Schools can be a hard area to break into. You have to be efficient to please the school, but also have a good eye for detail to please the parents. Schools need to have a record of every child in the school which is how school photography came about. It is a requirement by the school to have an up to date image of each child that attends, (originally they had them as contact sheets), then it changed to parents paying for these pictures, so it went from the school paying for a photographer to come in, to the school earning a commission from any images sold.
How does school photography work?
If you’re launching your school photography business for the first time – you’re going to need to know how to win school photography contracts. You need to put together a quality proposal for securing a school photography bid. On top of that being self-employed means that you’re going to have to work twice as hard to carry out your work commitments and scout for new opportunities.
Securing a school contract can be lucrative and lead to further work so let’s take a look at how to win a contract. Firstly, plan your approach. A lot of school staff don’t have the time to read unsolicited emails, and they may prefer to have a chat on the phone or meet face-to-face. Ensure that your photography CV is up-to-date.
Promote the best things about your service and make sure it shows your love for photography and includes testimonials. Next, work on a bidding strategy. This will consist of your packages and pricing, time-frames, sessions, individual rates and services as well as all the backdrops you use and events you can help with throughout the year. You may wish to include discounts available.
When attending a requested face-to-face meeting, take product samples and bring any other previous work to highlight. Most importantly, be confident as staff need to know that you’re going to be a safe pair of hands. Lastly, follow-up. Thank them for their time and remind them how to contact you or follow you on social media.
Once you’ve agreed on the pricing and signed the contract with the school, regarding what is involved in school photography, it is the same setup, same camera settings, boredom from children which can be any number of distractions for you. It’s not like weddings, where the settings are beautiful, or portraits where you can set the shot up to highlight the subjects character or their vocation. You have maybe 30 seconds to get a decent shot before the child gets bored or the queue behind him/her gets impatient. You really need to be the kind of person who will keep them interested and participating. If you can’t do that, you’re in hot waters.
Proof cards can be printed and handed to the school for distribution or sent a few days after the session by a professional printing company. The parents then choose the packs they’d like and order either via the proof card or through an online store. You will need to arrange with the school to collect the completed proof card orders and send them to your print partner. You’re printing partner then processes the orders on your behalf along with any online orders.
This is where a printing partner is convenient for admin, printing and direct delivery to the school. You will need to arrange to pay the school any commission that has been agreed. There’s a lot of admin involved, and marketing, and the timing is imperative because schools normally only have their students photographed twice a year.
You will be required to provide a copy of your DBS certificate that is no more than 3 years old for SIMS™ Photo Importer Licenses. Quite often, the school will request a SIMS SIMS photo disc that can be used to upload the images into their SIMS database. You can either provide a license to do that or your school can purchase on through Capita.
Schools Management Information Systems (MIS) such as SIMS™and SEEMIS™.
The procedure requires the purchase of an annual license for the software to create ID cards which are photographed along with the students. The ID images and student images are then processed through the software to generate images that are required for school MIS systems.
How this works:
Obtain pupil list from school including first name, surname, class and admission number. Generate Data Matrix codes from data and print out onto ordinary laser/inkjet paper. Photograph pupils, while photographing Data Matrix codes. Process images through Data Matrix Software (your printing partner can manage this process for you if you don’t have your own license of the software) Generate image disk for school. (your printing partner can help you obtain a license for the SIMS™ Photo Importer).
Here are 10 tips for starting a school photography business
1.Develop a website and get business cards printed
Make sure your website showcases your best work as your website is your online shop store and often what school’s will first visit once you start talks with them. Make sure you have your business cards handy to give to parents as this can lead to family portrait work as well.
2. Find a printing partner that you can trust
Finding a printing partner that already has a workflow system that you can use is essential. Not only will they help you with obtaining a license, but they will also be printing and delivering the work which will help with organisation.
3. Decide How Many School’s You Want to work with
You should not work with too many schools as you don’t want to be overloaded. Once you decide the number and have the contracts in place, make sure you diarise them and be organised in advance.
4. Work out a pricing structure
Once you have worked out how much commission you will receive from each school, work out how much it will cost you to have the work developed and delivered from your printer and how much you will be left with.
5. How best to Photograph the Children
Treat each child as a mini-session and try and do something fun with them to really get their personalities to shine while they have a good time. The parents will be grateful if you can capture their child’s personality and will give recommendations for future work. Think outside of the box when it comes to props and furniture and don’t be afraid to use your signature style because that’s why they may have hired you in the first place.
6. Build rapport with school staff
Be open to ideas and spend time with the staff. Building rapport is essential as it can lead on to full-sessions or future work either for the school or families. Show gratitude and send a thank-you gift after the job is done.
The key to success in a photography business is marketing. You can’t get paid for photos if no one hires you. So, along with business cards, brochures and a website, use your personal and professional networks to spread the word about your business. Attend trade shows and events geared toward your market yearly and keep an up-to-date social media presence.
8. Product Samples
There’s nothing better than showing people your work in a professional album setting in the flesh. Speak to your chosen printer about start-up photography packages. This way when you visit potential new clients, not only have they seen your work online, but they can see it in print.
9. Upgrade equipment
If you have already worked for a professional studio, then you may have been hiring their equipment and need to repurchase everything yourself. Make sure you price all of the necessary equipment up as part of your business plan. This will be required if you need to obtain a business loan or grant to help you financially.
10. Develop your business plan.
You will need to know how many schools you need to work with and what pricing you need to charge if you are going to only work with schools as you need a sustainable business model that will make enough profit as a self-employed photographer. An accountant can help you with this. Make sure to think about the out-of-season months and what you can do to fill those gaps as you don’t want to be in a position where you’ve got no work booked in and no income.
If you are considering setting up as a school photographer and would like advice on start-up-packages, then please contact Chris Rice at chris@colorworldimaging for further details about our school photography service.