Today I’m happy to have Tara Giles back on the show. Tara is a high school senior portrait photographer from Washington state. Her story will be familiar to many of you. Photography was a hobby, became something that she did on the side, and then three years ago, she took the plunge and left her corporate job to pursue photography full-time. We had a great conversation about her experience making the leap to full time, why she chose to focus on seniors, and how she puts her own twist on senior model programs.

(Here are the highlights, but you can listen to the full conversation below or to the episode on the Momentum podcast).

Going Full-Time

Three years ago, Tara made the decision to make her photography business her full-time job. It was a scary decision. Although she’d been shooting on the side, at that point, her business wasn’t established and she wasn’t making close to enough money to replace the salary from her corporate job.

Tara dove in, though, and sunk all her time and energy into both business and photography education. Despite this, she struggled to find balance and found herself taking on more work than she could really handle.

Looking back, if she could do it differently, Tara says that she would price herself properly from the beginning. It’s important to figure out what you need to make to break even and to make a profit. Without this information, you will struggle and do too much to keep things going. Don’t let yourself fall into the mindset that you have to compete with Walmart, Costco and every low priced photographer in your area. Figure out what you need to make and price yourself accordingly. Set a goal for pricing and then make a plan to incrementally get to that place.

Why Specializing is Important

When starting out, most photographers do a little bit of everything. Weddings, babies, maternity, families, couples…..This is normal and is also beneficial in that it helps you figure out what you love to do.

For Tara, she began to recognize that there were certain types of sessions that caused her anxiety and stress. She wasn’t excited to do the session and sometimes worried about the end result. When it came to photographing high school seniors, she always looked forward to the sessions and couldn’t wait to get home and start editing them.

Deciding to specialize was a big decision and one that came with risks. Tara worried that she’d lose business and find herself saying no more than she said yes to inquiries. What’s actually happened though is the opposite. Choosing to specialize has allowed her to provide a higher level of customer service to her clients. She’s able to be completely focused on her clients and their needs and to be fully committed to sessions. Additionally, being able to focus her marketing on high school seniors has made her marketing efforts easier more effective.

Senior Model Programs

The popularity and demand for high school senior photography vary around the country. In Washington state, senior portraits are a big part of senior year and senior model programs are expected. So much so that Tara started having girls “interview” her about her program so that they could compare what she offered with other photographers and decide who to go with!

Today’s seniors are looking for more than just a free session. They want a unique experience. If you want seniors to choose you, in addition to making your photos and your business stand out, you have to come up with a senior model program that stands out as well.

Tara’s slogan is, “Go beyond traditional with senior portraits that may you feel like a model.” and her senior model program is an extension of that. Tara provides a model-like experience. The students on her team model products and fashion for local businesses and participate in several stylized shoots.

Although they’ve been in front of Tara’s camera quite a few times before their actual senior portrait session, it doesn’t make their session less exciting or profitable. In fact, the opposite is true. Her models arrive at their own sessions feeling confident and excited to do a shoot that focuses on them and the things that they love.

If you’d like to learn more about Senior Model Programs, Tara has put together a free guide with more information. Click HERE to get “Four Tips for Senior Rep/Model Program Success!”.

Links mentioned in the show

Four Tips for Senior Rep/Model Program Success!

Tara’s Photographer Education

Want more Momentum?

Click here to subscribe to the Momentum Podcast through iTunes.