Ask the experts: Home studio
Q. I recently started a photography business out of my home and do location shoots only. Since I’m not in a position to offer in-person sales, I need to find other ways to unveil the photos and hold a sales session. How can a location photographer without a studio present clients with ordering options to ensure print sales?
A. In the early days of our business I served clients in a city that was nearly an hour away. Even though I had a studio building, I wanted to reach clients in a specific affluent community—ones who were not inclined to drive to the studio on the narrow roads that are filled with slow-moving Pennsylvania Dutch buggies.
I’m a stickler about the need for planning sessions, so I conducted a mini-consultation at the client’s home on the day of the photography appointment about an hour before the session time. I brought with me a collection of 30x40-inch unframed canvas prints that I rolled up and placed in a long velvet bag that closed with a drawstring. The images represented different looks or styles achieved within the scope of my typical location work.
Following the mini-consult, I would review the client’s clothing options, select the portrait environment, and then proceed with the photography session. Once I’d chosen the best location, I concentrated my efforts in that single area rather than creating a few images here and there, which would only serve to confuse the client and jeopardize the sale.
The canvas prints were important to the success of the eventual sale, as the client could see my product up close, and I could clarify that 30x40 was my “signature size,” explaining that subjects in a location portrait typically are smaller than they are in a studio portrait since they’re surrounded by the location environment. In order to create a decorative impact, my images show best in that particular size, which is adaptable to many different room-enhancing situations.
On the day of the sales appointment, I arrived at the client’s home with a bakery treat, as I’m a firm believer of offering hospitality even if I’m doing so in someone else’s home. I also brought these essential sales items: a projector, a projection screen (if I had predetermined that it would be impossible to project images on the client’s walls), several frame corners appropriate for the session images and the client’s home, puzzles or coloring books if I thought children might be in the home during the sales appointment, and any necessary invoicing materials. Once these items were organized, then the sale itself proceeded as it would in my studio sales room.
Being in the client’s home has the advantage of allowing you to demonstrate how portrait selections look on various walls through projection. The disadvantages are the travel time and the possibility of having young children present, which sometimes cannot be avoided.
One caution regarding location photography: When you’re going to meet someone you don’t know, recognize that you are vulnerable when you go to an unfamiliar home or neighborhood or when you agree to meet at an out-of-the-way environment. I don’t mean to frighten any photographer away from doing location photography, I’m merely suggesting sensible precautions such as requiring a prepaid location fee deposit, taking a friend with you, or calling off an appointment should it raise a second-sense red flag. Most of the clients I served lived in areas familiar to me, and most were referrals; nonetheless, I made it a rule not to go after dark to a place I didn’t know.
Occasionally I’m asked by newer photographers whether they should charge less when they don’t have a studio. Here’s my answer: If you were a makeup artist or dress designer, would you charge more or less to make home visits? The answer should be obvious: Home visits, by definition, provide a higher degree of personal service, so if anything, charge more for this service. Most businesses must grow substantially in order to be successful, and financial profit is necessary to fund business growth.
Such was the case with my home visits; they turned out to be so profitable that we decided to open a satellite studio in the community. This was an important turning point in the success of our studio because we found a property that included three apartments and enough space for the studio. Rent from the apartments paid the mortgage, and in 10 years, we owned the property and had an expanded client base. We never would have made this step without the knowledge we gained from doing the initial sessions on location.
Ann K. Monteith, M.Photog.Hon.M.Photog.Cr., CPP, ABI, API, A-ASP, Monteith’s Countryhouse Studios