Starting up a Portrait Photography Business – questions!

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    Caitlin Compton

    Hi all!

    Later this year I’m hoping to launch a website offering portrait photography services to Christian families – starting with folks I know and then word of mouth from there. As I haven’t had a lot of experience in this field, I’m wanting to start pretty simple and then just keep it as something I do on the side. I have a question though! I’ve always been pretty hesitant to start doing portrait photography for quite a number of reasons, one of them being the immodesty factor. I realise everyone has different standards and by no means do I expect everyone to dress to my personal modesty standards, but how do you deal with the fact that some people dress very indecently? Do you have some type of tactfully written guidelines they need to read through? Do you personally not worry about it and just hope for the best? I’m curious as to how some of you photographers do it. 🙂 Looking forward to hearing your guys thoughts, as I think everyone will probably have a slightly different take on this. 😊

    James Staddon

    Hi @creative-click-photography! What a great question! It deserves more than just a quick reply or even a short discussion on a webinar. It’s something you’ll definitely want to work through and have a plan for.

    I’ll bring it up on the webinar tonight (, give my thoughts, and then we can go from there. I’m sure there’ll be follow up questions! Since I don’t really have a “tactfully written guideline” for clients to read through specifically for a portrait shoot yet either, this will be a good activity for me to walk through as well.

    Logan Lamar

    @jamesstaddon, I don’t want to miss this 🙂 Just registered!

    James Staddon

    Well, was 40min a long enough discussion on this topic?! Totally wasn’t planning on it taking that much time. 🙂 But it was so good to talk about! Discussion starts at around the 1hr mark:

    Lydia Bennett

    So enjoyed this discussion on the webinar last week! Just a few additional thoughts I had on the practical side of things (sorry some of it is a little redundant to things James covered). I’m definitely planning on re-watching that part of the webinar at some point!

    Several times that I’ve been on a portrait photographer’s site and come across a high amount of immodesty with their clients, I had also seen on their site that they have “styling guides” that they offer their clients. Some photographers actually have wardrobes available for use (I’ve seen this specifically in the area of maternity, but have heard of it in other genres), and those are often sites that I’ve especially noticed a more sensual feel to the outfits worn at a shoot.

    Now, I’m just going off personal observation, but still, when I’ve seen photographers offer styling guides or wardrobes, it’s a reminder to me of how much the photographer can really guide the shoot.

    If you think about it, even beyond the actual outfits that are worn, the photographer largely directs the mood of the shoot. The photographer is the one who is posing the clients. And as you know, you can pose less-modestly dressed people in a more “modest” way just like you can have modestly-dressed people posed sensually.

    It makes me wonder how much more photographers could do to approach things in a way that could really promoting wholesomeness and modesty in our culture. And since we are Christian photographers, and more specifically, conservative Christian photographers (or however you’d like to classify yourself), it seems that this is a challenge we should take on if we’re going to head down the route of portraiture. So it’s exciting to me that this conversation is happening!

    All that being said, I think in general the way you promote yourself is a starting point for connecting you with clients that are a good match for you.

    When a potential client first comes to your site, if they feel like they connect with you, your style or your passion, they’re more likely to choose you than the other portrait photographer down the road. There’s going to be something that sets you apart from other photographers in your area (whether it’s personal connection, pricing, style, location, or what).

    And I would think the opposite is true. If someone comes to your site to check you out, and they feel like they don’t connect with you, your style, or your passion, they’re less likely to choose you than the other portrait photographer down the road.

    With that in mind, whether or not you decide to be as upfront as Christopher Maxwell, or you’d like to be a little more generic, it might be good to think about what some things are that you would love to promote through your family photos, and highlight those things on your site in a positive way (i.e. “Christian”, “conservative”, “wholesome”, “love to capture beautiful family harmony”, etc.).

    And then, having a brief list of things you avoid photographing is obviously a good idea to include as well. Having your “criteria” out there ahead of time, and letting potential clients know who you are & where you’re coming from, combined with wording things in a friendly way, could leave a positive impression on the standards you hold for your photography, rather than being offensive. And hopefully it will also connect you with folks that are a good match for you and your services!

    Many photographers will describe their editing style (i.e. “light, airy, fresh, romantic”), the feel or pace of their sessions (i.e. “fun, fast-paced and real”), and even the type of clients they attract in their “About Us” or “The Experience” section of their site, and I think those could be areas to introduce concepts of modesty and wholesomeness on your site.

    Anyways, enough said! Have I gone on long enough or what?! 🙂

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with, and continuing this discussion! It’s been good. It’s making me think about how I might do things if/when I put together my own site (Lord willing) as well!

    James Staddon

    Can tell you put some thought into that, @bennett-family! Excellent comments. These points really stood out to me:

    the photographer largely directs the mood of the shoot

    Amazing. So true! Hadn’t thought of that. But that’s totally right. If a portrait is done well and has that “sensual feeling”, then the photographer has done a good job of telling the story he wanted to tell. And it was in the heart of the photographer. Wow.

    the way you promote yourself is a starting point for connecting you with clients that are a good match for you.

    As someone who sells stuff, I have to keep it in my head that not all clients are a good match for me! That’s so great. It’s part of finding and sticking to my niche. And not to rope in politics, but, isn’t having a great service catered to specific niches the positive product of good old-fashioned capitalism?!

    think about what some things are that you would love to promote

    Oh yeah! When our hearts and minds are full of what is Good, where’s room for the junk? Reminded of Philippians 4:8 here.

    leave an [good] impression on the standards you hold for your photography, rather than being offensive.

    I was just thinking about the difference between neutral vs negative verbiage this morning. Like, to tell someone a rug “doesn’t fit” with the style of the room is less offensive than saying the rug “looks ugly” in this room; both could be perfectly true, but the word “ugly” is always a negative word regardless of what it’s describing. To use a word that has neither a negative nor a positive meaning, on the other hand, such as “to fit”, leaves room for the one you’re talking to to make their own judgement on whether or not to agree with your statement.

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