Selling Boudoir & Glamour Photography

Boudie-Call Boudoir Collection templates available at DESIGN AGLOW.
Boudie-Call Boudoir Collection templates available at DESIGN AGLOW.
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Let’s talk glamour and boudoir sessions.

These images tend to be of a more personal nature and the sale of wall portraits (the typical goal in portraiture) might be difficult, or even ill-advised.  With these types of sessions, a photographer can risk low or no sales if there is not a specific plan to make sure the client has something desirable to purchase.  Not having a plan in place can lead to client dissatisfaction, as in: “the images are beautiful, but what do I do with them?”  Smartphones and tablets won’t cut it; even Facebook might be out for these.   In other words, have a plan or you have nothing of real value for your client to walk away with.

Since albums or portfolio boxes maybe the primary purchase, this needs to be planned for in both pricing and presentation.  Some photographers may find it’s easier to sell a high-dollar session with make-up and location fees if they include a “product” in the price.  Interior decorators and party planners learned a long time ago that clients do not like paying for services, and a high service bill can chase many a prospect away.  That is why they generally get a “commission” off the items the client purchases.  Sometimes that commission comes from the seller and sometimes it is added to the purchase price.  Photographers who specialize in glamour, boudoir or maternity need to give their pricing model serious consideration.  Should there be just a session fee and sell everything on the back-end?  Should there be a product credit included to get the sale started, or would it be best to include products as part of a package?

Boudoir is an area where the consumer has the highest perceived risk.  It is also where the photographer will have the most difficult time judging expectations.  The plus-size woman may be happy with her curves and just want to look glamorous, and the bikini-model type might be unhappy because she’s not looking Sports Illustrated ready.  For these reasons, I have the gut feeling that a very high entry point will be a risk that clients might not be willing to take.  Of course, some will, but is there potential for significant loss on bookings?

Here are a few suggestions I see for lowering the entry price without compromising anything about your business model:

  1. Let the make-up/hair stylists fees be separate and paid direct to the provider.  Doesn’t cost the client any less but elevates the appearance that all the money isn’t going to you.  Less bookwork, no liability, etc.
  2. If you are using hotel rooms, schedule several sessions in one day to reduce the cost per client.  I would suggest this for even the highest end photographers.  It just makes sense to save a little where you can.  Keep an eye on the time and make sure there is a buffer zone between clients and all should be good to go.  Sorry if this sounds simplistic but, from what I hear, it is an underused option.
  3. Consider creating a “boudoir space” of your own.  A vacant commercial space might be able to be rented on a month-to-month basis as long as you’re going to use it as is and just bring in your own props, etc.  You don’t need a lot of space and this might come as inexpensively as a one-day rental in a hotel.  (P.S.  I might have a space for rent if anyone is interested ;)
  4. Offer options.  One of my favorite sayings is, “how much money do you make on something no one buys?”  Look at your previous clients.  Have any walked with nothing more than a DVD?  Bad, bad business model.  Don’t expect referrals and don’t expect happy clients long term.  If your only album offering is a full flush mount Finao ONE, then add a playBOOK.  If all you offer is a press book, add-in upgrades to playBOOKs and ONEs.  We thrive on choice, we are women.
  5. Consider adding a beautiful print envelope such as The Marilyn or Portfolio Box with matted images as an option.  Again, if all that is available is albums, you might loose the client that wants something different.  This is a way to satisfy that and keep it diverse.

At this point some thought should be given to the market you will be trying to attract and the dollar amount you would like as a goal for your sales.  High-end boudoir photographers can get thousands of dollars for a session and album.  Those who are just starting out may be able to command only a few hundred.  I see $500 as a good starting point and I base that on the price of nice handbag.  Even a Coach bag is in the $500 range.  Anything with a designer’s name, and the price goes up.  Women spend this money all the time; you are not asking them to move outside their comfort zone.

Boudoir images are usually at the top of your price range, as the client will expect expert retouching.  That’s time, and time is money.  Keep this in mind when you price your albums: a book with twenty images means twenty retouched images.  Much different from the add-on portrait album.

If we return to our options for how we price it would break down like this:

  1. Lower to mid-range session price with the album sale on the back-end (personally not my favorite):  The session, depending on what is included, could range from $300 to $500.  Since boudoir shoots seem to take extra time, and probably more editing than other sessions, I wouldn’t think you could offer the service (excluding hair/make-up) for less than $200.  If you do light retouching before the client sees her images, the price will be higher.  It’s risky when no product is included, so you might want to have a minimum purchase.  Regardless, files are NOT available without a minimum purchase.  Be very careful, as your reputation rides on what others see.  If you think it’s important to control branding, that’s nothing compared to the importance of controlling the images themselves.
  2. Session that includes a product credit:  Many photographers like this as they can keep the entry cost down but are part way to their sales goal.  To make this work effectively you need options.  It’s assumed that a credit can be applied to a number of things; albums, envelopes, print boxes, portfolio boxes, loose prints, etc.  You can also offer options within options like larger albums, upgraded covers on a ONE album, higher capacity albums and personal sized albums.  The nicest part about a credit towards purchase is that the money is collected at the time of the session and we all know money spent is money forgotten.  A product credit probably needs to be at minimum $200.  Less and it loses some value, especially when all the items on your menu are $300 and above.   Actually, we might want to call this a session and a “down payment”.
  3. Session and album are rolled into a package price: This would seem to make the most sense as you have eliminated the minimum sale and the client has a spending expectation clearly in mind.  Plus, and this important, the client gets something.  We simply don’t like spending and not getting something concrete in return. The downfall could be the higher entry cost and the potential for limiting the sale.  An example would be including a low cost album like a playBOOK and then expecting to sell up to a pricier Finao ONE.  Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on your market and the price difference.  The playBOOK requires the same time commitment in retouching and design as the more expensive ONE so the difference isn’t as great as it first seems.

I’m a bit hesitant to put a specific price tag on an album as the unknowns of retouch and design time would be difficult to factor in.  The general rule is take your print price and multiply it by the number of sides in the album, then double the album cost.  Now you have my favorite “suggest retail value” which is the fair price for that number of retouched portrait images and binding.  I doubt many would sell for that price but it’s where you start from.  Once you have that price you can decide how much you can or would actually charge the client.  It would be an obvious special, regularly XXX per image, but when purchased as an album or box, only XXX.  You save XXX.

Regardless of the plan you select, you need to make sure the client knows exactly what you offer, the prices, and when she is expected to place that order.

At the session consultation, time must be taken to explain how your recommendations fit with creating the ultimate album.  For example, “We will be doing suggestive poses that may include only legs or high heels.  These poses will fit very well into your album layout as our goal will be to create a body of images that show your sex appeal rather than just one image that may not be able to fully express the effect you want.”  Continue in the same vein when suggesting several wardrobe changes: “Select something casual like his favorite shirt, and other choices like glamorous with fab lingerie.  Each outfit will show a different side of you and all will work together to make your album a real expression of yourself.“

Got Money?  If you have clients with money to spend and great images to spend it on, make sure you have enough things to offer so you won’t be leaving money on the table:

  1. Finabulous Finao ONE albums in lux leathers like Love Junkie.  We see some pretty good-sized books come though so we know it can be done.  The largest I remember was a two-volume set of 12×12’s with 60 pages in each.  Now that’s one mother of an album sale for boudoir, but probably didn’t cost more than a Louis Vuitton backpack.  Just keeping it in perspective.
    2. If the client purchases a large book, offer a smaller, purse-size playBOOK so she can show off her images to her friends.  You know she wants to.   Maybe her husband travels for work and could put it in his suitcase, or she could hide it there.  Just a thought…
    3. Boxes, Boxes, Boxes.  We love The Marilyn, the new twist on print presentation boxes by Finao, or the Portfolio Box from Seldex that Sue Bryce uses.  These are elegant, sophisticated, and definitely not something she will have seen elsewhere.  They are also very easy to use.  No design time involved, just slip standard prints into the matted frame mounts, or upload your images and receive a fully finished professional product.
    4. With larger boxes can come smaller boxes with mounted, not matted, images.  We love the 5×7 Seldex Preview Box with 10 mounted prints.  These are professionally finished and individual prints can easily be displayed on an easel.
    5. Make sure the album you offer is unique and different.  Women compare and generally know prices.  We highly recommend high-end fabrics like the Paraphernalia Collection or blingy, sassy upgraded leathers like the plusONE materials.  Give her something she won’t see anywhere else.  Make it special.  Let her have fun deciding on color and fabric choice.  We know women say they are doing this for their significant others but we also know they are really doing it for themselves.
    6. Have a plan for last minute sales.  Self mount Finao Elements books and slip-in Reveal albums can be stock items so you can have a book ready almost immediately.  Around Valentines Day and all holidays this is just a must.  If you have a reluctant client, and you really love the images, make-up an album on speculation.  If she doesn’t purchase it (very slim chance) you will have a great sample (or with Reveal, if you haven’t sealed the prints in, you can take them out to try again the next time).

Boudoir is very popular right now.  Finao is seeing many, many boudoir albums coming though which means albums are selling.   However, like everything else, they don’t sell themselves.  You need a plan and a goal.  Without both you will end up working very hard and making very little.  Finao would much rather see you well rewarded for your hard work.

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