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A Busy Time of Year in the Studio

Given that the lead time for portraits to arrive is around 4 weeks, November is always going to be a busy time of year. Add to that, the fact that a lot of portrait experience vouchers sold in stores expire in December, a larger number of family bookings can be expected around now.
My diary for 2012 has been fully booked for a couple of weeks, and I am now taking bookings for January and February. On the other hand, there are still a number of cancellations due to sickness, especially for the sessions for babies.
This last weekend was a particularly good one in the studio. I set a target for sales during each weekend, based on my business plan, and I had achieved that target after my first three appointments on Saturday. After that it started to go a bit pear shaped: my next appointment had cancelled because the baby was sick and the one after that decided not to turn up.
On to Sunday, and I had four sessions booked. The first one made a £10 deposit on a £50 order, the second one wanted to go away and think about the order, the 3rd cancelled, and the fourth was late, but, I was glad to keep the studio open for them as they placed an order of over a thousand pounds! This just goes to show that people do have money to spend, and that I can take sale able photos.
So all in all a mixed bag, but good overall results, and time to celebrate with some Prosecco!


One year on

So, it’s about one year since I sold my first portrait, and its been fun, hard work, and has given me a sense of achievement. I feel I have come a long way from driving round my area in a clapped out Ford Focus, dragging my sorry ass up to apartments in tower blocks, trying to take the best portrait ever, in rooms where there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat, and trying to sell great products at reasonable prices to be told, “that’s too expensive”.
I am now settled in my lovely studio, where people come to me. As soon as they walk through the door, and get offered a cup of tea, they seem to realize that they are here to spend money after they have had some wonderful portraits taken.
Oh, yes, and I am now a proper portrait photographer, having achieved my Licentiate with the MPA. The certificate is proudly hanging on the wall in my studio,acting as a constant reminder to work towards my Associateship in a couple of years, but that’s going to be a lot tougher.
The figures for the first year came in just under plan at sales of just over £20k. My expenditure was a lot higher than expected, so I didn’t make any profit, but at least I can mitigate the loss with a tax rebate. Having a good accountant is a great thing.
My targets for the next year include: increasing my average order to over £300, getting onboard at least 5 more corporate partners, aiming to win some awards at professional photography competitions, achieving 15% of my sales from referrals and achieving at least one sale in excess of £1,000.
Am I going to give up my other job? Not yet, and not in the foreseeable future, a good salary, which acts as a safety net and a great pension scheme are the handcuffs which keep me working there. But that’s not the point of it all, my life has changed so much, I haven’t been to my local pub in over a year, I have met some great people, I have seen tears of joy and smiles of happiness when people see the photos I have taken.
However, taking the photos is only a small part of the whole package, there’s marketing, networking, sales, bookkeeping, processing, ordering photos and other stuff, repairs to equipment, managing cash flow, oh yes and cleaning up after babies and other customers. I have learned a lot of new skills. So this Saturday I will be raising a glass of Prosecco to another year of even greater success.


Why i am so happy to work in my studio

The studio has been open three weeks, and its absolutely brilliant.  It is a joy to come to work here, and I wish I had found this place months ago.

Before, when travelling to peoples homes, not only did I have to carry all my equipment and samples, but the amount of uncertainty I faced was amazing:- would there be a place to park my car (hopefully, without being clamped or getting a ticket), how much space would there be (from a purpose built studio in one house, to four people living in a single bedroom with no room to swing a cat), where would I put my light, how would I show them the images (nice modern TV I could plug my laptop into, or would I need my projector).  Now I have a place with easy parking, three rooms to work in: a reception to get to know my clients and to find out what styles of photographs they want, a studio to actually take the photos, and a viewing room to show them the pictures afterwards.


And of course because I am operating in my studio the lights are already set up, and I just need to make minor adjustments during the session.

On the negative side, my overheads are higher, but that should be equalled out with higher average orders.  Also I have to clean up after my customers.  Anyone who has had a baby will know how messy they can be! It also astounds me how many mums don’t think twice about wheeling their wet, muddy pushchairs onto the carpet.


One of the nicest things for me is that if I have a cancellation, then I can get on with something else like accounts or photo editing or even updating this blog; whereas, when I was on the road, a cancellation invariably meant dead time.  Having said that I am finding the studio has a slightly higher no show rate than home visits.

Another great thing is being able to take family portraits, something that was quite hard to do in people’s homes.  Now I have the space to do this, and also it makes available to me certain national marketing campaigns, that weren’t available to me without a studio.


Now, I am starting to market the wedding side of my business, and if I get 5 or 6 weddings next year that will be fine, because realistically there is more profits in family photos than there is in weddings.



My studio opens it’s doors tomorrow

Well, it has taken 4 1/2 months; but, finally, tomorrow morning I will welcome my first customers to my new studio. I think it was back in January, that I first wanted to stop doing home visits, and to be based in one location.  On the one hand, I will have a lot less parking tickets, fuel bills for my car, i will have access to family shoots and other national marketing campaigns; on the other, my customers will be harder to come by, as one of the advantages of home visits is the ease for the Mum, having the photographer come to her home, and its a lot less stressful for the baby.

So then I started searching – although there is a lot of empty space around, empty good quality space is harder to find, especially at the right price.  Rents in this area range from £12 to £40 per square foot.  Anyway I was lucky enough to find a place where the rent was almost reasonable, do-able certainly.  Of course the place needed to be redecorated, re-carpeted – then I needed to buy display images, furniture, etc.  Having put together a plan, i decided that I would have my first sessions in the middle of September, and hopefully earn enough in sales to meet the first 3 months rent by the next quarter day.  The decorators were great and were finished in 6 days, then came the carpet layers – not bad, and I have managed to get them to give out some vouchers for studio sessions.  Then Lance came in  and sanded and sealed the floor in the studio, itself.  British Telecom came and installed a phone line and broadband, i will give them 2 stars, the phone line still isn’t brilliant, but workable.  The Flash Centre in London were brilliant supplying the lights and modifiers, direct from the factory for some items, which were out of stock.  The UK distributor of Fatboy beanbags redeemed themselves, and I got what I wanted in the end.  Loxley’s also redeemed themselves after an expensive SNAFU, their customer service department has promised to put things right. SignsExpress who fabricated and fitted the signage have been really accommodating – the manager turning out to do fitting when there van was broken into and tools stolen outside their depot. The staff at Barrett and Coe head office have been fantastic:- Dominic, has been efficient and effective, Caroline has pulled out all the stops to get things in the right place at the right time, and finally, Elaine’s advice and counsel has been thought provoking and so useful.  There’s still a few last things to sort out, but I feel ready to go tomorrow.














I haven’t blogged in a while, because things have been kind of hectic.  There are a few developments bubbling under the surface that I haven’t written about, because, well, I don’t want to put a curse on them by telling everyone too early.

One, that I am happy to talk about now, is the fact that I am applying for a Licentiate qualification in portrait photography with Master Photographers Association.   Licentiate is the entry level that shows  “an established level of skill and competence.”  Its not as easy you think!

I need to submit twenty photographs, that will be judged by a panel of three Fellows of the Association. The photographs need to be taken from ten commissions undertaken in the last two years.  So, no problem there, I think I have undertaken about 120 jobs in the last 8 months.  Picking the sessions to show was more difficult though.  Although the judges are looking for sound technical competence along with “composition, control and lighting of the subject”, the images have to look good, not just individually, but when they are displayed together in two rows of ten photos. So I needed to pick two sessions, from which I would have five photos from each.  Which sessions to choose?  Maybe the ones that I sold the most from?  Well that didn’t work – the baby just lay there with a blank expression on its face.  So in the end I picked 2 sessions, one from a baby boy and one from a baby girl, where there was a lot of expression and eye contact with the camera.  The other 10 come from a variety of sessions: baby boys and girls, a mixture of ethnicities, a variety of clothed and unclothed. I had some help with the selection, I sent a whole load of photos to a fellow of the association and got his advice on which ones would work.  I have the ten main photos selected, but we are still trying to narrow down the other ten from about sixteen.  Once selected, I will need to get them printed and mounted.  The usual size is 12″ x 15″, so that will cost about £120.  I also have to write a Working Profile, that includes a comprehensive CV and details of the organisation and management of each image.  This will be read before they see my photos and allows them to make a better judgement of the quality of the photos.  This could be an advantage to me, as I can explain that I am not working in a studio but photographing babies in their homes.

The judging takes place in about three weeks, so i will write about how I get on later.


How I blew my annual bonus!

So, anyone that knows me realises that I am a total gear head.  No nothing to do with gear boxes on cars, whatever current technological pursuit I am engaged in, I have to have the latest, most expensive, shiniest bit of kit available.  So, when I got my annual bonus at the end of March, I knew it was going to get spent in  a fairly rapid way, rather like pulling the plug out of the bath.

So what was I going to spend it on: camera, lenses, lights, computers, peripheries or a holiday?  Well the holiday would be nice, but fleeting, and I can’t really take a break from getting my photography business up and running just yet. On the camera front, there were some temptations – the Canon EOS-1Dx fits the bill of being shiny, new and expensive, but I don’t really need a dSLR that takes HD video (yet), and as a studio camera, my old 1Ds mk3 knocks the 1Dx into a top hat.  Of course, if my bonus had been really good, I could have invested in a Hasselblad H system camera, oh yeah, baby come and meet my 50MP beauty, but my bonus wasn’t that big.

So maybe a new lens.  Folks who know me from HK will recall that there was hardly a month went by without me investing some money in some glass; and, yes, I have been sorely tempted to buy the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye – but, its not a lens I would use very much, and, so, there had to be better things to spend my dish on.

“Let there be light”, surely a new lighting system would be useful, practical and fun.  Oh, yes, I would love to upgrade my Visatec lighting kit to some Profotos, or Broncolors.  At the end of the day, though, new lights weren’t going to make my job easier, or my sales better.

In the end, the one thing that bugs me is the amount of time I spend on touching up photos.  So the answer was to get a powerful computer that will suck the files out of my computer, a good monitor which will make sure the colours are just right, and something better to use in photoshop than a mouse.

So this is what I bought:-


So what do we have here?  Well, the desk and chair come from Ikea, and I am not sure which was worse; shopping at Ikea (yes, the store opens on Sunday at 10am, but you can’t actually buy anything until 11am!), or assembling the things.

The heart of my system is a refurbished Mac-Pro 2.4Ghz 8-core Intel Xeon, which is gorgeous, and its fast. Comparing this to my iMac is really hare and tortoise stuff.  To view the images, I went for an Eizo ColorEdge 24″ monitor.  Apart from the built in calibration and the fact it can be rotated 90 degrees to work on portrait photos, I just love this.  But, the real treasure in all this was the Wacom Intuos tablet I bought.  I went for the A4 size, and its great.  There is a bit of a learning curve, finding out what you do with one finger, two, three and four fingers, but the learning is quick, and when it comes to photo editing, you just have so much more control.  This is something I should have bought years ago.  If you edit photos, and you don’t have one, believe me go and get one right now!


Sales Bootcamp

So, last Friday, I took a day off work, to go up to London to attend a sales and marketing workshop being run by James Derbyshire of Julio Boggio Studios at the Hasselblad Studio.

First the studio, is great.  There is about 2,000 square feet of space, and the main studio area is two storeys high, dominated by a huge, 15 foot high infinity cove.  It’s good to hear that the studio is fully booked for the next few weeks, and the sessions are as varied as gravy granules one day and six or seven models the next.  I arrived at the studio before it was open so I went and had a cup of coffee close-by at the Barrel Cafe.  This is a real gem; its run by really friendly people, has free wi-fi, and although i didn’t try any, the pastries looked divine.

Anyway, back to the boot camp, we covered a lot of ground.  I filled pages and pages of my note book.  A few things stood out; firstly, imagine your perfect customer.  For instance, for a family portrait studio, maybe the perfect customer may looks like this:- the family drives 2 cars ( a Lexus and a BMW), both children attend private schools, they live in a good size house (to display those lovely portraits you are going to sell them, fitted with a burglar alarm.  The wife likes to get her hair done at a hair saloon each month, and goes to a spa every other month.  The family are members of a gym, and eat out in restaurants every other week.  From this little description, I have just created a list of businesses to target for promotions and cross-marketing.

So you have marketted your business, and the phone starts ringing.  People are wanting to come to your studio.  The next stage is setting the scene that these people are going to be parting with a serious ammount of money.  So you have to treat them right, find out about their expectations, tell them how to get the most from their session, tell them how special this event is going to be, after all having a family portrait session is not the same as going to the hairdressers.  Next is the photo session and taking the photos that they are going to want to buy.  In your own mind you already have the ideal package you are going to want your family to buy; maybe its a nice large family portrait to go on the wall, and a triple portrait of the children – a nice £1,200 sale.  If thats the case, there is no point in only photgraphing head shots of individual members of the family, make sure you have a family group.  If its a triple of the two children, make sure you have a photograph of one child looking to the left, one to the right, and one of both of them looking at the camera.  Julia, the main photographer at her studio, gives her other photographer a shot list of 10 photos, which then leaves them some time to get creative.  This was an insight to me, because, although I have a mental shot list for my babies, I have nothing written down, and occassionally, I do forget to get a particular photo, and kick myself afterwards.

One of the other issues discussed at the workshop was whether to sell the image files or not.  I was of the firm belief, never to sell the image files – I make my money by selling framed portraits, why would I sell my raw material?  Would you go to a greengrocer and buy a tomato plant; no, you buy the tomatoes.  However, another school of thought was proposed, and that was to sell the image files, of course, you don’t call them computer files, you call them something amazing, like,photo-electronic portraits (the idea put forward at the workshop was ‘digital negatives’), these would be fully retouchedd files ready to print at almost any size.  They would be presented in a style that reflected their cost, and would be priced to reflect their value.  The pricing suggested was 10 digital negatives for £1200 (i.e. £1,000 plus sales tax).  That little idea certainly got me thinking.  I have started to introduce it into my sales pitch, but have had no takers, yet.

There was a whole host of other ideas, pitched into the tour de forcxe of the boot camp, a lot of which are jotted down in my note book, and I will look back on when I get the chance.  Also, at the work shop were representatives of Hasselblad, who had some very nice cameras there, Broncolour with some lights, Lightblue, who have a studio management software application, Bob’s Books who produce albums, photobooks and other printed matter.  The food provided at lunch was very nice as well.  All in all, a very useful day, as well as being enjoyable.