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School photography by the book

The article below was written by Glen Nelson, managing director of HVP Solutions, which markets software to reduce manual labour and streamline workflows in school and sports photography…

One of the most challenging aspects of school photography is…you guessed it…consistency.

Firstly, why should companies aim for consistency?

A streamlined workflow is essential in high volume photography, anything that puts ‘sand in the cogs’ of the machine (business workflow) slows down the process costing time and money, through retouching, customer service, retakes and potentially loss of clients, just to name a few.

As the digital age has progressed, photographers have become complacent on location, resulting in accountability issues in the high volume photography world…as the underlying belief is that ‘someone else will fix the problem’ , or ‘I will fix that later’ and don’t realise how much time and resources are used in doing so.

It’s my belief that the photographer has one of the most important roles in the company – to ensure great consistent quality images. When this is achieved, it not only save an enormous amount of time and money but increases the order value. If there is ‘sand in the cogs’ you can be in a world of pain, forever trying to put a bandaid on a problem that should be fixed at the root cause.

After working with many companies, its become evident that there are common internal issues that are not identified or addressed, as the thought of change makes CEO’s/owners of enterprise-level organisations tremble in their boots. However fortune favours the brave.

There are commonly two aspects to the challenge of consistency:
1. Technical & Equipment
2. Human element – Photographer & subject

When working with companies on consistency, I always start with the equipment. It’s impossible to achieve consistency when a company has three portrait stations at a job, each with different lights, umbrella size, umbrella age with staining, cameras, tripods and so on.

Each portrait stations (kit) equipment should be absolutely identical, this not only is the first step to consistency, but also assists photographers to be confident using the same equipment regardless of which kit they take on the day.

Once your photography kits are identical, each portrait station set up is also required to be identical, to the millimetre. The only way to achieve this for each portrait station, every time, is to have a set-up manual that photographers are meticulously trained to follow.

Here’s a sample of an effective school portrait set-up:schools photo lighting

‘Strict guidelines as to the exact settings is crucial. Photographers should not use any other settings than the company dictates. The photographer should only be changing the light power to achieve the correct exposure.’ – Glen Nelson

Taking it one step further, it is also possible to save photographers from themselves when it comes to camera settings: using the Netlife platform, camera settings can be locked, with photographers unable to take a photograph without the correct settings that have been set by the company, therefore avoiding bumped settings or rogue photographers.

Image Error: The image can’t be captured if the photographer is not on the correct settings.

Now on to the ‘photographer’ part of the consistency challenge…

Getting the photographer to take great looking portraits of each subject that parents want to purchase comes with its own set of challenges. As photographers interact with subjects, the situation can have many unknown variables.

Formulating poses, set shots and specific guidelines that are age appropriate will be key to the success of great looking images under the time constraints that photographers face. The plan of the image/pose sequence must be trained and ingrained into the photographer’s ‘muscle memory’ by advanced training and repetition. Here is an example that can be achieved in 30-45 seconds per student:
Once this level of training is achieved with both technical aspects and posing directions, the photographer is able to take photographs that parents can’t resist, and with the power of emotion to drive order values higher with up-sale and after-sale strategies.

Together with strict photographer routines, supported by training and support, consistency in your workflow is achievable, even for enterprise level companies that area able to embrace change.

The outcomes are measurable on two levels when consistency streamlines your high volume photography workflow:
– Increased net profit with the reduction in fixed costs related to manual labor;
– Increased net profit with the increase of order values.

This article has been condensed down to achieve a quick read. In-depth investigations, planning and change development must be taken into account to achieve this level of consistency for enterprise level organisations. The article was originally published here.
– Glen Nelson
COMMENT: What’s your take on this? Preparing this article for publication, it struck us here at Inside Imaging that the HVP Solutions approach to running a school photography business is, depending on which way you look at it, either efficiently ‘process-driven’ or overly regimented. You  get the impression that in an ideal world, robots would be preferable to actual people operating the camera. What do readers think? 

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