The Business of Volume School Photography


Lesson Info

Intro & School Specifications for Bid

So in a real bid, it always starts with your theme needs to be present and go through the entire bid. We have three themes that we push. We push that we're local, that we're going to be a central location for all of your needs. Anything you need for photography, we're it. And it's going to be so easy to work with us. We're gonna do all the stuff you don't want to do. So pushing those three things throughout our entire bidding process is key. Make sure that you have a cohesive message. Make sure it makes sense and it's obvious. Every bid will have in introduction. The introductions generally just say things like, this is our school, this is the address, the actual location of it. It'll say how many kids are in the school. I'm gonna read to you guys and I'm just gonna read through, this is an actual bid. I can't share it with you guys, but I will share portions of it with you. So this bid starts with the introduction. "We're putting out an RFP, that's a request for proposal. "It'll be su...

bmitted no later than 3 p.m. on February 15th." They don't mess around with that. You're there at 3:01, you're out. It's gotta be done. "It should be delivered in a sealed envelope, "clearly marked proposal for student pictures, "addressed to this person, this title, this address." So they're telling you exactly how this bid needs to be delivered. If you're out of bounds on any of it, doesn't matter, doesn't matter, you're out. It'll say, "We will not accept it via email. "You cannot email it in, we need a physical copy." It'll say, "If we receive them after the time, "we're gonna send them back to you unopened. "If you have questions, this is who you will email, "this is what your subject line must say, "and all of your questions will be distributed "to everyone else, with the answer." It also tells you what their objective is. So their objective is to identify a new partner for photography needs, the winning vendor will supply us with quality picture portraits, exceptional level of customer service to the school, students, and parents. They'll also start to go over the scope and length of the contract. So it'll say, "This school services "approximately 400 students and employees, "50 full-time and part-time staff." So you know how big it is, can you handle it? Don't lie to yourself, and if you can't handle it, you got to figure how you're going to be able to. But they're telling you what to expect. They say this is for Fall portraits only. If the school wants to do Spring portraits, that's a decision they'll make later on. So you aren't bidding for that, you're only bidding for the Fall stuff. But these details are really, really important to pay attention to. A lot of times you'll see things that say, essentially, if you get the job, you can't subcontract me to do it. If you get the job, you're doing the job. They want to make sure of that. They want to make sure they're working with the person that's actually doing the work. It also starts going over... and it'll always give you the term. So the initial term of the contract is for two years, commencing Fall of 2017, ending Spring of '19, provided that the school may terminate the contract after 90 days for any reason. They don't like us, any reason, they can just say (popping noise) 90 days, you're out. The other thing that happens a lot of times is you'll see schools protect themselves because they'll have a clause in every single contract that basically says if we deem that your quality isn't good enough, we can walk away from you. But them deeming our quality is so subjective (giggles). So really, what it says is if we just don't want to work with you anymore, we aren't. And, of course, you aren't going to sue a school. So it's kind of a farce, in some ways, it's kind of bogus, but it happens. Then you're gonna get into school specifications. The specifications are gonna talk about the basic requirements. We need pictures done this month, this time frame, this many hours, at our location, can you do it? We're gonna be even more specific, this is what we need. And all we're responding to this is just we will comply. Kemmet Mueller photography will comply, and that's the response we have to say, if we can do it, we can comply, we can comply. It says all students will be photographed on picture day, regardless of ordering. So if a kid's not going to order, you still gotta take their picture, of course, right? Says you have to be able to create student IDs. You have to be able to create a Sky word disc and a yearbook disc. So these are different formats and things that the schools use. A lot of schools will use a system for student tracking, and what they want is they want to be able to say was Davey Dave at school today, let's go look. So we pull up Davey Dave, there is his picture. They want to be able to have a face when they search student names. They want to make it more recognizable for the staff. But that's a specific file format. Yearbook publishing companies almost all use a PSPA formatted disc, so you have to give them the images in a PSPA formatted disc. One of the schools that I got asked to bid on, they lost an entire school district, a big district a photographer did, because he was so backed up on technology, he couldn't provide them with barcodes and student IDs. He couldn't do basic, basic stuff that all these schools are doing, he couldn't do because he never evolved with time, he didn't stay current. So they're making sure, these schools want to make sure, that if they're going with you, you aren't a small-time shop that's not gonna be able to deliver the goods. It says, will you deliver the stuff, we need it in JPEG, TIFF, a format that's accessible to us, not a proprietary format. We need to be able to use these images, of course, we will comply. And then, it'll say, what's your timelines? We need to know when it's gonna be done. So yeah, we'll have it done in a week. You'll have that disc in a week from picture day. We use Miller's, we're gonna go through the software that we use, but we work with PhotoLinks, there's a software called Flow, it's incredible, PhotoLinks, and Miller's allow us to do all of the different file formats. They allow us to do all of the yearbook formats. I just order it from them (clicking noises), I need this disc, comes in the mail. And not only that, Miller's is really cool, they've also... Because the last two computers I bought... Wait, no, that's not true because I bought four this Fall, too. So the last six computers I've bought don't have CD-ROMs anymore. So sometimes they ask for a disc, but we also deliver it on jump drive and Miller's will send you the file, they can FTP it to you and you just pop it on jump drive, you hand it over and you can get it fast, you don't have to wait for the disc to get mailed to you. If you have it, walk it over, or send it to them on Dropbox or any other way you want. So staying up and staying current with the times. And the other focus that we see is they want to talk about insurance needs. Some of the districts that we work with actually require us to have 5 million dollars in liability on shoot day. Now, typically, my business runs about one and a half, so I get writers for the three days a year that I need five. So know that these are expenses and terms that you're going to have to meet. And they talk about their photographic standards. This part of bidding always makes me laugh because this part of bidding is when people who are not photographers try to talk like photographers and they use words in weird ways, and they describe a process that's really antiquated and its just wrong. But some of the things they'll say is you have to use cameras that center the head. You have to have lighting that produces good skin tone. They'll say that... They have all these... You got to make good pictures and they gotta be consistent. The head has to be the same size in all of them. The background has to look the same in all of them. The kid has to be posed, they got to be all facing the left, they all be facing the right, and the school might tell you which way, but they all got to be the same. So they start going through this. They will actually restrict in this if you can or cannot put your logo on the prints. We sign our work, but some schools won't let you. And if it says in your contract you can't put your logo on and you do, they will freak out. So our response to that question, when it says tell us what are you doing to ensure this is going to work. We talk about, because we use Miller's for our printing, we use Kodak Professional Endura Premier paper, traditional Esurface paper. This is the most popular paper used by professional photographers for its accurate, realistic saturation and excellent neutral flesh reproduction. Furthermore, our paper selection has an archival value of 100 years in home display and 200 years in the dark. So that's the kind of response that they're looking for over our pictures are gonna last real good. (laughs) And we have good lighting, which was probably what my response was to the first one. If you look at different focus groups and different information out there, one of the key things that we hear is that parents want a ton of different backgrounds. So we'll talk about, I don't know, you're going to have to zoom in on this or whatever, it was on one of the slides back there, but we will talk about and we have examples of gelled images in it. So we shoot on a gray background, and then we have a background light and we just toss a gel in front of it, and that background can be gray or green or blue or yellow or whatever you want. I've never had to do that for any school that we've worked with. We've offered it at no charge to every single school, but all the schools we've worked with are telling us we want consistency in our images, and we don't want to make it harder than it needs to be, which was not something I expected. So we offer that and I think it's important that if you're getting into schools, that you are able to provide that. But from what I'm seeing, it's not getting utilized, which is not what I would've expected. And then also, with our lower school, all of our schools can pick if they want to do this, but it's a big thing with lower schools, is they get three different poses. Everyone's seen this, it's the same picture, it's just a tighter crop, a looser crop and a horizontal crop. We don't shoot it three ways. It's the same picture, different crops. Of course, you have to have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on that, that's no secret. We had less than 8% of our images get returned from our biggest school. So seven and a half got kickback, and most of those reasons were things that were like, one of them was really funny, actually. One of the ways that we handle reshoots and guarantees is we open up, for retake day, we start before school starts. So we encourage parents to drop their kids off and we say bring in your old package, we'll go over what you didn't like and we'll actually let the parent see the new picture and approve it, so they make sure that they like what they get. So we get kids that hate the shirt the kid wore, she changed her hair color, she dyed it, all that. My favorite one was the mom walks up and I said, "So what was it that you didn't like?" I'm just taking pictures, I'm like, "So what was it that you didn't like "about these photos?" And she says, "Well," and the kid's in fourth grade, she says, "Him and his friend decided "to gel their hair before the photoshoot." And the kid literally just took a glob of gel and went right down the middle of his head, and she goes, "And it looks ridiculous." Yeah, it did, it looked ridiculous. So his hair was good, we reshot it, mom was happy, kid went home with pictures that didn't look ridiculous. But the reshoot stuff, or the guarantee in doing the reshoot that way, has helped us maintain great relationships with our parents. Reshoot day, it's always one for us, but we have the same policy that we do with our sports work, we will refund, reshoot, reprint anything for any reason. Anything you don't like, no questions asked. You can't keep it and get your money back, but you can get it redone, reprinted or refunded. So the guarantee's big and the last part, one part here that we want to talk about is the communication. They actually say you need to provide us with notices that go home. you need to provide us flyers, you need to have an online website for people to order, you need to provide us with notice of any changes, with reorder information, that needs to go home with the parents. You need to provide them with timeframes. One of the issues we've had with bigger school districts, which is one of the things we're actively looking at changing, is we're open 9-5 Tuesday through Friday, 10-4 on Saturdays, that's my hours. One of the complications with that is some schools say we are not accessible to parents after work. So some of them will require that you have longer hours. You must be able to take calls until this time. So those are things that... And they won't say every day of the year, but for two weeks prior to shoot date, we need someone to be able to take a call until 8 p.m.. The communication part is a big thing as well. It talks about payment envelopes, they want to make sure that you're PCI compliant, that the credit card information is being taken care of appropriately, that it's not gonna get hacked and that people's credit card numbers are going everywhere. They want to make sure that that's done. They also talk about how you collect all the payments. They talk about delivery, when are pictures getting dropped off. And they talk about if they're mistakes, how do you handle them? A lot of them want a list in every box, says this is every kid, this is every classroom, this is what they ordered, it's in this box, it's sealed. So when they do it that way, it's just a verification process for them to see why a kid is or isn't, what if they can't find an order, why wouldn't it be there. And the last things that a lot of the elementary schools will talk about is class photos. When I was a kid, which was a while ago, class photos were literally everybody sat on the carpet in the library and you looked at the camera and they smiled and took it, and there's always 20 kids in the picture and only five are looking at the camera because you're in kindergarten. Nowadays, everything's done with digital composites, the schools prefer that, but it'll also tell you if they will allow you to put the kids' names on it. Some of them don't want the kids' names on it, some of them do. It'll talk about if they want the class photo option, if you have to provide it for free, if you can charge for it, it'll give you all of those restrictions. So a question just to kind of clarify for someone online, can you tell us again how do you get that request for proposal? Do you request to be added to the district mailing list for information? Tell us again. Yeah, yeah, so we used, they got me a list of all of it, then we would reach out, in that initial contact, they would say they bid it out every three years, next bid is 2018. So then, knowing that information, that allows me to know when I should reach out to the district and say hey Joan, I see you guys are gonna be bidding out this Winter, we just want to be put on your list. They typically bidded out... These bids come, at least in my area, we get them in February, they're almost always in February, and they're do, for sure, by the middle of March. So that's kind of your window, so you have to make sure that you're on their radar, that you want to be added to it. And I don't know if they can just say we don't want to add you to it. I think if you request it, they might have to take a bid from you, they don't have to pick you, but they might have to. And the other thing that's crazy about bidding is that they don't have to take the cheapest provider. You can go in more expensive than everyone else and you can win. They have to be able to justify why they picked who they picked. Are you able to actually get a copy of the questions or whatnot that they'll have so... Because if I put in for a bid now, of course I'm not going to have all the answers that I need to try to get that bid, but at least it will give me framework for maybe a year or two years down the road to kind of start piecing things together and start prepping for it. Is that something that they offer? Is that something that you can get your hands on? So I would ask the purchasing agent or the Principal, I would ask, I would think that they would give you... I would think that you should be able to get that information, I would think that wouldn't be a big deal. Can I see your last bid, can I see the one that you sent out? Now, by law, you are allowed to review the winning bid of any school at any time. They have to let you see it, so you can go in and look and read what they had. I don't know if they'll give you a print-out of the questions, but you, for sure, have that right of a public school. Now, they're tricky about it. So they will allow you to review the bid, but reviewing the bid, at least in some of the districts that I've worked with, they bring you into a room, you sit down across from the person who made the decision, they slide this across the table, and your phone stays in your pocket, you're not allowed any pen or paper. You can read it, you can't take notes, can't get a copy. You can read it, that's your right. So other places, I think that not all of the school officials are as well-versed on the laws, and so I called and I said I want to set up an opportunity to come in and review the bid, and I think the guy just didn't know what he was doing was completely and totally illegal, and he just sent me a scan and copy of every bid. (laughing) Including mine, which made me super happy that that got sent out to everyone, that was awesome. So that's not right, that's not how it's supposed to happen, but I don't think that this is something that all of the school officials necessarily are well-versed at. You mentioned, Matthew, a couple of things about you do have to show them that you can handle this type of work and really spell that out, but Evan Fallian Photography had asked is it possible to do this without having a physical studio, without having a studio. Absolutely, the biggest company in the world, they don't have a studio, they don't have people come in to their location, it's all location work for them. It's all done at the schools, absolutely you can do that. We're gonna talk about staffing and prep for the day, and if you run into capital concerns, how you get the correct gear and the software. I'm gonna go through all of that stuff. You absolutely can do this as a small provider, but you need to start doing some to be able to show it. So you need to either start working with someone to get some experience, you start networking and hustling to get that first initial movement, and then everything starts to pick up.

We’ve all had our annual school portrait taken over the years. Of course you didn’t think about the hard work and organization that it took for the photographer to get hundreds of images taken during that day, but volume school portrait photography is a great way for photographers to add additional income to their business. Matthew “The Body” Kemmetmueller has broken into that competitive market and wants to share his knowledge of that industry with you. He’ll explain:

  • How to get into the schools that are right for your business
  • The best way to choose the software and gear you’ll need
  • How to put together bids and win over the schools
  • The most efficient way to order and deliver products
  • How to automate the retouching process

School photography is not an easy market to conquer, but Matthew will walk you through everything you’ll need to know in order to become a successful school portrait photographer.



  • I was looking to add preschool photography to my business and this course really was thorough and helped me prepare. Matthew is so friendly and always makes learning easy! His courses are very organized. Highly recommend, Diane Zarlingo
  • Matthew is very good in his teaching style and makes me want to watch the whole thing! The information he gives is priceless!