Profitable Extended Family Sessions - by Kat Forder

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Extended family sessions are popular in my area because "everyone is from somewhere else" and it's a major tourist destination with several major airports. I love the idea of extended family sessions because one of my most treasured images from my childhood is a four-generation picture. In practice though, I have been less than satisfied with how they've been working for my studio.

These sessions have been persistently problematic for me for many reasons. This year I sat down and analyzed my pain points:

1) they are usually much more work

2) usually more "boring" since they want the standard everyone look at the camera and smile images

3) I end up spending less time with each individual family than I would in a full session, so there is less variety for each family

4) chaos, which allows children to misbehave and the experience to be less pleasant for all

5) much, much lower sales, even with IPS and long-distance IPS practices (and solid pricing, and many years experience)

6) invariably there's one family member who doesn't want to be there, is waaay less invested, and has no intention of participating, cooperating and/or buying something

 

I set up an experiment this season. Beginning in September to mid-December I had 8 extended family sessions. I created two different models, and booked them in model A or B as they came in. For background info, my average family profit for a single family session is $923, with the highest family session profit (not sale, profit) this year being $4,002

Model A:

- Communicate everything very, very clearly to all participants up front, not just the family member who is booking.

- One larger fee up front fee, quoted as if this was an event, like a family party or reunion ($1,750)

- Double the length of a regular family session (2 hours instead of the usual 1)

- A defined image list agreed to in advance with the family (I usually have a workflow, but never go into this level of detail with a single family session)

- 1-2 assistants, and an extra photographer depending on the size of the group

- Online gallery of images, heavily watermarked, very locked down. Gallery included: very blunt and clear explanation of copyright in the gallery, digital wall samples, digital album mock-ups, and digitally created collages.

- A set date with password protected access for 24 hours to view the online gallery and make purchases. Orders after their chosen 24 hour period had a $295 relisting fee.

The results:

- Four different extended family sessions. Largest family was 6 households together, smallest was three households. No participants were in my state.

- Average profit: $2,300

- Average time spent per session start to finish: 5 hours

- No one missed their 24 hour ordering window

- None ordered wall prints of any size

- None ordered albums

- The large family group shot with everyone together was always purchased as a digital, but only once for each session (ie they were no doubt sharing the digital image of the full family group despite agreeing by contract not to)

Model B:

- Communicate everything very, very clearly to all participants up front, not just the family member who is booking.

- Individual session fee for each household ($200/ea). The theory being that each family would be invested in the outcome if they each invest in the session.

- Double the length of a regular family session (2 hours instead of the usual 1)

- A defined image list agreed to in advance with the family (I usually have a workflow, but never go into this level of detail with a single family session)

- 1-2 assistants, and an extra photographer depending on the size of the group

- In person Skype or In person studio sales sessions afterwards with each family, with slideshow, and screen sharing in order to show them their own wall art.

The results:

- Four different extended family sessions. Largest family was 8 households together, smallest was 2 households. Only two households from two different sessions were in my state, both opted for Skype instead of coming in "because that's what everyone else is doing"

- Average profit: $1,068

- Average time spent per session start to finish: 8 hours

- Four households rescheduled their appointment dates which caused difficulties with tight scheduling in November and December

- Only three large wall prints sold (16x20 and above)

- None ordered albums

- The large family group shot was usually purchased as an 8x10 print by each household.

Conclusions:

The policy of a regular session fee for each household (even though each household is getting less of my time compared to an individual session for their family alone) did indeed help improve the engagement and participation of the entire group! This also helps cover my overhead costs (assistants, second photographers etc) compared to the days when I would charge a single $200 session fee for the whole group.

While I was better able to help families choose between images, and did see a couple wall art sales because of the IPS style consults afterwards, the differences between the two models is not significant enough when you consider the extra time I spent on it. This was a huge surprise to me.

Model A provided me with the most profit and security of income because of the large upfront cost, it also deterred 8 other families who felt the cost was too much. Ultimately I think that is a good thing, because many of these extended family sessions have resulted in sky-high expectations for too little compensation.

Neither model resulted in sales that compare to my regular family sessions.

I can't say that I love extended family sessions any more than I did last year, but I am glad to see that I was able to make some significant changes over previous years. If I continue these in the future, I will stick with a large up front fee in advance.

Hope this helps others, and would love to hear from others who can make this type of session work in their favor! Tips and other experiences welcome.