Writing a proposal for high school photography

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by becky_lambert, May 20, 2008.

  1. I've never bid on a job of this magnatude, but would love to secure this contract.

    These are some of the main requirements (per e-mail request): We do bids for 3
    year contracts. Usually, it includes (but isn't limited to) the following: *All
    underclass photos for sale to parents (sales commission to school) *ID cards for
    all students *Senior portraits (commission to school) *All sports groups and
    individuals (commission to school, comp. package to all coaches and 11x14 group
    photos of all District Champion teams) *All dances--individuals (commission to
    school) and candids *Action shots of all sports (1 per game) *photo cd of all
    underclass and seniors *camera for yearbook staff to use until contract is signed
    with another company *graduation hand-shake pix; cap and gown pix; senior group
    pix (commission to school for all of these) *coverage of all special events Our
    present school population is almost 1400 students.

    I'm wondering what commission to offer (I've seen anywhere from 15-50%
    suggested). Should I specify the package prices for each of these opportunities in
    the proposal? And how do I charge for items such as ID cards (?), action shots for
    games (hourly rate +cd?), camera for yearbook staff's use (?), photo cd of all
    students ($75 per cd), and special events coverage (hourly rate)? Any advice you
    might give will be appreciated.

    Thank you, Becky
  2. How big is this school? 200 students? 2000 students?
  3. almost 1400 students
  4. Something else to consider is this: are you going to be doing all of this yourself? I think that for the majority of these pictures you would at least need an assistant, and for covering all the sports games, you'll need at least one other photographer (for when the basketball team has a game at 5 at home, and the baseball team has a game 30 minutes away at 5:15).

    I also find it pretty strange that for a school of 1400 students, they would want YOU to provide a camera for the yearbook staff to use. Why doesn't the school have a camera? Are you going to be in the business of renting equipment? Who is responsible if it breaks, and does your insurance cover it? Will they call you night and day asking how to use it? Etc.
  5. Becky,

    Are you a company or are you just one photographer? Even one school is a huge undertaking when they start asking for at least one photo of each event for every sport. Can you be at 3 different games on opposite sides of 3 towns at the same time? And you will NOT make any money off of all of those sports and special event photos unless you also have the opportunity to market additional shots to the coaches and students. The bulk of your "income" will be from parents buying portrait photo packages and you have to give commission back to the school on that on top of providing them with all of the freebies.

    I used to work in the "school photography" business back in the 80s in Knoxville, TN and the studio (even with about 40% of the schools in town) struggled to break even after meeting all of the freebies and commissions. They eventually went totally out of business a few years after I left.

    Speaking of commissions... why should any school get 15%, much less 50%? 10% even seems high to me. Sure they are providing a place for you to take photos but they asked you to take the photos, you (unless you are crazy) didn't ask them. I realize some schools get those high commissions but if the photographers in their market would stand up for themselves the schools would have to back down and become reasonable. They need those yearbooks and w/o you they can't make em.

    Things might be different in the digital age, but I wouldn't go near a school contract with a 10' zoom.
  6. I'll piggy-back on what others have said about being a company or by yourself.

    I'm a yearbook advisor for a school about the same size, so let me offer my perspective. Do you have the equipment and organization to shoot 1400 students in one day (30-45 seconds per student), keep track of who they are and what they ordered, label all the package envelopes and sort them by homeroom or even just grade? We have four to six photographers on picture day. Then there's retakes. How are you going to make the id's? Can you integrate the cards into the cafeteria's account system or library checkout? Our school doesn't pay for the id cards, they're included as part of the photography contract from Lifetouch.

    There's approximately 350 students in each grade, assuming its a 9-12 school. That means 350 senior portraits- formal, casual, cap and gown.

    Sports- you don't charge by the sport. It's part of the contract. In your contract, you say that you will do team and individual photos and at least one game for each varsity and jv sport for action shots.

    The photo cd of all students is to be sent to their yearbook publisher so they can be automatically placed in the panel pages of the yearbook with each photo matching with the name using a database.

    It might sound like gravy at first, but when the yearbook advisor is calling you because they don't have the photos that were promised, or parents are calling because they got the wrong package, or the principal wants to see the numbers to make sure they are getting the fair commission, or the yearbook publisher is trying to straighten out your database, teachers getting on your case on picture day because you're behind schedule... is it really worth it?
    Homecoming, prom, plays, chorus and band concerts, chorus and band group and individual photos, club group photos, and other things aren't listed in your proposal.

    From the sound of your question, you've never done this before. Not to be a pessimist, but if things don't work out, there are 1000 families who will have a negative view of you and your business. Every one of them will have a sample of your work to show their friends and families.

    If you are interested in getting into school photography, start small. Look for a private or charter school and build up to bigger schools.

    I've considered getting into school photography and been asked why I don't do our school. There's no way, too many logistics to deal with. Places like Lifetouch, Jostens, Herff Jones, etc. have the manpower to tackle multiple school and manage the logistics.

    It's not an easy gig. The biggies survive because they hire camera operators and set everything up on a mat that shows where everything goes. Litereally, I've watched them set up. They lay the mat down, the put the light stands on the spots that show where each leg goes, there's foot prints for where the kid's feet go. They keep track of it all using a digital barcode system that is scanned into the camera.

  7. Thank you all for your responses.

    I am a single photographer, but am not disillusioned into believing I can shoot this by myself. I am figuring in the cost to rent another portable studio set up, another photographer, and two assistants for each day individual school portraits are scheduled. Since my first post, I have learned that action sports photos requiring �(one per game)� actually means �one per team� (26 games to be shot per school year), reducing the need for a second photographer to compensate for my lack of being able to be in two places at one time! I have also found a company that makes ID cards.

    Pamela, I completely agree with you on questioning why they don�t have a camera for the yearbook staff. When asked who would be responsible for damages, I was told that the camera should be under warranty for the first year and any damage caused after that time would be paid for by the school. In answer to your question�No, I do not want to be in the business of renting equipment, but do plan to add the cost of the camera into the bottom line.

    Michael, for the action sports photography, I intend to make parents aware that these photos are on my website and available for purchase.

    Sam, thank you for your perspective. I understand that organization must be key when working on this scale and am willing to rise to the challenge and make the commitment necessary. I was in the process of trying to get a smaller school when this invitation for bids was advertised.

    Does anyone have current experience in this field? I am still in the process of figuring out how to charge for everything that is not covered under the �comission to school� category and would love more input.

    Thanks again,
  8. Becky,
    First thing to consider when writing the proposal is your software. I use Express Digital Darkroom Assembly Edition for school Portraiture. The cost is about $3,000-$4,000. This program is designed for photographers that shoot schools. It will fully support 99% of the schools requirements, ( id cards, bar-code readers, student tracking, online gallery, various file outputs, etc).
    If you do not invest in software that is designed for school photography you should find a lab that provides a software program designed for school portraiture and all the other nuts and bolts that go along with it, I would suggest Herf Jones.
    Shooting school portraits is usually done in the fall and spring. Fall photography most generally is a 2 pose proof shoot and pre-pay. Spring is the time of speculation and Life-touch has a great idea of sending a portrait package home with every student on speculation keep this in mind if you want to provide the same service.
    If you can discover the amount of commission paid to the school in the past this number can give you much insight.
    Another number to consider is the number of students on assisted lunch program, this number has proven to be influential on the purchase rate per student in my experience.
    Another number to consider is the median income for the area.
    In the nutshell you need to determine the actual cost to provide the service, and the % of anticipated student buy rate (an educated guess). This percentage is higher for elementary students and usually drops as children move up in grades.
    Do not shoot Seniors in the spring, offer a cap and gown shot for those students that did not get professional senior portraits on the same day you do make-up photography for missed students and new students just before the cutoff for the yearbook. The Sr market should be kept alive for maximum profit potential.
    I can shoot 400 students per day with 1 paid assistant, the key here is mother helpers. With a good school you can possibly stretch the photography over a 3 day period and cover it yourself.
    Build redundancy into your system, you do not want the nightmare of a show-stopper in the middle of a school shoot.
    Always keep in the back of your mind that there is what I call the Lifetouch effect. They are student numbers driven and will shoot a school at a loss just to have the contract and keep others from competing with them.
    I will email you my phone number I would be happy to discuss this subject with you.
  9. Mr Ellis , What a remarkable statement "The biggies survive because they hire camera operators", So true so true. Joe
  10. I think these resources would be helpful to you (and others):

    For a list of labs that handle printing school pictures see:

    See my blog directed toward school photographers:

    To download a sample high school contract:
  11. I have kind of an off-topic question that maybe some of you will be able to answer if this thread is still alive.
    I currently do not have a contract with a school, and quite frankly am not interested with what sounds like a pretty big headache. I do, however, have a strong interest in shooting proms. I've shot a couple proms with a larger size company in Los Angeles. I have since relocated to Massachusetts and would really like to shoot proms here. There is just something I really like about them. The kids are usually really happy, everyone is looking the best they've ever looked, and they want to spend money! So my question is, does anyone think it is a realistic goal to try to pursue prom photography, or do you think that every school has a contract with a big photography outlet that will also be shooting the prom in addition to everything else they shoot for the school?
    Thanks for your help guys!
  12. Hello,
    I have a question for all of you, I am starting a yearbook division, where we are going to offer yearbooks to our Jr and Senior High Schools, can any one tell me the following?
    Do the schools generally mark up the yearbooks?
    How and when are the yearbooks paid for?
    Do the schools collect the payments, and then cut a district check to me, Or do the students pay me directly?
    what are your thoughts and suggestions re this?

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