School Portraits?

Discussion in 'Commercial/Product photography' started by AustinPhotographer, Apr 7, 2011.

  1. AustinPhotographer
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    AustinPhotographer New Member

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    I'm a commercial photographer here in Austin, Texas. Although I mainly shoot product/architectural/portrait photography for advertising, some of my best paying gigs are school portraits for some of my oldest clients. It's a fairly straight forward job every year, and on a dollar-per-hour basis is probably my most profitable project.

    My question to you all is:
    Have any of you been particularly successful in your market areas getting started in shooting school portraits. What techniques, shooting/sales/marketing, make you competitive with the bigger companies like Lifetouch.

    I'm working on some direct marketing materials to send out to schools here locally and could definitely use some advice on structuring packages/digital image rights/cds/online galleries/etc.

    I currently have a process of pre-payment due at the time of the shoot with pre-ordered packages of prints. It works great with my existing clients, but I'm not sure how receptive bigger schools would be to the idea of pre-paying for portrait packages they don't yet trust.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

    - Justin
  2. Big Mike
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    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member

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    Around here, most or all of the schools are 'under contract' with one or two big companies. And of course, it's also the same company that sell class rings, letter jackets etc.
    I've heard that in many places, getting these sweet deals has to do with how much you kick back to the school (or school board).
  3. CCericola
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    CCericola Well-Known Member

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    Hi Justin,

    I believe Lifetouch is pre-paid as well for K-12 schools. It all depends on what the school wants.

    You have to bid for a school contract when their old contract is up. Contracts are anywhere from 1 - 5 years. Lifetouch has a slight advantage as they are a multi-million dollar company so if the school board wants proofs. lifetouch will give them proofs. Also when you bid, you migt be bidding on the whole school district. Some districts handle the photography contract, some let each principal or PTA decide.

    You also have to take into the consideration that You will have to give the school a percentage of the profits. School pictures is a major fund raiser for schools and Lifetouch give some of the highest percentages around.

    You will also need to hire people to help you. Sometimes, you only have 1 day or maybe even 2 hours to shoot an entire school because you are shooting in the cafeteria and you need to be done before lunch.
    The school dictates a lot of what has to happen. You will have to provide disks for yearbooks and school records. Some schools want little pre-made stickers for files that replace the old record rolls from the days of film.

    You also need insurance, submit background checks for everyone that will be working for you and you might have to be PSPA accredited.

    Now what makes bidding easy is the school/district has to disclose a quote request detailing everything they expect and need so you can bid off of that document. Private schools sometimes have less restrictions and are easier to get into because not only do you do their school portraits you also have an in for dances, sports, (and in the case of catholic schools) Conformations, first Communions, Senior portraits, Graduation pictures etc... Good luck. It is a lot of work but the profits can be excellent.
  4. sierramister
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    sierramister New Member

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    I'm working it from the other angle. I know I can't get the school portraits gigs, so I'm picking up elementary and high school graduations in the rich part of town!
  5. AustinPhotographer
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    AustinPhotographer New Member

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    Thanks all, this helps!

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