Can I build a business doing B+W portraits only?

Discussion in 'Presentation & Marketing' started by wrench, Feb 12, 2009.

  1. wrench

    wrench Member

    Messages:
    54
    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Location:
    new mexico
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Is this a crazy idea? I just opened my studio last summer, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea to run the gammut of offerings; color, black and white, weddings... whatever people wanted. As it turns out, my best work far and away has been the b+w jobs. I'm really not happy with my business as it stands right now, it's just all over the place. I don't feel like there's any focus and I really need to work on marketing, but I'm kind of stuck for ideas because the only thing I really want to do is b+w work, and I feel like marketing myself as an 'everything' photographer just isn't working. I happen to be the only photographer in a very isolated are with a relatively small population which seems to work both for and against me. People seem to think that my price is high (I start at $135), but they don't want to go 2 hours away to Sears who they're comparing me to. My feeling is that if I market myself as something totally different, then people will quit with the comparisons, but my potential market might shrink if I'm only doing b+w. So I guess I'm looking for advice about whether this is just crazy, or an idea worth pursuing. Thanks for you help.
    Best, Laura
     
  2. q_x

    q_x Member

    Messages:
    169
    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2008
    Location:
    Poland
    Shooter:
    Pinhole
    You know your market, Laura. With focus on the subject you'll have your teritory grow. For me this is rather business to make online, not in studio - unless you living in megapolis. Maybe it will be better to swich slowly - just making more marketing in b/w portraits, changing pics in the window, doing exhibitions and so on, but untill you'll be sure and ready - just doing your job as before?
     
  3. nemo999

    nemo999 Member

    Messages:
    279
    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2008
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Always a good idea to do what you believe in, and if the CUSTOMERS think your best work is your b+w, too, you're about 90% of the way towards a decision already! The most important thing in portraiture is to develop a USP and a personal signature in your work - souinds like b+w is the way to go for you!
     
  4. rudolf

    rudolf Member

    Messages:
    58
    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2006
    Location:
    Poland
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Laura, I think what you're planning to do is some kind of luxury business. Because of that, it could be hard to start such an undertaking in a crisis time, don't you think? You know, people are now starting to think about some saving, not spending their money on luxury items or services. Especially, when you can ask a friend to take a picture and make it look stylish b&w in photoshop :/
    That's my humble opinion, of course.

    Anyway - I'm very curious how will your marketing strategy look like. I think it's very interesting and wish you luck. :smile:
     
  5. nemo999

    nemo999 Member

    Messages:
    279
    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2008
    Shooter:
    35mm
    B+w photos are no more luxurious than color! Yes, there is a recession, the risk that always accompanies a business venture is greater than at other times, but you are only young once! And yes, people think that everyone's a photographer and that everything can be fixed in Photoshop, which is where your USP comes in -everyone can use Photoshop (at some level), the ability to light a b+w portrait well is very rare (make sure your lighting skills are impeccable).
     
  6. cowanw

    cowanw Member

    Messages:
    1,303
    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2006
    Location:
    Hamilton, On
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I do not think you can allow yourself to even think you can be compared to Sears or the friend with Photoshop. If you try to compete at that level you will fail. If you feel your work is best as B+W then that is what you should do. (I feel the same of my work) The Great Recession May be difficult or it may not. People may still view the portrait as a familly neccesity. Your advertizing can vary around special recession deals if necessary.
    If you do not so what you like you may come to dislike Photography.
    Be honest, with others but also with yourself
     
  7. Solarize

    Solarize Member

    Messages:
    332
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Location:
    London, Engl
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    This is entirely the point. The person who will settle for this is not the client Laura will want. Most amateurs cannot create a handprinted black and white image, and so those that want and appreciate the real value of one, will pay the money if at all able. This is where clever marketing and brand value comes in. You are no longer competing on price, because there is no comparable product. People will pay, or they won't.

    I think photographers will suffer across the entire range of budgets/markets, but those at the lower end had better be producing something a little special, because the poorer will revert to the DIY approach more readily.
    I was at the SWPP Convention in London, and quite suprised by the number of people who with job uncertainties were making the move into photography. As someone who takes the monochrome, hand printed approach, I am so glad not to be competing in that oversubscribed league.

    I think at the higher end, the work will remain - but there will be less of it and the clients will become even more discerning. Offering a service which is becoming quite unique can only help set you apart, if of course it is marketed properly and to the right people.

    Laura: you will have to make your own mind up. DO look at your costs and the value of your time carefully. Be sure that the area can sustain the prices you need to charge, or think about the logistics of marketing further affield.
    Also think about the products you are offering. Are you framing? Custom framing? Putting work in albums? Leather albums?

    Be careful not to disillusion the customer base that you do have, but there is much to be said for a focused style. Why not specialise in black and white, but shoot a few rolls of colour if the client is really keen on it. That's what I do. They know what I'm best at and my preferences, but shooting a few rolls of Fuji in addition is no hardship.

    Research and ask questions,
    Ciaran
     
  8. Solarize

    Solarize Member

    Messages:
    332
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Location:
    London, Engl
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Bill, I dislike predictions of doom and gloom, but have a feeling things will get much tougher before they get any better.
    I don't discount, but instead am offering print credit with the session fees. It isn't enough to buy a framed print, but encourages people nonetheless. It is important to put on an expiry date, to get people booking right away. I'm also thinking about introducing some sort of first year package for kids. Again, it's about putting some urgency behind the idea of having a session. The way I see it, is if times are tough people will put off a session for a three or four year old, but if they have determined to have a photograph of the child as a baby, then there is an obvious timescale they have to work with.

    I agree completely with the idea of working to your strengths and interests, otherwise photography might be best left as a hobby.

    Ciaran
     
  9. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

    Messages:
    1,504
    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Westminster,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Sure you can. I have friend who have built successful businesses doing only B&W weddings, another doing only B&W dog portraits.

    The secret is your portraits have to be of a quality where the client won't ever think of color.
     
  10. Mike Crawford

    Mike Crawford Member

    Messages:
    508
    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2006
    Location:
    London, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I find this really interesting and quite surprising. I would have thought that this would be the worst time to move into photography. (Nice work on your site Ciaran of Ally Pally in the snow.)

    I think Ciaran is right that it would be best not to give up non b+w commercial photography, especially if you already have an established studio. Perhaps offer traditional as a bespoke, specialist service as an addition to what you do and promote it almost as a seperate side to your business. However I appreciate that the difference in what you want to do compared to what you have to do may not balance.
     
  11. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

    Messages:
    7,742
    Joined:
    May 18, 2008
    Location:
    Beaverton, OR
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Focus is good for you and your clients. There are two types of clients, those that hire you to take pictures and those that hire you to make art.

    The questions are, can you find enough of the latter to stay busy and will they pay enough to make it worthwhile?

    I wouldn't write off color but I'd put my best work front and center. I'd even say "I do both B&W and color well, but my best work is done in B&W." You'll sell more of what you focus on because most consumers really don't know what they want.

    If it isn't working, definitely change something. The isolation is irrelevant.

    If you are not turning away some on price you are priced too low.

    If your B&W work has more value to your clients because or it's quality the price can go up.
     
  12. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    5,894
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yes, I think it can be done, but it's not easy. I'm not a particularly good at the "business side" of things, and had very few sittings last year, but I only offer b/w portraits. I've been far more focussed on my personal work lately, and things have been happening there, so I've been letting the portrait side kind of go.

    All that said, I think the answer is "yes", it's possible with the caveat that you are in a larger city that has your target market, which will be people who a. can easily afford it, and b. have the good taste to want it. One thing in your favor through a recession... children and families will grow, and those families that value good photography will want to record the stages of their children's growth no matter the economic climate. It might be quite difficult to find your target in the small area you are in.

    I have to say that I've come to the conclusion that to make custom pictures takes a lot out of me, and most people don't really see how much work it really is, and just don't value it. You want to find those that value it, and understand what you are doing for them. I'm afraid so many folks have accepted crappy Sears photography as being good, and a they wouldn't know a finely crafted photograph if you hit them over the head with it. It's an uphill battle, but that has to be part of your marketing strategy. Detailing the value you bring. the archival and beautiful nature of the well crafted photograph. And charge more, way more than Sears. You do NOT want the Sears customer. They will bring you nothing but heartache.

    Oh, and a good idea for when you show the pictures... project them onto a wall, so the first time they see them, they see them REALLY big. Much easier to sell down, then to show 4"x5" proofs, and try to sell a 16"x20" print.
     
  13. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    5,894
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    ...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 12, 2009
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Solarize

    Solarize Member

    Messages:
    332
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Location:
    London, Engl
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Great points from everyone here. I think it is very important to remember also that you are in the sales business. Words like archival, bespoke, silver gelatin, selenium and so on mean very little to the vast majority of people. You have to show them what this means through fantastic photographs, the best frames and presentation products, the clothes you wear, the stationary and sales materials you present -and perhaps most importantly, the price. Saying 'I am an artist' is not enough. You must convince them you are.

    This I think, is a major stumbling block for photographers who approach the profession with a hobbyist or artist mentality. We become too accustomed to pleasing ourselves and/or other photographers. Case in point: I posted a few lith prints in the gallery from a series I've been working on. I love them and they have been well recieved here... but my family thinks they are horrible. They don't appreciate the tonality, longevity and time that has gone into the work. Transfering your own enthusiasm into a marketable product is not easy!

    Suzanne is right on with a few points. Show prints in the size you wan't to sell. I will be buying a projector soon, and getting some large prints done professionally for display.
    You are also much better off in a city which has qualified leads, unless you can charge enough to travel regularly. I've only just started this professionally, so it will be interesting to see how I fare over the course of the year - and whether speculation and planning can be put into practice.

    Thanks for the comments Mike. I stumbled across the lighthouse darkroom website quite recently. I'm in Crouch End, so no distance from Finsbury Park. I've been looking for someone to handle 16x20's+ and will be needing a few for local promotion and show. I'll be in touch in the next few weeks. It would be great to touch bases.
    I too was suprised at the number of aspiring pro's. It is not a good time to be starting a business, but I guess that many fear redundancy and so on. I think that affordable professional gear also makes the pro transition appear much less painless to the unwary.

    Great thread,
    Ciaran
     
  16. TobiasK

    TobiasK Member

    Messages:
    5
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2009
    Location:
    West Sussex
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I think that if you want to start an all black and white portrait business why not do it under a different name and launch it online? You could then test the idea before you completely commit yourself. Market it as an on location service to seperate it from your studio get a decent template from bludomain or whoever, you could have the whole thing up and running for a few hundred dollars. Testing marketing and advertising is the key to success in any small business. If you can launch a website and do some adwords to gauge the popularity of an idea you can then apply that knowlege to your studio with a better idea of whether or not it will be a success.
     
  17. Tom Kershaw

    Tom Kershaw Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,948
    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2004
    Location:
    South Norfol
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Suzanne,

    Are you projecting film or using a data / video projector? I should suppose projecting a 6x6 transparency should show substantially improved image quality compared to a practical data projector.

    Tom.
     
  18. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

    Messages:
    5,894
    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Massachusetts
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Tom, I'll confess I haven't done this yet, as I'm still working out just how to go about it.

    I have a friend who gets his film scanned at the lab, then orders slides from an online slide service, the name of which escapes meanow, projects with an old fashion Kodak Carousel projector. He even brings an empty frame to hang over the couch and project the image into it.

    I expect you could use a data/video projector as well, but I think you'd need very good scans. And this friend only shows 15 pictures from his sessions... something I need to do... I always show way too many! I've done mine mostly onlne, or with the client at my studio using my imac and aperture software.
     
  19. Gary Holliday

    Gary Holliday Member

    Messages:
    826
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Belfast, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Interesting reading and I can only echo the comments already made. I arrived in Cambridge about two years ago and launched my B&W portrait and wedding business. All hand printed and marketed as such. I found out exactly where my upmarket/ artistic target audience were living and actively promoted in those areas.

    Just do what you do if you have that audience. You have nothing to gain from targeting the budget amateur shopping centre (mall) market.
     
  20. Solarize

    Solarize Member

    Messages:
    332
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Location:
    London, Engl
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I would not mess with analogue projection. Making trannies from negs, and then losing out on an interactive slideshow and the option to use sales software..... madness.

    The quality of a humble scanner and decent digital projector is enough. Most people will not appreciate the subtleties of analogue projection. Better is for the scan to set them in the right direction, and actual examples of prints to show how that translates into a product.

    Plus with a digital projector tethered to laptop, you can quickly show the effects of toning, vignetting, cropping and whatever other manipulations you apply to print. An analogue projection doesn't allow this interpretation.
    As photographers we can visualise what a high key rendition might look like, but a client can't. I use traditional means at whatever step is required to produce the best possible print - but from a business/sales point of view, not making use of digital technologies that benefit us is crazy.

    Ciaran
     
  21. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

    Messages:
    1,717
    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2003
    Location:
    Denver, Colo
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I'm a B&W portrait shooter. I've recently expanded to commercial work, but it's handled exactly like my commissioned work. Yes, it's possible to make a living (and a good one) but it's a tough time right now. Where there's a will (and a lot of creativity) there's a way.

    - CJ
     
  22. Gary Holliday

    Gary Holliday Member

    Messages:
    826
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Belfast, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The digital projection method is cleverly used by Venture. Once you're lured in by the £25 photoshoot, out comes the projector with the nice coffee and the aggressive marketing spin. I've been in houses with 20x16 portraits of themselves above the fireplace. Freaky, but the projector sold that image.

    Do we actually need to use projectors as analogue photographers? What's wrong with showing the client a framed print and saying, this is what I do and this how your print will look?
     
  23. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

    Messages:
    1,717
    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2003
    Location:
    Denver, Colo
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Gary, I'm with you. Projection has never appealed to me, but to each his own.
     
  24. Solarize

    Solarize Member

    Messages:
    332
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2006
    Location:
    London, Engl
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Nothing wrong per se, but this is a sales business. People buy photographs based on an emotional connection, and not making use of all the tools we have to help make that connection is crazy.
    I believe so strongly in the quality of a handprinted, custom framed photograph... that is what I do, but the sales process does not play a part in the result. It is important to make that distinction. If we don't sell the idea convincingly then we don't get to make the print for them.

    I HATE the Venture sales model, but there are apects of it that work and should be learned from. I have a session fee, and anyone who books is well aware of what that is, and how much they can expect to spend on prints. The hard sell is unethical and no good for repeat business/referals. I want to make a living doing this, but I don't want people to feel gutted the day after they have given me a cheque.

    Cheers,
    Ciaran
     
  25. Cheryl Jacobs

    Cheryl Jacobs Member

    Messages:
    1,717
    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2003
    Location:
    Denver, Colo
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    It's not "crazy" to use whatever sales methods work for you. I prefer to work very simply in all aspects, from my website, to my equipment, to my shoot methods, to my sales techniques. If I were to break out a projector to my clientele, it would be quite off-putting to them. They see me as an artist rather than a portrait photographer; in fact, typically I end up telling them what to order, how I'll frame it, and how the prints will be shown in their home/business. My sales numbers per session are very good, and have increased steadily over the years.

    You have to do what suits your style of business, market, and your own personality.
     
  26. Gary Holliday

    Gary Holliday Member

    Messages:
    826
    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Location:
    Belfast, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    My hatred of Venture is shared, but I did have the pleasure of pointing out to a girl one time that the print she paid £200 for was out of focus and that I would have binned that... rant over.

    Ciaran, we are appealing to the same market. My advice to anyone would be to get an exhibition stand and get it displayed in upmarket shopping centres. People will then see your work first hand. We don't need 30 people a week coming into a studio hoping that they will upgrade to a £1000 photo.

    No need for words like selenium and archival, just handcrafted fine art portraiture.