How to launch a school photography? How to approach schools?

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by 10963646, Apr 2, 2018.

  1. Hi All

    I am interested in starting a school photography business, and I was wondering how to approach schools.

    1. Do I need to start with school district or directly school?
    2. Also what legal things do I need to take into consideration, and address them to schools so give them a peace of mind?
    3. How to encourage the schools to trust and work with me, from the business aspects of the service?
    4. How many times a year do I need to do it in every school year?

    Thank you.
  2. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Much would depend upon where you are located and what level (age) of student you were addressing and whether or not your course were to be an extra curricular activity and what the local curriculum comprised.

    For example, I have taught at College and also I have tutored High School Students: in the former role I was "the teacher" in the classroom of students, and as such was an employee of the College and therefore complied with the necessary accreditation etc.; in the latter role the Students (their parents) paid me directly - but obviously to do a good job and to be recommended for more work I had know the High School Art (Photography) curriculum. In both situations I had to have the necessary Government requirements to work with children (background / police check to work with minors).

    All these elements are dependent upon where you work.

    I think that you'd get some basic information by studying what exactly is in the school curriculum and that will guide you as to the basic structure of what you might want to teach - then find out what credentials you might require to teach it.

  3. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Oh dear! I just received a PM pointing out that I probably misunderstood the meaning of the OP. Clearly when I read for a second time I think I was way off the mark - sorry.

    If we are discussing a starting a Business to provide "School Photos", then - (in AUS) that business is negotiated directly with the individual School concerned. Our Company has done School photography and always there was a fiscal consideration to the School. This was by way of a percentage of the print package. Typically we'd photograph individual classes and then individual students in each class and provide a choice of two or three print packages - for example: one each 5x7 of class and individual and four wallet size of individual. That might be $12.00 cost to client and the school gets $4.00 per package sold. The shoot would be pro bono.

    The last School shoot we did was around 2006 and we used digital for it. We still provided print packages. I am not sure if selling the digital files would be or would not be a better option today.

    Apropos selling yourself, that needs to be done to the decision maker, typically here that would be a (senior) Teacher designated by the Principal, and usually the Principal would tick off that Teacher's decision. Obviously that might vary according to where you are located - for example the Parents Association might be responsible for managing School Photos – in any case the key factor is you need to find out who makes the decision and get in touch with them, directly and preferably face to face.

    If you were selling to me, then you would need to provide evidence of:

    1. Experience with managing large group photography in a speedy and efficient manner – to this end you will need a clear management shot plan and timeline (so you will need to know how many classes and how many students and it would be a good idea to gather information on the logistics of previous years’ photography)

    2. The equipment and staff to execute the above

    3. A clear cost/pricing plan, including cost benefit to the school (again it would be in your interest if you could procure this information regarding previous years’ photography

    The above elements will go to majorly addressing your questions 2 and 3.

    Legal and other requirements will vary by location, yet I think generally they fall into these three categories:

    1. The school might require documentation apropos TAXATION, this might mean that you need the required registration(s)

    2. The law might require you to have CLEARANCE DOCUMENT to work in a school environment (see my first commentary)

    3. It might be either prudent or mandatory that you have INSURANCE and this would be in the form of both - PUBLIC LIABILITY PERSONAL INJURY and THIRD PARTY PROPERTY DAMAGE (examples - the first one is if your camera knock a person in the head and they are injured; the second is if your camera knocks a window pane and it breaks)

    School Photography here is done, usually in the one time per School Year, usually never in the Winter season and scheduled when the majority of students will be in attendance and outside exam times: this means that there is a bunching up at one time of the year, so if you intend to approach several schools, then you will need to have each date locked in steel and have a fallback plan if you get sick.

    If you are delivering prints, then (a very short) turn-around time is crucial to sales and profit and also to you getting the contract next year and probably contracts to other schools.

    I think 24 to 72 hours would be expected. On Site Printing never really was in contention as an offer we would make, but it might be suitable in other locations. If you are delivering image files then the same turn around 24 to 72 hours would be good.

    Offering a prepayment discount (i.e. pay at time of shoot) certainly worked for us to maximize sales, but some schools were reticent to a procedure where the students had to bring money on the day: maybe it wasn’t the school so much but the school worrying about the parent body’s reaction.

    We typically had three on site for a medium sized school (approx 600~700 Students) : Photographer, Photographer’s Assistant; Sales Person. The assistant and the sales person needed to understand and set Flash Lighting. The sales person took the money and made pre-paid orders. The Photographer directed and made the Class Photos. The Assistant made the individual portraits in a separate portrait booth. For big schools we set a second portrait booth and the Sales person work it, as well as taking money for pre paid orders.

    For any school larger than 400 students / 20 teachers / 20 Classes, it is imperative that the timeline of the shoot has minimal error/slippage.

    Consider even with a small school of 20 classes, each with 20 students, in a five hour school day that allows 15 minutes per Class shot including 20 individual portraits, with no time to eat or to go to the toilet.

    Good luck with your venture

  4. I have to agree with all the above but want to make one thing clear in #3above regarding cost pricing. They will want to know how much you are going to give to the school or school system usually presented to them as a percentage or flat rate per order. A kickback in other words. I've seen that be the deciding factor many times concerning school pictures, sports teams, dance photos and so on. I've bidded it more than once. The kickback is often the deciding factor while your pricing may well not be the most competitive one in terms of cost to the customer. Has a lot to do with why I don't bother anymore.

    Rick H.
    William Michael likes this.
  5. Hi William and Rick

    Thank you very much for your responses. I found them very useful. I should have also mentioned that I am from Texas, USA.
    Another question: in terms of time arrangements when at school on the day of photo shoot, when are you allowed to do it? During recess time, or can you, for example schedule to take the students out from their math class?

    Thank you.
  6. I would think class pix would be done during "home room" period, or there is no certainty of getting all the students.
    Or for schools where the students stay in the same classroom all day, then it does not matter, as long as it is during class period.

    If it is random individual, then likely recess, lunch hour and after school.
  7. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    My business experience is with High Schools. Between 600 to 1200 students in a school. There are six "years" in our High Schools, referred to as "Yr 7" . . . "Yr 12". The school (the teacher managing) would be responsible for scheduling the prescribed day and also arranging time slots for each class (average 28 students in each) throughout that day, so yes Students were taken out of class, but that was an internal school arrangement not mine.

    Obviously there was prior liaison to indicate how long each time slot needed to be - but that's not really very flexible, because for a big school (e.g. 1200 student) one just had to get the job done in about six hours, there were no excuses not to.

    What I was responsible for was to guarantee and execute that we could manage to shoot continuously, the total number of class photos; individual photos; group sports teams and group Staff photo, throughout the school day without any delay or stuff up. (typical school day here is 0900 to 1500).

    michaelmowery likes this.
  8. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    It depends how the students and their timetables are arranged. Additionally if the "Home Room period is 15 minutes and is the same 15 minutes school wide, or even year wide and say three classes for each year, then it would be likely impossible to shoot three classes or all the classes in the school in that 15 minutes.

    Many schools here have "Roll Classes" (arranged alphabetically on Surname)- like your "Home Room" I expect.

    Typically what would happen is each Roll Class would be allocate time slot and the students would remove themselves from whatever class they were attending at their Roll Class's allocated time. so some might miss 15 minutes of Maths, some 15 minutes of Geography.

  9. Yes much more difficult to coordinate when the students are changing classes.
    The teachers would have to plan that days class expecting students to be out for part of the class.

    On second thought, as you said, it would not be possible to do many home room classes in that short slot of time.
    I wonder how my high school's yearbook pix of sophomore and juniors were done. I do remember them coming through the yearbook room where the photographer had setup his camera. But I do not remember the logistics of how the students were managed, because it was shot through the entire day. And we changed classes in high school.
  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I want to re-iterate that in my experience this particular 'difficulty to coordinate' has been a responsibility of the School, not the Photographer.

    Certainly, in any business transaction a suitable outcome is achieved by working together toward the goal, but, there also has to be clear lines of responsibility: if a Student or a class was not at the designated Photography site at the correct time, then any explanation to the Parents as to why those Photos were not made was on the School, not me.

    Obviously very few large shoots do not go without some logistical problems and in the case where there were late comers - or a missing class or missing sports team we'd juggle that at the time - this is where having the designated teacher to co-ordinate and manage the students arrivals for the Photographs is (IMO) necessary.

    But if there omission of a number of students or a class or a sports team, simply because they didn't arrive at their scheduled time, then it is important that is immediately documented and reported to the Teacher in charge, because any fall-out from those omissions is not on the Photographer's head and that should be clearly articulated in the contract.


    Maz should be aware that possibly the way things are done at any particular school is simply because "this is how it has always been done" and that might not necessarily be the best set-up.

    For example, I remember one sales conversation with the Head Teacher at a school where we had never photographed before - and the Teacher began to explain to me "where the photographs were to be taken - outside near the playing field area and utilizing three-tiered benches" (i.e. the type used for typical "Sports Photos").

    Certainly I didn't want that contract working to that brief: for two main reasons. The benches were facing west (painful but doable for the morning shots in no cloud cover, but "squint-eyes" from 1300 onward), secondly - what if it rains?

    In this case the first part of my selling conversation was to explain why using the School Hall was a better proposition.


    hat has been my experience also.

    Here, (AUS) in the late 80s and early 90s there was an (abnormal) growth period of specialist School Photography Businesses. Like most ‘bubbles’ it eventually burst and many of these businesses went broke. However those which did remain only grew stronger and now, in general terms, these businesses have the majority and also the guts (the best bit) of the lucrative ‘Best Paying Client Market (i.e. the schools where Students typically are from the higher Socio-economic households and thus usually more willing to spend, for example > $50.00 on a set of school photos.) Some (most?) of these specialist companies use casual employees who are usually keen amateurs and are paid an hourly rate; they are given a few hours training and then go out and shoot to the prescribed formulae and timetable which has been contracted between the Photography Company and the School

    In these cases, as Rick mentioned, the schools usually are quite business savvy, and the deal is made almost always on the schools’ percentage of the sales, or flat fee paid to the school.

    Maz should note, in this regard, if there is a negotiation concerning how much the school will get, then a percentage of sales is the more conservative yet a much safer way to move forward, especially for a novice in this business: certainly if the sales are low and you are paying a percentage to the school, your business might make a net loss (i.e. loss after paying all expenses INCLUDING your wages), but if you pay a flat fee t the school and the total sales do not cover that fee, then your business stands to make a very severe net loss.

    Photographing School Students was an adjunct to our business – primarily we were W&P Studios and we first took on Schools because we were approached, not because I went looking for that business. For similar reasons to Rick and additionally I didn’t want to go head to head in a cost cutting war with the specialist companies that had consolidated their market share by about 2005, I didn’t pursue growing that arm of our Company.

  11. Good luck in this field. I have given it a try back a few years ago and managed to do a few schools but in the end the big guerrilla (Lifetouch national school photography) was to big to compete with. I would recommend to market the private schools and offer a photo session approach. Senior pictures is also a big market if the school is not under contract with...Lifetouch or other likes.
  12. All

    Thank you very much for your very helpful information.
    Here in Texas, USA, I am trying to figure out who the decision maker is, School District, Principal/Admin team, or PTA (parent-teacher association) of each school, or combination of them. I had a meeting with a principal and she added a bit to my confusion. She said possibly working with PTA is the better choice to start with, but she also said we may want to talk to the curriculum committee of the school district. Why did she bring up curriculum committee? Because our business is not exactly what you guys do, but it is tailored to a health-care related business as well. I am not going to compete with photographers, although photography will be a major part of our business. Basically we are not taking group or individual portraits. Also we want to offer short educational sessions for students, or pamphlets about healthcare to make it informative for students/parents, and also make it a bit more appealing for schools to allow us in.
    Apparently, I emphasized a lot on the educational aspects of our work that the principal was confused that we want to offer something like a course, so she thought changing the curriculum could be an option. We do not intend to do that at all, as the educational parts are going to be brief, and we do not want to spend a lot of time on the bureaucratic aspect of changing curriculum.
    So I think our best shot would be to deal with with school districts directly to allow us to get into each individual school, as we do not like to negotiate a lot with each school. But also the risk is that if the district says no to us, we may loss the opportunity to get into each school.

    Please let me know what you think.
    Thank you
  13. Usually it is the PTA who votes on which photographer and each school is on its own. You have no choice but to visit each school and speak to them directly. Like most people they will want to hire someone with experience in this field. There is a lot of production work involved shooting school photography.
  14. quote
    Basically we are not taking group or individual portraits.
    end quote

    So then, what school photography business are you trying to do?
  15. Now I am confused. What are you offering? Health care info or school photography?
    William Michael likes this.
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I think that if your business offers 'short educational sessions for students, or pamphlets about healthcare to make it informative for students/parents', then that is definitively either:

    1. A change in the curriculum
    2. Additional and/or different core or source work within the current curriculum

    Speaking from my experience teaching and my ongoing professional relationship with High Schools and Colleges here, in AUS

    1 - the former would require change at curriculum level or if offered as an Extra-curricular activity the written Consent and Intent of the Parents for their Child to attend and receive the publications.

    2 – the latter would require suitable annotation and references to show that the course of instruction and publications met the criteria of the existing curriculum and the instructors (i.e. you and any staff) would have to have the required teaching qualifications to provide that instruction: that my not necessarily be a degree in Teaching, or similar, but there would need to be evidence of formal training in Pedagogy and Practical Method. Also you’d require a Police background check and Clearance Number from the Office of the Childrens’ Guardian.

    Obviously these same criteria might not be applicable in the USA or in Texas specifically, but I expect that IF you business is offering ‘short educational sessions for students’ then there will not be an easy way to avoid ‘bureaucratic aspect’.

    Additionally, what I wrote in response #2 is also applicable.


    I too am confused , to me the description of your business is vague: it appears NOT to be School Portrait Photography, it appears NOT to be Teaching Photography, in a common meaning.

    I agree with Gary Nakayama and Michael Mowery - I think you need to better describe exactly what is your business.

  17. Start with the superintendant's office. It's a complicated deal. But that's the way in.

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