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Business Q&A

Lesson 38 from: Family Photography: Creating a Successful Business

Kirsten Lewis

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Lesson Info

38. Business Q&A


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


What Makes a Picture Successful?


Technical Tips: ISO


Technical Tips: Aperture


Technical Tips: Shutter Speed


Technical Tips: Focus


Using Light to Tell a Story


Using Composition to Tell a Story


Lesson Info

Business Q&A

So I've learned from now three rounds of Creative Live that there's always a lot of questions in the studio audience, and the at home audience, and so I decided to leave a big chunk of time this last segment to try and answer as many as I can, as quickly as I can, so we've got 30 minutes, so I think we're gonna go back and forth between at home and then you guys. So I'm gonna let Kenna kind of wrangle this. Questions wrangler. Alright I did want to start with folks online. Just taking a step back there was some conversation and confusion around some terminology, when it comes to documentary, as well as lifestyle, and talking between those two, and then if you could define what an environmental portrait is, for people, just as they are focusing on marketing their business as such. The first thing I can suggest is the second class in my series of three, I try and define what each genre is within family photography, and I think it's really important that if you wanna know more about i...

t that you take a look there, because I do spend quite a bit of time on it. For me, at least anyways, and I think for most, the term documentary and photojournalism comes from those genres of photography, right. And so I was borrowing that term, we borrow that term from them to apply it to commercial business. Meaning that our clients are paying for us, right. These aren't stories where magazines or newspapers are paying photographers to cover a story, and you're getting paid by them, the publication, this is a commercial business. So what I had decided to and committed to is just apply all the rules of documentary photography to a commercial family photography business. So when I describe myself or my sessions as documentary sessions it means I'm not touching anything, I'm not turning on or turning off lights, I'm not opening windows, I'm leaving the environment the way it is, because that's one of the rules of documentary photo journalism. In terms of lifestyle, lifestyle can also have real moments, but there can be a little bit more interaction in terms of guidance with a photographer. Generally, and sometimes they're a little bit more stylized, so there's nothing wrong with that, they're beautiful. I'm also not creative enough or quick enough or smart enough, or confident enough to direct people, so I really don't do that, even with my studio portrait work that I'm gonna start doing, it's gonna be more of the emotionally guiding my clients and not having them really pose in any way. An environmental portrait is basically a portrait that you make in the environment where your subjects are, so I might have eye contact with my subject, but it's because there's an exchange between me and the subject, in a basically honest way, right. There's a moment between us and I'm making that photograph, rather than posing or directing them. So that term environmental portrait that's what I'm doing. I'm making a photograph, a portrait of my subject in the environment. Does that help, or explain that. I have two very quick questions. So the first question is how to get the relationship with the wedding photographer, because I'm a family photographer and for me I'm very easy to know some other family photographer and I'm a mom, I'm easy to know the families, but if I know some wedding photographer, as you mentioned before, that I can utilize, they have baby or get pregnant and have family and if they want to be the photo taken so that the wedding photographer can refer to me but how can I know the wedding photographer. You live in New York? No, here. Oh, you're here. Well does Seattle have a PPA, or does Washington state have a PPA, that would be the first place, do you guys know, Professional Photographers Association. That would be one thing I might consider doing is joining the PPA, because then that's a lot of different photographers, and then the PPA usually has mixers once a month or they have guest speakers, so that you can one on one just meet photographers in other genres, and you can all refer work back to each other. The other suggestion I would make is to go to a photo conference where there's multiple types of genres being represented, in talks that are applicable to all types of photographers and that could be another way. I think also just reaching out locally, do a search for Seattle wedding photographers. Look at their work and don't just reach out to all the wedding photographers, see whose work you really like and are in line with, because you don't want to have a traditional wedding photographer start referring clients to you because they're probably not gonna want a documentary work, they hired a traditional wedding photographer, but there's plenty of documentary wedding photographers or wedding photo journalists that's really dominant these days, and I'm sure there are tons in Seattle that you can talk to and not all of them do family work. I would just reach out with email, say I really love your work, I don't know if you do families, if you don't I'm a local family photographer, I think maybe your clients would really like my work. So if you ever get any that agree I'd love to help them out or whatever. And another question is, as a transition to a lifestyle photographer to a documentary photographer, do you suggest for us to built two web sites, so what if some clients come to ask you or email you, I want to see your portfolio about you can you show something to me, so shouldn't I give him two web sites, or what web site should I give to him. Generally, people that contact you are already gonna be coming from one of your sites. That would be my first inclination. My second would be, if you get an email like that just say sure, I'm just wondering what kind of work you're looking for, what kind of services you're looking for I offer two different types of shoots. Are you looking for more documentary where it's not posed, or do you want more pose work, I can show you both. That's how I would, I would just be really honest and ask them. Does that make sense. Good. Alright we'll go back to online, so this question was from Vanessa Hall who's said, I know Vanessa. Awesome. Vanessa said how do you target the vacationing families. I live where people vacation but not sure how to approach them, how to approach that niche of client. So it sounds like maybe she lives where other families come on vacation. Hotels, is one. And you find the concierge, and you talk to the concierge and you see if maybe you could be listed on their web site, or with the higher end clients, a lot of times they'll have a concierge plan their whole week, and so you get in with them and have you be suggested to them. Another thing that I just recently thought about working with my European clients, is I'll guide you through this, so that you can figure it out on your own. When a family goes on vacation somewhere and they have a decent amount of money, where they appreciate high quality stuff. And they want to see a city, what might they do. Who just said that. Yes. A tour guide. They're gonna hire a tour guide, right. So especially for these cities, European cities, bigger cities in the US, there's tour guides and vacation planners. I would be targeting them. Talking to them. I make the suggestion to work with the tour guide, and say hey I'll shoot a couple of your tours for free, I'll give your clients the photos for free and you can use the photos for advertising if in return, you suggest me as an additional service to all the rest of your clients coming in. I haven't done it yet, because I don't have time, and I'm not in the situation where I need to do that, but I think it's a really great way, and I'm just gonna address this for European photographers, because one thing I've learned about Europe, is they do not financially value photography the way that Americans, Canadians, UK is next and then Australia and New Zealand, something about Europe, they just don't spend that kind of money on photography, so it's really hard for European photographers to make a full time living. So I believe that European photographers specifically need to be targeting Americans and Canadians, in terms of making the money they deserve to be making for these documentary family sessions. So tourists, I think is the best way to make money with this. It's not that you can't with the other clients, but if you want the extended time, the extended sessions, Americans are the way to go, because we're just narcicisstic, we're obsessed with celebrity. It's true, and it's a good thing for us photographers because we've placed value and we've emphasized financial importance on having good photography, but that isn't the case world wide. And so it has been a challenge for my photographer students around the world especially in Europe. So I tried to be really creative about ways to help them get clients and for me, that's that. I just started thinking, well, how do we have access to Americans. Well, hotels, that's good, but not everyone that stays at a hotel has a decent amount of money or are gonna spoil themselves a little bit on vacation, but vacationers also have a budget. So they have even more of a chance of hopefully getting clients through them. So vacation planners and tour guides are good ways to start. And to further that though, do you also have people, is there a market for going on vacation with a family that you work with in your own hometown. Yeah, I've done vacation quite a bit. I think that's a matter of once you start building a good clientele in your area, you'll just have clients that like you a lot and then they'll wanna take you on vacation, I know Daniel Kudish and his wife, Devina, I think they've gone twice now, over to Asia, with a client of theirs, they photographed their wedding I think and they just finished their second day in the life session, it was three days in Asia with them, so I think building good relationships again what Marie was talking about, that's gonna help them become life long clients. Do you suggest having testimonials on your website. You can, yeah, either that or under info I guess, but I think testimonials are huge. Again, I think that video is, and this is something I wanted to say about the videos you guys, video is definitely becoming more important in terms of selling and advertising, not necessarily video sessions for your families, but getting our points across, especially for things that are very new. I would invest, I need to do it too, I am not the exception. To have a better built-in video to our web sites, than Vimeo or YouTube. I think it needs to be seamless in the site and built in, and really clean, where it looks like a photo but it just has an arrow at the bottom. And I know we can do it, there's plugins to fix that, but I think that also something that makes it look a little less professional on our site is having the Vimeo logo or the YouTube logo, do you guys agree, yeah. So I mean, verbal testimonials by your clients, it's funny that this has come up, I think that would be key in terms of booking more clients, for sure. Thank you. You're welcome. This is a question, so can you give some advice on bridging between, you suggested going to dance studios, gymnastics places and offering free sessions, and also kind of like our kids day cares and stuff like that, but how do we get from doing these free sessions to getting them to become paid clients, because sometimes I feel like when I've offered these free sessions, when it comes to the point where they're like oh I wanna book you how much and they're like I don't want to anymore, so, do you have any advice for that. Wait, don't take the mic away. Are you offering them publicly online. What do you mean. When you're offering a free session are you doing a model call. Yeah so I've done that. I called it the bucket list, I copied it from a different photographer. Stop doing that. Everyone stop doing that. Don't, because you're not gonna get good people, you're not gonna be photographing good people if they just hear it for free. They're just gonna all start running. And then, how many of you have booked those free sessions for model calls and then they bail on you. So many people have done that. Just reach out privately, to friends, family, friends of friends, family of friends, that way. That way you can also be really picky and choosy. Picky about who you are choosing. Pick families that you know are going to be visually interesting. That are gonna visually give you good stuff for your portfolio. Also, there is no question, they do not get a free session without signing a model release. Do not give free sessions away unless you are getting something in return which would be usage and access to advertise, using those photos, right, because this is another area I have a bunch of people who do free sessions and then they don't get the model release and they're like well I can't use that. Well that was a waste of time. I did get a model release, I did get really interesting families, but then they didn't buy anything after, so. Okay I don't believe in selling them anything. Oh okay. If they're doing a free session, it's not free to them. It's free to you because it's free education, we were just talking about this, I've said this before. Literally it is free education for you to practice, it's so you don't have to pay to go to school, to do it, and it's free advertising. They are giving you images so that you can book other clients, you don't have a lot of experience, so the least you can do is just give them your files for helping you out. I personally feel really strongly about this, actually. And I'm not gonna feel bad about feeling strongly about this. I don't think you should bait and switch people by saying free sessions, but if you want the photos you've gotta buy them. I think it's a really shifty thing to do. Not you, I just, lots of people do this, and I think there should just be a distinction between free and not free, and paid. And that's why what I think you should do, Tiffany, is do you have other clients other than, because you're transitioning, right. Yeah, I'm almost fully documentary, and then so I do have paid clients, too, but it's just getting to the income goals, people are only willing to pay a certain amount. All the other ones that are hiring you for non-documentary just start adding that extra hour, start transitioning those clients over as well. And how often are you sharing your photos. So I share a lot on Instagram and Facebook, That's good. I just need to update my web site, so. Okay, I'm not worried about your web site right now. For me, what got the ball going was Facebook. Are you sharing a photo a day. It's once a week or one time I'll put nine photos up. Try for me, promise, try for me for one month, one photo, every three days. One photo, every three days for a month. And in there, you're gonna have a link to your web site, so get the web site updated the way you want it, and saying now booking for the 2018 year. And I wanna see if that makes a difference, because the more consistent it is, with the algorithm, it's gonna make an impression on more people's pages, it's gonna come up in their feed more. The other thing is are you just posting on your business page. I share the ones that I like on my personal page, but I try not to do too much of that, because I don't want to be spammy to my friends. No you need to. Your friends are who are gonna be your clients. I bet you have more photographers that like your business page than friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. And everyone needs to be tagging the people in your photos, because that's how their friends and family and friends and family and family and friends see your work. So that's what I mean by you gotta put a lot of effort into getting your work out there. It needs to be seen. You're a good photographer, people just need to see your work more. So it's not anything you're doing wrong photographically, because you're just gonna keep getting better. You make photos that are gonna make your clients happy, they might not make you as happy right now, but they're gonna make your clients happy. You just need to keep sharing them. Does that make sense, does that help. Yes. Okay. Awesome, thank you for that question. I'd like to ask a couple more questions about sharing and social media that had come in, while we're on the topic, so thoughts on watermarking, and then also do you have to have the families sign a release that you can share them on social. Is that part of your contract. Okay so first of all the watermark, I, for those that follow me, on Instagram, nothing. On Facebook, there's a reason why I haven't watermarked but I don't have them image watermarked, because I don't want anything to be disrupted on the image. So you guys know I have a white border around my image, and then my logo. The reason why I want a logo on there is so that if my clients share it, or if I tag my clients and their friends, and their extended network sees that, then they know who made the pictures and they're gonna be more inclined to try and get in touch with me. In Instagram, they just go right back to my Instagram page. But in a feed it doesn't always say my business name, so that's why I want the logo. My model release, gives me full exclusive rights to my images. You have to decide what you want to do, however, we are lucky in the US and Canada, where we automatically, for the most part, own our images. It is a given, right, and they sign the model release to let us share them, but in the US, the maker, the photographer actually already is granted our copyright, we own it because we made the picture. That is not the case in Europe, so the stuff, the information I'm giving you here is not applicable to every country in Europe. My understanding is, places like Germany, the copyright goes to the client. And so the photographer, am I right Johan, when Denmark, or is it not the same. I'm not sure about Germany but Denmark, the photographer has the rights to the images and I believe in the rest of Scandinavia as well. Okay so yeah, so it's tricky for places like Germany, from my understanding, because I just did a workshop in Germany, and I was blown away, and then someone else from another country was like yeah that's how it is there too. So I'm addressing this even though you guys live here, there's a lot of people that watch from Europe, so I don't want to say one thing if it doesn't apply to someone else. You have to check your laws in the country that you live. But Germany, they do have to request, they have to request from the client that they can share on social media. In terms with me, this question has come up a lot. What I choose to share on social media. If a parent says no nudity, I don't even question it. Like nope, that's fine. Even if they don't want topless, it does not matter, I respect their privacy. But that's where it ends. Unless it's something really intimate, where it makes sense that they want their privacy kept, otherwise they have to pay for an NDA. And that's additional money. And the idea is i can only book work from sharing my work, so if I can't share my work, then I'm losing out on potential income from a shoot that I've already done. Now people feel very differently about this, so you have to decide what works best for you, but that's what I believe in, that's what works best for me and that's how I handle my business. Does that make sense. So you just answered my question about nudity, so that was good I had two questions, the second question is do you give peek a boos, say you do a session, and you haven't given the gallery to your client, do you share any photos from that session, or do you wait until you've shown all of them to the family first. Well I try, sorry clients I just photographed. I try to send 10 previews in a week, to them. And sometimes I share them on social media and sometimes I don't even have time to take a shower and brush my hair. But the times I do have a good amount of time I'll also share on social media. I like to give my clients just a little preview, because it helps tie them over, they know that I didn't lose the photos, that I did a good job, I don't want to share all the best ones, but i share just a few with them. I always do, it's just not always within the week. I try, within the week. Unfortunately my clients from Canada the last month are waiting still for theirs. What is the best way to promote my documentary family photography in a small community, when they're not too familiar with this type of genre. And she's also new to that community and new to the genre. So I know we talked about educating clients, but is there anything specific when it comes to a small community. So basically a small community means you have to start marketing to the largest city outside of your small community, in my opinion. And that's something that Kelly and I talked about, because Kelly is from a really small town, and so we talked about, well, what's the closest bigger city, can you work there, if it's a three hour drive, can you book a few sessions within a week or a four day span, and then you just travel there and shoot and come back. Smaller, I feel like there's two sides to this. Smaller towns are gonna be good, because you can end up being the only photographer that does this and then everyone goes to you, or it could be a hindrance if your smaller town isn't as open to it. But that direct marketing is huge. Robin you need to be making photos for the beauty salon, and for the horse farm. Oh that's one I didn't mention. Horse farms, equestrians, that's a very expensive sport. And so they have a decent amount of money to be spending, and it's also really beautiful to photograph, so that would be another place I would try and shoot. But yeah it's again that direct marketing, and really making good connections and making photos with local businesses and get people to experience your work because you can't teach them verbally, you just have to visually show them. So that's my answer to that. Just one question about your model releases, when you get push back from customers or potential clients that don't want their images shared, do you explain that to them in clear terms, like it hurts your bottom line or do you, you don't sugar coat it for them. Yeah it's my bottom line. Jenna, the one that surprised me, that started crying. She's taught me a really good lesson about being a strong female business person, and I'm a people pleaser, and so my natural reaction should be okay we can work it out. And try and be really wordy in terms of business, and she's taught me to not be wordy. She has taught me to be straightforward, to be direct and honest, so that I am respected in terms of a business owner. I'm not mean about it, I just say these are my terms, and these are your options, and I totally understand if this is not what you're looking for. And if that's the case, you know. How do you deal with the hard clients who are threatened I'm gonna go bad mouth you even though I haven't spoke to you. I won't work with them unless they sign a model release. So there's not an issue. I've personally been really lucky. I've never had a single issue with a single family that I've worked with, ever. And a two, two situations that I can think of unless they're really mad and haven't told me but I think I'd have bad reviews, two families who were unhappy with their photos, years and years and years ago, not a day in the life, it was about them, not me, and we worked it out and they're not mad at me any more. I don't let people be mad at me for very long. I make them love me, I try, if I can't I just make it work. But yeah, I've learned from Jenna to just be pretty hard. Pretty straightforward and not emotional about it. This is how it is. Do you, have you, would you recommend doing a newsletter, and is that something that is necessary to build your list. Yes so I agree with Marie, I have a newsletter that I have been building. Here's the thing, I haven't built it as much with my, so it's funny I just added not too long ago a newsletter option on my educational site, but I haven't done it on my photo site yet. The reason why I haven't done my photo site is I can't handle the amount of work that I've got right now, I can't juggle it all, so I don't need any more doggy work, right now, photography work. But, I do suggest having a newsletter. I've learned that it's a really great way to keep up with clients, to let them know what you're doing, so with my newsletters, for anyone that is on the list, I like to share what's going on with Greg and Birdie and I because we're always in a different country or a different state, and what we're doing, I have family that's on the newsletter, I have friends from a really long time ago and they love getting the updates, and then I'll let them know something that's going on with education and if I'm running any specials with my photos, but now that's not happening because I just have too much work. And I've started to think about maybe offering a tip every newsletter for photographers out there, because I have a lot of photographers on my newsletter. But they read it, they're more than likely to read that than they are my Facebook posts, because it's not a guarantee with a Facebook post that they're gonna receive it, so for anything I really want people to know about, then I use my mailing list. And I'm switching over, I was with Mad Mimi and now I'm doing MailChimp. I think MailChimp's more user friendly and it has a few more options. My question is can you go a little bit into your work flow from once you get an inquiry, kind of what steps are after that. I do a little dance. No, I get an inquiry and Molly my assistant answers it, but you would answer it. I send them the information about the shoot. Short and sweet, nothing too extensive, a .pdf, and that's it. Then if they wanna book me I use a booking program, 17 Hats, which I really love 17 Hats. I was with Shoo Queue for a long time, I don't dislike Shoo Queue, but I have a big thing about aesthetics, and I didn't like how it aesthetically looked, and I feel like 17 Hats is a little bit more visually appealing, pleasing to the eye. They need to sign a contract with me, they get a questionnaire, the shoot gets booked, my flights get booked, right now my family goes with me, I go, I shoot. I back everything up onto hard drives, all my hard drives now are the little ones, I was using Seagate and I'm not bashing Seagate, but for some reason two of my hard drives failed recently, so I still have Seagates that I use, but I have switched over to Western Digital, because I'm not sure, but to be honest, I've used both and I've had both fail, so I don't know, which one is better, I think they all fail, right. I was with Seagate, now I'm with Western Digital, probably if that dies I'm gonna go back to Seagate. But I use four terabyte hard drives now, and they're the little ones. Now the thing I love about Seagate and Western Digital the both of them, is now they're making them color coded. Did you guys see this, so now I know even more, like, oh I'm on the yellow drives, right. Those are my newest drives and I always have a mirror drive, so I just travel with the two drives, and I was blue last round, I'm yellow now. I'll probably go red next time but they have six or seven different colors, so for me and I know which ones go to each other, very quickly, because I match the two yellow or the two red, and I know which drive I'm on, and I almost know oh that shoot's on the blue drive. So I think that makes it much easier. So I back them up, I have a double back up, and then I go and edit through them all, I do one pass, I do a second pass. I decide what goes in the extended gallery, what goes in the artisan. I work on the artisan, the extended gets sent away to Image Salon. In between there I will send some previews, then I'll build the slide show. I'll send the slide show once I've sent off the photos to be processed, I let them wait about a week to see the rest, they get uploaded to my proofing site, then the clients get the rest of their photos, and then they can make a decision of what products they want. It's so funny because I've been on here, it's been four years from my first class to my last class, and I have changed my policy and my pricing a little bit. So, my clients have a session fee, and then they have a minimum product they have to, product, oh my gosh, order, purchase, there's a minimum they have to purchase before they can even unlock the option to buy files. They cannot just buy files any more. And there's a reason for that. A, I don't want my photos sitting on hard drives or on computers, or on Facebook, I want them printed. They deserve to be printed. They made the investment, to have me come, they need to continue to make the investment to appreciate it. I want my photos on their walls, because I want them to appreciate it every day. I want my photos on their walls because it's like a gallery space for me. Every friend, every family that comes over, if they have my image on the wall, they're gonna be like oh my gosh, who took that. And they can say oh person did, and then maybe they're gonna refer me. Thirdly, I want them to see the photos every day and then at some point they're gonna be like man, it's been a really long time since that picture was made, it's time for a new photo. So there's three reasons why I want those photos on the walls. I also want them in the albums as well. So I'm trying to sell both albums and at least one wall print. If they spend a certain amount of money with me, then they can unlock the option to buy the files. If they spend over three thousand, then they get the files for free. And this is in addition to my 1950 session fee. So I basically want my clients investing five thousand for their shoot, at the end of the day. Is that all the work flow, did I forget something. Is that helpful. Okay so that's how I do it. And one thing, photographers don't get a discount anymore. Because photographers are the worst at getting stuff printed. So I'm doing them a favor, by requiring that they get product with me. I am not even kidding. I have way more non-photographer clients that have their stuff printed and they're so excited about it, and my photographer clients are like yeah, we still don't have anything printed. So I have decided that photographers don't get a break anymore, that in fact, if I had to I'd switch it the other way and they would have to buy the product, and let the other clients get the files.

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Ratings and Reviews


I own Kirsten's 3 classes. And they are ALL amazing, inspiring and refreshing. She is not only a super talented photographer but an amazing teacher and person as well. I have learned so much from each one of her classes. I have never met a photographer so willing to share and see their students succeed. I highly recommend people not only to buy this class, but all 3! I would not be the photographer I am today if it wasn’t for her. After following her advise for the last 3 years I am finally engaging with the audience I want and I feel true to myself in the way I shoot. This makes a huge difference in my everyday. I am am truly grateful to this photo wizard lady. ps: warning, make sure you are on birth control. These classes might make you want to have children, just to get amazing images like the ones she takes LOL (joking) #not

Carrie Littauer

This workshop was by far the best photography workshop I have ever been a part of. Kirsten's work, her humor, her authenticity, her expertise and perspective will forever change the way I work with families and go about documentary photography. I am so motivated and inspired to dig deeper into my role as a photographer, and as a person, to make a real difference in the lives of those that I photograph and with my art. I'm thrilled to have been in the LIVE studio and am so grateful for Creative Live for giving phenomenal artists like Kirsten this exposure and opportunity to teach other creatives like myself! Thank you.

Johanne Lila

In the very minutes Kirsten Lewis' first class (first of three) for cL aired, I realized I needed in on this awesomeness. I became a 1 Year Mentorship student with her right away, and now I have been so incredibly fortunate to be in the studio audience for the live taping of her final class (or the third of the three, who knows what the future might hold!). For me as a 'Kirsten Lewis alumni' taking this class was perfect. I was reminded of things I knew, but had forgotten. I learned a ton of new stuff. But most of all, I remembered why we do this work in the first place: The love that is right there in the reality of life. How much this work matters to real families out there. And how much it matters to keep getting better at this, to give our families better work. I will be forever greatful that I chose the best mentor, Kirsten is such a gift to all of us. And if you're still in doubt: This class is AMAZING! If you're new, if you've at it for a while, if you're alumni: Gold is HERE!

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