A Lesson on Getting into School Photography

August 27th, 2021
student portrait with photographer headshot

If your career direction is taking you back to school, this time as a photographer, Nikki Doo has lots of tips for becoming a successful school photographer. Nikki offers key lessons in this video for making the grade in school photography.

Nikki started in preschool photography in 1989. In 2015, she opened her own company called Perfect Portraits, which has become one of the best-rated and go-to school photography companies on Hawaii. Through excellence in service, communication, and artistry, Nikki is determined to change the reputation of school pictures.

School Photography Isn’t for the Timid

First, make sure the school environment suits your style. Photographing school kids and events is high-volume work. Becoming a school photographer requires lots of energy, and success depends heavily on being organized. At times, you even need to control the chaos to get the best results. Also, if you are just starting out with portraits, we suggest reading our complete portrait photography guide as well as our portrait photography tips.

Nikki recommends starting your first day at school by working for another company. This gives you the opportunity to see what it’s like before going out there on your own. Do you have the energy to photograph 200 kids a day? See if you like the system by seeing the inside of another program.

young children holding toy cameras

How to Get Enrolled in a School – as the Photographer

Most schools don’t like change. If they already have a photographer, expelling them might not be easy. But if a school knows you are eager, and you keep reminding them, you might get tapped when the time is right.

You can always start with calls for an appointment, getting a referral from somebody inside, or just making cold calls. The key here is to get in front of the key decision maker. Who hires the school photographer? Are they currently happy with their resource? You can also offer to photograph events as a volunteer to show them how you work.

The best time of year to make calls is January and June. Nikki recommends calling on a school at least four times in the course of a year. She notes that they might not even remember you the first three times, but on that fourth time you might just make the right impression. Leave behind marketing pieces like ink pens, simple one-page brochures, and portfolio samples.

two school portraits and a laptop with apple and notebook

Show Them Your School Experience – Zenfolio Style

Maybe the best way to demonstrate what it’s like for a school or parents to work with you is by using Zenfolio private galleries. Nikki advocates using Zenfolio in her workflow and in her marketing to schools.

“I actually made a gallery on Zenfolio, and at my interview they opened up the gallery and I showed them exactly what the parents were going to experience. I walked them through my website. I made them be a customer, and it was amazing how easy it was for them and how much they loved it,” she explains.

Nikki continued, “I control when I email my parents and I can change the content of my emails quickly. I don’t have to bother anybody. I just do it directly through them (Zenfolio). The marketing campaigns are created by myself, which I appreciate because I know my customers better than anybody else. So the reason why I use Zenfolio, is that I have control of how I contact my families and what my families see online. And I love that.”

laughing children holding books on their heads

School Photography Workflow Requires Some Homework

Whether you use a computer or student “camera cards” with a name and other pertinent info, managing and matching data to images is the secret sauce for successful school photography. Nikki uses camera cards and each student simply places their card on a pile when their session is over.

Back at the studio, the most critical part of the workflow is backing up your work. Next, rename your images, import, and upload them to your online galleries. In Zenfolio, you can put a keyword on your images, either before or after upload. Parents can go to the gallery and put in a ticket code, a secure keyword that will open up their images, or you can email families directly to their private gallery. 

Nikki demonstrates how Zenfolio has created a system of being able to easily sell images online, while still controlling every step. Associating data with images enables selling photo prints and gifts online, then getting them directly into parent’s hands. 

child with backpack in empty school hallway

Staying Late for Extra Credit

Effectively managing data and making sure that images are printed correctly is the main thing for making the grade as a school photographer. And Nikki recommends some additional touches to build relationships and retain school clients.

She never calls up a student by saying “next,” but rather calls them by name to build comfort and rapport. She takes good care of the school staff and works to maintain great relationships so she is invited back.

Finally, she stays late and sweeps up, puts tables back and makes sure that everything looks good, realizing she is a guest in their environment. Nikki concludes, “That’s how you keep schools, if you’re doing everything correct. They’re not going to let you go, because they don’t want to look for another school photographer.”

*Promotion valid until October 15, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Promotional discount off the subscription price of a new ProSuite, PortfolioPlus or Portfolio annual plan will be automatically applied at checkout with code FALL50. Discount applies to the first year only. Cannot be combined with any other promotion.

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