John Pyle Photography specializes in High School Senior Photography and is a three time national senior portrait artist (spa) winning studio. He and his wife, Sallye Anne, own and operate John Pyle Photography in Columbus, Georgia and enjoy their soon to be 2 year old daughter, Julie Anne. Follow John on Twitter.
When I first began specializing in seniors (about 4 years ago) weddings were the buzz in the photography world. People were laughing because I was on “that Facebook site.” Others thought all you needed was “passion”, a 5D camera and a 1.2 lens to become a wedding photographer. Now it seems that everyone with a camera wants to photograph high school seniors. The marketplace and Facebook have become saturated with photographers tilting the lens to create images for high school grads. So how do you separate yourself from fan pages, logos, and self proclaimed “artists” in a growing and crowded senior market?
My point is you don’t have to sink in a massive pool of mediocrity if you are doing what it takes to stand out.
Before full time photography I was in pharmaceutical sales. I sold one of the most popular drugs in the market with only one competitor for 6 years. When a new competitive drug launched, everyone was panicked that our market share and business would crumble. But the opposite occurred. Despite the drug being slightly cheaper than the one our company sold OUR sales grew! Why? Because there was more noise being made about the market, the drug, and the disease state it treated. Sometimes competitors can actually grow your business. Especially if your work and sessions clearly stand out.
Yesterday a client told me she was surprised at how many “photographers” are on Facebook when she began looking to book a session. She also said that it was actually very clear who did quality work because so much of the “noise” coming across Facebook from other “photographers” was not ”good at all”.
My point is you don’t have to sink in a massive pool of mediocrity if you are doing what it takes to stand out. This may start by educating your clients on what quality is and by valuing what you do. If you don’t value your own work then people aren’t going to randomly decide to value it for you. Worry about your customers while competitors worry about you.
Know Your Customers
When photographing high school seniors you better target everything to seniors right? WRONG. Seniors are a unique population to photograph because you are essentially targeting several clients in one; seniors, parents, family, siblings, peers, classmates … etc. Meet with the seniors and their families prior to shoot to clearly define the goals, likes, and dislikes before a session. You want customers to be thrilled with your images, excited about the session and be proud enough to show off the images. Sit down and analyze your customers to include defining who you want your ideal customers to be.
I talk with a lot of wedding photographers who are frustrated that they aren’t attracting brides who value their work, invest in their business, send referrals, and praise them to friends on Facebook. Some are advertising 75% off of everything, giving away free books, free CDs, free engagement sessions, etc. That’s fine if you don’t need income. But if you do need income you can’t be afraid of the word “profit”. It is still a business and being blessed enough to create images and work in your “passion” is still not enough to pay for gas or buy groceries.
Knowing your customers means knowing business also. A great lesson to be learned is if you sell on price, what happens when you aren’t the cheapest anymore? And if all your customers choose you based on price then that may be the only thing they value about you. Perfect your craft and learn how to run a business.
When utilizing Facebook and a blog/website make sure you show what you want to shoot. If you are constantly posting images of flowers, babies, concerts, airplanes, the beach, brides, and parks while claiming to specialize in senior photography don’t be surprised if your senior business doesn’t grow. You can’t sell what you don’t show.
Customers (current and future) don’t need to see 463 images from a session. Limit what you show and choose what you show very carefully. This includes personal pictures and information as well. Personal pages are as much business pages for people and political statements, bad jokes, angry comments, and insults turn everyone off. Remember teenagers, seniors, parents, and grandparents are on your Facebook now. It’s also a good idea to monitor the images you post online for inappropriate comments. Every picture we post we are tagged in for this very reason.
Seek out other businesses outside of photography including those that target your market. Find out what they are doing right, and what works and doesn’t work for them.
Invest in yourself and your business. Joining professional organizations, online forums, attending quality workshops, and experiment with new styles of shooting and lighting.
These will all improve your business and your creativity. The days of secret locations, mystery editing techniques, and hiding in darkrooms are over. You cannot be complacent in the senior market.
Finally seniors are a very rewarding population to photograph. They keep you young and force you to stay current. But you must enjoy interacting with people and creating experiences on your sessions if you want to grow this segment of your business. Seniors only graduate once. You can’t even say that about people getting married anymore.