Previously published in Success Magazine by H&H Color Lab, 2020
In this interview for our 2020 Success Magazine, Kia Bondurant, a professional photographer with over twenty years of experience, explains how her business has evolved through the years. Feel her energy, draw from her vision, and learn from her expertise!
In my 20 years of experience as a professional photographer, I’ve discovered most people find family portraits to be boring, overwhelming or generally chaotic (if not all three). I felt exactly that way until I began incorporating Stylized Family Portraits into my business. Because of this mindset, family portraits are now more rewarding—both monetarily and inspirationally. Most important, Stylized Family Portraits give my clients a wonderful memory with their family, personalized art for their home, and an experience they can’t wait to share on social media.
Here are the three keys that helped me transform my family portrait sessions from intolerable to inspiring.
Know Your Style
The most important element for shooting stylized family portraits is to know your own style. When you know yourself and your photography well enough to pinpoint your look, you will be able to help your clients express who they are through stylized portraits. It doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your aesthetic to what your clients want, but knowing your style can help you incorporate what you love to photograph with what will work in your client’s homes.
A fantastic exercise to define your style is to choose three words that can encapsulate your photography. Examples of descriptive words are fun, fresh, silly, playful, simple, clean, romantic, vintage, modern, edgy. To get a better idea for your visual aesthetic, make Pinterest boards and reflect on what you choose. Take a minute to look at my Pinterest boards (kiabondurant). Notice my color boards—you’ll find that they are bright and full of life. My boards are different than those of my photographer friends who have dreamy and vintage or clean and modern choices.
Another way to determine your three words is to ask others. I encourage you to text several people right now and ask them, “What three words would you use to describe my photography work and/or my personal style?” It might feel embarrassing to ask, but you’ll be glad you did. Invariably, when I challenge photographers to text friends for words, they hear incredible feedback about their work and business. It becomes an amazing boost of confidence.
For many years, I would sit in a booth displaying my work at women’s expos. I heard the same words over and over. “Your work is so vibrant.” “I love how authentic the feelings are.” “I’m so inspired.” So when I did this exercise several years ago while creating my studio website, I already had my three words: Vibrant, Authentic and Inspirational. These are the words I chose, and they have been a guiding force in the direction of my business and personal life ever since.
My final suggestion on knowing your own style, is to look at the work that you create for yourself. If I go back through the portraits I’ve made of my own family and children, I can see evidence of the three aspects of my personal style. Many of my sessions are bright and playful with clothing or backgrounds in turquoise, bright green, red and yellow—Vibrant. There are also times when I’ve done more vintage or black and white, capturing the family sweaty, muddy and messy—Authentic. And then, some of my favorites are dreamier, with a make-believe or ethereal element—Inspired
Knowing your personal style gives you more confidence, direction and enthusiasm as you help your clients express their family’s style through your photography.
Shoot Your Style
The next step in creating stylized family portraits is shooting examples of your style. To determine what looks you want to shoot, first gather ideas. I buy physical magazines, dog ear favorite ideas, and tear out those pages. I pin these pages up on a wall in my studio office. Be careful if you do this, because my young son started tearing out pages from a magazine, and when I asked him what he was doing, he said he was reading it like Mommy does. Whoops! You can also create Pinterest boards, use the save button on Instagram, or delve into the recesses of your very own brain to decide what looks you want to shoot.
It’s important when shooting sample images to be obvious and over the top. George Silverman said, in his book, The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing, “Remember, people only go out of their way to talk about the Unusual, EXTRAordinary and OUTrageous.” If you are too subtle with your sample shoots, people won’t understand or see what you are doing. Give your clients something worth talking about and desiring.
When planning what to wear with my clients, I give suggestions for backgrounds, clothing and color schemes. I also go the extra step if they aren’t confident, even to the point of going to their homes or shopping for their shoots. When I closet shop in my client’s home, I pull the outfits and accessories from each person’s closet to give a cohesive look to the portraits. This is helpful because I can see exactly where the portraits will be going and plan the look and style accordingly. Or, if they don’t have the clothing that works with our photo shoot, I will online shop and send links for the pieces that I think will work best with our session.
Celebrate Your Style
Once you’ve created these amazing images that reflect your studio style and look great in your clients’ homes, the last step in the process is celebrating your style. Sometimes, we put so much effort into creating beautiful work that we are too tired or insecure to put that work in front of the public. Don’t stop short! Share, display and tell the story of your stylized family portraits.
Start with sharing your images. Online is the easiest way to share, using Instagram and Facebook. Update your website with these fresh, new images (I’m preaching to myself here, as much as you).
Make the investment to display your work. In today’s world, the internet is definitely important, but nothing can beat the impact of a big, gorgeous, framed portrait. My clients are so excited to see portrait displays in local businesses, at events, and even on the walls of our studio. When you show how to frame and display your stylized images, you’ll create a desire for the final product.
To take it up another notch, tell the story of your stylized shoots with behind-the-scenes content, inspirations and your excitement about the final product. You can do this through blogging, social media, emails, print newsletters or in person. Bring in your clients for studio tours and opportunities to meet the artist to tell them your stories in person.
Ken Downing of Neiman Marcus remarked on the controversial new concept of livestreaming fashion shows: “When you can excite customers and ignite their imagination and give them a reason to shop, they respond.”
Many of you are already creating senior and children’s portrait sessions, so taking the next step with family portraits is going to fit right into your process. It’s vitally important to go all the way through the process from conceptualizing, to creating, to installing the art. You’ll enjoy the process and feel accomplished as a result.
As a business person, as well as a photographic artist, my end goal is to create work that my clients love so much they want to purchase it for themselves and hang it in their homes. One way to help your customers visualize what you have created for them is to show your images in a sales session through an app like N-Vu. N-Vu has a feature, Room-Vu, that allows your client to submit an image of their own home wall or mantel. Then you can actually show what their images will look like hanging over their sofa or above their mantel. They can visually see the difference between what an 8×10 and a 30×40 will look like in their room, and you can help them choose the perfect image or collection of images for that special spot. (Check it out at n-vu.com) Creating excitement and igniting the imagination with Stylized Family Portraits gives them a reason to purchase portraits that they will display, cherish and share with their friends.
About the author: Kia Bondurant
Many people feel the portrait photography business is struggling, and both experienced and new photographers see their struggles as unique. Kia Bondurant spent the first 15 years of her professional photography career as a co-owner of a well-established portrait studio. For the last 5 years, she has built up a small-scale photography business in the new economy. Because of her successful experiences on both ends of the spectrum, Kia believes that professional portrait photography has a bright future. During her career, Kia has been featured on the cover of Professional Photographer magazine twice, named the Kansas Photographer of the Year, the National Senior Photographer of the Year and has received both her Masters and Craftsmen from PPA.