Autopsy of a One2One Studio Consultancy from the ‘British Studio Doctor’

I’ve had lots of questions about exactly what I cover on a Studio Consultancy so I thought I’d share the notes from a recent experience that proved to be a ten day task disassembling a business from the ground up! Prior to commencing this marathon ‘surgery’ I asked the Studio owner to make a comprehensive shopping list of areas they wished to cover. I was not quite prepared for what turned up, so here goes…

Section 1 – Technique:

Camera Settings:
what do they all mean, P,A,Ae,S,M,B etc
A. The most important settings as far as you are concerned are Manual and Aperture Priority. As far as White Balance goes, AWB, Flash and ‘K’ (Degrees Kelvin) are critical. 
Also, when to change them, in what settings/environments; which ones work together with each other (AV, flash etc); which ones to use inside/outside; when to use a flash and when not to use a flash?
A: After the last ten days, this you should now fully understand. You have determined ‘ideal’ settings for the Studio but just to clarify, you should now be shooting at 125th Second at f5.6 at 100 ISO with a ‘Daylight’ White Balance. That is the small shining sun icon on your camera. This is based on the colour temperature measurement of your Photogenic Studio Strobes. Outside on location try to work at 100 ISO too and shoot at shallow apertures for maximum separation of subjects from their background. The exception to this is if you have a multi layered group that exceeds the depth of field capabilities at the shallow aperture selected. Adjust your exposures by increasing or decreasing your shutter speed and NOT your aperture on location.
Lighting:
Different techniques? Softboxes vs.Umbrellas and the placement of the lights
A: You now have an appreciation of both short (Narrow) and Broad Lighting techniques. Remember, you are looking for the most flattering lighting position for your subjects based on ‘Physiognomy’ techniques and not your own convenience! Try to always centre the Iris in the eye sockets and keep the catchlights high in the eyes at either ten minutes to Ten or ten minutes past Two O’Clock!
I need to understand Metering!
A: Believe me, you now know how to use a Lightmeter!
How many lights should I use and when?
A: This was a more difficult one to answer, but you have had, amply demonstrated, the use of One to Four lights in the studio. Less for Low Key and more for White Background or High Key. Accurate exposure is critical in your High Key and White Background work. If your working aperture is f8 then your ‘Keylight’ is f8. Your fill, one stop less at f5.6 and your background lights at one stop over at f11. This way you should achieve a clean white background. For your Low Key work, remember your ‘One Light’ technique and try to fill with a reflector to open up the shadows. Feather off the edge of the light. Remember that lighting on the vertical axis as well as the horizontal is essential to a good lighting pattern. Finally, less is more! Be subtle!!!
 
Sports teams/groups (how to light them properly)
A. Planning sessions is your best move. Indeed all assignments out of studio should be carefully planned to make sure you have the right kit with you to undertake your assignment.
How do I meter each light and what numbers they should each be set at?
A: Working at shallow apertures increases subject from background separation. This you now understand. In the Studio you are finally working at f5.6 for individual portraits rather than your habitual f9.1 to f11 and all apertures in between for everything! 
Flash settings and techniques
A: Amply demonstrated and understood
 
Scrims and reflectors (how to properly use them)
A: Amply demonstrated and understood
 
Posing:
Babies, Kids, Families, Grads etc.
A. What you need are very specific ‘posing sets’ for each style of photography you shoot. If you like, a shot list. This is in combination with ‘Studio Set Building’ where you design individual sets for each assignment. Each set should be photographed, with notes, so every one is repeatable. You now have ample sets in Families, Seniors, Children of many ages, Business and Boudoir. Use them wisely and continue to add to your repertoire
Photoshop & Retouching
Please teach us ANYTHING!!! We need a lot more knowledge about this!!
A. Efficiency of workflow means less time on your computers and more time spent marketing your business. Essentially, the more you get right on camera, the less time you will need to spend ‘fixing’ things. I have seen many examples of you needing to fix things, some I have done for you and others have had to be done by your lab thereby incurring more expense and a dilution of your profits! This has to stop IF your business is to survive!
Should we be buying NIK – editing help needed BIG TIME!!
A. Nik Software is a valuable image enhancement tool and could be a useful part of your workflow. 
Section 2 – SALES & MARKETING:
 
Sales:
We need to be selling larger prints (bigger than 8×10)
A. First and foremost…Shoot images with significantly more space around the subject. This enables a variety of croppings and compositions from the same frame. It’s a hard fact that if you shoot for 8×10 then that’s pretty much all you’ll sell. when a tightly cropped image that is enlarged shows a head close to and exceeding life size, your clients will not easily make a purchase. 
 
How do we ge larger orders?
A. Shoot more variety in every session. You now have a far more extensive repertoire on every session  you shoot. Remember to keep building those shot lists! And while you’re at it, keep an image scrapbook as we discussed!
 
Offering images on a CD?
A. Absolutely! Do not be afraid of ‘shoot & burn’. Even if you make print sales its a good idea to offer a disc some time after the closure of the initial sale. After all, why spend time and resources with files on your system other than those you select as samples.
 
Refer a friend, does it work and how?
A. Friend/Client referrals are an excellent way of boosting your business. There are several options. Either a straight fee per session that the client brings in or more preferably, complimentary products from sessions you have already shot for them. Remember there is no such thing as free and everything you produce has a retail value.
Specials: (Halloween, Christmas, Easter etc.)
How do we get more customers in the door on these ‘specials’?
A: Tasteful and classy is best. If you look cheap you’ll sell cheap. This to date has been your downfall. It does not matter what your competition does, simply do it better. You’ve had plenty of advice on this from me
 
How do we advertise better?
A: Save your money and maximise your use of all social media channels. This you have had plenty of evidence of this last week so keep it up! Your local clientele are now literally going nuts seeing the vast differences in the quality and variety of your sessions. Making the short movies with Pro Show Web you now see is so important and engaging.
 
Offering images on a CD?
A: It is a harsh fact that this is what the market now demands. It does not mean you have to give your sessions away. In XXX for example the averages for a Senior session cut to disc is between $XXX to $XXXX. Don’t give your work away as its a one way ticket to business failure.
 
Pricing for these things (sittings, packages, minimum order??)
A: It is another harsh fact that you both have an unshakeable belief in a ceiling of achievability in your sales based upon what your competition is charging and other historical factors. In truth, people DO RECOGNISE QUALITY and are willing to pay a premium. You simply need to believe that too but right now, for me trying to convince you of that is a ‘No win scenario’. You now have a pretty full range of Product Price Lists in hand in PDF and a Master ‘Editable’ PSD format. Play with them. As you are now producing significantly improved standards of photography, you should have the strength of your own conviction and faith in your business to move your prices up now!!!. DO NOT add crap and gimmicks as it will only succeed in cheapening your presentation. 
 
Are our packages and things we offer not a good thing?
A: Your packages are a habitual part of your business however, you should at least try to be confident enough to sell wall portraits and other premium products. This is most effectively done by ‘pre-selling’. That is, talking about Wall Portraits, Wraps etc at the time of shooting. Continually referencing and reinforcing the beauty of display products.
Seniors:
How do I get kids back here and what can we offer to get them to sign up early?
A: T Shirts and branding! Design a ‘cool’ line of merchandising that is directly attributable to your studio. You also now have a number of excellent sample images that outshine your past efforts by a long way. This summer you should maximise your opportunities to add to your meagre portfolio. Also consider a Seniors ‘Ambassador’ programme. It wouldn’t hurt you to spend some tome on the internet researching such things. For example look at the business practices of great Senior shooters like Jennifer Hilenga from Minneapolis and Blair Phillips. If you chat and mix with fellow professionals you’ll find them happy to share their knowledge. 
Packages/Pricing/Products:
Are my prices too high too low?
A: In a word YES. But right now and unfortunately, its about believing what you can sell at prices you believe you can achieve. I can do nothing to change that mind set if you’re not prepared to grow some!!!!
 
Am I offering enough stuff or too much stuff
A: Far too many products but this has once again been dealt with amply. Lose the table full of tacky junk and gimmicks and concentrate on selling quality not trite XXXX!
 
Should I offer Metallic prints?
A: If you still don’t believe you can sell wall portraits then this question is irrelevant. Metallic prints are simply a different premium finish. Do your maths on them with your lab and take it from there.
 
We don’t offer cards or albums and there’s no excuse for it, just need help to get going on them.
A: Once again, in  a word YES. But right now its about believing what you can sell! Putting together an album is not difficult given the range of templates available in most ROES programmes. Failing that you can learn to do it either in ‘Adobe In Design, Yervant’s Page Gallery or in Photoshop. 
Answering Phones:
Are we not taking enough info down when we make appointments and are our phone techniques and skills okay? How can we improve and make them better?
A: You do a good job when you answer but never let a phone ring more than three times!
Sessions:
How much time to be spent with each sitting?
A. The average time on ANY session should be one hour unless it is a complex large family group or one that requires travel to and from a location. When shooting small children, patience is a virtue. Do not be afraid to take regular time out sessions during the shoot. If a particular pose or set isn’t working, have the strength of your convictions to abandon and move on.When shooting Seniors, go for a balanced session. Combinations of Studio and Location work well. In such cases allow a double session as you’ll find the returns are well worth it. You need to develop a mentality of shooting for album or photo book as this will encourage more variety of poses.
How to get our customers to leave some sort of comment on facebook after their session?
A. Social Media has become an important facet of every Photography Studio all over the world. The most important thing is to be positive and refrain from either personal or negative comments. NEVER invite comments on the style of a photograph. ALWAYS show your best work. When shooting Seniors for example, post a ‘mini-album of four or five shots from a session. This will enable you to build a following and an ‘Ambassador’ program. ALWAYS make sure you give each client at least one, low resolution, watermarked Facebook image to share with their friends and families.
 
Should we be offering something at their session if they refer a friend for any sort of session they will get (something) off their order? What to offer? What works & what doesn’t work?
A: Amply discussed with you. Remember, you can’t make a living by giving everything away free! Discount with product and not hard cash if you have to!
Ordering after customer sessions:
Should there be a minimum order total?
A: You already have these
 
How do we get them to come back asap to order so we aren’t tracking them down months after their session for an order?
A: Do a face to face viewing and ordering session where you actively SELL!!!!
 
Should there be a penalty for not ordering after so many days after the images are posted online?
A: By doing a proper face to face viewing session this should be avoided.
Should we have a contract for them to sign at the session for any reason, ordering time, picking up photos in a decent timely manner?
A. You should have a ‘contract’ with Terms & Conditions of business signed and in the file of EVERY client. Its all to do with expectations! It is known as ‘transparency in trading’ and it is something you can always fall back upon.
Networking:
All we use is Facebook, we don’t know or understand Twitter, but know it’s something we should be doing, especially with the high school aged kids.
Blogging.
A: There are plenty of articles and information about Twitter and other Social Media channels on the internet. research them all and simply try. You have nothing to lose. You must be far more active on Facebook as it seems to be the only channel you drive work from. Post regularly and in a chatty way.
Packing Photos: (when orders are complete)
In our coupon we include a free 5×7 and $10 off your next sitting (to be used in one year) stupid
A: No point in giving yet more free products away. It achieves nothing
Copyright letter
Should we include business card in with pictures?
A. You should ALWAYS have some kind of card that keeps your studio in the mind of your customers.
Donations:
How much should be spent each year on donations/benefits?
A: Simple answer is that your total marketing budget should be a minimum of 10% of your total income. More realistically 15% is sensible to budget for in a growing business that is trying to be a local market leader! Remember that anything you give away has a retail value with a ascribed profit margin. When considering a giveaway, look at the retail and direct costs of doing so. You are giving away valuable product and therefore this should not be done lightly. 
 
How do you tell people “NO” when you are getting asked for donations/gift certificates constantly for benefits for people and nobody is cashing in on them?
A: This is a easy one! Just look at my answer to the above question. Any giveaway has a real value and is not simply a throw away gift to be disposed of or abused. Packaging is everything and must be relative to the value of your giveaway. A beautifully printed voucher looks expensive. Under no circumstances give pieces of paper, promisory letters or emails! If the giveaway is for a good cause you must DEMAND that you are mentioned in any promotional materials or you will not honour the ‘gift’. Make your terms and conditions of giveaways extremely tough. Put very tight expiry dates on any gift, indeed a maximum of one month is more than sufficient. If an organisation has been given such a gift before that was not redeemed, then simply explain that there is a direct cost to your company of ANY giveaway and say NO!
School and Sports Photos:
Should people have to buy a package or spend a certain amount of money on each order. Sports, Proms, School pics etc. Should I include a copyright letter with each kids pics we return to them?
A: ALWAYS include a copyright letter explaining that it is illegal to copy images in any way and is indeed a criminal offence akin to theft. You will find suitable wording on the internet. As for ‘Packages’, you should always make sure every package you sell gives you the minimum profit margin you need to make the assignment viable. On the premise that less is more, keep the number of packages down to avoid confusion ad maximise sales. 
Old Backgrounds/Muslins/Props:
What to keep, what to get rid of?
A: Make a list of all your surplus backgrounds and props. Sell them on Ebay or similar. Again, to make room for replacements if needed. Some great backgrounds are produced by David Maheu and Denny Manufacturing. It is going to depend upon the style changes that are implemented in your “Studio Survival Plan”.
Old Assignments:
Should I be selling their files after so many years?
A: Make lists of customers/files 2,3,4 and 5 years and design a letter, hand signed, explaining that you are making space on your servers and this is a one time opportunity to purchase and keep their digital files/negatives at a very special rate. If you do not feet a response with letter 1 then send a final follow up letter, after which simply delete the files. Clearly explain that once deleted there will be no opportunity for retrieval. 
 
Slideshow Movies:
A: Use a Pro Show Web account form Photodex.  Currently it is a great price at $150 per year for a Premium Account. I will demonstrate slideshow building but yet again, there are plenty of ‘How To’ resources on the Photodex website at http://www.photodex.com
 
So, this was a synopsis of the feedback given to this ‘struggling’ studio. I’m pleased to say that they began to turn the corner while I was still there with the phone ringing off the hook with bookings and enquiries. Now, they are on a steady and sustainable growth, establishing themselves as the market leader in their area. If you are in a similar position and want to discuss One2One Mentoring from the “British Studio Doctor” then contact me soon. For this studio and others its been their best business decision ever!!!!
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