All the time I hear about successful wedding photographers dabbling in portrait photography who can’t figure out how to actually make any money shooting portraits. It has nothing to do with their photography and everything to do with the way they run their businesses. And it’s no wonder, considering that it’s a whole different business model and needs to be approached in a different way. For weddings, we make most of our money up front by selling packages. Prints or album upgrades after the fact tend to be more of a bonus income stream. If portrait clients were willing to spend thousands up front then we wouldn’t need to worry so much about how many prints we sell. But unfortunately this just doesn’t seem to be the norm in the world of portraits. So if you are struggling with making portrait sales, here are just a few things you can change which will make a big difference in your ability to turn a profit (and a big one) with your portrait business.
1. Make your 8×10 and smaller prints all one price. If 4×6’s and 5×7’s essentially cost you the same amount to produce as an 8×10 anyway (which they do), why should you charge less for them? You shouldn’t. You can still make smaller prints for your clients if they specifically request them, but the price should be the same.
2. Your smallest print size price should be (relatively) expensive. Why? You will sell a lot of them. Your pricing needs to be structured so that you will still make some money even if your clients only order a few of your smallest size print. I charge $135 for an 8×10. So if a client decides that all they want from a session is 4 8×10’s, at least I’ve made $540. If you are charging $20 for an 8×10 then you’ve made a whopping $80. Not nearly enough money for all of your hard work, is it?
3. Don’t set your prices based on what you would pay. You are not your client, it doesn’t matter what you would pay for a print. It matters how valuable your work is to that client. Set your prices based on what you can get away with and try pushing the limits as far as you can. Trust me, clients will always complain about your prices, whether they are cheap or expensive, because they are always going to be more expensive than what they are used to paying at Costco or Shutterfly or wherever else they buy cheap, crappy prints. Your job is to create images that are valuable so that it is the images they care about and not the piece of paper. The piece of paper that it’s on is just a vehicle for presentation and delivery, no matter what the size.
4. Sell prints in person. If you really want to make any money, you should really have in-person ordering sessions with your clients. There are plenty of ways to go about it. These can be done at your studio or home office or at the client’s home via digital projector, flat-screen tv or even by iPad. If your clients are left to their own accord, they will likely never get around to ordering prints. If they do actually order, they will order a few small prints and that will be it. It’s not because they don’t love your work, it’s because they just don’t know what to do with them. They need your help in deciding how large their portraits should be, how they should be mounted or framed and where they should hang. If your only ordering option is online, you are not finishing the job you started and you are not serving your clients’ best interests or your own bottom line.
5. Know the value of your digital files. If you choose to make the digital files available to your clients, don’t give them away. They are valuable. Just because you shot them does not mean that your clients are entitled to them or should expect them for free. If you are willing to part them, make sure that you are charging enough to make up for your lost print sales as a result of your clients making their own prints. Remember, it is the image that your clients fall in love with, the image is the thing that is valuable.
I know that some of you are probably shaking your heads right now and think that I’m crazy. But if you are serious about being able to survive shooting portraits, you have to find ways to make every session profitable. I will prove this to one of you. If you’re serious about having a more successful portrait business in 2011, leave a comment below. I’ll randomly select one person to win my PDF guide about building a projection-based sales system for your portrait business.
**UPDATE FROM JUSTINE (Also shown in the comments section)**
Written by Justine Ungaro
Justine Ungaro has been photographing weddings in her own clean, classic style since 2003. A second generation photographer, Justine grew up in the Washington DC area and moved to Los Angeles in 2006 where she expanded her business to include children’s and music industry portraiture and soon after began giving workshops and speaking at photography conventions. She currently maintains studios in Los Angeles and DC.