Photo Collages Increase Profit Margins for Your Photography Studio

Or, How to Do Things Your Customers Will Love

People are always asking me what are some of the ways, in the portrait market, I close a sale and bring in revenue. Before I even begin to speak about one of my favorite, tried and true methods, let me say I hope NO ONE is still using paper proofs.  Not only are they so last decade, they are also detrimental to your bottom line.  They’re there, already printed and so tempting for people to want to take home and ‘think about’ (translation: scan).  Also, they can encourage clients to devalue your work, because well….there they are, in those convenient little sizes that just seem so…….cheap.  And you’re not going to do anything with these anyway, so why can’t I take them home with me????


And now a word about online proofing.  If you are not already limiting the time these galleries remain up, you are losing revenue.  When a customer first lays eyes on their proofs, they are totally excited.  They want to run right out and share those images with everyone they know and love, from their sister to the guy behind the counter at the post office.  Each time they look at these images, they get their ‘use’ out of them.  If they’ve had the ‘privilege’ of looking at them for months on end, with no price of admission, they’ve gotten their FULL use out of them.  All of their friends and family have seen them and the excitement is g-o-n-e.  By the time they come in to order, all those images they couldn’t live without, have been narrowed down to two 5 x 7s.  I kid you not.  I have seen this happen time and again.  It doesn’t matter whether I put up a gallery for 30 days or 90 days – the orders ALWAYS come in days before the deadline, if not on the very last day.  The longer the gallery is up, the smaller the orders.

Back to the topic at hand – how to increase your bottom line.  Under promise and over deliver.  One of the ways I have done that is to create a collage for my customers BEFORE they come in to view their proofs and place their order.  I realize after many years of being in business, that most of my customers want most, if not all, of the images.  So I sit down with all of the images from a given shoot and come up with a collage and print it off on my printer, just for a quick and dirty example to have in my hand to show them.  I have not had one single customer walk away without this collage.  Sometimes a few changes are made, substituting  one or two images they like better, but each customer orders one of these collages.

There are as many different types of customers as there are personality types.  I won’t go into all that, but I will say that MOST customers often feel overwhelmed, when presented with a large array of stunning images of themselves and/or their families.  I have come to understand that we do them a disservice when we just throw all of the images at them and expect them to know what to do.  They are usually not photographers, visual artists or designers and simply don’t have the experience or confidence to envision the possibilities for their photographs.  When we create some parameters for them, they are usually grateful and happy to fill in the blanks.  What we are offering them is a valuable service, as well as taking care of them.  People will return to even a mediocre photographer if they feel taken care of.  Trust me, if we all had to have talent to make it, none of us would know who Posh Spice is.

When designing collages, it is helpful to have a ‘standard’ format.  For example, I decided I would offer a standard size of 16 x 20 inches mounted on heavy matboard with a total of nine images.  This is the largest ‘standard’ sized frame you can easily purchase ready made and the matboard prevents sagging and wrinkling.  When I first began, I cropped the images square and arranged them into three rows of three.  That was fantastic for one or two subjects, but quite tricky for groups.  So I started playing around with other shapes and sizes.  I strive for a certain symmetry, just to make things easy and not drive myself too INSANE with choices.  I am a Gemini and do have a hard time choosing, so I find it helpful to set some ground rules for myself.  See?  And we expect our customers to design something?  It is really surprising how many different looks you can achieve within fairly narrow parameters.

Pricing can be made very attractive, keeping in mind you do have a certain amount of work involved in producing a collage.  Occasionally I will feature one image, usually the center piece, as large as a 5 x 7, and the rest are usually either 4 x 5, 3.5 x 5 or 4.5 x 4.5 inches. Add up what you would typically charge for nine different 5 x 7s (the smallest size I would advise selling) and then discount it slightly.  Talking points for your customers:

  • They receive nine distinctive images
  • They have a great visual ‘story’ that will make them smile for years to come
  • It does not have to be ‘custom’ framed or matted – can be dropped into ready made frame
  • Because it has already been produced, they can receive multiples at a reduced price as gifts for grandparents (and that means NO substitutions – otherwise you’re reworking it)

For those of you who no longer offer prints, this is still a good idea.  Simply go ahead and create it and either upload it to their proof gallery or project it in your presentation room.  Charge a design fee for this to be included on their CD/DVD.

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  1. Once again some very interesting points…

    I am just setting out on my photographic career here in the UK. I would welcome very much some ideas to market myself. Some images I have produced are here:
    As you will see I have so far concentrated on Sports work…
    But would like to expand into the studio/natural light, portrait, work.
    Are there any tips or advice you hvae found usefull?
    my email address is [email protected]
    If you wish to email me privately…

    Regards again

  2. deborahwolfe says

    Okay Chris, here goes. I kept mulling this one over, thinking some GREAT inspiration would come to me. But no. However, I do have some thoughts.

    Suggestion number one:

    Be really clear on what you want to do and why you want to do it. Remember ~ inspired action is ALWAYS more effective than motivated action.

    Suggestion number two:

    When you have decided what you want to do and are clear on why you want to do it – go in that direction with all your strength. If you need to build a portfolio of any given kind of work, JUST DO IT.

    HOW do you ‘just do it’? Give it away. Yep, you heard me.

    Look around your immediate group of friends and family. See who is a reasonably attractive bunch and offer to photograph them for free, in exchange for permission to use their images in your portfolio. As a courtesy, offer them at least one good sized print, perhaps an 8×10.

    Next, you could print up some colorful, professional looking fliers (assuming you have a printer), offering the same deal to perfect strangers. Approach local businesses and ask if you can pin them to the wall. Toy stores, children’s clothing stores, yoga studios, daycare centers, family friendly restaurants etc. Play it up, say you’re looking to update or expand your portfolio. Mention there is no sitting fee, no obligation to purchase AND they will receive a FREE 8×10 portrait in exchange for letting you use the images in your portfolio. Be prepared to accept orders. I have done this and been greatly surprised by the number of people who ordered well and above their one free print. In fact, the first two subjects featured in Using Bold Color in Portraiture came to me through my ‘Urban Kids’ portfolio campaign. Those people had such a good experience and were so pleased with the images, that they referred many of their friends to my studio.

    The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT way business has come to me is WORD OF MOUTH. Simple referrals. It takes time to build a business that way, but it is the most effective. In order to have good word of mouth you have to provide a good product in combination with good customer service. If people feel comfortable with you, they will recommend you. MORE importantly, if their children feel comfortable with you, people will walk over broken glass to get to you.

    You have to really understand kids and want to be around them to be a good AND successful portrait photographer. Kids. That IS the portrait market. Other than business headshots, there really isn’t much other portrait business to speak of. So, if you don’t like kids, or they don’t like you… another direction for your photography business.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Hi Thanks again for the tips I shall follow some of this through and get back to you…
    Thanks again