Sometimes parents are tempted to drag their kids to the neighborhood babymart or department store for their annual portrait session. After all, who has time to research local photographers? Besides, you get the same images either way, right? Well, that’s not how husband-and-wife team Stacy and Andrea Walker approach their baby and child portraiture in their Evansville, Indiana studio.
“We don’t give you three poses in one outfit in 45 minutes—that’s not our style,” explains Stacy. “We have the parents bring three or four different outfits, maybe some toys. We want them to come in and have fun so we can capture them being themselves.”
The Walkers draw out each child’s inner essence by allowing plenty of time for the youngster to become comfortable with the studio surroundings. “In February, we moved our office space around and put a children’s room in,” says Andrea. “We let the kids go in there to get acclimated and then bring them back for the shoot. We don’t allow 30 or 40 minutes, like some studios.”
“We always schedule two hours, while each session ends up being 60 to 90 minutes,” adds Stacy. “We give ourselves plenty of time, because while we may capture all the images in 20 minutes, it may take another 50 minutes for the children to get used to us. When they start getting more comfortable, we get the best images. We’ll even take a few pictures of the mom and the child just to show them what we’re going to do. And since we shoot digital, they get so excited that they can see the picture immediately.”
Staying focused while a toddler or baby is exploring their new territory can be challenging. “A one-year-old does not want to sit still. The child’s attention span is very short. Stacy and I typically do those shoots together. I’m a very child-oriented person—I have two boys, and I’ve baby sat since I was 11. It’s really all about seeing what works with them to get their attention. It might be a snap or a game of peekaboo, where they’re intrigued for just long enough for us to capture that moment.”
The Walkers make a point of stressing each child’s individuality. “We try to help parents appreciate that not every picture is going to show their child looking at the camera,” says Andrea. “We tell them it’s because that’s not how they see their children. They see them playing with toys or playing with their toes or sitting on their hands. Five years down the line, when the child is older and back talking and the parents are saying, ‘Remember how cute you used to be,’ they can look at those memories hanging on their wall! After they see our images, they’ll say, ‘That’s my son—that’s who he is!’ That’s the highest compliment we can receive.”
Stacy and Andrea are masters at helping parents chill out. “If a child takes 30 minutes to warm up, or is running around and not as cooperative as they want them to be, you can see stress build in the parents,” says Stacy. “We want the parents to enjoy the experience, too, so we try to be reassuring and get the stress level down. We make sure they know we scheduled for this. If they’re stressed the whole time, even if we get great images, they’ll be reluctant to come back.”
THE WALKER DIFFERENCE
Last year, the Walkers added themed portrait sessions to their repertoire. “Stacy was reluctant,” says Andrea, “because we usually just let the kids be themselves to bring out their personalities. It was a bit of a struggle to get Stacy to agree that putting every kid in a similar themed situation was a good idea.”
“She really wanted to do it, so I thought we’d try it,” continues Stacy. “Last March, we held a ‘Day with the Ducklings.’ We built a big pond in our studio and mail-ordered little ducklings. We did 60 sessions, just from postcards we had mailed out. And most of them were clients we hadn’t worked with before. The response was amazing.”
Even though the themed sessions were a great success, the Walkers limit them to three times a year. “Because we do try to capture children in their element, the themes are an extra thing we do.”
While many of the studios in their area have gone digital, the Walkers have been able to stand apart from their competition. “It’s a traditional town, and most of them don’t do a lot of post-production work, so we’ve set ourselves apart by doing just that,” explains Stacy. “We start out in Lightroom, go through the images, do initial adjustments there, and then enhance every image in Photoshop.”
A PERSONAL TOUCH
The Walkers agree that it’s their client interaction and fun session experience that is their strongest business suit. “We have clients who say, ‘We love you guys, you’re the best,’ and they haven’t even seen an image yet,” says Stacy. “By the time they leave one of our sessions, they’ve had a great time, their child’s had fun, and they’re recommending us to their friends.”
The Walkers learned early on that confidence attracts profits. “Sometimes when you’re the new kid on the block, you don’t always see the value of your work,” explains Andrea. “You may underprice yourself, because you don’t have that confidence, but as your confidence grows and people begin to rave about you, then you see the value your work has. We’ve learned a lot about marketing our work through reading and going to seminars, and it’s not always just showing your images—it’s letting clients know what you do. We’ve even used some of the expressions our clients have used in our marketing pieces because it has an impact.”
The Walkers tap into direct mail, their website, and the phenomenal word of mouth they’ve enjoyed to spread the word about their portraiture products and services. They’ve also started doing maternity sessions and tying it into their baby and children portraiture as a value-added package.