Don’t freak out over the photography slow season.  We have some ideas!

The photography slow season is upon us.  After a fast and furious fall season, it can feel good to slow down and enjoy a few weeks off. You can work on your website, get caught up on blogging, or clean your office! But soon, your mind drifts back to a little matter of money and your bottom line. January through April are what photographers call the slow season. You might have fewer bookings or even none at all. And then the question becomes not how to survive the photography slow months, but will you survive?

It can be frustrating. It can be discouraging. And it can be downright scary. Just a few weeks ago you were SLAMMED and now…crickets. If your family depends on your business to pay the bills, a lack of bookings can be crippling.

But don’t give up hope and start selling your gear off just yet. We have a few ideas on how to bring in some business, earn income and start rocking the slow months.

Why is January through April slow?

Most photographers I know, even in different genres, have a slow period this time of year. Part of it is the weather…it’s cold and miserable outside and people just aren’t thinking about having pictures taken. Part of it is that the holidays just wrapped up and people are thinking about saving money, not spending it. And there just aren’t as many naturally occurring events where people want photos. Basically, many people have just hunkered down and are hibernating until spring. The key is giving them a reason to book photos and book with you!

plan ahead for the photography slow months

Plan ahead

The best way to have a stress free photography slow season is to plan ahead. Plan your workflow and income stream knowing you’ll have fewer bookings in these months. How many fewer bookings? That depends on your business, your skills and what other passive income you might have coming in right now.

For everyday life, financial advisors tell us to have at least a three-month emergency fund available. That’s probably not a bad goal for photographers, either. Set aside a little income from each month into a savings account you can use to get your business through these slow months. Make sure you can cover your expenses like rent and subscription fees at a minimum. If your family depends on your income, you’ll also want to set aside additional money to put in the family coffers.

If you wind up with lots of bookings, great! Keep that money set aside for next year! If you need to dip into it, that’s okay. Just remember to replace those funds once business starts picking up.

How to Generate Income During the Photography Slow Season

Plan ahead. Blah, blah, blah. What happens if you didn’t plan ahead and now you need money and clients, like NOW? Below are a few ideas for you to try. Try one. Try two. Heck, try five! See what works for your area and your business and use them to keep your bottom line and your spirits up!

A word on discounts or shooting for free

A lot of photographers will tell you “don’t lower your prices or shoot for free.  It cheapens the experience and then no one will value you.”

If that’s your attitude, I’ve got no issues with it.  You do what you feel is right for your business.  My attitude is I’d rather be working and shooting and paying bills at a slightly discounted rate than fall on my sword over “cheapening” the experience.

I also make it clear to my clients that these are special promotions I’m running.  I can discount or even donate some sessions in the photography slow months and still have no problem filling my calendar once May hits.

Does this devalue my work in the eyes of some people?  Maybe.  But those people probably aren’t my clients anyway.  So that’s what works for me.  Ultimately, you need to do what feels right to you and your business!

Here’s what I know doesn’t work…wringing your hands and whining about the work not coming in.  That hasn’t worked for me and it won’t work for you.  So you can either sit in front of your computer, fret over no clients and no income and bemoan all these ideas as silly or beneath you, or you could simply…try.  Try something new.  Try to meet new people, bring in new clients and try some promotions.  The choice is yours.

Sell to Existing Clients

If you don’t offer all-inclusive packages, you have a potential income stream sitting on your hard drive…existing client images!

Put together an offer for clients to buy their entire gallery as digitals. Offer a smoking deal on wall art. Or put together print packages (Shootproof makes this really easy now!) for existing clients to purchase. Try offering new products your clients haven’t seen before…albums, blankets, notecards…be creative.

Stock Images

Selling stock images is another potential income stream. There is some work to get accounts set up and dial in on the pictures the stock sites want. But stock images can help you diversify your income stream. And it’s passive income, meaning those images can continue to sell even as your portrait business picks up again.
Read our tutorial if you want some ideas on getting started in stock photography!

teach photography classes in the off season

Teach photography workshops

Did you get some new camera gear for Christmas? So did a heck of a lot of other people! So make some money teaching others how to use those cameras!

You can host the workshop yourself. Or reach out to your local community college, community education center, senior center or even chamber of commerce. There might be some great partnership opportunities available if you are creative.

If the idea of getting in front of a big group intimidates you, consider offering one-on-one sessions or small group sessions. Think of it like piano lessons for cameras!

Try Spur of the Moment Sessions

The weather won’t always be awful.  Keep an eye to the skies and when you get a break in the temperature or weather, issue some requests for sessions.  There’s a photographer in the county next to me that does this with great success.  She’ll write something like “The weather this afternoon promises to be 60 degrees and no wind.  Who wants a half-hour family photography session?”  Or she’ll write something like “The snow is falling straight down and oh so lovely.  Perfect for a winter senior session.  Who wants to meet me in an hour for a shoot?”

She doesn’t always book clients, but she does pretty frequently!  Give it a try and see…you might catch someone at just the right moment!

Run a Promotion with Value-Added Offerings

Try running some sort of promotion to get clients to book now and shoot later, if you’d like.  How?  Give them something of value for booking now.  You could offer extra digitals, a free photo album, a canvas, a photo blanket, a free mini-session at Christmas time…anything that you think will get your regular clients to book with you right now and get some income coming in.

Model Calls

Model calls are often used as a means of getting new images for a portfolio or social media. But you can also use them to generate potential income in the photography slow season.
For example, you could put out a model call for an indoor family lifestyle session. As a thank you for participating, you can give the family a credit for an 11×14 print (or other product credit). But you shoot a full session, as if they are a paying client. Then you show the parents all the amazing images and they LOVE them. You can offer the family a small discount to purchase additional images or products with those images they love. Boom…income!

What happens if they don’t purchase those images? You still have social media posts, portfolio material and someone else who may turn into a full-price client.

Try-Before-You-Buy sessions

The try-before-you-buy sessions work similar to the model calls, in that the client doesn’t pay anything for the session itself. They only pay for the images after the gallery is delivered and they fall in love with their pictures.

Do you run the risk that a client doesn’t purchase any images? Yes. But it doesn’t happen very often. Most clients will still spend money on prints, digitals or a combination of both. The key is to make it a limited time offer to entice clients to purchase quickly.

Partner for a Cause

Try creating a cause-marketing campaign with a local non-profit organization. A cause marketing campaign is a collaboration between you and a non-profit designed to mutually benefit both of you through sales.

What does this look like, in practice? It could be that for every new pet photography client you book in January and February, you’ll donate $25 to your local animal shelter. Or for every newborn session purchased in February, you’ll donate $50 to the local hospital foundation to be spent on equipment in the NICU. You could also co-host an event where you sell portrait packages and a portion of the packages will be donated to the non-profit. Make the offer with an expiration or terms that drive business to you during these slow months.

You need to get buy-in from the nonprofit organization so they’ll promote the event to their audience and through their channels as well as promoting it to your own followers!

Try some Mini-Sessions

Mini-sessions can be a great way to earn some extra income fairly quickly during the photography slow season. Valentine’s Day minis are one of the obvious choices. But try to think outside the box and find a mini-session idea that would be appealing this time of year that isn’t being done in your area.

Offer Micro-Mini Sessions

If you’ve never heard of micro-mini sessions, don’t worry. The term isn’t hugely popular, but the idea is! A micro-mini session is a super-short session, usually ten minutes or less. The idea is the same as a mini-session, where you shoot more clients in less time. But micro-minis are even shorter. A great example of a micro-mini session would be children taking a picture with Santa or prom photos. You provide a great backdrop and a few quick but professional images for a small fee. You can structure your “sessions” however it bests fit your business, either for digitals or prints or a combination. My only advice is to get paid ahead of time instead of relying on customers to visit a gallery and purchase images later.

One idea is to offer these micro-mini sessions at a community event so you have a built-in audience coming past your booth! I’ve seen photographers offer pet micro-minis at adoption events, kids micro-minis at community fairs, or business headshot micro-minis at a chamber of commerce meeting.

Micro-minis can also introduce new clients to you and your business!

Collaborate with Other Businesses on “Experiences”

Most boudoir photographers I know don’t just offer a portrait session. They offer an entire experience, complete with hair, makeup, and a photo shoot. Brainstorm how you can take a similar collaboration and expand it into an offering that might appeal to your ideal clients.

For example, you could partner with a restaurant, florist and movie theatre on a date night package for Valentine’s Day. Each of you discounts your services slightly while still making the entire package a great value for your clients!

Other experiences could be a princess experience for little girls (think special hairstyles, a couture gown and a horse-drawn carriage ride with pictures); a pooch pampering experience (grooming, bandana, dog goodies, and pictures); or a mommy-daughter day (pedicures, tea at a restaurant, etc.).

Again, the key is to make the experience beneficial for you and your partners and that all of you can cross-promote the experience to build excitement and enthusiasm!  And remember, the photography slow season is also slow for other retailers as well.  You might be just the inspiration someone else needs!

Destash Your Gear During the Photography Slow Season

If you’re like me, you have a closet (or two) full of gear and props and backgrounds. Do you still need all of that stuff? Probably not.

Use this time to organize your photography stuff. Decide what to keep, what you can sell and what you could donate. This shouldn’t be the working equipment you use to make money. But there’s no reason why you can’t declutter everything else and make some money while you are at it. Go through your props, backgrounds, modifiers, stands, camera bags, etc. If you have some camera bodies or lenses you don’t use anymore, those can go too. If you aren’t using it to earn money on a regular basis, send it down the road and recoup some of those costs!

Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama and KEH.com all accept used gear. You won’t get the full price for your equipment because they are trying to make money on it too. But you will get something and you know that these companies aren’t out to scam you. Or list the items on Facebook, Ebay or host a studio open house. You’ll appreciate the income and it will feel great to pare down your photography “stuff.”

Streamline your business during the slow months

Streamline Your Business

If making money isn’t your main concern, use this time during the photography slow season to streamline and grow your business instead.  At some point in time during the last few months, you’ve probably thought “I don’t’ have time to do this right now.”

You have time now!  So use it!

Work on your business…

  • Work on your website. Update Alt-Image tags for SEO, swap out images to update your portfolio or clean up your copy.  See our tutorial on SEO and blogging!
  • Blog! Use this time to write a few month’s worth of blog posts. You can blog sessions you’ve shot, share more information about yourself or write photography related posts. If blogging isn’t your thing, check out our tutorial for ideas on how to get started and what to write!
  • Get ahead on social media.  Plan out your posts for the next few months and grow that following!  Study those insights while you’re at it.  Learn what posts do the best, what time posting generates the most response, etc.
  • Automate your emails. Do you feel like you write the same email over and over? Stop! Instead, write a few REALLY GREAT emails now and use them for the rest of the year. Check out our guide on what emails to write!
  • Update your pricing or order forms.  I use this month to review my volume photography pricing, revise my order forms and input client information into my database.
  • Start an e-mail newsletter!  It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it can be another source of clients for you!  Select an e-mail marketing service, prepare your freebie and welcome e-mail and launch your list.  Write a few e-newsletters to deliver in the coming months while you are at it!
  • Review your pricing structure for your sessions and products as they relate to your cost of doing business.  Is your pricing still in line with your expenses and goals?  What kind of products sell the best?  Which ones don’t sell at all and could be dropped from your offerings?

Take care of your equipment in the off season

Take care of your equipment…

  • Give your equipment a deep clean.  Clean the outside of all your lenses and camera bodies.  Clean the sensors.
  • Calibrate your lenses with your camera bodies.  Even if you’ve done this in the past, it doesn’t hurt to recheck calibration.  As cameras get bumped and dinged, the focus can shift a little.
  • We’ll show you how to calibrate your monitor in this tutorial!
  • Inspect your memory cards.  Look for signs of wear or breaking.

Work on your skills…

  • Work on a new skill. If you’ve always wanted to try macro photography…try macro photography now! Practice flat lays. Master your lighting gear. Study posing. Practice cloning or head swapping.
  • Take a class. There are lots of amazing free resources on the web to teach you new things about photography and editing. Some of my favorite places to learn new editing techniques are Phlearn and Piximperfect! CreativeLive also offers free classes, or there are literally hundreds of free webinars you can sign up for, including one here at Cole’s Classroom!
  • Donate your time. There are always groups and organizations looking for quality work on a budget. Find a group that inspires you and donate your time to them. Does a local dog rescue need some great images of adoptable dogs? Does your child’s school have an even they’d like photographed? Find a cause you believe in and get involved. It will feel good to be shooting again and you’ll have some great networking opportunities too!

Or get personal…

  • Try a personal project or photography challenge. If you’re struggling with some melancholy about not working, this will help you to pick up your camera regularly and shoot. There are even Facebook groups you can join to keep you accountable!
  • Do something that sparks creativity that isn’t photography related.  Last year I took a pottery class.  I completely stunk at it but it was so much fun and it felt good to be creating something just for fun instead of for work.  This year, I’m signed up for a watercolor class!

It can be scary making it through the photography slow season. Not only are there financial concerns, but it’s hard not to let it affect your confidence and excitement as well.   But stay positive.  This will pass!  Keep busy and use this time to work on your business and hone your craft. Try a few of these ideas to bring in income to your studio. But no matter what, don’t give up and don’t just sit around wishing for the phone to ring.  You need to hustle and find the work!