Thursday, June 21, 2012

Business Day Thursday: It's All About Sales - A Great Church Directory Shoot: Olan Mills Gets It Right And So Should You!

Good Afternoon Everybody,

I hope everyone is having a great week this week.  We've been busy with all the events we've had this month, and still getting ready for two big weddings coming up over the next two weeks.  This coming weekend I photograph another wedding of one of my past clients, a beautiful young lady whose Bat Mitzvah I photographed a number of years ago. Once again, it'll be great to visit with the family and several of their friends whom I've also worked for in the past years.

Good To Be With Friends

Garden-Party5We’re also in the process of getting ready for another very big event at Crystal Lake, Michigan next weekend. That wedding is particularly special for me too since I've been photographing the entire family since the kids been very young.  In fact, I actually began photographing next week's bride before she was even born ;~)  We also had the honor photographing her brother last year. That event took place in Phoenix, Arizona. Again, we had a fabulous weekend with the family.

As a matter fact, I want to feature one of the current projects were doing for the family right now, in one of our upcoming Business Day Thursday's posts.  I’ve been working with the bride and groom for couple of weeks now gathering all their photographs – from babyhood to adulthood – to put together a special slide presentation at next Friday's rehearsal dinner. I have to tell you, the number photographs were working with – nearly 1,000 - certainly turn this into quite a large project. Anyway, it's all good, and I'm looking forward to wrapping the show this weekend.

Thanks For Help Wanted Response

Hey, speaking of this weekend, I want to thank everyone who responded to my "Help Wanted ad" earlier this week. My good buddy and fellow Photoshop Walker, Larry Lohr, caught the notice and said he would be happy to oblige. Larry even called me up the other day tell me he was reviewing my Kelby Training videos just to be sure he was totally up to speed for the shoot. You know, it's nice to know that people make the effort to really get prepared. I'm looking forward to working with Larry this weekend.

Hey gang, I've got a pretty interesting Business Day Thursday post for you today. In the post I’m going to tell you about a recent photographic experience LaDawn and I had which was quite positive from beginning to end. And, I should point out, that you'll probably be surprised by who the predominant players were in this story.

It's All About Sales - A Great Church Directory Shoot: Olan Mills Gets It Right And So Should You!

Olan Mills III think our experience we enjoyed yesterday is important for anyone who wants to run a successful business. The opening title may have startled you a bit particularly with the mention of church directory and Olan Mills in the title. First of all, a clarification – Olan Mills was recently purchased by Lifetouch Inc., the largest school photography company in the world. Olan Mills, for many years, has been a big force in the church directory market. From the street gossip I hear Olan Mills II – now 80+ years old and with no heirs the past the business onto, decided to sell it to Lifetouch.

Lifetouch has been one of the dominant forces in high school yearbook photography for number of years. By purchasing Olan Mills they now become a $1+ billion a year company with more than 20,000 employees photographing a large segment of our society. Yes folks, they've been one of the chief competitors to the small studios for number of years.

Remembering Church Directory Photography Of Years Past

Although church directory photography has been considered at the bottom rung for fine find portraiture for number of years.  I still remember a few years ago when our church produced its church directory,  the photographer had LaDawn and I both lean towards each other and then “knowing gaze off into the distance” much like the photograph of my mother and father featured in a church directory years ago. Let's just say it was a very "50s" kind of portrait – think Ozzie and Harriet.

Anyway, back to my story.  Last evening LaDawn and I headed down to church for our 5:10 p.m. church directory portrait appointment. We met our photographer, Leslie who was quite congenial.  After a few minutes of conversation, he very warmly and graciously invited us into the portrait studio – a meeting room in the church that had been converted to accommodate two weeks of church directory photography.

Still remembering my last “church directory” photo experience, I was not looking forward to what I thought would not be a good thing.  Last night it was different though.  Leslie kept a good banter going to keep us in good spirits as he positioned LaDawn and I though number of poses. I felt none of the poses were in the least bit hokey.  He was really working to get our best expressions and flatter us in every way he could with both decent lighting, good expressions, and confortable realistic poses.

Another thing that impressed me was how he “find tuned” the details of our positions before taking the photograph.  He directed us to turn our heads just a bit, lower our chins when necessary, and position our eyes for a good-looking couples portrait.  I have to say, I’ve been involved in photography for many years.  My first instructor, Monte Zucker, told me that for client to love their photographs they have to look good. And, when you make the client look good with expression, pose, and lighting, the sale will follow. Leslie's attention to detail was above and beyond church directory experience I had seen before.  He was a true professional in the complete process he took in photographing LaDawn and I.

He Worked The Session – No Shortcuts Here!

Not only did he change the light around several times to adjust the contrast that he wanted for each of our poses, he also changed the background from the traditional church directory blue background to a simple black cloth. His lighting set up included a key light a fill light which he was running about a 4:1 ratio. I also noticed a “hair light” above and at the center of the background behind us - good idea to give us good separation from the black background.

My expectation was to be rushed in and out of the portrait session so that the photographer could move on to his next session.  At no point during last evening's shoot did I feel rushed in the least. Leslie made every effort to get the photograph that he wanted while also verifying with us that we approved by letting us look at the back of the camera after each shot. 

0006 - MOG Olan Mills-0430

After going through about a half a dozen portrait iterations of both LaDawn and I, he then asked to do individual portraits of each of us. I'm thinking to myself, "This is a great technique every photographer should utilize  when trying to maximize image sales to their clients.”  Always remember to break down the groups. He took a couple photographs of me which I actually liked quite well and then asked that LaDawn switch with me and took about three or four of her, a few of which were quite flattering.

In the entire session Leslie took no more than 12 photographs. Digital photography has produced a lot of very large number of undisciplined photographers these days. Lifetouch is a billion-dollar a year company where time is money. By disciplining their photographers to get a nice selection of photographs in the a minimum amount of shots adds to a streamlined sales session and much less indecision from the customers trying to make a purchase from too many images – a god lesson to learn for many of us, me included ;~)

It's not about shooting 1 million different next exposures and hope we get 10 or 12 good ones. It's about shooting 10 or 12 good ones and letting your sales staff sell to those 10 or 12 good ones – very efficient and very profitable.

The Sales Process:

During the entire portrait session I kept a running conversation going with Leslie. He told me has been working for Olan Mills, now Lifetouch for over 25 years. Confidentially, I hear  he is one of the best shooters for the company and trains a lot of the new photographers that come on board.  After finishing our session with Leslie, he invited us into the sales room where we met Tammy.  We would review our images with her. Leslie was shooting with a Nikon D 7000 and, once finished with our portrait session, handed the flash card over to Tammy who loaded it into her computer and presentation software to make her presentation to us.

Tammy was exactly the kind of salesperson you want working for you. Not only was she friendly and outgoing, she hit on many great sales touch points that you couldn’t help but want to buy something from her.  As a student of sales for many years and, feeling I’m a decent salesperson myself, I thought Tammy was one of the best I had met. Her congenial attitude, product knowledge, and product suggestions are traits every good salespeople need to develop. Tammy, like Leslie, has been doing this for a long time. Confidentially, I hear Tammy is one of the top salespeople for the company. I've been through a number sales presentations – from timeshare sales, car sales, and pitches I hear from from the speaking platform to know what a good job when I see it. As LaDawn and I say, “Tammy is a  DH – Definite Hire.”

Lesson’s Every Studio Can Learn From Our Lifetouch Sales Experience Last Evening.

One – The sales process need not be I "hard sell" at all. The sales process needs to take place in the congenial, friendly, comfortable atmosphere. It's the salesperson that makes that happen and that's why, who's ever selling in your studio, better have those traits. If they don't - train them or fire them.

Two – When presenting images to your client, don't overwhelm them with huge numbers of images where many of those images are very similar to each other. We were shown a grand total of 10 images during our viewing session. That sample size of images was small enough so that Tammy could  easily move us through the samples and have us select our favorites in no time. In a matter about 60 seconds we had nailed down the photograph of the church directory image. And then it was on to the remaining eight images to view for additional purchases.

0004 - MOG Olan Mills-0428Three Tammy knew we had three separate decisions to make. First, pic our favorite photograph for the church directory. Second, select my favorite individual photograph. And third, select our favorite individual photograph of LaDawn.  Because of the limited number of images to choose from and because Leslie did a good job, we were able to quickly make up her minds as to which ones we liked the best.

Four –  Show the client the options.

12 years ago I was involved with the company called ProShots. ProShots was a fabulous piece of software whereby you could edit the images before you showed your client but more importantly, it allowed photographers the ability to show their photographs in the frames and even show the framed photographs hanging in the clients’ living room. It was the most wonderful piece of selling software on the planet Earth. Unfortunately it was purchased by Eastman Kodak company  who never really supported it much after the first couple of years after they purchased. The software now languishes in the Kodak archives probably never to be seen again – too bad.

0005 - MOG Olan Mills-0429Anyway, once we had picked out our three favorite photographs – one of us as a couple and two individual images – Tammy was quick to preview them in a frame that held all three images. For me, was like déjà vu. This was exactly what I did years ago when we were using a ProShots software. Tammy was using the exact same sales techniques we’ve been using for years. The combination Tammy put together was something that LaDawn and I both took a quick liking too.

Five – Time For The Upsell

As with McDonald's and so many other companies the upsell this is important to enhance profits for any business. McDonald’s runs the gamut – do I want to supersize it, add a cherry pie to the order, or maybe a low-fat dessert?  The important thing is for the salesperson to make the proposition to the customer.

0003 - MOG Olan Mills-0427Tammy quickly showed us the three surfaces we could order on our prints – the standard surface, the linen surface, or the deluxe canvas surface. I know what these upgrades cost me from my lab so we decided to waive the surface upgrades. She even showed us few word enhancements we could add to our images too – just not quite right for LaDawn and I, but at least Tammy was working it in a friendly, non-threatening way.

The Sale Takes A Hit:

I love everything Tammy had to show us and I loved how she made here presentation. She showed us the different combinations of images, how we get save money by placing a bigger order, and how we could even purchase our original hi-res digital images. The kicker to the whole process to me was the retouching upsell. Retouching was $40 a pose.  What, I’m thinking, “Tammy, I like you, but that is one CRAZY HIGH Price” to pay for running a quick retouching Photoshop action on an image.” 

That meant that if we opted for retouching on our three images, the additional cost would've added $120 to our bill. To anyone from Lifetouch reading this post, I would suggest to you that the retouching costs are shocking high, take the wind out of the sales process for Tammy and her counterparts, and is a real deal killer.

0001 - MOG Olan Mills-0425I would've gladly paid $10 or maybe even $15 for the portrait enhancement – certainly not $40!. We all know that, in most cases, this is nothing more than a simple one or two mouse click in Photoshop.  Our favorite tool for portrait enhancement in my studio is the award winning Imagenomics Portraiture2 software [link]. You probably also have seen many ads for Portrait Professional [link] in the photography magazines. I've never had a chance to try it  but it looks like an amazing piece of software. In any event $40 is way too much money for retouching and turned our warm, fuzzy sales experience quite chilly in no time.

I mentioned this to Tammy but said that she her hands were tied. The prices were set by the company and that's what they were. Since her order did hit a certain level we were able to pick up all the Hi-Res images – all 10 of them – for only $49 additional dollars.  I was happy to oblige paying the additional $49 for the images because, as you know, I’ll run through those Photoshop actions and LaDawn and I will “look marvelous” after some quick Photoshop magic..

In Conclusion:

The main point I want to make in today's post is this.  Decent photography and effective sales techniques are the most important tools you have at your disposal to enhance your sales success in this profession. It goes so much against the grain for me when photographers just put their images online and then “Spin the Wheel of Misfortune”  hoping they get a big order. Folks nobody hoping to get a big order ever became successful in this business. Sure, you’ll pick up a little “beer money” on your weekend shoots but you’ll never be able to make your house payments or your car payments until you take sales seriously. It’s not about being just an order taker – IT”S ABOUT BEING AN ORDER MAKER!!!

Lifetouch is in photography for business. That’s exactly the same reason we should be in photography, particularly if we have family responsibilities and want to pay the bills . If you're in it for fun than that's all good to.  Just don't expect to make a living out of it. If you expect to make a living out of photography and that's more challenging than ever before these days with so many people in it for fun, that you better “know the ropes” when it comes to sales and shooting  so you can deliver premium images and enhance your sales with an efficient and profitable sales process.

0007 - MOG Olan Mills-0431We professional photographers put too much of our hearts and our souls into this profession to have to settle  for so much less because we are lousy salespeople. I tried to use Lifetouch as an example in this post today to show you what not just a large company does but, what every photographer needs to do to be successful. If you ever think that Lifetouch taking dollars your back pocket, look again, they are probably selling much more effectively than you are.

The lessons I learned for my church directory experience last night are important lessons every photographer who wants to be successful in this business needs to learn. The time to start learning sales is today. I hope you enjoy the read. By the way my hats off to Leslie and Tammy for a job well done - both photographically and in the sales process. Hey Lifetouch – you’ve got two the best out there working for you.  My hat’s off to the both of them!


Hey gang, that's it for me today  I know the post ran a little long but, what's new – right ;~)  Just a quick note, you’ve probably noticed that I'm down to blogging about three days a week. But, as you can see, the posts are quite in depth – hope you think the read is worthwhile.

The 3 posts/week is because of my studio responsibilities and trying to get my new book written.  My 2000 words/day quota is pretty ambitious but I'm pretty much on track. Part one of the process is nearly complete. About 35,000 words under my belt right now and I plan to complete another 4-6,000 words over the weekend even though I have a wedding all day Saturday. So, as I said, hang in there with me – I can't wait to see what you think of the book.

Have a great weekend everybody. I hope the weather is great in your part of the world. And, if you're shooting a wedding any where in the world this weekend, keep your brides and grooms and your pixel smiling.

See you on Monday, David


  1. David, the only issue I have with Lifetouch outside of the high retouching prices was the absolute cheap china made frame our pictures came in. I had my framer friend redo it, it was that bad.

  2. I am curious about your comment about taking their high res images and then running them through photoshop on your own. How does this not violate their copyright? Is this just something you assume everyone does? Is this okay simply because you are not selling it? Just curious because I have heard these same words come out of my client's mouths and I wonder about the legality of this sort of thing.

  3. Hi Alexander,
    I won't be violating copyright because we purchased the Hi-Res images and the copyright transfers to me by their agreement.