Glamour Portfolio Building for Photographers

For several months after my self-inflicted glamour bootcamp, my main focus shifted from shooting, to creating the business. I continued educating myself, watching course after course from creativeLIVE; amassed an enviable makeup collection; expanded my studio to the rest of my basement; upgraded my camera; designed my branding; built my website; and then got stuck on deciding what to offer, what to charge, and how to make a reasonable income. I spent months researching products, creating pricing models, and being indecisive.

Then I met a beautiful couple who photograph weddings. When I showed my ipad portfolio to the wife, her husband leaned over my shoulder and gasped. "These are incredible. How much do you charge for a shoot like that?" I got nervous, and stammered the numbers I'd been trying to pin down for months "oh, I'm not really sure, since I'm trying to figure it out, but I was thinking somewhere between x and z..." As I tried to explain why it's so expensive he interrupts me, saying, 

You’re not very comfortable talking about this, are you?

He then went on to say that the numbers I mentioned were probably too low, and that many women would be happy to pay much more if I'd be creating images like that for them (pointing to my ipad).

This was my aha moment. I still wasn't completely comfortable with raising my prices, however, so I designed an experiment: I would continue my portfolio building efforts, this time aiming for two shoots per week, and I would implement my new pricing structure with a voucher system. This would give me plenty of practice having the conversations about pricing I was so uncomfortable with, extra shooting practice, test the viability of using vouchers, and help me update my portfolio. If I made any income at all, booyah!, but I honestly didn't expect that I would.

I searched Model Mayhem for women within a couple hours of my studio (a wider range) who were willing to work for free and either had a very limited portfolio or were just plain gorgeous. I sent out the new email to over a hundred models, saying:

My name is Emily, and I'm a photographer based in Provo. I specialize in magazine-style portraits. I came across your profile and think you're beautiful and I would be so proud to have images of you in my portfolio. 
Please check out my website (www.emilylondonportraits.com), and if you're interested, give me a call and we can book your shoot and discuss wardrobe and styling. 
Your photoshoot will include hair and makeup for two, so you can bring a friend (or sister/mom/daughter) to be photographed with you (we'll get great solo shots of each of you, as well as a few with both of you together). 
A session with me is normally $249, but I would do your shoot for free, and will also include one fully edited print + digital file of your favorite image from the shoot. You are welcome to purchase any additional images you like, but there is no obligation to do so. 
Because I shoot with natural light, and lighting is best in my studio in the mornings, hair and makeup needs to start at 8:30 am. I am currently booking shoots in May.
I look forward to meeting you! If you have any questions, please feel free to call.

Notice how confidently worded this message is when compared to my first? My goal was to establish credibility, as well as the value of what I was offering. (It was helpful that I had lots of strong work to showcase on my website.) I also emphasized (twice) that we would need to speak over the phone as the next step. During the phone conversation I would explain what they were getting in very clear terms, my prices, and how to prepare. I wrote out a script beforehand, and even carried a copy in my purse. 

Update: What does my script say? I had a very safe script that conveyed the message that this was a free shoot, with a free picture, and that they could always buy more if they wanted to, but that it was no big deal if they didn't. Looking back, it kind of bugs me, so I won't even tell you that version of my script. Instead, I'll share what I say now. Keep in mind that my pricing is now listed right on the website, so I assume they already know and I'm just giving them a refresher.

"My images start at $275 on the wall and go up from there. My big, beautiful folio boxes start at $1200, and go up depending on how many images you order. Most of my clients spend $2000, since we usually have so many beautiful images that most people want them all. :) At the end of the day, though, what you spend is completely up to you. My job is to create portraits of you that are so beautiful, you simply must have them all. :) It’s not to sell you anything you don’t absolutely love – so there’s no obligation to buy, and no hard sell.
Does that make sense? Great.

Now tell me how you want to be photographed; let’s make this your dream photoshoot…”

My 'script' is memorized now, so I don't have to have copies in my purse anymore. For any other questions about what to say during that first phone call, I highly suggest you watch 28 Days with Sue BryceDay 15: Phone Coaching & Scripting.

So, back to the story: I received many responses to this email, but after hearing about my pricing, only a few booked in. Even so, I was able to fill my calender further than a month ahead, and I had a much lower percentage of cancellations/no shows (maybe 5%). This could be because they were getting more prepared for their shoots, because they had to book so far in advance, or because I contacted them within a week of their shoot to say how excited I was to work with them, and to see if they had any questions. 

Building a glamour portfolio using vouchers, Emily London Portraits in Utah tells how she did it and what she learned.

Before each shoot I would watch an educational segment from Sue Bryce, with the goal of learning and implementing a new facet of my craft with each client. While I did get stronger as a shooter and a retoucher, this round of sessions taught me more about pricing, selling, booking, and phone consultations. 

As far as sales went, I was pleasantly surprised to have any at all, with half of my clients purchasing 10 or more images. One might argue that if I had expected to sell (and therefore interacted with the clients in a "what would you like me to create" rather than a "if you decide to buy" style), that I might have had more success. The fact that I was able to sell to even one woman taught me that some women really are willing to pay for the incredible, luxurious experience and high-end products I offer.

Now I just need to go out and find more of them! I am ready to learn how to kick marketing's ass, and that is my next step. The women who want my services haven't heard about me yet, and that's got to change. Once I have some solid experience and advice about marketing, I'm going to post again. In the mean time, I would be thrilled to hear any advice or suggestions.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I am still learning and growing, still trying to figure this all out. What I already have learned, I'm happy to share. From brand design projects to portfolio building adventures, I hope reading about my own experiences has been helpful so far. If so, stay tuned!

UPDATE: What do I say if a client wants to buy 'just the files? My prices are for the print, image file, and print rights together. The later two are what make the cost of the images so high, not the physical print products. When asked, I say, "What you're buying is the image itself - so these are the prices for "just the files." The fact is, I'm actually including the beautiful prints at a loss to myself, because it's so important to me that you have them."

Emily London

Emily London is a portrait photographer for women. She's also a wife (of 10 years!), mother of two, graphic designer, ukulele enthusiast, cookie dough connoisseur, and photography mentor.