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Photography Question 
Scott McCord

Breaking into the school market

I operate a small portrait business and am looking at expanding into a building in a slightly larger community that also happens to have a few more professional photographers. In order to supplement my portrait sittings, I'm wanting to start photographing school dances, yearbook photos, etc. 1.)How do I go about obtaining theses jobs? 2.) What time of year do I approach the subject with the school administration? 3.) Who's typically the decision maker on photos for schools? And as far as seniors (which I'm just now starting to shoot) What is the typical time of year to take senior pictures? Any help is greatly appreciated.

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2/11/2006 1:49:01 PM

Brian L. Curnel
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/14/2006
  I have had a similar idea, doing shoots of the Baseball team my brother is head coach of. Schools usually have a photographer from eons ago and their on and so forth but if you can give competitive prices, which by the way drive your profits down then you may have a shot. Because you know all schools are on tight budgets.

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2/14/2006 11:49:43 PM

Scott McCord   Brian, Thanks for your response. Your right, that's the way it is where I live as well. I know it's a long shot getting into the schools, but I know if I don't do it right the first time, I definitely won't get their business.

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2/15/2006 5:12:16 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Scott,

I'm not sure about your area, but here where I live, the school yearbook, team shots, etc are pretty well sewn up by some commercial mega-photo joint.
I would not want to undertake that sort of thing anyway as the time Vs. Cost analysis is just not worth it to me. What they do is pretty much what I call "Cattle Drive" photography.

Now; the senior photos are another story all together, This is where I went after the biz. The seniors are NOT bound by any contract to any photog or school agency..maybe the yearbook head shot; big deal.
They can go wherever they want to have their photos taken.

Believe me, if you can offer these kids something different, genuine and with variety, they will pound your door down.
The only hurdle (which isn't one really with a little creativity) is gaining access and getting your work known to the kids.

When to shoot seniors? NOW! I've already started.

You can go after the school photos, yearbook etc..but for me, that was a waste of time for many reasons, not the least of which was $$$.

Work smarter; not harder.

All the Best,


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2/15/2006 7:39:09 PM

Scott McCord   Thanks, Pete, for your response. Guess I hadn't completely weighed all the factors in the task. I was following advise from an accountant who told me..."Go out and get some school contracts to establish a good base of income." This advise was in response to my desire to move out of my home and into the community as a business with a storefront. He was speaking of covering overhead, filling in the gap of a loss of a steady income, things like that.

I've been shooting portraits/weddings for nearly two years but haven't done much with teens. I'm desperately wanting to break into the senior picture market, so I'm fairly green in that aspect of professional photography. Due to zoning regulations in the community I live in, it makes it hard to advertise and work out of my home. That's why I need to establish a "storefront" in a properly zoned area.

I understand what you mean about work smarter, not harder. There's a fairly new photographer in town here who as far as I can tell, just doesn't have the eye. However, he is getting the business because of his prices and the fact that he has a location that is visible to the community. Nobody has to get directions and pick a house out of a neighborhood. Plus he's free to advertise as much as he needs. That proves the point that you don't have to be the best photographer to get the business. You need to be a good business person first.

What about school dances? Do you see going after those as much of a fruitless task as yearbook photos?


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2/16/2006 7:50:43 AM

Tonya Cozart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2003
  Scott, I think it depends on how you go about this type of income as to whether or not it is a fruitless effort. I live in a small town and these types of jobs are the easy money makers in my opinion. All the little league sports teams have team photos, the dance school has a photographer come in and photograph on recital day, prom has a photographer come in and do the "quickie" prom pics, as well as homecoming. Around here,(small town) a package deal is offered, usually $15-20 and they get two sheets, generally 2 5x7's and a page of wallets, or some mixture of the kind. You are not going to use a very expensive lab for this, and so your cost is going to be under $5 for the package. Say you do little leage footbal, 100 kids. You take a team and individual, you charge $15, it costs you $5, you have made a profit of $10 per kid @100 kids, you have made $1000. You get your money upfront or they don't get an order. There is some post production work, as in placing the order, then sorting them when they come in, but I think even for 2 days work, $1000 is easy money. If you specify a date that the packages will be ready, then they come to you to pick them up and you will only have to notify those stragglers that don't make it, or you can specify that you will not be responsible for unclaimed photos. This is what your accountant is talking about, guaranteed easy money, it will pay the bills if you are slow, plus think of the is a nice way to advertise and make money!

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2/16/2006 8:13:45 AM

Brian L. Curnel
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/14/2006
  I Totally agree with Tonya. It is how you go about this, in my case as I stated before my brother is a first year head coach of a baseball team. I can't do the school related photos but I go to the games with a portfolio of sorts so that when people see me shooting with this nice camera they inquire "are you doing the school shoot?" that opens a door for a sell. I usually make "Baseball Cards" for the school players with stats if they provide them just like a major leaguer. As for any other sports it's the same just be exposed let people see what you're doing and they'll be inquisitive.

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2/16/2006 8:46:40 AM

Scott McCord   I agree with you Tonya and Brian. I probably shouldn't have used the word "fruitless." What I was referring to, albeit rather poorly, is that I think it would be hard to wrestle school contracts for yearbook photos away from the other photographers who have had them tied up for years. For instance, in the town I live in, we have a photographer who is an institution as far as school photos go. I'm not sure how he does in the surrounding communities, but where I live, He would probably have to retire before I would ever get that contract.

As far as sports photos. I actually have shot the little league football program here once. 150 kids - $15 each kid. It was well worth my time, although post processing was a nightmare. I'm actually also having trouble getting the jobs for the other sports through our park and rec dept. The parents loved the football photos, but I'm running into the problem, "Well, so and so, is shooting the volleyball photos because they've always shot them." I'm not expecting to get all the sports, just a couple more to keep my business afloat.

Anybody have any creative ideas on persuading a park and rec director to use my services without coming off pushy?

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2/16/2006 9:53:26 AM

Brian L. Curnel
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/14/2006
  Scott This is what I did...maybe it will help because I have just been shooting briefly when I went through this.

Set up an appointment with the P&R Director he has to see you because he's a public official. Approach him/her with a candid approach this will open their mind to listening rather than just hearing you.

I asked for permission to take photos on no contract just to be there as a sport enthusiast without approaching anyone for sales. But I did manage to have some shirts made with my logo and number on the back so that people could approach me.

I coneniently had some sport pics laying out for people to see.

I was'nt "selling" but I had alot of interest and set up some cousultations and then made the sales.

Maybe this will help.

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2/16/2006 10:33:54 AM

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