How to Start a Children's Photography Business in Today's Saturated Market
A children's photography business can be a rewarding and fun business, but you need to know the rules of the game to be successful. Children's photography has become a very diluted field with the proliferation of affordable digital cameras and the so-called it "do-it-your-selfers." Many new photographers do not have a clue about lighting and creative control of a camera. This is what will separate a professional from an amateur. It is imperative that you understand lighting;natural lighting and studio lighting (if you have a studio) and how to capture children using the manual controls of your camera. But there is more; read on.
Providing photographic services for any age group requires proficiency behind the camera, as well as clever and unique product lines. Having a signature product that cannot be found anywhere else will put you in the spotlight. (be the Coach purse of your industry) How can you differentiate yourself from the market? You can do this with the product lines you offer.
The location of your business can affect your profitability. Home businesses have their pros and cons, but they can get you off to a good start. Many photographers these days choose to work only on location, or at a client's home. Some photographers choose to work at a retail location, where clients can come to them. The location you choose will be part of your business model.
Finding your Niche in a Children's Photography Business
Traditional Children’s Portrait Studio
Traditional portraits are the classics that do not go out of style. Originality is the key,so your work does not look like another studio’s work. Lighting is crucial in a classic portrait, so make sure you have been educated on the types of studio lighting and can invest in the lighting equipment that is required to do a good job. Classical portraiture should have a timeless look. This is achieved through appropriate clothing and background (usually low or mid-key). Design consultations with your clients, prior the session, will ensure that you are educating your client on the style you wish to achieve. Ask clients to bring in their clothing,so you can coordinate it with the background. I often have the client choose the background so there are no surprises once I start shooting. A well planned session will result in a more profitable one. Traditional portraits, because they are timeless, appeal to a large market segment.
Working with children is not all fun and games. Children under age five have a short attention span, so it may be necessary to offer short breaks and have lots of toys and noise makers to attract their attention. Patience is the key here. If you do not like working with this age group (I find it the most challenging) then find some other work. I usually have the child warm up in the play room for a few minutes. I always get down on their level and sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Children can be very clingy with their parents at this age. Peek-a-boo behind the light box seems to always work to bring out expression. Simple games, playing music, and getting down to the level of the child are helpful tips in a successful children’s session.
Limited edition portraits are a way to bring uniqueness to your sessions. Offer a creative setting for a limited amount of time to create demand for your product. For example, you could offer a day at a pond with live ducks, or you could rent or design a Victorian setting and offer clothing.
I prefer to have children showing expression (expression sells) rather than a solemn look, but that is a matter of opinion. I also prefer to have children well-lit, rather than an under-lit, dramatic look. You will need to experiment and see what works and sells best for you. A more eclectic type of portraiture is the extreme close-up, cropping off the top part of their head. This imagery can warm the hearts of the parents (and sometimes of the photographer) because it shows the essence of childhood through their eyes. It is a wonderful portrayal of childhood.
Lifestyle Children’s Photography
Lifestyle photography is a more playful type of photography than traditional photography. It captures the spirit of the child in an outdoor setting. I have found this type of photography to be a win-win environment. The kids have a better time outdoors compared to the confinement of a the four walls in the camera room. The parents also to seem to enjoy the sessions more. I am able to capture the spontaneity of the childhood years by playing games with the child, asking them to run, jump, or examine a shell on the beach. Lifestyle portraits are a growing niche in the portrait industry, for good reasons.
Knowing how to operate your equipment is very important when working with children. You may have to use shutter priority to enable fast shutter speeds. Utilizing fill flash, off-camera flash and available light are all areas you will need to explore.A fast lens will enable you to blur out the background for a selective-focus look. Your camera’s focus system should be understood so you can capture the action shots in an instant.Learning the manual controls of your camera are most effective than shooting in automatic, so you can have creative control of the shoot.
Lifestyle portraits can be seasonal and weather dependent. The prime times for outdoor sessions is typically in the summer or early fall. If you are lucky enough to live in a warmer climate, you can shoot all year long.
Below is an idea on a unique product line. I love creating storyboards. I start the process when I am shooting, always looking for shots that will look good in a sequence. Learn how to create collages using Photoshop or another design program. I highly recommend John Hartman’s Quick Mats program. (as pictured below)
In summary, it is a good idea to learn the technical features of your camera, learn lighting and develop a brand before jumping into a childrens photography business. There are many courses available online or at local colleges that can teach you these concepts. The best photographer business owners I know are the ones with business and marketing backgrounds which shows you what is really the most important part of operating a successful business.
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