How To Make Money With Photography Mini Sessions

July 9th, 2021
baby beside portraits of contributing photographers

An Interview with Professional Photographers Lindsey Winkler and Cheryl Dell’Osso

Robert: Hey everybody and welcome to Wide Angle Wednesday. I’m Robert with Zenfolio customer success and host of Wide Angle Wednesday. I want to say thanks for joining us on the live stream. Today we’ve got an amazing couple of photographers joining us and we’re going to talk about making money with mini sessions.

Lindsey: Hi guys. I’m Lindsey Winkler. I live in Yukon, Oklahoma. I have been doing photography full-time for about four years but about 10 years total.  I did it alongside my x-ray job for a long time; it about killed me, but I just kept telling myself it was either really smart or really stupid to put in all the hard work and it actually paid off. So it was a really smart move. I have two kids and a wonderful husband that’s super supportive and seniors are my jam. That’s my favorite part of photography but I’m kind of dabbling in all of it.  

Cheryl: I’m Cheryl Dell’Osso. I have been a professional photographer for 15 or so years and I work for Zenfolio. I live in North Carolina with my husband and three children. I also love senior shoots, but my bread and butter has been family and children and the occasional head shot. 

Robert: What is a photography mini session and how does it differ from a standard shoot?

Cheryl: A photography mini session, as its name implies, is a scaled down version of one of my standard sessions. In general it’s 15-20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes.  One location. One outfit. It reduces the number of proofs that I give to the client and for me it’s also lighter on post processing so it’s not really the customized editing like I would do for one of my boutique standard shoots. It allows me to offer a high volume solution occasionally even though I’m a boutique volume business model.

Lindsey: I’m pretty much like what Cheryl just said. My mini sessions are significantly less time than my standard sessions and therefore the client gets less photos to choose from, to have to sort through in the final product. Mine are about 20 minutes. I sometimes go over just depending on the client. I try not to rush my people through these even though it is kind of a rush when you’re doing mini sessions but it’s just the perfect length of time for those that don’t need a standard full session. They take about 20 minutes and you get about 15 edited photos, as opposed to an hour and maybe 40 plus photos and again same with post-processing the editing process is a little different a little quicker: one location, one outfit and you’re done. 

mother, father, and child hugging
Photo credit: LKW Photography
two children throwing leaves in the air
Photo credit: Cheryl Dell’Osso

Robert: What is the benefit of offering a mini session and why should someone add it to their offerings? 

Lindsey: So just like a mini session’s name suggests they’re quicker, they’re mini. This is best for families with toddlers with kids that can’t hold their attention very long or for cranky husbands. One of my favorite photo sessions we’ve ever had as a family was eight minutes long. My kids knew what to do and my husband had a football game to watch. We were in and out in eight minutes and they’re some of my favorite pictures. You can do a lot in a short amount of time. I think what intimidates a lot of photographers is they think “I just can’t cut it down that much,” and sometimes it is very hard to do, but it is beneficial for those mobile children that are going to run all over the place and it’s budget friendly for clients. Some people can only spend as much as mini session costs and so it fits their budget better and it allows me to accommodate quantity, especially in the fall time when i’m super busy. I can do eight or ten clients in one day with most mini sessions and not have to try to find other dates for all of these people in my busiest time of the year. I’m able to accommodate more clients each year and accommodate their budget.

Cheryl:  I totally agree with everything Lindsey said. Sometimes you just don’t need a full shoot. We did our family Christmas card literally in one take this year. I think my kids and hubby have just finally realized, “Hey if we don’t goof around and don’t complain it’s done super fast.” The benefit to offering mini sessions is that they’re great for certain holidays and certain times of year where people are looking for one or two images for maybe a card or a Valentine’s Day gift. It’s also great during foliage season or for tulip season if you can find a location that works for you for several hours straight. For clients who haven’t used me before, it’s a way to experience professional photography. Maybe one of my full boutique sessions is just a little bit out of their reach or they’re just not you know ready to dive that far in. Most times, they’ll come back to me later for a full session that year. Mini sessions are a lower price point obviously than my standard sessions, so it brings new clients in the door and during busy times a year, like Lindsey said, it accommodates high client volume. It prevents them from going somewhere else if you can get them in for just that 20 or 30 minutes. 

Robert: What are the most successful types of mini sessions that you’ve had?

Lindsey: The most successful time of year for minis is the fall and here in Oklahoma that’s the best prime time weather for the year. It’s a very short window and plus it’s right at the beginning of the holiday season so people are really anxious to get new photos for Christmas cards and for gifts. That time of year is more comfortable and the weather’s more predictable. I will sell out of my fall mini session bookings by April or May. Each year I advertise the dates and they are pretty much taken a week after I’ve advertised them. 

Cheryl: Any session that can be less complicated than a full session. I wouldn’t want to do one of my senior sessions as a mini session… some of the boys maybe, but the girls like a few different outfits and a few different locations.  One of my favorite types of sessions for a mini session are headshots. I can easily do a headshot mini session every 15-20 minutes especially if I’m shooting in studio. You set up one or two lighting setups and you can shoot in 15-20 minutes increments all day long. I also like Valentine’s day and Mother’s/Father’s day mini shoots. They are great for special gift items and for little kids. As Lindsey said, the little ones that you know aren’t going to tolerate a two-hour, multi-multiple location, multiple outfit kind of scenario.

two girls sitting in garden path
Photo credit: Cheryl Dell’Osso
teenage girl posed in front of a glass and metal building
Photo credit: LKW Photography

Robert:  When and why did you start offering mini sessions?

Lindsey: I was probably a couple years into my business when I tried my hand at mini sessions. I would see other photographers doing them with these really cute setups with tons of props for Valentine’s Day and Easter and for me that’s my slowest time of year. So I got motivated to start them at that time of year just to drum up business. I started with the holidays because you know those kind of make for the cutest setups for minis…all the Valentine props, flowers and Easter stuff. I started doing it just to kind of expand my business and followed the trend. 

Cheryl: I have to say that at first I didn’t do mini sessions, I didn’t think it was a service that went well with my brand as a boutique photographer, but I realized it does have its place. For those who just need one or two images, I can provide high quality products in a short period of time and accommodate some more clients into a busy, busy schedule.  So I started offering them. I keep my sessions super super simple. I don’t usually use props.  That’s another reason I wasn’t really into the mini sessions at first. I thought I had to use props and I didn’t want to have to lug around props or buy props. But I learned that it’s a choice. You can have lots of great props or you can have minimal to no props and it still works.

Robert: What have you used to book your mini sessions? Are there any tools that you’ve used?

Lindsey: Yes, I recently started using the BookMe feature from Zenfolio and it has been an absolute game changer. I went from putting my mini session dates and times out on social media to get people to start booking and I would start getting texts, phone calls, facebook messages, and posts on my posts. I had all these different ways of people communicating with me trying to find the time they wanted and how to pay.  It was just chaos for several days just trying to get everyone booked and then everyone wants the last session, which is the best time of day. With BookMe I can just put up a link for them to book and see the details. it’s up to them on how fast they get it done, what time they pick, and to send payment. It has been amazing. Also the days leading up to the sessions it’s all organized.  Everyone gets email reminders. They’ve prepaid so on the day of sessions, when I’m shooting back to back to back I don’t have to worry about collecting payments.  It’s been just an absolute lifesaver for sure. 

Cheryl: I absolutely love the BookMe feature. Just the elimination of going back and forth with your clients is a total game changer; yeah it’s huge. I often forget to collect payment because I’m so in the moment in many sessions. BookMe allows me to forget about the financials of it and just do what I want to do which is focus on taking great photos.  I don’t have two people calling and asking for the same time, leaving me trying to figure out who was first and who am I going to disappoint.  It’s as Lindsey said; first come, first serve. It’s a really great tool for any type of session but mini sessions especially. 

Robert: Can you walk us through the workflow for a day of mini sessions for you and what that looks like?

Cheryl:  Sure can. Mini sessions can be a super long day so you want to be prepared (and hydrated).  It has to work smoothly so I highly suggest an assistant.  I know that an assistant is an added expense but it’s worth it. There’s a lot of pieces in motion. I like an assistant for my reflector and to check people in and to make sure I stay on schedule.  I like to scout out my location in advance and make sure the lighting will work if I’m shooting for several hours. Studio it’s the easiest, you can control the light.  Make sure your clients have very clear instructions so there are no surprises. When I’m finished shooting, I go home and backup everything multiple times, set up online galleries for them to be able to proof and purchase. 

Robert: What about you Lindsey, does your mini session day look a lot like Cheryl’s? 

Lindsey: I now think I need some assistants! I’m usually just flying solo so having an assistant sounds really really nice. I show up early on location. I primarily shoot outside and usually on my outdoor sessions I don’t have any props or not many. I might have a beautiful antique couch that I can take somewhere if the location accommodates that.  I like to find my spot where I’m going to shoot and see how much traffic is there.  The beautiful parks in downtown Oklahoma City get pretty crowded so I like to go and just stake my claim on my spot. I might send personalized reminders to my clients the morning of or the day before just letting them know you know make sure they show up 10 minutes early for their session.  I remind them to be super punctual since we have so many back to back to back. 

teenage girl wearing black hat
Photo credit: LKW Photography
girl holding one red leaf and one yellow leaf
Photo credit: Cheryl Dell’Osso

Robert: We’ve talked about this a little bit; can you elaborate on using themed props for mini sessions? 

Lindsey: I don’t go overboard on my props; there are some area photographers that just go nuts and they pull it off and it looks great. It’s just not my passion. This past fall I did offer some mini sessions at my studio and I brought in a beautiful green couch and had an old wooden ladder there with a bunch of pumpkins piled all around. That was it and I had a beautiful shabby chic background so it was simple.  I’m not super extravagant with props but I usually have a beautiful couch or chair and then you know some kind of accessories if I do props at all.

Cheryl: My props are kind of nature’s props. If I’m shooting in the fall I might gather some leaves. If I’m shooting at the local pumpkin patch, obviously pumpkins are the props. It’s nice to have something, especially if there’s a few people in shot. It helps you pose a little bit easier, but I don’t like a lot of distractions. I’m not a live animal prop person unless you bring your own live animal like your dog. I’ve never brought in like chicks or bunnies. Inside, if I’m using a plain backdrop like I’ve done for Valentine’s Day mini sessions I have these little really pretty paper cut out hearts that hang like streamers. It’s just a little bit of an accent. 

Robert: How long are your typical mini sessions and how many do you try to schedule in one day?

Lindsey: I try to keep my minis about 20 minutes long. I do go over quite often just because i’m a perfectionist and I want to make sure my clients feel like they got every bit of me in that short amount of time.  I have a buffer in between every client.  I like to leave five to ten minutes in between every client for that overlap. Cheryl probably does a lot more in a day than I do but I used to do around 15 in a day and I’ve cut it down to 8 to 10.  The weather is crazy in Oklahoma and it’s less people to have to reschedule to another day in my already busy seasons if I put a limit on myself.  I really hate sacrificing quality over quantity and that has happened in the past when I’ve tried to accommodate too many in a day.  

Cheryl: What a great point Lindsey just made. This is your reputation, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. Know your limits. Start off slow and work your way up.  You don’t want to book a full day of many sessions the first time you do this or you will never want to do it again. Try to do 20 minute mini sessions with 10 to 15 minutes in between.  I won’t do more than four to five hours straight.  It might be less than that if the lighting isn’t going to hold the whole time.  If I’m shooting inside I can do it all day long.  I can go nine to five with a lunch break  and some different little breaks in between.  There’s a lot less work in shooting in a studio with adults than babies in a pumpkin patch on a hot fall day.

Robert: What are some ways that you’ve advertised your mini sessions that worked really well?

Lindsey: I created a VIP Facebook group for my clients that have had a full session with me in the past so they are the first ones to hear about any mini sessions or specials I might be doing. Usually that’s all it takes for my fall mini sessions to be booked up solid.  

Cheryl: I have a little bit of the same set up as Lindsey. If you’ve shot a couple times with me during the year you’ll get early booking for an event. I also try to make sure that I have enough spots for new clients because it’s a great way to bring in new clients. Word of mouth really is just the best. You can’t get anyone better than people talking, showing off their images and talking you up.  Pairing up with another vendor, for example the local pumpkin patch or the Christmas tree farm is a great way to spread your name a little bit further than your current network.   I’d have to say what doesn’t work for me is paid advertising.  Honestly it’s just never paid off for me. 

Robert: What does your typical mini session package look like?

Cheryl: It depends on the mini session but I think digital downloads are what a lot of clients are looking for from these sessions. Especially around the holidays when they are looking for images for holiday cards. Sure, I can do the holiday cards for them, but for the most part clients can and want to do this themselves. Then depending on the time of year, it might create a package with a special product like an ornament or a framed print.

Lindsey: I’m pretty much selling digitals as well. I try to upsell on my galleries with minis. They get so excited to see all these pictures that we took in their proof gallery and then they only get 15 so I hear, “Oh, but wait I like these five extras!” And they always have the option with my Zenfolio galleries to purchase extra products at any point in the future.

headshot of woman wearing yellow shirt
Photo credit: Cheryl Dell’Osso
teenage girl posed in city street
Photo credit: LKW Photography

Robert: How do you deal with outdoor sessions and inclement weather?

Lindsey:  That definitely can get tricky. I learned the hard way in the beginning when I would book a bunch of outdoor mini sessions. I try my darndest to have a backup date available for each set of mini sessions. I try to just block off an extra day and if I end up getting my mini sessions in as planned then I just advertise that next date that I kept open. 

Cheryl: There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re going to have your pictures taken and then not getting it in that season. If you don’t have rain dates set you’re going to have disappointed clients. I think it’s really smart business to have backup dates scheduled in.  If it just absolutely will not work out then I will give them a refund but I try my darndest to just get them in somewhere. 

Robert: For a 30-minute mini session how many images are you guaranteeing to edit and deliver to the client?

Cheryl: For a 30 minute mini session it’s about 15 images.  I do a quick edit with some touch up and sharpening. Any heavy editing is additional.

Lindsey:  I’ll take quite a few pictures in that time and what I do is I go home and soft edit them and I put them in a proof gallery for the clients. I don’t spend a lot of time, I don’t fully edit all of those images. They get to see all of the best pictures from their session and they narrow down to their top 15 favorites and those are the ones I will go back in and fully edit. Then those are the ones they get to download so it saves me a huge amount of time on culling and sorting and editing by doing that and they feel like they have a lot of control.

Robert: Do either of you have a trusted photographer in the event that you’re not able to do a shoot? 

Lindsey: I have several in my back pocket and we have a little community group that we reach out to each other when we’re in a pickle, or have someone we can’t accommodate. 

Cheryl: I don’t think there’s anything better than photographers helping each other out and knowing their own strengths and weaknesses. I know there’s certain types of shoots that I am not great at and that my colleagues just are amazing at. I stick to what I know and what I’m not comfortable shooting, I’ll refer that out. 

Robert: Well guys we are out of time. Thank you to our guest photographers today. To see Lindsey’s work you can go to https://www.lkwphotography.net/ and to check out Cheryl’s photography at  https://www.portraitsbycheryl.com/  Have a great day everyone!

Robert is the host of Zenfolio Live. He has been a photographer for over a decade working in Volume Sports Photography and Real Estate Photography. However his passion is capturing photos of the old run down and abandoned places hidden throughout our country.”When I am photographing an old home, school, or theme park that is literally on the verge of extinction, I feel such a strong connection to the past, it also serves as a good reminder that beautiful things can come from broken places.”