visit your website, blog, or Facebook page that they clearly see how you are different than everyone else. And don’t forget – take time to discover your signature style through personal work and learning opportunities.
Success is different for everyone. That difference should be seen in the work you create and the experience you give your clients. Figure out how to do these things for your business and you’ll be on your way to creating a successful family photography business in a competitive market.
About Dana Pugh
Dana Pugh is the photographer behind Short and Sweet Photography located in Calgary, AB, Canada. She is a big believer in love and the power of fancy caffeinated beverages. With her family by her side and her camera in her bag, she enjoys travelling to new places and meeting new people. Her work has been featured on many industry blogs, magazines, and websites. Her clients include local celebrities, sports heroes, and wonderfully normal families who love each other. In early 2011, the NAPCP named her their first ever ‘Child Photographer of the Year’ for achieving the highest points in their photography competition. In celebration, one of her award winning images was displayed in Time’s Square.