Kevin Hellriegel's Blog of Worthless Advice

The only blog that you really want to read…or ignore.

Being a School Photographer


Is being a photographer really glamorous?

Most people that I talk to think that my profession as a photographer is exciting and glamorous. A common perception of my life is that I live a jet setting lifestyle, uploading my recent images to our cleverly designed website (which happens to get 100,000 hits a month…no problem), I love all photography, and I can make everyone look like a hot model during any time of day, in any situation.

“Oh, you’re a professional photographer…how exciting!”

Well, not really. I enjoy my life as a photographer only because I have focused on the photography I like to do. I estimate that my photography business is 90% school photography and the remaining 10% being weddings (I now do one a year), family portraits, business headshots, and high school graduating senior portraits.

Personally, I enjoy working in the school photography environment because I like kids. Yesterday, I was at one of my preschool accounts and four different mothers came up to me separately and said how much they enjoyed my photography over the years. Two of them had older kids in the local elementary school and they both complained about the poor quality and poor attitude of the school photographer there. It does take a certain type of person to become a school photographer and I’m that person.

Most other photographers (and some of the general public) look down on school photographers because they don’t consider us artists. I beg to differ but they learn that attitude because most of the school photographers are huge, cheap photography chains. The people that work for these huge chains are not photographers; they are merely people trying to find themselves. They are paid poorly and it reflects in the work they produce. The chain photographers usually don’t last too long before they decide to jump ship and do something else. In the meantime, they don’t enjoy the school photography business and thus produce a lousy product and tarnish the school photographer image.

As a self-employed photographer, I am paid much better, produce a high quality portrait product, and actually enjoy my job! I’m part photographer, part clown, part counselor, and all fun! Parents want to have a real, natural smile from their child. I don’t mind being goofy to entice that smile from kids to get that fun portrait. It is part of the job and it makes the job fun.

Sometimes, a parent will let me know they are a photographer, a little scared that I’ll feel threatened. I like to meet other photographers because they often have a little tidbit that might help me in my business. Exchanging ideas is awesome!

Some parents want to get into photography as a business. “How do I become a photographer?” is a question I’m asked a lot. Most don’t want to become a school photographer like me, so I have no problem giving my advice and telling them about my experience. Honestly, the photography business has changed so much in the 18 years I have been involved in it that I am always learning new things!

My dad is also a school photographer (since 1968) http://www.portraitskauai.com/ and http://www.kauaiweddings.com/. He has seen more changes that I have! He still loves photography. People always ask me if he is going to retire. I laugh at that question. He loves school photography too much to quit.

Which made me start to think that perhaps I should share my school photography business knowledge with my own website that talks about it. In the near future, I’ll be developing my new blog and website www.becomeaschoolphotographer.com
If you haven’t had a chance, surf on over to my website at http://www.hellriegelstudio.com
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome your comments!

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4 responses to “Being a School Photographer

  1. badlandsbadley March 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I can relate to this. I’ve been the photographer of a local youth sports league for a few years and I have to agree that only a part of the job has to do with actual photography.

    Good work.

  2. High School Fashion Experience November 7, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I agree with what you are saying in your article! Photography is much more than actual photography. Recently we posted a video with some behind the scenes of a photoshoot we did http://highschoolfashionexperience.com/senior-portrait-renaissance-girl/ I think this gives quite a nice view on photography and how much work it is, but also how fun it can be!

  3. John November 7, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Hi, I shoot school photography in a economically depressed area of the country. Good sales is 25-35% , packages start at $10 and the public shools want 40% commission off of gross. How does this compare to your area. just wondering.

    • khellriegel November 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      Hi John,

      Unemployment in our area is 8.2% but we live in a pretty stable area due to Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon. To be honest, I steer clear of the public schools because of the problems you mentioned. Our business focuses on private schools, preschools, and even some co-op preschool. Can you drive to a better area to photograph at better schools? Can you get into the private school market? I know one school photographer who lives in a small town and drives 1.5 hours to get to her school accounts.

      I did have one of the poorest schools in the city (of Seattle) and sales were low like you mentioned. My commission was at 25% and it was hard. I really wasn’t too sad to lose that account.

      I hope this helps you out a bit. Good luck and feel free to write any time!

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