Victoria Kelly on running an efficient photo studio

Victoria Kelly runs a successful portrait studio and often gives us feedback on our products. During a recent visit I realized that we were talking more about the photography business than software design. This seems like the kind of thing our readers would find interesting, so I turned the conversation into an interview.

Victoria Kelly

Me: Let me start by giving people an idea of how active you are in the photography community. What are your credentials?

Victoria: I received my CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) designation in 1998 and my Craftsman degree in 2009. I’m a CPP liaison for NC and also a CPP image judge. I’m on the board of directors for PPNC as a director of the Eastern Guild and am also director of the East Coast School Photographic Workshops. I’m also the ASP (American Society of Photographers) representative for NC. I write a monthly article for “Southern Exposure”, the official publication of SEPPA and usually write tech articles. I just recently spoke at the SEPPA convention on “Rockstar Seniors” and was models chair for the event. I teach photography as an elective at a private school in Apex, NC. I think I’m a worker bee who can’t say “no”!!!!

Me: It is easy to get caught up in the technical tools, but first let’s talk about higher level issues. In your first interaction, how do you explain to a new client how you work?

Victoria: I have everything that I would tell a client on the phone on my blog. I always refer them to the blog during our phone conversations. Just to keep it simple, I use domain masking so that my blog is instead of something long and drawn out with multiple slashes. Let’s face it, most of the time the phone conversation is so detail-oriented they can’t possibly remember it all.

Me: Do you mention prices up front?

Victoria: I do mention prices up front. “Wonderful! I’d love to photograph your senior…our sessions start at $60 and our collections start at $395.” If they ask about ordering a la carte, or “what is the least expensive collection you offer?” then I know they are not the client for me. And I’m ok with that. I’d rather know BEFORE investing my time in creating images that they cannot afford. That will make them unhappy with ME and I try to avoid that whenever possible!

Me: How do you save time during a shoot?

Victora: I’m a big fan of flow posing…you know, starting with one pose and creating several different images using different angles and rearranging hands, feet and legs.

Me: You recently told me that, “If you aren’t using ProSelect, you are leaving money on the table.” For our readers who are not familiar with it, ProSelect is for showing photos to a client and helping them place an order. Do you have any tips for using it?

Victoria: When I have my 30 images selected, I run a batch action to dump them into the folder that ProSelect looks for when launching. It saves a few minutes of navigation when I’m prepping for a preview session. Those “few minutes” add up to a couple hours a week pretty quickly!

Me: How do you manage a photo review session?

Victoria: I do my best to schedule the preview session at the end of the photography session. This means that I’m still in control of the sales cycle. The client is still excited and can’t WAIT to see their images. I send them out the door with a pricelist and a “homework” assignment. They are to list everyone that will need images (grandma, aunts, uncles, etc…) and what size(s) they’ll need. I also gently suggest that they measure the wall where their wall portrait will go so we’ll know how much space we have to work with. And, yes, i DO insist that all decision makers be present at the preview session. I never show more than 30 images at the preview session and it NEVER goes longer than 1 hour. If you’ve done your homework, you’re guiding the preview session and can get it done in 60 minutes. Your client will thank you!

Me: Do you charge less if they make their purchase decisions in that first session?

Victoria: I don’t charge less, but I do reward them for being prepared…depending on the session it might be extra poses for their collection or an additional 5×7.

Me: Do you post images for review online?

Victoria: I NEVER post images online without a $500 retainer. I explain to them that they are guaranteeing the studio a $500 order and anything they don’t use goes on a studio gift card. And I have them sign a form stating that they understand all that. Studies have shown that your sale goes down approximately 50% as soon as you post those images online. By getting a $500 retainer I keep my profit margin where it needs to be.

Me: Should you sell digital files?

Victoria: This is the debate of the century. Yes, I sell my digital files. I run a business and I try not to turn down an opportunity to generate extra revenue. We have gotten around this so far by including web-sized images of poses purchased in each collection. If they want extra poses, they pay the extra pose fee and for the digital web-sized file. ($20/pose + $75/file = $95 each.)

Me: Do you sell only low resolution versions of the photos?

Victoria: I do only release low-res versions. I’d like to think I’m realistic…I want to give my client what they want but I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot while I’m doing so. I want to build client relationships for life. I’d much rather my clients come in once a year because they’ve had a wonderful experience rather than making a single studio visit and having to walk away from images because of budget constraints.


You can see Victoria’s work at

Here are some of the tools that Victoria recommends (other than ours!).

I’ve heard Victoria say multiple times that, “If you aren’t using ProSelect, you are leaving money on the table.”

BookFresh helps her arrange appointments through the Web rather than wasting time with a lot of phone calls. It syncs with iCal.

PhotoDUDS for PSD layouts

Dirty Pictures for adding texture

GW Molding for frames

WHCC (White House) for printing

Exposure X4

Try Exposure X4 free for 30 days, and discover a new world of creativity with gorgeous customizable looks and a complete set of editing and organizing tools.

About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.


  1. Pablo April 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I don’t patronize photographers who won’t give me full-resolution images. I’m paying for photography talent, not printing talent. I’d rather (and I have) paid a fixed fee for the session and I get all of the original files with shared copyright.

    In the past my wife has taken our kids to one of the large photo chains, they give will sell you a CD with the original files (encrypted, so you can’t access them) and “web” versions which are too small for even Facebook. I don’t support that business anymore.

    • Jeff April 27, 2011 at 9:15 am

      Both you and Victoria have good reasons for your viewpoints. Customers and photographers need to search until they find someone who is compatible. It’s a lot like dating.

      • Pablo April 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

        Jeff, I agree. I’m a hobbyist photographer myself (that’s why i read the blog). I’m clearly biased, but I think the position of “never sell the negatives” will deprecate and resisting the changes in the culture/industry will be increasingly challenging for Victoria.

        I don’t envy the position professional portrait photographers are in. I paid about fixed fee $3000 in 2006 for our wedding photographer, which only covered the wedding/engagement sessions and 3 DVDs of full-res images (in other words, no prints). I don’t regret it but it’s a huge gamble to pay that much up front and not know what you’re going to get.

        The traditional model (low up front cost, expensive prints) is less risky to the consumer and incentivizes the photographer to take better pictures. I’m all for economic incentives.

        Most recently, I’ve found a local ProAm photographer who does sessions for $150 and gives me full-res images of the session. That’s a lot of price pressure to deal with for the Pro’s.

        • Jeff April 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm

          For sure, pro photographers are feeling the pressure from all the new photographers out there. We are seeing an explosion of people who buy a DSLR and start doing paid photography on the side. The pros are constantly working on strategies to set themselves apart, convince customers that their experience is worth the extra money, and set policies to guarantee profit from each job.

          I’m glad that we are the guys selling shovels rather than being a gold miner!

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