The Teen Portrait Market
• TEXT BY ALICE B. MILLER • IMAGES AS INDICATED •Ellie Vayo's seniors (above) receive previews and pricing info in General Products' Ellie Vayo
© Ellie Vayo Brad Allan Riggio, of Michael Redford Studios, treats his seniors like stars, with exquisite results
© Brad Allan Riggio Across America, in traditional Main Street studios and cutting-edge digital portrait studios, photographers are expanding their services to capture a greater share of the high school seniors market. New styles, products, technologies, and marketing strategies are all part of the equation.
Four pros who are prospering in this competitive field took time out recently to share their formulas for success with SP&D.
Brad Allan Riggio, a portraitist with the Michael Redford Studios in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, for 17 years, treats his seniors like stars—from the complimentary hair and makeup styling and facial analysis to the Senior Hangout Room and exquisite end results.
"The kids want to see a variety of looks and lots of outfits," says Riggio. During an average two-hour session, the senior will wear four to six outfits, in three settings. "Expression sells portraits. The more comfortable a kid feels, the better expression you get. So I study them while they're hanging out in the music room, watching how they stand and sit when they're just being themselves."
Every Riggio portrait is free of wrinkles, creases, and bad hair. "Even after we style their hair and makeup, we hold up the mirror after each pose so they can see how super they look."
And of course Mom is usually right in the room, boosting her teen's confidence.
A big fan of natural light and natural poses, Riggio finds simplicity is sweet. When he's not in the natural light room, he uses a modeling light. "For a striking effect, I usually use hotlights and reflectors," says Riggio. He'll enhance the image by selecting from the more 250 interior backgrounds and 60 exterior variations by Off the Wall and Backgrounds by Maheu.
Studio owner Michael Redford regularly sends out direct mailings and color cards to the parents of students at 20 high schools in the vicinity. The studio website, www.redfordphotography.com, which is undergoing its 12-month tuneup and replenishing, features a sampling of senior images, sans ordering function. "I want my clients to be able to speak to a person when they place an order."
T. Wandel, of Omaha, Nebraska, has owned 11 studios and photographed over 20,000 seniors during the past 34 years. His ads these days focus on the T Wandel brand and "We've Got Your Look" theme.
"Our promotional effort includes senior scouts, school newspaper ads, mall displays, our website, www.seniorsbywandel.com, and our new, interactive CD, just mailed to 3,400 seniors."
Were you to view the CD, you'd notice the absence of jargon traditionally associated with the senior market, such as Portraits, Proofs or Previews, Sittings, Poses, and Packages. This reflects Wandel's desire to set his studio apart from others in his market.
"We prefer Looks, Rushes, Shoots, Sets, and Stills." He's also created and coined the name T Trades, 3"x3" Hasselblad-based alternatives or supplements to wallets.