Upselling for Portrait Photographers

Photography: Giampaolo Macorig

It’s a staple of many photography businesses. Put a client in front of the camera and shoot portraits that they can place on the mantelpiece, pass out to family members, include in a theatrical portfolio or even use on MySpace or LinkedIn.

Artistic portraits might be an interesting challenge, but commercially, portraiture isn’t always the most exciting type of photography to specialize in. Mall studios are everywhere but they tend to be little more than photo booths with someone to tell the subject when to smile. And while portraits can be a steady source of income they’re not always a high source of revenue.

That’s because although fees can vary tremendously, stiff competition means that there’s always someone willing to undercut the market rate. PictureMe, for example, a chain that shoots in Walmart stores, waives sitting fees and provides more than 30 pictures for just $7.99.

Clearly, the customer isn’t going to get high quality imagery for that price but it does mean that portrait photographers have to be creative if they’re going to persuade clients to pay reasonable sums.

Shoot Well and Sell More
One solution is clearly to shoot good photos. A mall shot is likely to be little better than a passport photo; a professional portrait should capture character as well as appearance.

But while that might let you charge more than a chain store does, pressure from competitors would place low limits on how much you can demand, so it’s still worth trying to squeeze as much revenue as you can out of each shoot. The best way to do that is through upselling — offering additional, related products that the client hadn’t considered when he made the booking.

Merav Knafo, co-founder of, a service that matches online daters with portrait photographers, recommends that the photographers she uses practice upselling to make the most of the opportunities the company provides. With photographers receiving $60 for a 45-minute studio shoot and $75 for pictures taken on location, the photographers that succeed and continue with the company, she says, tend to be those that take the time to push their additional services.

Easiest to sell are post-production enhancements, such as ironing out wrinkles and hiding blemishes. CDs containing high-resolution images of the photos taken on the shoot are also popular. When the deal itself is only for pictures large enough to post on a dating site, that’s a considerable extra value, but one which also requires very little additional effort on behalf of the photographer.

Photographers as Hair Stylists
Prints too can be easily produced and are no less valuable. If the client has booked specifically for digital images, it should be an easy sale, but even conventional photographers can offer a range of different types of prints.

In practice, this is how the chain stores make their money out of portraits.

JCPenney, for example, also waives sitting fees but offers a wide range of printing services, including greeting cards, frames and multi-image enhancements. While companies like these might not offer good models for the sorts of images you’d like to produce, they can provide good lessons in the sorts of products you can suggest clients take away with them once you’ve got them in the studio.

Some photographers even supply hair and make-up services which they either do themselves or, more usually, outsource to a beautician in return for a share of the fee.

Perhaps the best form of upselling though is when one small shoot leads to another big one. Photographers shooting dating portraits should be hoping that they’ll get a call a few months later from a client asking them to shoot the wedding. That’s not only a good sign that their pictures are effective, it’s also a lot more revenue too. It’s most likely to happen when the pictures are as good as they promise, but it can also be encouraged by supplying business cards and especially discounts.

And of course, there’s no reason why that strategy should be limited to dating site photographers. Any portrait photographer can try to win extra work by giving coupons to previous customers or offering money off future bookings.

Nor do you have to restrict the strategy to the same client. Strictly speaking, referrals might not be a form of upselling but if they can bring you extra income, it’s worth encouraging them at the end of the shoot.

Whenever you land a new job, it’s always worth regarding that client as a lead to another job rather than an end in itself. Ask yourself what else they might be interested in buying — and make sure you’re ready with a good range of valuable products to offer.

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