Family photography is my biggest passion and something that I now tackle on my own terms and am completely comfortable with. But when I first started out in family photography, I laboured under a whole heap of awkward and limiting misapprehensions about what was expected of me and what I needed to do to succeed. It took years for me to realise that most of the things I believed, and was told, were absolute nonsense.
I hear and see so many other photographers also being limited by these myths, so in the hope that I can save others some time and grief, I’d love to bust 10 common myths about family photography…
1. You have to be a good salesperson
This worried me for years. I’m a horrendous salesperson. I don’t enjoy it and I’m crap at it. I hate talking about money and just want to curl up into a hole if anyone even so much as asks me directly what my prices are. As a chronic people-pleaser I crumble and cave far too easily in any kind of negotiation scenario. Embarrassing as it is to admit, through desperately not wanting people to feel like I’m giving them the ‘hard sell’, I often end up actually talking them OUT of a sale or persuading them that they don’t really need whatever it is that they’re talking about. I know…
It took me years to realise that you don’t need to be a good salesperson. If you take time to create unique, emotive images, set up an effective post-shoot ordering system and have a kind, empathetic, respectful approach to photographing your clients, then your images, the system and the bond you’ve formed with your clients all do most of the selling for you. Nowadays I very rarely have ‘sales’ conversations and I make far more per shoot than I did when I was waffling away trying to ‘sell’ and actually putting people off.
2. Family photography means learning lots of cheesy poses & ‘selling out’
When I first started out, I looked at a lot of family photography on the internet and built a clear picture in my mind of the kind of things I’d have to produce. Largely this seemed to mean co-ordinating toe-curlingly cheesy group poses that involved massive toothy grins at the camera, a lot of peeking out of stuff, a fair amount of balancing on things (and each other), matching outfits and quite a lot of resting chins on hands. It really wasn’t my cup of tea but hey, that’s what you have to do. I distinctly remember making some poor family peek out from behind a tree in a busy park in Manchester whilst knowing deep down that I was not only compromising my creative integrity but also being a bit of a dick.
Thankfully after a couple of years and gradually gaining the confidence to shoot in the way that I wanted to, I realised that no families were yearning for these cheese-fests and that they actually loved the images all the more for being artistic and honest. There is genuinely no need whatsoever to sacrifice your own artistic and creative vision. To the contrary, you can stay completely true to yourself and your style, and your family photography will be all the stronger for it.
3. You have to do in-person sales
I was told that this was a non-negotiable. That ALL family photographers do this and that by selling face to face you can expect to earn about £8623639305 per shoot. I duly trotted out and bought myself a projector and massive portable screen, then after each shoot arranged an evening visit to the family’s home to showcase their images and try and flog them. It was toe-curlingly painful. I hated it. So many aspects of it.
Giving up my precious evenings in the first place… Turning up at their front door with loads of equipment like some door-to-door salesman… Fannying around with a million extension plugs and trying to work out why the hell my projector was on the blink while they waited patiently on the sofa politely drinking a cup of tea… Showing them their images and not knowing what face to pull while they looked at them – was a smile too smug? Was a solemn face too grumpy? Should I be looking at the clients or the pictures?…
Once they’d seen their pictures, the pain continued… Taking a deep breath before squirming on the sofa, dying inside, as I awkwardly showed them my samples and tried to tell them how much everything was… Talking them out of sales because I didn’t want to be too ‘salesy’. I was an absolute bloody disaster area. On top of knowing how terrible I was at this, was the knowledge and understanding that if I was a client, I’d really hate being sold to in my own living room. So on top of feeling like an incompetent pillock I also felt guilty and unethical. Not a great combo.
Needless to say, I stopped doing in-person sales and never looked back. My sales are higher than they’ve ever been and I never sell face to face. Some people excel at doing this. I am not one of those people. Business is as much about knowing your weaknesses as well as your strengths. There is not one ‘right way’ to do it. If it’s uncomfortable for you, you don’t have to do it and you probably shouldn’t. The way that feels right to you will feel right to your ‘tribe’ too.
4. All family shoots end up happening at weekends
To begin with, they all did. All my clients asked for weekend slots and I ended up spending what precious little free time I had (as a wedding photographer free weekends were like gold dust) also shoehorning in family shoots. A few years ago I realised that often people just ask for weekends without necessarily preferring them, when they can just as easily do other days – many just assume that weekends are when they’re ‘supposed’ to do them. As soon as I realised this, and changed my system to encourage weekday shoots, roughly 80% of my shoots now take place on weekdays, chosen by my clients, no persuasion from me needed.
5. You have to source a wide range of elaborate products and samples
Hand-in-hand with the in-person sales, I was told that you needed a wide range of elaborate products to sell to your clients. I spent months combing through catalogues of what seemed like several hundred thousand different wall art options. I had literally no idea there were this many different types of frame on the planet. There were even wall art ‘systems’ – what the hell was a system?! There were products made from futuristic-sounding materials and metals I’d never even heard of, frames that ‘floated’, ‘blocks’, ‘installations’ ‘prisms’, ‘panels’, ‘clusters’… All kinds of mind-boggling options that sounded like they belonged more in a space station than a living room.
I spent months creating a gargantuan product list with a dizzying number of different options and sizes. I then spent months more working out what kind of mark-up I should put on them and ending up just choosing numbers at random with no strategy or pricing system because the numbers seemed vaguely reasonable and I’d lost the will to live by this point. Then I realised I needed samples of each of these products and bankrupted myself expanding the contents of my In-Person Sales Trolley of Cringe.
Nowadays, each year my product list gets smaller and smaller. No-one ever bought 95% of the guff I had on that original hideous beast of a product list. I didn’t even like 90% of it. Which is most likely the reason I didn’t sell any of it. Better to have a small range of great products you know and love, and that you’d actually buy yourself.
6. You can’t make a living from family photography
I used to make only a nominal amount per family shoot and although I quickly realised it was my absolute passion, I also believed there was no way I could ever make a living from it – that it would always have to be supplementary to wedding photography. I knew how much time, effort and creativity I put into family photography and was so disheartened that I was never adequately compensated for it.
It was only a few years later that I realised that I’d got my pricing all wrong – I was charging an all-inclusive price (‘shoot & burn’) because that was how I’d priced engagement shoots etc and I thought that any kind of ‘portrait shoot’ would work in the same way.
Family shoots don’t work in this way and most families understandably won’t pay hundreds of pounds for something they’ve not even seen yet. However, once they have seen their pictures, many families willingly pay several times that amount – for what you are offering them is irreplaceable, valuable, bespoke, emotive, meaningful and precious.
It rightfully means a million times more to them than the designer handbag or the patio furniture or the new TV – or whatever else they’d happily spend a large amount of money on. Since changing my pricing structure, I’ve found it’s completely possible to make a living from family photography and to be paid appropriately for what you do.
7. You have to have a studio
I thought all family photographers needed a studio. Partly for aesthetic reasons (“I must make sure that the background ‘looks’ right”), partly for newborn shoots (“Don’t these all have to be studio based with props?”) and partly due to living in sunny old England (“What the hell do I do if it rains?”) The main problem with this is that I don’t like working in a studio. I know plenty of photographers who love it and who produce absolutely beautiful images in them, but personally it just isn’t my thing.
The good news is that it’s totally fine to not work from a studio. It’s completely possible to do all family shoots, including newborn shoots, either outdoors on location, or within clients’ homes, or using a mixture of the two. Personally I believe the shoots are all the more special for it, so much more personalised and they tell much more of a story. I’ve never felt I wanted or needed a studio and still don’t.
8. Only certain kinds of images sell – you have to shoot what clients want, not what you want
The truth is that many clients aren’t sure what they want – I honestly don’t mean this to sound patronising because it’s far from it. Many photographers also aren’t sure what they want. The same principle applies to both clients and photographers – most people want (or think they want) what they SEE. Your client thinks they want a particular type of shoot because their friend/sister/work colleague had their photos taken that way. Photographers think they need/want to shoot in a particular way because their peers/the internet/an article in a magazine shows them that this is what others are doing. Everyone gets so lost in what others are doing that they lose focus on what THEY really want.
The fact is that if you follow your heart and shoot in the way you want to shoot, there WILL be clients who see what you do and love it. They might never have asked for it because they didn’t know they wanted it until they saw it. Just as a photographer might not realise how THEY want to shoot until they see another photographer do it. But once you show them YOUR type of family photography, if it excites you, you can bet any money that it will excite other people too. Gain the confidence to shoot how YOU want to shoot, and clients will follow.
9. Older children are a nightmare to work with
I spent years terrified of photographing any child over the age of 6. They seemed to look at me with that, “So come on then, old lady, what nonsense have you got in store for me?” arch of the eyebrow. They seemed to look at my desperate attempts to make the shoot ‘fun’ with the contempt they deserved. Quite frankly, they seemed to know and think too much. Give me the baby or toddler who’s blissfully unaware of who they are, where they are or what grotty thing they’re trying to chew, any day.
As with many other things, I found over time that I was just trying too hard. The harder I tried, the more painful the shoots were with older kids. The key is to take the focus off you and your camera and help them to forget about you, keep them occupied with things they genuinely like to do. Once I realised this and developed a few little tricks to do this both prior to the shoot and on the shoot itself, I started genuinely enjoying shoots with older kids, and they actually started enjoying them too.
10. Only families who already know you, or past clients, will book you
This was the case for the first couple of years I did family photography. The vast majority of what makes anyone book anyone, is connection and trust. People you already know or who are past clients already know and trust you – you’re already 90% of the way towards them booking you again.
A lightbulb moment for me was when I trained up in branding a couple of years ago. Once I realised that branding was not about the colour of your logo or your business cards, and realised it was about personality, connection, trust, stories and values, I started being able to connect with others who didn’t already know me, and build that trust they needed to feel comfortable enough to book me. Branding is all about finding that common ground, building trust and connection, and attracting likeminded folk.
I feel so lucky now that almost all of my clients, whether I’ve met them before or not, are my ‘ideal’ clients. I genuinely love them to bits and just as much as I love revisiting my precious past clients, I also love welcoming in these brand new members of the ‘tribe’.
So there you are! My top 10 family photography myths duly busted 🙂 I hope they’ve been reassuring to you if any of these have worried you at any point.
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