Business + Marketing


Creative Ways Your Photo Business Can Offer Clients the Tangible

February 25, 2016

By Brienne Walsh

Although a traditional album will never go out of style, many top wedding and portrait photographers have begun presenting and packaging products in a variety of ways—from different printed materials, to customized drives, lockets and monogrammed ring boxes. Such merchandise not only allows photographers to exercise their creativity and grow their business, but it also helps them respond to a rise in demand for new technology. Here, we get the scoop from four studios on how they are implementing their personal touches.

Rustic White
Robert and Tiffany Peterson, the husband-and-wife team behind Rustic White Photography out of Atlanta, Georgia, pride themselves on the myriad personal touches they offer clients. They begin by giving gifts as they get hired. As Robert says: “The experience you give the client is just as important as the images.”

Rustic White goes far beyond offering just wedding albums for their clients. One of several gifts a couple receives is a customized wood USB drive with digital files of all of their images, along with a wood block coated with a dozen of the highlight images from the day. Credit: Photo © Rustic White Photography

The first thing a Rustic White client receives is a welcome package, which includes a seven-page catalogue printed on archive luster paper with information about the team’s story, their collections, prints and albums. Clients also receive a pair of monogrammed coffee mugs with tea selections, which the Petersons are currently in the process of replacing with monogrammed ring boxes.

A few days after the wedding, a couple receives a login to view their images on Pixieset, a cloud-based storage where they can view images as well as share them with friends and family. All too aware that we live in a digital age, the Petersons know that the first thing a bride really wants is a JPEG to share on social media.

They love Pixieset because it gives photographers a lot of control over the products. Along with passcodes protecting the galleries, Robert and Tiffany set up a store on the backend that allows couples to order prints. They establish prices, sizes of prints and shipping methods. The prints themselves are made by WHCC, a printing house Robert respects tremendously. As a result, he feels that he doesn’t need to verify the quality of the images, which ultimately saves the business a lot of money in shipping costs.

Personalized touches from Rustic White don’t end there. The next thing a couple receives is a customized wood USB drive with digital files of all of the images, along with a wood block coated with a dozen of the highlight images from the day. The block is another gift from the photographers, and is produced by Artifact Uprising, a Colorado-based company that uses reclaimed pine. All of this is delivered in customized alabaster boxes with handwritten notes.

The Petersons then offer couples albums designed through KISS.US, which provides software that allows clients to make notes in the first draft the photographers send them, making the creation a collaborative process. To keep things simple, and consistent with their brand, Robert and Tiffany offer leather and linen cover options. “We try to do everything clean, simple and rustic,” Robert says.

To keep things simple, and consistent with their brand, Robert and Tiffany offer leather and linen cover options. “We try to do everything clean, simple and rustic,” Robert says. Credit: Photo © Rustic White Photography

Although they provide a plethora of beautiful objects to their clients, the photographers are also conscious of their profit margin, as well as keeping their packages affordable. As a result, they sometimes have to scale back on their offerings, or choose to forgo a service they’d love to provide. They recently stopped wrapping their gifts in hand-dyed ribbons, and opted out of sending prints in custom inlaid wood boxes. “If we added those, just to break even, we would have to increase our prices by $800,” Robert says.
“At the end of the day, even though we’d like to do so many neat things, we’re still running a business.” 

Vanessa Joy
When New Jersey-based photographer Vanessa Joy first started her wedding photography business, she was more concerned with whether clients would book her than what she could offer them beyond a standard package. As she became more confident in her abilities, she began to realize that every new client offered room to grow creatively. The photographs she took during an engagement session, and at the wedding itself, didn’t need to be confined to an album delivered months after the event was over. They could be printed on canvases, used to decorate a couple’s home—or perhaps even their wedding venue—and adorn thank-you gifts to friends and family members.

The first product Joy began offering was prints on canvases that could be hung on a wall, at 11 x 14 , 16 x 20 or 24 x 36. She had them produced by Miller’s Professional Imaging, an online service based in Columbia, Missouri, and Pittsburg, Kansas. Miller’s offers a variety of different sizes and finishes for prints, as well as wood album boxes and metal display prints. 

Vanessa Joy expanded her wedding photography business by offering her clients prints. She has them produced by Miller’s Professional Imaging, which offers a variety of different sizes and finishes. Credit: Photo © Vanessa Joy Photography

Typically, Joy waits until the engagement or wedding photography session is finished to go over options with her clients. Her first priority is to sell them on the picture—then, when favorites are chosen, she goes over various options of different types of materials or objects. “I do anything they want,” she says. “Miller’s can get almost anything, but if they can’t, I find a way to produce it.” Recently, she began to use Photobarn Pro to have prints produced on burlap, an increasingly popular material.

To steer them in the right direction, Joy often has clients send a picture of the room or venue where they’d like to hang a print. She then suggests a material that might work for a print based on what type of wedding or engagement they held. “If a bride has a beautiful winter wedding, I’ll suggest that the images should be printed on burlap or wood,” Joy notes. Such materials fit in with the rustic, antique aesthetic of the wedding itself—and likely will match the aesthetic of their homes as well. If a wedding is held in an urban setting and the photographs feature, for example, the Manhattan skyline, she’ll steer clients toward metal or acrylic, materials she thinks matches the more angular aesthetic. “Metal and acrylic is little bit more chic and sophisticated.”

She finds that her bestselling objects are canvases. “My clients are familiar with them and therefore tend to be comfortable ordering them and picturing what the final product will look like.” She also has prints on a variety of materials like wood, burlap and metal available during the first client meeting. She holds these meetings in her living room, which is decorated with her past wedding photographs printed on an array of material options. “If they see it, they want it,” she notes. Specialty surfaces include steel, rose gold foil or metallic photographic paper. “I do tend to promote certain types of wall art if I feel the clients’ photos will be enhanced by printing on a particular medium.”

Vanessa Joy says her bestselling objects are canvases. “My clients are familiar with them and therefore tend to be comfortable ordering them and picturing what the final product will look like,” she says. Photo © Vanessa Joy Photography

Recently, Joy began gifting her couples with lockets designed by Chasing Lockets, an invite-only service for professional photographers run by a husband-and-wife team. Any photographer can apply—the wait time to be accepted is anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on demand. The lockets feature two photographs displayed in a variety of finishes. Along with providing something beautiful to give her clients, the lockets allow Joy to support other people working in the wedding industry. “A lot of these companies are small businesses,” she says, “and I really love being able to support them.”

Jerry Ghionis
For a very long time, the Melbourne and Beverly Hills-based photographer Jerry Ghionis resisted giving away JPEGs of his photographs to his clients. “I was very sensitive about it,” he confesses. “Not only did I own the copyright, but there was a threat that the images would be printed at a lab with poor color and density.”

In the last year or so, however, this has changed. “If I were getting married now, I would want JPEGs,” Ghionis says. Currently, a collection of JPEGs is offered in every one of his packages. Including them has made his clients happy, and it allows him to upsell his albums. “I’ll say, look, if you buy this, I’ll give you the retouched images. It’s helped me get them over the line many times.” 

Offering JPEGs has also led to plethora of new tangible products including the Soul Society Collection, a line of crystal flash drives packaged in crocodile skin-embossed boxes that Ghionis sells through photoflashdrive.com. Most of the proceeds for the sale of individual flash drives go to Ghionis’ charity, the Soul Society, which helps children in third-world countries. Wedding clients get one of the drives for free no matter what package they buy.

The details that Jerry Ghionis chooses for his packages—crystal flash drives, crocodile skin-embossed boxes, etc.—echo his business’s edgier aesthetic. Photo © Jerry Ghionis

The drives very much fit with Ghionis’ brand aesthetic, which he describes as “classic with an edge.” Everything from the albums to boxes to the pink and black tissue paper he uses to package objects he sends his clients, are a streamlined effort to form a cohesive identity. He notes that he specifically tailors this aesthetic to appeal to women, who are ultimately the purchasing decision-makers. “The problem with most male photographers is that they think masculine, not feminine,” he says. “Women love tangible and emotional, they love to explore and touch and feel and open things.” The sort of client he appeals to is “not rich, not poor, but values beautiful things.”

Ghionis used to offer a wide range of prints and different combinations of albums to his clients. Recently, however, he eliminated choice. “I have a theory that if it’s easy to sell, it’s easy to buy.” He only offers prints in one size: 32 x 48 inches. All of his prints are sent to clients in individual slips with his company’s logo, and everything is packaged in specially ordered boutique bags.

A collection of JPEGs is offered in every one of Jerry Ghonis’s packages. Including them has made his clients happy, and it allows him to upsell his albums. “I’ll say, look, if you buy this, I’ll give you the retouched images. It’s helped me get them over the line many times,” he says. Photo © Jerry Ghionis

He also offers one type of album, the details of which he keeps sacred for his clients. Out of all of the tangible products he has created to fit his brand, and enhance customer experience, the album is the one he considers to be the most timeless. “There’s no hard drive that will last forever,” he states. “But an album is classic. I don’t believe in photographing a wedding without giving an album.”

Roberto Falck
Brooklyn-based photographer Roberto Falck doesn’t shoot a wedding for individual images. He approaches it like he’s telling a story, one that will eventually wind up being displayed in the pages of an album. “It’s photography with a purpose,” he says.

The first thing that Falck’s clients receive after the wedding is a PDF of the wedding album. This includes spreads of images, as well as a mocked-up cover. After years of practice, it generally takes Falck a few hours to create this digital layout. He designs with the story in mind rather than the page count. The initial design represents what he describes as the “Ferrari option”—more than what the client initially paid for, but also a taste of what they could get if they want to spend a little more money. Falck is, of course, happy to edit it down to fit the initial pricing. 

Roberto Falck designs his wedding albums with the story in mind—not the page count—and likes to offer a “Ferrari option,” to entice clients to spring for more. Photos © Roberto Falck Photography

Next, Falck meets with the clients in person, on a date already pre-scheduled for the wedding. At this meeting, they edit the spreads. Falck also begins to discuss options for the physical product—cover and types of paper. He keeps the choices very simple. “It’s a balance between giving options, and making decisions quickly.” He only offers flush mount printing, in which the images are printed directly on the page—as opposed to matte albums, where the images are pasted on the page. “Matte is more ‘old style,’ and while it’s still beautiful, for the past ten years I’ve preferred flush mount for the weight of the pages,” Falck says. He offers three different types of covers: classic leather with embossed names, a photograph printed on metal or a photograph covered in acrylic. For the printing, he uses Graphistudio.

He does the album first, before even sending the digital images, because he finds that if couples wait too long to design it after the wedding, they lose interest. “The excitement might go away,” he cautions. Especially for his New York clients, he finds that life pretty quickly takes over in the weeks after the wedding. “If I don’t do it right away, it takes a much longer time for the album to happen.” 

After the design of the album is completed, Falck offers options for the clients who want to purchase images à la carte. He also offers packages that already include the retouched images. Generally, he finds that the album is the final destination for most of his clients. “It’s the end point of the process,” he says. “They can only take so much in.”  

Not many clients want to create canvases out of the images; in New York, for instance, wall space is sparse. If a client does want wall art, Falck encourages them to use images from their engagement session—every couple he works with poses for photographs a couple of months before the wedding. “The engagement photos are a representation of a stage in their life,” he says. “The wedding photos represent that day.” 

He likes organizing things like this because it minimizes options—and stress—for his clients. “If you don’t have someone taking over, things don’t happen.”  

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