Senior photography has to be the trickiest genre of professional photography.
No offense to any other photography types out there, but….
We understand, it’s hard enough to have please one client, or a couple; but with Senior sessions you’re essentially having to appeal to at least 3 separate groups of people.
Often times many more than that. And, we, don’t have to tell you seasoned Senior photogs how completely different those influential people can be from one another.
You know that firsthand.
We also know you know all the age-old tropes about teens and their ease in which to work with and make a positive impression on. (Just how true these stereotypes actually are we’ll leave for you all discuss amongst yourselves).
Yet, all is not hopeless.
In fact, the opposite. There are certainly ways about it to achieve success in the field. [But, they may not be easy, now.]
And, to find out what some of those keys to success might be we sat down to chat with a true gleaming star of the Senior photography world; a legitimate, experienced legend in Nicki Hufford of Nicki Hufford Photography.
Yes, during the talk she shared with us 5 essentials ways to get more satisfied Senior clients (and, yes again, she means including and beyond the actual teen in front of the lens).
1. Brand Yourself by Being Yourself [Style Follows]
Or, ‘be real’ as the kids say. Nicki elaborates on the incredible benefits (and drawbacks) of being true.
“If you try to be somebody you’re not, it shows through. These kids nowadays, this generation, they’re really looking for somebody that’s authentic to themselves,” she states.
“If I came to the session in these BOHO clothes and that’s what I am portraying, those are the Seniors I am going to book.”
Now, in actuality Nicki’s style and experience is much different – instead it's sporty, edgy, bold; and she attracts clients going through much of what she went through and enjoys what she does herself.
So being someone you’re not will ultimately get sniffed out and lead to little to no clientele. At the very least it will cause an undesirable feedback loop only continuing to provide you with clientele you’re hard-pressed to relate to.
And, relating to your clientele – this clientele especially - is incredibly beneficial and is actually the way to properly identify your style.
Indeed, no matter your specific field of interest and background the main message remains the same: the power of being true to yourself and connecting with like-minded Seniors.
Nicki confirms both the joy and benefits of this as she shares, “I can sit there and have a conversation with them [and help them with their needs] …we relate. We relate very, very well. So of course, these kids are going to come to me and their going to tell their friends as well, ‘Oh, Nicki really took care of me,’ so then they’re going to come to me as well.
“Go after the person you relate to the most. Then, style follows.”
2. Don’t be Afraid to Try New Things to Stand Out
Yet, don’t take it too far. Don’t feel as if you have to stay so close to a certain image that you can’t branch out and try something different. The opposite.
Be bold. Try new things. Stay noticed.
“We give the kids something nobody else is getting,” Nicki states about her brand. “I think that’s really, really important.”
Nicki elaborates, “[w]hen I’m getting judged for competitions; when I’m shooting, in the rooms or buildings and things that are not that typical-down-the-street Senior picture they’re going to get noticed more.
"You’re going to get more noticed in the industry, from your peers; you’re going to get more noticed from your Seniors as well.”
So, how might that not that typical-down-the-street Senior picture look in practice for a Senior portrait photographer?
“Rent out a new location. Something no one’s ever done,” Nicki suggests. “There’s always theatres, cool restaurants you can rent out when they’re not busy. Go out there and take a risk, try something new.”
For her and her brand, every year is a new project; a ‘challenge’ she aims to achieve, “…I challenge myself with 3 or 4 different shoots that I know that I want to accomplish, and, I go all out. I’ll spend all year designing them.”
Caution: it may not be so easy to be different. It may indeed take some effort.
However, this is also said about success itself. And Nicki drives home the point and necessity of being unique even further as she reflects on the transformation of the Senior photography industry in the past decade; emphasizing its current trends.
“…[I]n the last 10 years Senior Photography’s evolved…they want to look like these celebrities. They want to look like the magazine. That’s really what they’re looking for. If it’s just a pretty headshot that’s probably something they can do on their own nowadays. You have to give them something they can’t do.
“So, lots of really cool lighting. Really cool venues to shoot at. Destination trips…we’ve been to Puerto Rico; Iceland. We’ve taken these Seniors crazy places. We offer them something they’ll never get otherwise.”
‘New’ may not be as extravagant for you (just yet) as it is for Nicki and her brand, and it may not need to be, but the reality is in this 21st century landscape it's a concept that you can’t afford to not try.
For Senior photographers ‘dare to be different’ is no longer only about chic trendiness, but mere relevance.
Variety in the Images [Too]
Then, this idea of difference should trickle down into your photography itself, too.
Aim for different looks which can be achieved by altering clothing, lighting, lenses, etc. these seemingly small adjustments can really change the mood, Nicki suggests.
In fact, she explains, “I’ll shoot most Senior sessions with 4 or 5 lenses. Because each lens is going to give them a totally different look.”
As you might expect, this strategy has a practical benefit as well.
“That’s how you sell more pictures. The more variety you can create in your images the more you are going to sell.”
Remember, the main message here is variety and differentiation (that stays true to you and your brand).
And it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of these factors to achieve satisfied clientele and a full appointment book.
As Nicki reminds us, “the first thing that a potential client does is look at your work. Second, they look at your price. That’s the key to remember. I think a lot of photographers think it’s the opposite.
“Your images need to be different than everyone else’s. You have to be first to do it and you have to be different.”
“[Especially] if you really want to do well in a big market you have to create a brand story that’s different to everyone else.”
Right, there’s that brand thing again. Why is it important?
“…so that you can pick out that client that is going to enjoy the experience you’re offering.”
In other words, to establish that ideal (client) and desired business loop.
It would be hard to have dissatisfied clients when they’re your choice among a pool of clients that are coming to you because of who you are and what you do.
Or at least, it makes the outcome as unlikely as possible.
So indeed, your brand is a way to help you stand out - and an important one at that.
Also, keep in mind when it comes to that literal, concrete aspect of branding:
“It goes down to the font, the logo design, everything.” As Nicki speaks of her own brand, she emphasizes the importance of the details.
“Every single piece of my website; every bit of copy on my website, my logo design…it was all picked out [to fit my brand and audience]. Font size matters. Colors matter. All that is important.”
BUT, let’s also not forget our first rule. Don’t let this idea of uniqueness and brand power take you away from yourself. Being yourself is the roots to your professional photography existence; your brand the trunk, and these differences and variety merely branches – each a separate entity, but all of that same tree.
3. Keep the Experience and Photo Shoot About the Seniors
Yet, another way to naturally have your images appear different amongst themselves, and even stand out to other like-minded Seniors, is to allow the Senior client to lead the way for their own shoot.
Some photographers may be leery of handing over (creative) control for a shoot, but Nicki only sees the benefits.
“For my Seniors: I let them run with it. Because it’s ‘Senior Pictures’. Senior pictures should be about them, not me…[and] everybody’s needs are different.”
“If you let them lead the way a little bit they will run with it and take control of it….It’ll be them; exactly what they want.”
Hard to have dissatisfied clients when they get what they want.
And, this is not to say they won’t be your images. That will still come through in the way it’s shot and edited, etc. Yet, consider letting the Senior lead and play with the overall concept and idea of the shoot.
The added benefit here is those Seniors, while different, will likely have concepts and ideas that resonate and appeal to other Seniors or kids their age. Read: ideal target-audience appropriate marketing material. (Then, here comes that desirable business loop again!)
Remember - and no shame repeating: it’s hard to have unhappy Senior clients when they get what they want.
4. Address Everyone: the Parents, the Seniors, and the Friends of the Senior
During our Live Chat with Nicki Hufford she brought up an interesting point about marketing for professional photographers.
“You’re always marketing to multiple people when you’re working with a client,” she explains.
“So, for Seniors I’m looking at: mom and dad – and I actually say mom AND dad it’s almost like two totally different people there. Because they have different things that they want too. Then you have the Seniors, and the Senior’s friends, too. And, the Senior’s friends are just as important.”
Be sure to market accordingly and consider all accordingly throughout the entire process. Note her special emphasis on the friends of the Senior, too. Senior Photography certainly goes beyond just the family.
Essentially, Nicki breaks down her marketing roughly between age groups and platforms. She starts with marketing to parents – which is largely done on Facebook. Then moves on to the Seniors and their friends – these marketing endeavors usually done more on Instagram and TikTok.
This, of course, is a very (VERY) basic breakdown of Nicki’s effective marketing strategy. The key is to remember to address not only the teen (Senior), but also their parents (often differently for mom and dad even) and the friends – and do so appropriately for each.
In other words, as Nicki concludes, indeed, “[i]t’s all really strategic.”
Strategic and effective, begetting satisfied clientele (on three fronts!)
Yet, with this mention of social media and all the discussion of branding, and being different, visible, and relatable it’s important to note that you don’t need to be a social media star of your own to do well.
Instead, as you might expect, stay true to yourself first and foremost.
Nicki is proof that an Insta-star type campaign or personality is not necessary for immense success and recognition as a professional Senior photographer.
“My brand is just posting really good quality content and using strategic ads and it works. If you’re branding is more you in front of the camera a lot with your people, and stuff like that – go for it! Do it. It works really well for a lot of people, but if you’re not comfortable doing it the Seniors will see right through you.”
5. The Products: Print and Digital
And then there were products....
With the onset of the Covid pandemic Nicki changed up her offer. She went from offering up a lot product, to now, “I keep it really, really simple.
“My base collections are all just albums and a certain amount of digital files. It’s worked really, really, really well. The parents are totally digging the albums and they love the presentation of them.
“[Then] when you guys [at nPhoto] started doing the Folio Boxes I let them choose between an album or a Folio Box - no price difference. I just said [a Folio Box or an album] and they could pick between the two.
“It’s 50/50. They go back and forth, but they feel like they still have a bit of a choice. It’s really, really working well.”
Having a final product that clients appreciate and can feel the value of is important for overall satisfaction. Having a choice often is as well.
Yet, psychological and sales literature back up Nicki’s findings that suggesting too much choice can be, well, too much of a good thing and ultimately detrimental to business and customer satisfaction.
This idea of a choice, but a simple choice, is ideal. Follow Nicki's example as she illustrates how to hit that 'goldilocks' spot of a good amount of client involvement (choice), but not too much to overwhelm them (only two choices), and having quality, luxurious, ‘can’t-go-wrong’ choices (photo album or folio box). All this is a dream for client satisfaction.
Of course, experiment with your own product offer and see what works best for you and your clientele. What works for Nicki may not be the best solution for your business.
But, all this mention of the parents. What about the Seniors?
The Digital Reality
The truth is this ‘audience divide’ we discussed earlier can be experienced even at the sales and product level. Parents will always love (prefer even) the print, while Seniors want a touch of digital to be sure.
That’s not to say Seniors don’t love print products themselves, but they are certainly drawn to, and ask first about, the digital option.
Nicki succinctly voices the reality of the times as she says, “…Digital files were really important [a few years ago] and they’re only triple as important now.”
Though, in touch with the theme of the post on client satisfaction, the real kicker is her following line, as she admits, “I feel like I get a lot of people that book just because I offer them.”
If it’s hard to have a dissatisfied client when they get what they want, then it’s certainly hard to have a satisfied client when they don’t get what they want.
So, the answer is clear: offer digital.
“As long as you’re educating your clients on where to print, what to order from you, what the digital files are great for and things like that,” Nicki continues, assuring it's not business suicide for professional print photographers [in fact, the opposite ;) ].
Yet, she concludes where she started. That unescapable reality:
“I think it’s almost like a given – you gotta be offering these to your clients. At the right pricing. You gotta make money on them, obviously.”
Thus, we find ourselves at the million-dollar issue when it comes to offering digital. How to do so profitably?
By offering them with print, for one.
“I just include the USB with the nPhoto Folios or the albums,” Nicki explains as she outlines how she handles digital with her clients.
“And they just get them right on them. I also give them an online gallery where they can download them as well. But they can only get digitals if they order one of those albums from me.
“So, number 1: they know what it’s supposed to look like now. They have a correct color image in their album or their Folio Box of what that digital file is supposed to be.
“Plus, they’re never gonna put their USB stick into their computer and show their pictures that way. They’re going to open up their Folio Box and they’re gonna go, ‘Oh my gosh, look at these amazing pictures!’”
Yes, even Seniors appreciate a good printed photo.
Though that’s not to overlook their interest in digital. To which Nicki replies matter-of-factly to that seeming tug-of-war between offering print or digital:
“Why fight it? Charge accordingly. These [digital files] are not cheap…they’re paying big money for them.
“I’m making the same, if not more, doing it this way than I was doing all these products before. And they’re happier. They’re getting what they want. That’s what these kids want nowadays. They want those files.”
For those insistent those clients will take the digitals (and the one mandatory print product) and run never to be seen again, and then what?
Nicki disagrees. In fact, she doubles down on her confidence in the process, the power of education and honest openness, and the quality of professional print over 'at-home' digital prints when she adds:
“I never have clients going and printing 30 x 40 wall portraits from [my digitals]. They’re ordering them from me. Because I’m educating them from the very beginning, saying: ‘if it’s going to be on your wall forever, order it through me.’
"It’s just plain and simple. And they do. Because I’m honest with them and they see the difference….Always, if they didn’t order it in their ordering appointment, they always come and order [wall art prints] later.”
But what if they don't?!?
Nicki retorts even more confidently,
“I’ve been paid enough, I don’t care.”
The Senior, their parents, even their friends! There's a lot of bases to cover for a pro Senior portrait photographer, that's for sure. Yet, don't forget about that other person to make sure to please: yourself.
At the end of it all, be sure it's not you - the photographer - footing the bill for the customer satisfaction. After all, that's just bad business. Yet, Nicki reminds us that, yes, life is difficult in such line of work, but not impossible.
She enlightens us with practical, tried-and-tested ways to make it easier; to realize that seemingly impossible goal of achieving a satisfied Senior portrait client base as well as a satisfied Senior portrait photographer. Indeed, with good quality print products that can combine print and digital and proper client interaction Senior clients can be satisfied - and the photographer can even be too.
For more inspiration and guidance with your Senior Photography products, check out our FREE Senior Sample Guide PDF available for download:
For more from award-winning, top Senior Photographer Nicki Hufford, check out her platforms:
Website - https://www.nickihuffordphotography.com/
Insta - https://www.instagram.com/nhuffphoto/