7 Secrets To A Strong Photographic Portfolio That Most People Will Tell You Not To Do

I read an article the other day on building a photography portfolio. And while the article itself was written well and provided a ton of detail, I disagree with the message.

Most people in the photographic industry teach you to put together a generic, boring portfolio, both online and off. “Choose your best image from each session”, they say. “Never have more than a couple dozen images in your gallery”, they say. I disagree.

When we first built our business in the late 90’s (think dial up modems), we put thousands online in our portfolio. Yes thousands. At our height, we had over 20,000 images on our site. People told us we were crazy. “They’ll never look at that many images.” “Take them down, are you crazy?” The comments when on and on. But we didn’t fail with our 20,000 images. In fact we made it BIG. Because we spoke right to the heart of our ideal client.

Your portfolio should never be “normal”. It shouldn’t be what they teach you in a photography class, or a “best of” series that showcases a few great shots. Nope. It should be a whole lot more.

7 Secrets To A Strong Photographic Portfolio That Most People Will Tell You Not To Do

1. Things You Want To Shoot

Too often a photographer will include things in her portfolio that clients’ expect to be there. Yet if you want to branch out and shoot something very specific, something very unique to you, don’t be afraid to include it because it isn’t the “norm”. People will hire you because of what they see in you. If you showcase certain things, they will expect it as their own results.

2. Beyond The Best Of

Everyone tells you to create a gallery filled with your “best of” images. Your best images are great, but if you’ve ever looked at portfolio after portfolio, “best of” series soon all start looking the same. Do a search for wedding portfolios and you’ll see what I mean. Every photographer includes two to three dozen of his or her “best of” images. And they all look alike. Most are shots of the bride, groom, or some combination. You’ll get a sweet looking image of the ceremony. A couple of great scenics from an outdoor wedding. And of course the mandatory couple of candid images from the reception to prove you are “photojournalistic”. Is that really all there is to it? Or can you stretch and showcase more? We routinely would put together montages that would contain 200, 300 or even 400 images or more from one wedding and include them in our portfolio. A potential client would truly get an understanding of what we could do for her – and it worked every time. [Read more…]

How To Snag One Big Client That Can Keep The Money Coming In Year Round

Let’s say you have a goal of bringing in $50,000 a year. If you hit that mark, you could quit your full time job and concentrate on photography year round.

What would be better:

Finding one $50,000 client?

Or finding 10 $5,000 clients?

 How To Snag One Big Client That Can Keep The Money Coming In Year Round You probably jumped one way or the other immediately. Some would say the easiest way would be to find that one great client that you could focus all your energy and provide them with the best service ever. Others would say that is impossible – it’s much easier finding 10 people that are willing to spend $5,000 each.

Now lets define what a client is. How would you define “client”?

Most people would say something like “a person that hires you for a service and brings in money to your business.” Yep, that is a client.

But I think you can look at a “client” in a different manner as well.

I found this definition of client in the Merriam Webster dictionary:

A person who engages the professional advice or service of another.

And that’s where the difference lies. It’s with the word “advice”.

For me, a client doesn’t necessarily have to bring you in money. They can bring you in non-monetary services as well. Including referrals.

So if you are a wedding photographer, and you become close with a wedding reception site – close enough that they send you a good selection of their own clients every year – the wedding reception site could be your client.

In order to market and service this “client”, you would have to maintain a very good relationship with them over time. You could:

  • Take the manager out to lunch
  • Send over a gift basket after you book a client they send over
  • Refer clients to them if they book you before their wedding venue
  • Provide them with a free sample album to showcase how their venue looks in photographs

And of course a whole lot more.

So if your goal is to snag one big client for the year, where should you look for that “client”?

Should you market to a list of newly engaged couples? They get married once. They may refer their newly engaged friends, but time will move them away from your business if you focus on wedding photography.

Or should you concentrate on getting your one big “client” from a referral source so strong, they can literally keep you in business for years to come?

You choose.

How To Write An Ebook For Your Photography Business

“I notice a lot of businesses online use ebooks on their websites. Is that something I can do as a portrait photographer? If so, how do I go about creating one? Why should I do it? I’ve had it in my mind now for quite a while – just want to know your take on this ebook thing.”

eBooks, or electronic books, have been around for a long time. You probably have many of them sitting on your hard drive somewhere. And with Kindle, Nook and other e-reader tablets on the market, you probably bring a bunch along with you every time you leave your home or office.

Yet even if you have a ton of them, read them on a regular basis, you may have never considered having one for your own business. Today may be the day you change your mind.

The Concept

The purpose of an ebook is twofold. One, you can use it as a marketing tool to get your information into the hands of your prospects and clients. In this case your ebook would be for free, and used to direct people to take action in a variety of ways. Two, you can create information of value and sell it on the open marketplace. When you buy a book on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle, that’s an example of an ebook for pay and profit.

In reference to the question above, we’re going to stick with talking about a free ebook, one you use as a marketing tool to bring people in to your business.

How To Write Ebooks For Your Photography BusinessThe Title

The title of your ebook is the most important part of your marketing tool. Without a great title, one that jumps out and people and makes them want to download your information as fast as possible, it will be just another piece of content on your site.

In order to come up with a great title, think about your customers and their pain points. Why do they come to you? What are they looking for in this niche?

We’ll stick with the portrait niche for this example, and I’ll further define it by concentrating on the senior portrait niche.

Senior portraits are marketed to two people – the high school student and the parent. The high school student has to love the work so they will be happy handing it out to friends. The parent has to love it in order to be willing to pay for it. So marketing messages must speak to both. So your ebook title may be something like:

How Facebook Will Kill Your Senior Portrait And What You Can Do About It

It speaks to the kids, who want to share everything they do on Facebook. And it speaks to the parent who has some doubts about Facebook and obviously wants to keep their child safe. It touches on an unknown – which is exactly what your ebook title should do. [Read more…]

The Dumbest Questions You Can Ask Your Photography Prospects

As a new business owner, your mind is filled with every last detail of your business. And with so much to learn, you probably don’t spend a lot of time mastering each piece. In many aspects, that comes along the way.

So you jump right in and do things as they happen. When a prospect comes in, you have an honest conversation. You tell them your opinions, your attitudes, and how you really feel. You ask questions and provide the answers you think you would like to hear? What’s wrong with that?

Yet in sales, if you ask the wrong questions, you may not only turn a prospect away, you may alienate future customers as well. Here’s why.

Smart questions build up the relationship you are forming with a prospect. Dumb questions fill a customer with doubt and self-questioning.

Smart questions make a prospect think about the answer and how you fit into it. Dumb questions leave everything open, guaranteeing they will turn to someone else for solid answers.

Here are the dumbest questions you can use to bring in photography clients and why they are dumb. [Read more…]

The Photographers Sales Funnel

Fundamental to the success of your photography business is the concept of the sales funnel. The sales funnel is key in defining the strategies needed to find prospects and turn them into clients over time. It also defines an effective referral program that keeps people coming in at all levels of your business.

Basic Sales Funnel Structure

When you are building your marketing and sales strategies, your ultimate goal is to bring in paying customers. Yet in order to do so, you have various steps in order to accomplish your goal.

The sales funnel begins by capturing the attention of prospects out in the marketplace looking for what you have to offer. Some are intrigued and want to learn more. Some are just starting the process and have no expectations. Some are ready to book and become clients. And a little of everything in between. The purpose of the sales funnel is to allow a prospect to “drop” in at whatever level they are currently at and provide them with what they need to go to the next step.

By the end of the process the funnel has successfully captured the ultra-responsive customers who have purchased from you again and again, love what you do, and enjoy sending you other clients as well. This is where great businesses make the majority of their profits – they find raving customers that love what they do and are willing to promote you to everyone they know.

Let me show you how it works.

The Sales Funnel

If you’ve been online for awhile, or even studied marketing, you have probably heard of the sales funnel. It has a variety of ways of looking at it, depending on your industry and how you wish to attract clients.

When we first started our business, we knew we had to reach out to clients in a variety of methods. With wedding photography, very few brides and grooms think about wedding photography until the moment they become engaged; then they are thrown head first into a whirlwind of planning.

The top of the funnel isn’t meant to sell to a prospective couple; instead its meant to educate them. Websites are the perfect marketing tool because you can provide as much content as you can and leave it up to the couple to decide how much they need. Some will spend 10 minutes going through 10 pages; some will spend 10 hours going through hundreds of pages.

While photographs are great – you are a photographer, what else would a prospective client want to see – remember they are in it for the education as well. A prospective wedding client has never planned a wedding before. They might not be thinking about sunset times for their 7pm wedding in October – and how you really can’t capture detail when the ceremony is outside in the dark. That’s a perfect thing to educate them on.

Or how long it truly takes to photograph formals. If they have large families and want a lot of groupings, it will take far longer than if they rely solely on photojournalism to capture the moments. [Read more…]

7 Types Of Clients You Should Fire Before You Hire

Chances are selling isn’t at the top of your list of fun things to do within your business. Sales takes a certain knack and a lot of practice to get it right.

When someone comes into your studio, you spend a fair amount of time with them talking about their needs and desires, and using that knowledge to show how you can fit within those needs.

But sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. There is something between you that makes you nervous. You might not even be able to put your finger on it, but you know they put you on edge.

Yet you’ve spent time with them, and with the economy the way it is, the last thing you want to do is turn away business. Right?

Working with a client – any client – is hard. It takes time, energy, and a lot of emotional input to see a client through from beginning to end. When you are finished with the great ones, you can sit back and say “YESSS!!!” because you know the images are great before you even look at them. And when you do look at them, every one of them has positive energy, and puts a huge smile on your face. You gave it your all and it shows.

The bad ones? Well, if you’ve ever experienced that feeling, you know it well. You’re emotionally drained. You have no energy. You hope and pray you took at least one image that is acceptable, and that they will love enough to buy.

If you had nothing but great ones, you could handle 10 of them a day. That “YESSS!!!” feeling would come again and again, building up your energy in such a way that your clients could feel it. And respond to it.

If you add even one bad one in to the mix, your energy is depleted, and you might as well quit for the rest of the day to recover.

So why take the bad ones?

If you have that feeling when you are meeting them at the beginning, listen to your intuition. Fire them before you ever hire them. Don’t take them on. It will only deplete your energy, and cause you to lose that “YESSS!!!” feeling that will help you move your business to the next level.

So who is a bad client? How can you define them? Here’s what I’ve noticed over the years, and what I look for when I’m making a decision on who to accept as clients.

1. People who don’t show up for their appointments, and have excuses on why they didn’t. We all have emergencies once in awhile. But if people don’t make it a priority to show up for initial consultations, and don’t treat your time as valuable, they will probably continue that way throughout the process. [Read more…]

How Do Struggling Photographers Become Successful Photographers?

What would it be like to be a successful photographer?

Maybe you would travel around the world, photographing the most remote places on the planet.

Maybe you would create photo layouts for some of the most successful fashion houses in the world.

Maybe you would photograph celebrity families.

Or maybe you would be content to have a small photo studio, and have hundreds of local clients put you at the top of the list when it comes to a hometown photo studio.

Everyone has a dream; and no one dream is the correct way to success.

Yet in order for every dream to come true, you do need to follow a certain path.

Where Is The Path?

With all of the changes we’ve been experiencing over the past few years, its no wonder people are beginning to wonder if the dream is even possible any more.

  • The average photographer makes $29,440 here in the United States.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor, around 152,000 people listed photography as their profession in 2009.
  • Over 50 percent are listed as self-employed, a much higher percentage than any other occupation.
  • Most are self-educated, meaning they have no formal training. Instead, they rely on self-teaching methods to pick up the skills needed. This includes both photography and business skills.

So when I tell people we’ve consistently made $200k, $300k and more every year, they tend to find it almost unbelievable. Can you REALLY make that much from photography?

Yep. Its possible.

Which is why we started up our Virtual Photography Studio blog back in 2003. We wanted to give back to the community, and offer tips, resources and strategies to the majority of the photographic industry that was just starting out, and really hadn’t found a way to turn their dreams into reality.

A lot has changed over the last 8 years. For instance,

Traditional marketing is all but dead. If you are still paying hundreds of dollars a month for a phone book ad, or paying thousands of dollars to be listed in a bridal magazine, you probably have been questioning your sanity for quite some time.

Online marketing has grown by leaps and bounds. Google has over 31 billion searches every single month. And Facebook has over 39 billion unique page views a month. That adds up to a ton of searching. Which means your clients are there.


The problem is reaching out to them.

Why Marketing Sucks

Marketing is a love/hate relationship. You may hate it, not understand it, and doubt if it will ever work for you. Yet if you don’t focus on it and do it again and again, one thing is for certain: your business will fail.

A great photographer and a lousy marketer will quickly shut their doors.

Yet a great marketer and a lousy photographer will be in business for years.

Why is that?

Because great marketers knows one thing.

They know how to get people to love buying. Not just do it because they have to. They get people excited about the process, wow’d by the experience, and more than anything have a desire to hand over their money happily.

As we continued to build our business, we became better and better at the marketing side. And that made all the difference in the world.

We quickly understood that the easiest way to success is to stand out from the crowd. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Stay ahead of the pack, and give potential customers something they’ve never seen before.

So we looked at everything we did. If it met those qualifications, we did it. And if it didn’t, we abandoned it.

If You’re Interested In Marketing – Don’t Miss This

During the last hundred years, things have moved rapidly.

I’m sure when phone books were first introduced, having a large ad was cutting edge. Those that took out an ad were almost guaranteed success.

Then magazines and guides came along. I remember when the first bridal magazine was introduced here in Colorado – Colorado Brides. We were one of the first photographers to advertise, and also helped fill the magazine with our images. The business came pouring in because it was cutting edge – nobody else was doing it.

Then the Internet. We were one of the first photography studios to be listed on The Knot. Not only did it bring local business to us, but allowed us to grow our business nationally as well. Very quickly we were getting calls from New York, California, Mexico and even Germany. It was new. It was hot. And it made us stand out from the crowd.

If you are the first to jump at a new opportunity, you’re at the head of the pack. People will automatically find you because you are the originator, an innovator.

But just as quickly as opportunity shines its light, the entire crowd bursts onto the scene, and the opportunity is gone. So while opportunity can be magical, the most important part of an opportunity is being first in line.

As a business coach here at Virtual Photography Studio, that’s what I watch for every day. I watch for the next opportunity. The next magical innovation that allows you to spring forward from your competition, and helps you reach out in a way that makes your clients and prospects say WOW.

And that’s what I’ve found in Mobile Marketing Photography.


The Next Biggest Opportunity

Before I wrap up this blog post, I want to share with you a snapshot of why Mobile Marketing is the next big wave.

Did you know right now, there are over 1.8 billion Internet users on earth, ready to look for you in the online world? Sounds impressive, right.

Nope. What’s even more impressive is there are over 5 billion cell phones currently in use around the world. And because people carry their cell phones with them everywhere, that makes mobile a much bigger force.

If 1.8 billion people access the Internet regularly through a desktop application, imagine what they will do when they can access Internet with their mobile devices. That means you’ll quickly have 3 times the audience. And because that audience will spend much more time with their mobile devices than they ever would sitting behind a desk, you have a huge opportunity just waiting for you.

I was so excited when I started learning about mobile marketing, I quickly implemented this technology into my own business, and have gained multiple clients using this method – this year.

But that doesn’t mean this will last forever. You know how quickly new technology comes on board. And when the masses use this new method, it will quickly become old technology. Back to the “been there, seen that” philosophy.

But for now, it’s brand new and very exciting. If you quickly take it, create a new marketing method with it, and use it to grow your business, you’ll find a ton of customers waiting for you. You’ll be the leader. You’ll be the innovator.

So if you’re ready to make 2011 your year, and you want to be at the front of the pack instead of following behind, this may be your opportunity.

This may be your shot at jumpstarting your business, and seeing how far you can go with it.

It only takes one step. Are you ready to find out what I’ve been using for several months now, and what I know is going to be the turning point for more than  a handful of photographers?


Lori Osterberg

You Can’t Run Any Business On Free

“Help. I’ve been trying to build up my photography business all year, as I was laid off from my job last winter. I’ve done some free shoots for a few groups around town. And family and friends are always looking for free portraits with the promise of helping me find paying customers. But so far not much is happening. I can’t keep shooting for free. What do I do next?”

Do you see yourself in the above paragraph? Many photographers do. In fact it’s a common way for photographers to start out. And it may take a while, but everyone eventually realizes one thing.

No business will ever make it for the long term if they don’t charge for what they do.

It’s simply a fact of life. You can’t do what you love if you don’t make money at it. You can photograph for fun AND have a full time job to support your lifestyle. Or you can photograph AND get paid well for it. That’s really your only two options. (Okay, unless you have a significant trust fund.)

So if that’s the case, the only reason to be in business is to make a profit. Without a profit, you can’t pay yourself, your bills, enjoy any kind of a lifestyle, and live a life without worry. It can’t be done – period.

(Yes, I know people will say there are a ton of reasons to be in business. Passion, loving what you do, making a difference, etc. But when it comes down to it, none of that is possible if you don’t make a profit to keep the passions going.)

Start With Free

Yes, it’s okay to start for free. You have to gain experience somewhere. And you have to grow your portfolio to show future clients. The problem lies in how many you shoot for free.
[Read more…]