Hi. I'm Linnae Harris, web designer & photographer
Mini sessions can be HUGE moneymakers for a minimal investment of time – and the money they bring in is only the tip of the iceberg.
Some additional bonuses of mini sessions are:
No matter where you stand on mini sessions, it is in your best interest to have a thorough understanding of the process.
Armed with all the knowledge you need, you can better decide just how much of your business to dedicate to these divisive shoots.
Hi. I’m Linnae Harris. I’m a photographer AND a web designer for photographers. If you’re in the market for a new website or frustrated because your site isn’t bringing in enough quality leads, click HERE. I created this blog post based on my own experiences and invited a dozen other photographers to share their knowledge as well.
Unlike a standard, full-length shoot, in a mini session the photographer is in full control!
YOU decide on the time, place, and style and have the client fit your vision.
If you want some themed mini session ideas? Check out this POST.
A typical mini session:
The key is to remember that a mini session is essentially a way to offer a unique photography experience along with a sampling of your photography style.
You are there to get the job done and show them a hint of what you have to offer.
These are not meant to be your regular sessions that are just offered at a discount and you shouldn’t let your client treat them as such.
YOU are in charge of exactly what theme, location, style and products you choose to offer.
Make sure the information is listed clearly and then stick to it!
Don’t try to rework each individual mini session to cater to your client. That’s how you end up losing control of the session and in turn devalue your brand.
The number one reason is that mini sessions can offer a huge return on investment. If run correctly, mini sessions can be very profitable.
Let’s say you’re offering 20 minute mini sessions with 5 images each for $250 and are planning to shoot from 10:00 – 4:00. You’ve now made $4500 for just 6 hours of shooting- and that’s not including any add-ons (more on that later)!
But let’s go beyond the appeal of the obvious immediate income.
They’re less expensive: Wondering how this helps you? Think of how much easier it is for a client to drop money on a much pricier full session package once they have gotten to know you and your work. We are all much more willing to try something new at a lower price point and this is a great way to get more clients in your circle without devaluing your brand.
‘Tis the season: Notice how much your schedule increases close to the holidays and the Christmas/Mother’s Day/Father’s Day card season?! Instead of having to say no to clients and risk them finding a new photographer to work with, mini sessions offer you the ability to fit more people into your tight schedule that you may not be able to work with otherwise. They also offer you the ability to create some exciting and exclusive holiday specific themes that would be too much effort to put together for a single shoot. These specialized mini sessions are great for clients who may want something fun between their regularly scheduled full sessions or for those that are looking for a creative seasonal shoot.
They can build partnerships: By partnering with different local vendors with location, props, clothing and more, you can create a win-win relationship for you both. Good networking and marketing are necessary for a successful photography business and it’s easy to combine forces with a local business to create a mini session that is advantageous for you both!
Money, when you need it most: Life happens and we have all, had moments when we may be a little more strapped for cash than usual. Holiday shopping? New house? Medical bills? Mini sessions can be offered on your schedule and when you may need the additional funds most.
While there are many factors to consider when thinking of what clients work best for mini sessions the most important is easy- FLEXIBILITY!
This is not the time for the client that wants things done a certain way or is looking for a detailed list of specific shots.
You want clients who realize you are both on a time crunch and you can only work with what they give you in a set amount of time- clients who are looking for a few quality photos in the setting you have planned.
These pictures may show everyone exactly how each person is right when they get in front of the camera (happy, squirming, crying, jumping and everything else they may bring into the session) instead of the “perfect” shots they would likely be able to get in a full session.
A shy child that likes to hide behind a parent until they are finally more comfortable 20 minutes later is not going to be a good candidate. An outgoing kid that knows and loves the camera? Perfect!
Some photographers believe that mini sessions are only for preteens or older clients who can take direction. However, if a client knows their kids’ personalities and is willing to take a risk, it can make for some great photos they may not get otherwise.
Mini sessions are NOT for everyone- and that’s OK!
Make sure you make your expectations clear to clients from the onset to reduce any pushback during your session.
The best way to answer this is: it depends. Ha!
Everyone has a busy season and you can often find yourself already swamped with your full session work during that time.
When asked if it’s a good idea to have Fall mini sessions during the busiest time of her year, Kelly, of Kelly Jones Photo, replied “No way. Save those dates for full paying clients only. Those are the most in demand months of the year. I will do Petite sessions only when I see a gap on my schedule, but that’s only off-season when I am otherwise slow and they are $800 for 30 mins.”
On the flip side, mini sessions during the busy season can offer you the ability to fit in some refresh sessions for your loyal clients that wouldn’t be able to be scheduled otherwise. You can offer some fun, themed shoots that wouldn’t make sense to put together for just a single client.
Jenny Cruger Photography had profitable Santa minis for 8 years and shot them indoors to avoid the cold outside. She said, “Hard no to any minis that are the same as regular sessions you do.” She believes they should be different from your full sessions if you choose to offer them.
Either way, remember that mini sessions are meant to be profitable. Go where the money is and remember to never sacrifice your full paying sessions unless there is a more profitable option.
While there is no clear cut answer, think about what you are looking for in your shoot and choose accordingly.
|Don’t have to worry about weather||COVID concerns|
|Can set your lighting||Less natural setting|
|Easy to set up||Space may have restrictions|
|Comfortable and convenient||May need to pay a fee|
|More control of the space|
|Natural light||Lack of privacy/ crowds|
|More space||Lack of facilities|
|Different setting options||Possible permits|
|More natural setting||Weather|
You can weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision for your business.
One of the most appealing aspects of photography mini sessions is the ability to bring the setting you have in your head to life.
When else can you set up Santa’s workshop? Or create a backdrop of seemingly limitless flowers? Maybe even a make-believe cooking session?
Themed minis are meant to be fun and exciting. I wrote another blog post with over 50 mini session theme ideas.
If there was ever a shoot that should elicit “ohhh”’s and “ahhh”’s from potential client’s, this is it!
Good networking is the backbone of a photography business and partnering with local companies and charities is one of the most rewarding ways to get your business out there.
One of the easiest ways for you to market yourself and do a little good is by choosing a local charity and offering to have a day of mini sessions to help raise money.
Want to do one better? Partner with a local business (maybe a prime venue or business with fun props) and get double the connections!
Choose a charity/business that is both close to your heart and close to the heart of the clients you are looking for.
Pet photographer? Reach out to the local humane society. Family photographer? A local school or child centric charity would be a great bet!
Once you have your partnership established make sure to market (and have them market) the session accordingly.
You have now reached an entire group you wouldn’t have before.
Most photographers feel 10-20 minutes works best.
It may seem like a short amount of time, but remember these are mini sessions.
You should be able to get all the pictures you need in the time allotted if you use your time wisely and stay in charge of the session.
The entire point of mini sessions is to stack clients back-to-back. Depending on your comfort level, you may or may not need a 5 minute buffer between sessions.
This is probably the absolute hardest decision to make and you will get a wide range of opinions.
The #1 thing to keep asking yourself is: “Is it worth it?!“
The minute you find that you’re putting more work in than you’re getting profit out you know you need to make a change.
While it is a shorter session, you don’t just shoot for 20 minutes and call it a day. There’s still planning and setting up before and then editing after.
Think of what your typical, full session would offer and compare it to what you’re offering for your mini session.
Do you normally charge $1000 for an hour and 15 digital images? Then 15-20 minutes and 5 images should be about $300.
Don’t sell yourself and your work short! It is a business, not a hobby!
Because of the small window, I often recommend getting the full amount upon scheduling and offering 3-5 pictures in your initial package.
Remember, the initial package is just the starting point.
With mini sessions, upselling is KEY!
Always remind clients that they can purchase: additional photographs, printed photographs, or even back-to-back sessions for extra time or family members (extra photos with the grandparents perhaps?).
Rebecca of Rebecca Rice photography wrote, “I’ve found that the magic number is 5 images included. It’s just enough to justify the price of the session, but few enough that they’ll want to buy more.
Think of your session as a cake. If you were to give 10 images included in the session fee, you’d be giving them a good sized slice of the cake. Most people are fine with just a slice and wouldn’t need more.
By giving only 5 images, you’re only giving them a bite of the cake. No one just eats a bite! Of course they’ll have to have more!”
When planning photography mini sessions, it should never be a sudden or last minute idea.
Make sure you give yourself at least 2 months in advance to not only get the word out, but also figure out exactly who you want to market your sessions to.
Properly getting the word out is what is going to be the biggest difference between a successful day of mini sessions and one that ends up being a complete bust!
Think of exactly who you want to come to your mini sessions and gear your marketing to them.
Jessica Ryles, of Jessica Ryles Photo says, “I designed my ad to target my past clients so that I’m not searching for new clients with these. I’m a newborn photographer primarily, so I use my minis as a way to stay top of mind for past clients as they move from their first to second or third child. So my client avatar tends to be closely aligned with that. With minis however, instead of a mom-to-be or new mom, I’m thinking about a mother who already has a toddler, is staying at home or back working part-time. She’s busy and heavily scheduled. She shops at Whole Foods and Pottery Barn Kids, and is an active part of her local mommy fit group.”
After figuring out exactly who she was targeting, Jessica said the next step is to start getting people hyped weeks or even months in advance with “Fall minis are coming! Dates will be announced in the coming week so stay tuned!”
Alison Reynolds, of The Glitter Lens, is offering multiple mini session events at her studio between October – December this year. It’s only late September and she has 80 sessions booked already. Alison’s marketing degree has come in handy!
When I asked her what her best tip was, she said, “Honestly there’s no secret answer. The first step is figuring out who you are trying to reach. Then the biggest thing is making sure people see you in multiple places to create brand recognition.”
Christy from Christy Johnson Photography offers mini sessions for free to her existing clients. She wrote, “My micro-mini client appreciation sessions worked double-duty. Offering free Valentine and Halloween costume portraits showed my clients how much I appreciated their business! It also allowed me to develop a deeper relationship with my clients, which I truly treasure.
To qualify for the free session, clients would need to book a regular session for sometime in that calendar year. Not many clients would spend $600 on a framed portrait of their child dressed like Buzz Lightyear, but they’d spend well above that on their regular portrait session!
The mini session didn’t cost me anything more than my time and maybe a few props. It also provided fun, buzz-worthy images for clients to share with their friends and on social media so it’s a win-win!”
Is there anything clients like more than winning free stuff?
One of the easiest ways to get clients to share your information and do some of your PR and marketing for you is by offering giveaways on Facebook and/or Instagram in return for liking a post and sharing it to all their friends.
Don’t want to give out free photo sessions? You don’t have to!
Think of other prizes like restaurant gift cards, photo package upgrade, event tickets and more that will appeal to potential clients.
This helps generate hype and goodwill towards your business and will allow you to collect new emails and followers which in turn equals new clients.
This is the easiest way to keep your past clients in the know.
Post it on your social media pages so it comes up and is sharable on all your social media platforms. Not on social media?! You need to be! It’s free, easy, and the best way to keep yourself on a client’s mind.
On your website, post it “above the fold” so it’s the first thing all your visitors see. Not sure what “above the fold means”? Click here: What is “Above the fold?” ). Not sure how to change your home page to put something new above the fold? Click here and contact me!
Widen your reach by using Facebook and Instagram paid ads. They have great features that help you to target your ideal client by age, location, demographic, interests, and many other features for a relatively inexpensive price.
There’s a Facebook group for every interest imaginable- find the ones that fit your clients and join them!
Morgan from Morgan Martin Photography says, “My advice to photographers wanting to offer mini sessions is to join local Facebook groups! Join mom groups or community groups that you know will have families in them and advertise your mini sessions there. That has worked great for me”
Heidi Warren from Maple and Fleur Photography had success using marketplace to advertise. She wrote, “I just created an ‘item for sale’ and put the landing page link in the description. I think I put it under the babies and children category because that is the audience I wanted to get it in front of.’
In a time where social media is king, it may be surprising to know that email is actually still the best way to connect with customers.
Because of this, gathering client emails is actually more important than gathering them as followers on social media.
Make sure you keep your email list current and active with quality mailings.
Jessica at Jessica Ryles Photography, wrote “I sold out within the first two weeks and my email list is only maybe 130 people. I feel like this is one of those things that largely comes down to planning and marketing. Is your mini designed with your ideal client in mind? Did you actually spend some time planning to market them, and followed through with the work, or did you just grab an ad template off Etsy post it on Facebook and are now wondering why you aren’t selling sessions?”
Christy from Christy Johnson Photography said, “The absolute best way I advertise my mini sessions is through my email newsletter, which goes out to clients once per month. Previous clients know when the sessions become available, and they’ll typically sell out my first round (10 sessions) right away.
I would caution against just posting once on social media and expecting big things. There’s a lot of noise on the internet these days, and not everyone will see every post you make!”
Kara Hubbard, of Tografy.com, offers a mini session course and she wrote, “Year after year my clients sell out their spring and fall mini sessions by performing this simple and systematic marketing rollout system, it’s simple, it’s called the Four Day Rollout.
The first step to booking out your Photography Mini Sessions prior to them going public is to creatively market them to your current email list. But, this isn’t just a casual email you send once with a booking link and consider it done. No. As mentioned above, this is a strategic four-day marketing roll-out that creates demand and utilizes multiple touch-points.
Approximately four to six weeks before your desired Mini Session date you will begin marketing to your current email list and previous clients by utilizing a four-day roll-out.
Email #1: Thursday Send to: Previous clients and email list subscribers. Content Included: Session details, limited availability, dates go public on Monday
Email #2: Saturday Send to: Previous clients and email list subscribers. Content Included: Reminder of details, limited availability, dates go public Monday, you cannot guarantee times/dates after Monday
Email #3: Sunday Sent to: Previous clients and email list subscribers. Content Included: Spots are going quickly, this is the last reminder, dates go public tomorrow, you cannot guarantee times/dates after Monday.
All information should be included in each email, along with an easy and simple way for clients to book their spot and session. You are giving them a time limit to sign-up, thus creating a deadline. You are also giving them a bonus of the first choice of dates and times because they are your preferred clients and followers, thus creating a connection and trust.
This system has time and time again, proven to be extremely successful for photographers in marketing and selling out their Mini Sessions. Not only because it is easy and simple to implement but also because it hits all of the key points for a successful and proven marketing plan.”
Social Media is the easiest way to keep yourself on a client’s mind and have a little bit of fun.
Use stories to show a sneak peak video of some of your behind the scenes action. Make a “sneak-peak” post that will excite your clients and result in them sharing your work with their followers.
Social media is free and a great way to market yourself beyond your current client circle- use it!
Go old school!
Sometimes we can be so technology minded that it’s easy to forget there is more out there.
Think flyers and reaching out to churches, schools, libraries and similar large group communities about putting notices on their bulletin boards or newsletters.
The flyers of the internet, landing pages can be a great resource when you’re trying to advertise a single event (like a mini session). Hey, did you read that I’m also a web designer for photographers so I can help you with your landing pages! Click HERE to learn more.
When marketing for an event most people link their homepage to all of their material.
Seems smart, right?
Your website has everything you want a client to know and will help them get to know you and your business more.
But have you ever seen an ad and clicked the link looking for more information and then ended up on a homepage that has what you were looking for lost in a tiny corner somewhere? Or maybe not even that? More than likely, you gave up finding out more pretty quickly and were left frustrated by the situation.
More information is not always better.
You want to give your potential client a place to go that has all the information on what they are looking for right from the beginning- not make them look for it.
While there are many stand alone builders like Mailchimp, and Leadpages, I always advise my web design clients to make their landing page a hidden page on their website.
If I designed your site on Showit, it would be easy for you to create a landing page yourself or have me do it (https://linnaedesigns.com/contact).
So what makes it hidden?
A hidden page has no navigation buttons from your main site. The only way to access it is with a direct link.
This helps keep your website current and will offer some SEO benefits.
Again, think of it as a flyer or ad in a newspaper.
Example of a landing page?
We always want what everyone else wants and the supply and demand of a mini session is no different.
By offering a waitlist, you are able to create a sense of urgency and value to your photography mini sessions.
Kristy Hamiliton, a London family photographer, uses a waitlist system for generating interest and enthusiasm for her twice a year mini sessions. She advertises primarily on social media and on her email list.
She’s built an email list through lead magnets and pop-ups on her website, and currently has around 400 people on it. She encourages them to sign-up for her waitlist for the next mini session event months prior.
When asked why someone would join her waitlist so far in advance, she wrote that she lets them know:
“1. I have very limited availability for my mini sessions. I don’t do them at any other time of
2. They are available to my list 48 hours before they go on sale to the general public.
3. They usually sell out within 48 to 72 hours. So if they want a chance to book their session, they NEED to be on the list.
I repeat this information on my landing page, social media and to my email list. I have it all over.
You want very few details. Just give the basics because you want as many people filling this out as possible because then they are part of your email list.
When my bookings go live (a few weeks later), I make a big song and dance about how they’re only available to my email list.”
Once people are on her email list, she’s able to let them know about the next mini session event. If they missed out and weren’t on her email list for her previous event, they will make sure they’re on it so they can sign-up for her next one.
On average, 20% of your waitlist will end up buying a slot. Wait until you have the numbers you want before you set a date to launch.
Waiting lists are most effective when you already have an extensive email list and/or an engaged social media audience.
It’s important to note that there also has to be a good reason to ask people to add themselves to your waitlist or they’ll just be confused as to why they can’t book now.
“Join the waitlist so you don’t miss your chance since I sold out in a day last year” is a good reason. “Join the waitlist so I can feel good about myself” is not. 😉
Don’t let that convince you not to try one!
Ask yourself if you feel your minis are going to be very appealing to the right audience and if they will be different enough to stand out from others in the area.
Did you say yes to both? Go for it!
Not sure? Then you will probably want to just market the sessions now without the waitlist.
While you can keep track of your bookings and payments manually, utilizing a software program is definitely worth the investment.
It helps save time, keeps you organized, and in some cases will even offer reminders of payments due.
I like to schedule full payment up front (or at least a deposit upon booking). This allows me to focus all my attention on my clients and taking pictures on the day of the session vs trying to remember who owes what and making sure payments are up to date.
Here are some sample booking and paying softwares:
You don’t need another photographer, but having an assistant, parent helper, spouse or friend can be a lifesaver!
Use them to help you with all the behind the scenes stuff so you can concentrate on your clients’ and their pictures.
I always like to ensure parents of small children know exactly what they are signing up for.
Mini sessions are not for everyone and some kids just need more time to warm up in front of the camera.
If you have a child that is not warming up quickly, I usually incorporated some movement or a prompt to encourage engagement and playfulness.
The key is to do what you can in the time you have.
There are some preemptive moves you can make to help cushion your schedule. I like to have a bit of a buffer between clients (usually 5-10 minutes) and will also ask my clients to come 10 minutes before their scheduled time.
This combination usually gives enough of a window that even if a client is “late” they are still on time on my schedule.
But usually isn’t always.
If a client still isn’t there by their scheduled time I will try to:
Remember you only have 10-20 minutes to work with and that this isn’t a full session!
From there, you should ask yourself just how willing to customize you are.
I like to send out a short form listing what the possible shots are and then ask my clients to prioritize them. I would then shoot based on their priority with the understanding that since this is a mini session there are no guarantees.
While I prefer to customize my shots, many photographers prefer to create their own shot list and keep things uniform for every session.
Both options have their advantages, so just go with whichever you feel most comfortable with.
Some sample family shot ideas are:
Depending on the session, creating “stations” by using chairs, blankets and crates can help streamline the process.
Little ones love to try and play with anything in their immediate environment. Having a set “mark” for them to stay on, can usually give me a few seconds with them staying in one place!
Secondly, they can help keep me focused on getting the number of shots I need. If I have 3 stations and know that I want to deliver 15 images, I can plan to aim for at least 5 great photos from each station and move on to the next as soon as I think I have them.
Finally, it provides an easy system that I can easily duplicate from family to family without having to stop and think about what I want to do next.
As a photographer you should ALWAYS have a back-up plan and even more so when planning mini sessions.
When planning an outdoor mini session I try to:
Choose an outdoor location that has some form of cover on the property. This can be as basic as a covered park pavilion or even an adjoining parking garage.
Have a nearby studio or indoor spot on standby. Think of a spot within easy distance of your planned location that you can have available for a last minute change in location.
While it may necessitate you thinking outside of the box, part of your job is making any location work!
This can be a touchy subject.
While we all want to create a positive customer experience and understand things can happen, the nature of a mini session makes rescheduling and refunding difficult.
I always advise my clients to make it very clear that once a client purchases a mini session that money is non-refundable and, depending on your preference, non-transferable.
A strict mini session policy is necessary to keep things running smoothly and maintain your overall sanity.
Of course, you are always able to make an exception for special cases, but clearly disclosing a strict policy will protect you and allow you to stand as firm as you need to be.
The worst thing for both you and your clients, is to have them waiting around aimlessly while you finish up with the clients before them.
It’s distracting for everyone and can often lead to grumpy children (and parents!) before you’ve even put them in front of the camera.
Make the wait it’s own positive experience and step things up a notch!
I like to set up a small “base camp” with something as simple as just a pop-up canopy with seating, phone charging station, water station, and a ‘treasure box’ where kids can pick out a fun prize just like at a doctor’s office.
I find that this helps build up excitement for the experience and sets the mood for their upcoming shoot.
While most clients expect to get some digital prints as part of the initial mini session price, the goal is always to get them to purchase more!
One of the easiest ways to do this is to have them come in at a later date to go through and pick out all the shots they want- which will hopefully be more than the 3-5 included!
Tyler Stallings, of Nomadig Aperture, is a wedding photographer but has recently moved to a new city and thought running mini sessions would be a good way to get his name out there.
“I have been doing IPS for a year now and honestly believe it’s the only way to run a sustainable photography business. I have 24 families booked now for my minis and am hoping to achieve a $1000 average sale with each of them through print and digital sales.”
Again, this is a mini session, not a full session! Other than the time allotted, this should be one of the biggest differences between the two shoots.
Because of this, I’m a fan of the light edit method.
I correct color, add contrast and adjust the basics using lightroom only. I will choose one or two of my favorite images and do a full edit in Photoshop to show them what they will look like finished.
During the ordering session, I let my clients know that their pictures aren’t fully edited and I have never had a problem or concern from a client. This saves me a ton of time because then I’m not enhancing images they don’t buy.
Julia Barkova, of Pastell studio, uses mini sessions to attract new clients who are willing to invest a smaller amount to check her studio out. She has a beautiful editing style and limits her edits to 10 minutes per image with minis.
She cautions that timing can be challenging. Her short sessions are 30 minutes but they often run overtime because of families taking a long time to get their children dressed and kids not able to warm up in that short time period.
A big mistake photographers make is overwhelming their clients with too many product choices.
You don’t have much time, so scale down your offerings and options to a handful of packages or a la carte items.
In this, less is definitely more!!!
The whole reason you offer 3-5 images with a mini session is with the goal of having a client want to buy more once they see all the awesome shots you got.
Give them a gallery of great shots to choose from and they will have to struggle with trying to narrow them down to the 3-5 images included in the price.
Make it impossible for them to choose!
Then offer them the opportunity to improve on their package and purchase all the shots they fell in love with.
Now that the session is over, don’t think you’re done!!!
Make sure to add them to your email database and make plans to follow-up.
While you’re working with them, mention some other opportunities for a photography session with you based on their needs.
Mom is pregnant? Show her some sample newborn photos you’ve done. Teenager is about to graduate? Email a reminder for graduation photos.
Make sure you are reminding them to think of you to photograph all the life stages that are coming their way.
This is the backbone of ensuring photography mini sessions build a long-term client base.
Instead, be honest with yourself.
Did you: Spread the word enough? Market to the right audience? Have a session that would stand out?
First and foremost, you can’t have a sold out mini session day if only 20 people saw it.
Even less likely if it was a Santa mini session and 10 of the 20 are your single friends and grandparents.
Good news is there are a ton of ways to grow your client list!
Have the client list but still unsuccessful? Think of how you could have marketed the shoot better.
Were you one of 5 “mom and me sessions” in the area taking place in a field of flowers? Next time, try for an indoor shoot with fun props and stations.
It’s very important to make sure your mini sessions stand out from the crowd and you’re not advertising yourself as just one of the masses.
Maybe you do mini sessions now, but never felt you were getting everything from them you should.
Or you always wanted to try them, but were a little intimidated and didn’t know where to start.
If you’ve done a couple of mini sessions, and swore you would never do them again.
Whatever your outlook, I hope you now feel informed enough to decide if mini sessions are a good choice for you.
Hi. I’m Linnae Harris. I’m been a photographer and web designer for over 25 years. I help photographers create beautiful unique websites with powerful messaging that allows them to stand out in a crowd. Learn more about my services HERE.