Work Style, Work Flow
by Jacqueline Tobin
August 14, 2012 —
When Emily Potts looks back on her high school portrait and how it was made, the memory, she says, is not such a pleasant one. “I was shot on a blue background in my Gap blue denim shirt and, because I was in Catholic school at the time, everyone was lit in such a way to create a halo effect. I just look back on the whole thing and cringe,” laughs the Bartlesville, Oklahoma-based senior portrait photographer.
This experience may be one reason why Potts goes out of her way to make her seniors more involved in and excited about their sessions. “I want these girls to look back and think it was one of the coolest, most fun thing they’ve ever done…and to be excited that they did it,” Potts says.
The senior market, she continues, is big in her small town, and growing. Formerly based in Houston, Texas, as a wedding photographer, Potts moved to Oklahoma in 2005 and decided to switch from weddings to newborn, family and senior portraits—all three of which are the bread and butter of her current business in Bartlesville. It was a class with photographers Jeff and Julia Woods that helped Potts cross over to senior work. “They do amazing senior portraits and they have a definite style and look that I love—urban, but not super grungy looking,” Potts says. Though she says her work follows a similar style, ultimately the final shot depends a lot on the preference of her subjects. When Potts first started out, she explains, she photographed a lot of girls in their prom dresses in alleys. Today there is more personalization, as well as customization, involved. “The students I photograph really like to feel recognized and like to have their moment to shine,” Potts explains. “What we are seeing with this next generation, along with wanting to feel totally famous, is for them to feel like they part of something.”
While Potts isn’t a contract photographer for any school in her town, she is an in-demand shooter for high school seniors, mainly female ones, who want to bring a sense of who they are now and who they want to become to a portrait. Most of her resulting sales translate into wallet photos, albums and wall art, and she offers digital negatives for sale based on a client’s print order.
With a clear business model in place, Potts also knows that she only wants to book about 100 sessions a year, which translates into roughly 6 to 8 senior portraits a month. “I want to make sure the experience is very special and very custom,” she explains. “I meet them several times before the actual shoot session, including meeting for a consultation, and then later a viewing appointment once she creates their order, so it’s a very personal experience.”
Take, for example, a recent shoot where she photographed a young girl whose father is a biker. “She had this awesome red leather skirt she brought in, which I thought she’d look cool in, and then I thought she’d look great shot in front of The Price Tower, which happens to be the only skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright,” Potts says. “It’s a really beautiful building, and we brought out studio strobes and lit that sucker up. Her dad also happens to be a cop, so he helped direct traffic around her in the street. The resulting image was something very special to her.”
On the flip side, when Potts gets kids with a more limited budget, she looks for locations that have beautiful light and a cool aesthetic, but don’t necessarily take up the time that others would. She says it all depends on what subjects are looking for.
As one way to help her discover that, Potts uses a questionnaire module that she helped customize within Simply Color Lab’s new Simply Studio System management software (a Cloud-based system that helps handle a photographer’s contacts, workflow, schedule, invoicing, marketing, proofing, etc.).
“Seniors can fill out the form in advance and bring it in, but I still want to talk to them once they’re here,” Potts says. “Some photographers meet the client only during the session they come in for, but we really want to create a very personal relationship with our clients, so we see them multiple times. And I like them to bring in the filled out form so we can talk about it.”
Within the form, Potts asks questions including: “What do you want your senior portraits to say about you?” and “What is your biggest accomplishment to date?” “What three words would you use to describe yourself?” Then, she asks more fun, youthful inquiries, such as: “What’s your favorite song?” and “What three words would you use to describe yourself?”
Last month, Potts presented a Webinar on how she is incorporating increasingly more of the Simply Studio system into her own business plan. “There are a lot of features I find really exciting,” she says of the workflow program, “and though it’s still in development and other features are being added by the company in upcoming months, I’m using parts of the program right now and I love it.”
Potts likes to use the software when she photographs families as well: for example, she enters in all of their information, then assigns a family session workflow—“so in the dashboard, it pops up [at the appropriate time] that I need to send that client a thank you note...and then once I check that off, it will pop up with the next thing, like that I need to cull their files. Every time I check something off, it tells me what I need to do next. It’s like having a virtual personal assistant,” she laughs.
As Potts explains, the software also has an invoicing and e-mail marketing component, which is a big deal in her studio. “We do e-mail marketing big time, and [Simply Studio] has texting capabilities so that when an inquiry comes in, it will send me a text and let me know someone sent me an e-mail inquiry, which is great because...I’m not always sitting in front of my computer.”t
As Potts broadens her client base, better manages her workflow and prepares to move into a beautiful new space in downtown Bartlesville, she is also doing more work that gives back to the community. Currently, Potts is planning an art exhibit that features seniors dressed as fairytale characters—Red Riding Hood with a wolf hybrid dog, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter and a white rabbit—that will be framed in a float mount and hung in a gallery in her studio. “We are selling tickets to the event and all of the proceeds go to the local high school art department,” she says.
“When we mention these projects to the kids, we can see that they are definitely interested in what we’re doing, and what they are helping us to do—impacting something bigger than themselves,” Potts explains. “That’s why they participate and why it works so well. We are all doing something good for someone else.”
Jacqueline Tobin is the executive editor of Rangefinder magazine. She can be reached at Jacqueline.Tobin@nielsen.com
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