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Posts: 14

Hello people,  I need a little advice.  I have a connection with a school district to possibly do some school photos.  Though this is a great opportunity I am hesitant to call the contact because I don't have the images that showcase studio work.  I suffered a massive hard drive failure recently and the only images that survived the failure are on my website.  The images are a combination of music, headshots and a few portraits.  None of my images are of the standard school portrait variety. Even still I do plan on picking up the phone and calling this contact I have. 

This brings me to the big question: What to charge?  My thought was to do a standard day sitting fee and then just sell portrait packages. What should that sitting fee be or should I even have a fee?  A Google search has yielded me many results on the type of packages to offer and how to price them, but I don't see a sitting fee.  Should I forget the sitting fee and just make what I can selling packages?  If anyone has done school portraits for a school before I'd love to hear from you. 

Thanks in advance. 

Dec 08 12 10:03 pm  Link  Quote 
Tim Little Photography
Posts: 11,555
Wilmington, Delaware, US

A long time ago I shot a couple of small private schools and lots of sports team picture packages. Forget about the sitting fee. The money is in the packages. You will want to work with a lab that does this kind of work everyday. It will make your life much easier and will save you money. Put together three or four packages ranging from around $20 to $50. Then make sure the extras like mouse pads and buttons can be ordered easily.

I have a friend that uses this lab and is very happy with them. I suggest you give them a call and let them know this is your first school shoot. I'm sure they will be happy to help.

Dec 08 12 10:14 pm  Link  Quote 
Posts: 4,096
Rochester, New York, US

I did school portraits for a short time. Everything was done in packages. Remember that the school might ask for some type of kick back? Like a new 40 inch flat screen for the teachers lounge? You must set up time for each class to show up at a specific time. You will need help to keep things running smoothly. I won't get into prices or your lighting set up. Remember each student must have your package deals a week before your photo session at that school. Plus you must set up a re-shoot session as well. Some parents won't like the photos and some students were out the day of your original photo session.          When I was doing the school thing, each student would hand up the envelope with what package they want with a check, money order, or cash inside. This is one area your assistant can help. Like Innovative said the students will be paying you just before you take there photos.
Dec 08 12 10:17 pm  Link  Quote 
Keith Allen Phillips
Posts: 3,487
Sacramento, California, US

And most importantly, before you even think about doing a job like this, have a decent backup system in place. If you managed to lose all of your work because of one(or even two) hard drive failures, you're doing it wrong. You really don't want to shoot 100's of school portraits and then have to explain to them that everything has to be reshot because of a technical problem do you?
Dec 08 12 10:32 pm  Link  Quote 
Innovative Imagery
Posts: 2,815
Los Angeles, California, US

Definitely contact a few labs that are set up for this and find out how to organize it.  Then determine the packages and prices.  Make sure you make enough to not only do the job and earn money for yourself, but have a little extra built in so you can give back a percent to the school.  You need to be very efficient to make any money.

You need a system to work and a way to keep track of each kid and their order so you can deliver with no mistakes.  Collect the money up front, and offer a money back guarantee.  All or nothing so they don't take advantage.  $20-$50 is too small a spread, you need some more expensive packages.  Your lab will be able to describe the most popular packages that are ordered.

I second the need for a complete back up system, cameras, lights, and data.
Dec 08 12 10:43 pm  Link  Quote 
Posts: 14

Great advice so far.  Thanks guys.  I muse Zenfolio for my site and my prints currently.  I was thinking of just doing the prints through my site.  Zenfolio uses MpixPro and I'm wondering if that would work or should I find a different lab?
Dec 08 12 10:53 pm  Link  Quote 
HEF Images
Posts: 1,817
Jacksonville, Florida, US

1. Didn't you backup your hardrive ?  Guess you will from now on eh...
2. What are you going to have to return to the school ? 
3. Is it a monetary return ?  Will that come out of the sit fee ?
4. If you do this you should make a contract spelling out exactly what
your responsibilities are, deadlines, money or services to be returned to
the school.  Will the school supply contact info for the students ?
5.  One of the hardest things about doing school portraits is deadlines...
do they publish a yearbook, what do you need to supply to the yearbook staff,
CD or hard prints and what size for both.  Then you have to get the students to     come and get their portrait made...the students are very independent now...
6. Make sure you know what your doing and that you have all your ducks in a row....
It can be very profitable and it can be a pain in the ass if you screw up....like losing
all the images because of a bad hardrive
Last...I would go to the advisor and have him send you a couple students and supply
them with free portraits to show him you have the skill and ability to do the job...
Good Luck...
Dec 08 12 11:08 pm  Link  Quote 
Posts: 4,887
Stoke-on-Trent, England, United Kingdom

If your schools use computer admin systems in the same sort of way as we do here then you need to find out if they want images ready to upload direct to their pupil database. If that is the case then it is likely that you will have to pay a licence fee to the software company or to the system management company.

Schools want a quick throughput to minimise disruption. Your system and technique is likely to need to be able to get through more than a pupil every 2 minutes from start to finish. Greet, pose, photograph, check for blinks, thank. Having someone else to record them on your system is vital so you can identify them and log the files accordingly. The old Fuji SPro cameras used to come with a barcode facility that is very useful for this.

The photography isn't challenging once you know your setup requirements. The workflow is where the challenge is.

Bribing 'Kickbacks' should not be an issue, if someone needed to offer such in the past then ask yourself why they felt they needed to. Schools having a percentage of the sales to cover their costs is usual. This would be stated clearly in your contract.
Dec 09 12 02:22 am  Link  Quote 
Mike Collins
Posts: 1,853
Orlando, Florida, US

You mentioned a friend "in the school district" so I am thinking this is for public schools.  There are soooo many things besides the photos you need to confront. 

How big is the school(s)?  Chances are you alone cannot do it.  You will need at least 2 people shooting.  Perhaps more.  Do have all the proper licensing AND insurance?  Your dealing with children here.  You WILL  have to give the school a %.  All other studios that do this do so they are your competition.  Anywhere from 25-40% is the norm.  The schools actually see school photos as a fundraiser.

You can ONLY do prepay the day of the shoot.  Don't think for a second you can just put them online and hope people will buy.  They will not.  That's been proven over and over again.  Plus you will have to shoot every child whether they buy or not.  You are also shooting for their yearbook and every child has a right to be in it so you have to shot every single child.  Most use programs that keep all the names and faces straight.  You just don't hand the school a CD of all the images.  And they better be cropped to the right size.

Posters/flyers/money envelopes handed out a week or so before photo day.  Money envelopes should have your prices and packages.  Be prepared to sell something for as little as $10.  And be prepared to shoot "yearbook only" kids.

When will the makeup day be? 

If you have never done this or at least worked with a studio and know all the ins and outs of this business (I did it for years in a former life), you will fail miserably.  I've just scratched the surface.

Day rate?  Sitting fee?  This alone tells me you have no idea how to even begin doing this type of photography. 

Also, a friend in the district may not mean squat.  Principals and yearbook advisors at every school are the ones who hire and fire photographers.  THEY are the ones you have to submit a bid too.  And chances are there will be others like Lifetouch submitting as well.  Others with a lot of experience.
Dec 09 12 04:43 am  Link  Quote 
Posts: 14

Wow.  Wonderful feedback.  You guys have brought up a lot of things that I didn't even consider.  I've never done a gig this scale and I am worried that I'll mess it up.  The contact I have is my aunt who has worked with the school district for over 20 years and has just retired.  I'm not sure the job she had but she told me who I need to call.  I wanted to sound like I know what I'm talking about before I do.  After reading the comments clearly I am out of my depth. 

Thank you all for your comments.  You've been a big help.I don't think I'm ready for this.  If I sat shotgun for another photographer that would be one thing.  But I've never done anything close.  Are there any books on the subject?
Dec 09 12 10:16 am  Link  Quote 
Mike Collins
Posts: 1,853
Orlando, Florida, US

I wouldn't say it's completely out of reach.  You just might have to start small and work your way up.  There are A LOT of schools out there.  Not just public ones.  A lot of churches have their own schools.  There are small privates one.  Charter schools.  Some of them don't like the big chains and some of the big chains don't like them BECAUSE they are so small.  Once you do a few of those, at least you will have SOME experience and perhaps move up to the bigger leagues.  But I will tell you now, it is a big headache.  Sooo many people to please.  The principal, the YB advisor, the child, the parents.  Your bank account.   It's not that great unless you do a lot of it.

"You didn't make my child smile.  I want my money back."  (no, your kid is a little pain in the ass and wouldn't even try to smile!)  Fun for all!!  smile
Dec 09 12 08:01 pm  Link  Quote 
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