Opportunities in Volume Photography 1B – School Photography

Systems 4 Volume Photographers Member Course – Volume Photography 101

*Scroll down for this lesson handouts

So, Switching to Volume? What does that really mean … to you?

I’ve touched on the differences between the various volume photography programs in other sections, but it’s important that you do your research to see what volume opportunities are right for you and your needs as you grow your Volume Photography Business.  One of the primary genres of volume photography is School Photography.  But, even within that genre, there are many different programs, each with their own pros and cons.

School Photography

These are public or private schools (not preschools or daycares).  And there are segments within the genre:  Elementary (may include Intermediate schools in your area), Middle (includes Jr. Highs), and High Schools.  

Our preference (from an ROI standpoint) is to book Elementary Schools.  These schools are typically 300-500 students including K-4th grade.  Some continue thru 6th grade, while others cut out at 2nd.  It will vary by the district custom in your area.  We like Elementary because as a photographer, you are in on Picture Day, typically done by 11:00 a.m. and you just need a single individual to come back in a couple of weeks for a makeup day.  That’s typically it – Easy Peasy!   Students typically comply with requests and parents will purchase at a higher level per student in this type of school.  The prevailing thought is that the students are still ‘new’ to the parents, still cute, and will still cuddle and talk to the parents.  As the student ages, they become less cuddly and more adult-like, sometimes engaging less with parents – aka Sullen Teenagers.  Aim for Elementary when you can get it.

Middle Schools can vary in your area but are mainly 6th grade through 8th grade.  They may follow the older more traditional name of Jr. High School.  In these schools, you will start to find the need to photograph Groups & Orgs (Organizations), and Sports Teams.  This significantly adds time at the school.  As you add groups, you do have an opportunity to allow parents to purchase photo packages for the sports groups, the band, the choir, etc.  MAKE SURE YOU DO THIS THROUGH AN ONLINE PROCESS – do NOT try to send home Pocket-Flyers to parents.  Flyers have proven ineffective over decades of use due to the inability to get them all home and connect with the buying parents.  Online engagement and proofing with parents through a quality e-commerce program, like GotPhoto, will greatly enhance the return for these groups.

While High Schools are the largest types of schools we photograph, these are clearly the most demanding in terms of time spent at the school, numbers of groups required to be photographed, and generally the requirements and demands of varying individuals on staff (Admins, Yearbook Advisor, Program Manager, Coaches, etc.)  Since you do not have direct access to parents (in person), you must engage the parents through an online process.  Every school district contacts parents through at least email and many through phone call programs and SMS (text) messages.  They DO have the data to share with you and if you encounter a school that is trying to stonewall you, you need to find a way around in order to get the data.  We have a separate article on this process.  You will have Groups & Orgs, Sports Teams, Band, Choir, and possibly other groups to photograph so manage your time wisely.

Are the schools in your area a District-Bid or Site-Based Decisions?

There are two main types of decisions regarding the hiring of vendors such as photographers within school districts.  These are District-Bid and Site Based Decisions.

In a District Bid or District Decision process, a Decision Maker or Committee at the Central Office will either make the decision of the vendor to use or will open up an RFP (Request for Proposal).   RFPs can be intimidating for new or smaller photographers – thinking they can’t compete with the Big Boys.  However, I’m here to tell you that in many districts, you do stand a strong chance to secure a winning bid – with the right planning and management of your bid process.  We will host a special training on Bidding through RFPs soon so keep on the lookout for it.

In a Site-Based Decision district, each school can choose its own photographer.  This may be from an approved shortlist (where you apply through the district office) or ‘off the street’ if it’s a smaller district.  This is a better situation for smaller photography companies because they can get a single school, prove themselves, and then grow their influence based on good referrals from their existing schools.

You can find out which process your district uses by simply contacting one of the schools and asking.  “Hi, I’m hoping you can help me.  I’m just curious…who chooses which school photographer you use – someone at the school or is it the central office?”  It really can be that easy.  There are more detailed ways that gather additional information, but you really have no excuse when you can get the answer that simply.  Don’t believe me?   Let me know which district you want to know about and I’ll get back to you with the answer shortly.

Your Turn Worksheet for School Photography