Thursday, June 24, 2010

Business Day Thursday: Have You Thought About a Portrait Farm

Good Morning Everybody,

Worldwide WebcastWhat a great program we had yesterday but unfortunately the time went flying by.  I had the program scheduled for 90 minutes but ran for 2 1/2 hours and I still left unfinished information. It was pretty much “bang for the buck” for a free webcast!  And, nearly everybody stayed till the end.

My thanks to everyone who attended our Fast and Easy Album Design worldwide webcast yesterday.  We had nearly 600 attendees from 32 countries around the world in the audience, gave away $1,000 in door prizes, and had a great time! My thanks also to my team, LaDawn, Jennifer, and Damien, all who were "riding shotgun" during the webcast to be sure everything went smoothly. I had a great time presenting this new program and I hope you enjoyed it too.

Be sure to read my Webcast Wrap-up post below.  For those of you that missed the webcast or for anyone wanting to see it again, you’ll be able to view it below.  I’ve also extended our Webcast Specials for the next few days.

Now it’s time to get on with today's post. Here we go.

Have You Thought About a Portrait Farm

JV Barn OK, I know right off the bat that this idea is not for everyone.  New York City photographers reading this probably think I'm crazy for even suggesting this idea. But for my country cousins reading this post, please hang in there with me.  I still think it is a great idea worth sharing.  So, here we go.

We recently returned from our KPPA Summer SchoolJV Pond One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to my friend, Jessica Vogel's, country studio [link].  It's about an hour's drive from Lexington, Kentucky nestled among the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky horse farms.  She was hosting a small get together to honor our guest speaker, Beth Forrester's birthday.

We all finally arrived and everyone settled in with a cool summer refreshment and just enjoyed visiting with everyone. Jessica eventually asked us if we would like a tour of her outdoor studio? Well, first of all, let me say that her studio in on 5 acres of pristine maintained property.

JV Barrel Even though her studio is about an hour from the closest major city, it still is one busy little beehive of photographic activity.  She does anywhere from 5 - 15 sessions a day, 3 days a week.  She reserves the other 2 days for sales and production.  Like I said, one busy little place.

Part of Jessica's success is because of her non-stop promoting and marketing of the studio in the immediate area.  Effective marketing is part of any profitable studio's successful endeavors. The other reason for Jessica's success is the topic of today's post.

Hit the “READ More…” link below for the rest of the story.

JV Seti Over the last few years, Jessica has designed and built 15 beautifully designed outdoor locations in which she can shoot.  The way the sets are laid out give her the opportunity to shoot any time of the day. She has put quite a bit of effort in developing these absolutely beautiful outdoor sets.

JV set1 Most of her sets ARE NOT commercial sets she has purchased.  Many of the sets are the result of things she has found around the area - whiskey barrels, wild flowers, wagon wheel, driftwood, etc.

OK, Jessica pushes the envelope when it comes to building her sets too.  She decided she wanted a pond in the back part of the property.  She hired a guy with a tractor to dig the hole for the pond.  The excavation wasn't going the way she envisioned it, so she asked the guy driving the tractor to step aside.  He climbed off and she climbed aboard, fired up the tractor, and finished digging out the pond exactly as she wanted. 

JV set2 After laying in the 1500 square foot rubber liner, adding 21 truck loads of limestone and slate around the perimeter, bringing in 20 tons of sand for the beach, adding the dock, she had her pond complete.  And yes, Jessica did most of the work herself.

JV Pond2 Here is yet another story of Jessica's resourcefulness and energy. As you drive through parts of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, you will see fascinating "walls of rock". These "walls of rock" usually denote property lines of the big plantations pre Civil War times.

JV Set3 The city was doing some roadwork and needed to remove a few of the stone walls. Jessica saw one of these walls being torn down and decided that a stone wall would look good in her country studio.  She managed to talk the work crew into letting her haul off the rock, which she proceeded to haul to her property.  It took her 2 days to move the rock, 1 day to build it, another day to build the steps - yep, she did all the work herself.  It looks really cool in her portrait farm and a perfect location for portraits of children, engagement couples and families.

JV the wall What I'm trying to emphasize is that putting together your own outdoor sets gives you something most of the competition simply doesn't have - unusual, original, beautiful places to take portraits. 

You may say that you just head to the local park for your outdoor portraits and that works great for you.  But, the reality is that so do all the other photographers in the area.  I remember being at one of our local parks on a Saturday afternoon to do some bridal portraits.  I was one of 6 photographers working in the park that day!

As a portrait photographer, the same thing happens.  Everyone is using the same locations and soon everyone's photography begins looking the same.  If you want to stand above the crowd, this is not a good thing.  It's always about the "Difference Making the Difference" for any successful approach to business.

JV set4 Jessica's unique approach to her business has resulted in her having a wonderfully diverse group of shooting locations that make her portraits look uniquely her own signature imagery. Sure, she has 5 acres to work with, lots more that most of us. 

So what do you do if your not out in the country and your backyard real estate is quite a bit smaller?  What's amazing is that lots of these outdoor set designs can be put together with a minimum of expense, a little effort, and some good old Yankee ingenuity, you too can come up with some great sets too.

JV indoors Does Jessica have an indoor studio too?  She sure does and it will knock your socks off as well.  We’ll have to save that tour for another time ;~)

My thanks to Jessica for letting me share her sets and her photography with you for this post.  Jessica occasionally presents programs around the country so be sure to check out her website to see where she will be speaking.

High fives to Jessica for the energy, creativity, ingenuity, and beautiful imagery she brings to our profession and her clients.


Hey gang, that's it for me today.  I've got to get back to my real job.  How about I see everyone bright and early tomorrow for another episode of Food For Thought Friday: ?? 

See ya' then,  David


  1. Your story of sharing the park with six photographers reminded me of this story:

    Just outside Chicago there's a town that has a little waterfall that's been a favorite with wedding photographers since it was built years ago. But to use it, you have to pay a fee and schedule a time slot.

    The reason for this, I'm told, is that once a wedding party turned up while another wedding party was using the site. The first wedding party didn't finish soon enough to suit the second party, and the whole thing turned into a brawl between the two groups. It is not reported whether the action made it into the wedding albums.

    Jessica's outdoor studio is fantastic. Gotta figure out how I can use my little back yard.

    BTW, yesterday's Album Design seminar was great. To me, album design is the scariest part of wedding photography, and this helped a lot.

  2. The portrait farm is a great idea. I love the photo of the little boy in overalls.