As a wedding photographer, I’ve often experienced a lull in business after the final few leaves have fallen from the trees here in Fayetteville. I typically only have a few winter weddings, and like a bear storing up for winter I’ve had to get creative on how to feed my belly during the winter months.
With any advice, it’s important to think about what might work for you and what might not. As you read through these tips, try to imagining yourself in a situation where any of these are possible; these are all tips that I’ve personally used and, for my area and clientele, have proven to be great ways to generate income during winter months.
Mini-sessions are a great money maker during the holiday season because so many families are excited to send out holiday cards (more on that below). A mini-session can mean different things to different photographers, but here’s how I do it:
- I choose my single date in the calendar for a given city (for example, October 20th in Little Rock, Arkansas; October 21st for Dallas; October 22nd for Kansas City). Since I have clients outside of my normal shooting area that I still want to service, this is a great way to get a bunch of families in on a single day.
- My mini sessions last up to 30 minutes. They typically take 20 minutes, as I’m just working to get that one perfect family shot and a good child shot. If I say, “up to 30 minutes” the clients won’t be disappointed if I end the shoot after 20, given that I told them I have great pictures and can’t wait for them to see the photos. By ending a few minutes early, I’m able to decompress before the next family arrives at the location. Speaking of locations, I’ll choose a place that has numerous options to shoot so that when I promote them on my blog the following year, it won’t look like everybody got the exact same shots. A park (without swings) usually works well because I can shoot in different areas of the park fairly quickly. An urban area with different looking buildings close together would achieve the same result of having a variety of backgrounds in a condensed, single location.
- Charge the family the entire amount to hold their spot. Since these spots are extremely limited (I only do 5-7 spots on a given day) I can’t afford to have a last minute cancellation. That is, unless they have already paid for the session and know that it’s non-refundable. I charge $150 for these sessions to cover my time, but you can of course change based on your financial situation and current price point (my typical family sessions are $500 and last around an hour, as a reference). For the $150 fee, they only get the shooting session. No files, no holiday cards or print credit are included. Of course I want to sell those after the session for additional winter revenue.
- I edit only a few favorites (five or less) and turn them around quickly to the customer so they can order prints and holiday cards. I make sure to tell them that I chose my favorites but can edit additional images if they are to be ordered. Holiday time is precious time so there is no need to waste it editing images that will never be ordered. I’ve loved shooting mini-sessions because it nurtures that relationship I’ve built with previous clients who have moved to other cities so there is already a trust and respect there, while serving their needs of an updated family portrait they can use as they wish.
One last thing to note: I do not offer mini-sessions in Fayetteville, where I’m based, because I would not want to set the precedent of offering a discounted session that my yearly local families would book. If all my local families changed their session to mini-sessions, I’d be losing income that has been regular in previous years.
Sell Holiday Cards
After the mini-sessions are photographed, a fantastic follow-up money maker is to sell holiday cards. I’ve tried just about everything under the sun to sell as many holiday cards as possible, and have discovered a few tips that will certainly help you maximize time and minimize effort.
- Use your professional lab’s templates. This year, I only offered my lab’s foil templates to my clients. I sent out an email with the design layouts with easy instructions: pick design, choose image from session, choose foil color, write out text for the back of the card. In the email I “sold” how hot foil is this year and how impressed I was with the quality of the cards I have already seen. This resulted in the least amount of work I’ve ever done in a holiday season, and have already made more money than the past two years combined!
- Offer only a few options, or two revisions. In previous years I’ve made the mistake of giving too many choices (in 5 Minute Fix, see “Paradox of choice”). This can overwhelm clients and turn them off to ordering. Having 50 designs that can each have 2-3 options… well you’ve just made them choose 1 out of 100-150 options. For indecisive clients (and I have a lot of those, given the chance to let them be), this is nightmare for everyone involved. Instead, curating a selection you can be proud of (maybe, 5 modern, 5 trendy, and 5 traditional card designs) helps not only you, but also your clients. Also, once they’ve chosen their design, I offer two free revisions (many photographers charge for this, and that’s fine) until I add on a design fee. Allowing them to “see what it looks like if it’s picture #5 instead of picture #2” can get really time consuming.
- Sell custom designed cards, but charge appropriately. I don’t mind offering clients something custom. However, my typical hourly rate is $300, so if it takes me a lot of time to design a card, I educate my clients on pricing and quality. A major selling point is to let them know that their card will be unique - the only one like it in the world. Custom fonts, colors, and layouts will be sold only to them that year. However, when I put in work like that, I will definitely save it as a template for future years.
Sell Digital Files
I’m not a huge fan of selling digital files unless I can charge an appropriate amount for them. However, if I were a photographer who didn’t want to mess with selling holiday cards to my clients (this has happened to me in the past when my wife was nine months pregnant during Christmas), I’ll open up the opportunity to purchase digital files for my clients. Keep in mind the amount of money you’d typically make via print orders and holiday orders when pricing your digital files. If you average $1000 per print order, you’d want to make the digital file price comparable. One last thing on this… when I did a sale on digital files, I made sure my clients knew that it was a special opportunity to buy these, but it does open up Pandora’s box to selling digital files in the future.
Sell Parent Albums and Brag Books
The holiday season is the time to sell presents to your clients! Not only do prints make great gifts, but labs like Miller’s Lab offer a ton of cool products that both show off your images and make gift giving easy. We always do a parent album sale to our wedding clients around Christmas time. The parent album we sell during this time is a simple one-image-per-page book, so design is quick and easy. If they want a custom design with multiple images, we either push it to after the holidays or charge a hefty rush design fee (normally 200-300% increase).
Lastly, Don’t Take Off the Week After Christmas
I love spending time with my family. During the holidays, most people (not just photographers) make it a point to carve out a little extra time to spend with the ones we love. I truly believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and what makes it so special is that time I get to spend with my family and friends. However, I do not take off work between December 26th and January 2nd. Why? As a wedding photographer, I happen to know that tons of couples get engaged between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Maybe it’s because family is all in town, or because it’s such a special time already, but guys just tend to ask girls to marry them during this magical week. Since I want to book up as many dates for the following year as quickly as possible, I work this week on finding out who got engaged (sisters of former brides, bridesmaids from previous weddings, etc.) and am waiting oh-so-impatiently on that email asking what dates I have left. Think of the bride who emails her favorite 3 photographers: if I’m the one who emails right back and she doesn’t hear from the other two for a week, I’m more likely to book the wedding.
I know that the holidays are a special time. I truly embrace the season and try to spend as much time with my friends and family as possible. By maximizing profits and minimizing my workload during the winter months, I’m able to find that time with them. I hope these tips help you do the same!
Dale Benfield started photographing weddings in 1998 and later taught college photography courses while growing his photography business. In 2006, Dale moved his business from Joplin, MO, to Fayetteville, AR, to begin shooting full time. The move proved beneficial, and as the face of Benfield Photography, Dale has become the most sought-after wedding photographer in Arkansas, expanding to include destination weddings as well. He is on the speaking team for Miller’s Professional Imaging and has spoken at major photography tradeshows such as Wedding Portrait Photographers International (WPPI).