The mall, removed. The cheesy decor, gone. The long lines, nope. Santa Sessions have become all-the-rage and photographers are making these shoots more of a high end experience. I witnessed a shoot first hand and to be honest, $10k seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what I learned.
As a former family photographer I had to know more about these Santa sessions. What they are, how they work, and how photographers are making so much money with them. They have taken a process that used to be a nightmare for parents and turned it into something that is a win-win for all parties. Of course there are thousands of different ways to do them so I spent the day with my photographer friend, Sara D. Harper, to see her process.
I should start off by stating that there is a lot of planning and backend work that goes into creating these. Sara has an extensive email list that she utilizes in order to book her slots. Word of mouth also helps. She books the Santa 9 months out because as she explained, the good ones get booked early on in the year. A good Santa is basically a make or break for your shoot. At the end of the day I spent with her, she was already talking to Santa about his availability next year.
Prepping for the shoot begins in September. In addition to confirming her Santa, Sara books the studio space and has an event designer help her create a Christmas Wonderland. She created 65 time slots at 5 minutes each. The idea is to shoot each family for 3 minutes with a 2 minute buffer if needed. She then began her marketing campaign giving first booking availability to those that had signed up for her newsletter.
The day before the shoot, Sara and event designer, Jaime set up the studio. They divided it into two sides: A shoot side and an interactive waiting space for families.
For the shoot side she purchased 3 snow flocked Christmas trees surrounded with presents and a chair for Santa. Simple, yet effective. She used natural light for the shoot so her gear setup was minimal. The space had white walls, floors, and ceiling so the natural light flooding the space was beautiful.
Sara and Jaime took extra care in creating a magical space for families while they waited. When you first walk into the space you are greeted with the smells of pine and cedar, Christmas music, cookie decorating stations with any topping you can dream up, a hot chocolate bar, a coffee bar, cookies, snacks, etc. It really is elaborate and you can’t help but smile when you walk in. Even after families had completed their session they hung out for quite a while enjoying everything that had been set up.
The day started at 9am and she had 65 family time slots to shoot in 6 hours with one 20 minute break scheduled. My job was to help check in the families as they arrived and guide them through the process. I would call the families that were due up and give them a few minutes to prep, even let the children peek around the corner at Santa if they seemed nervous. Sara and Jaime also had wet wipes available for snotty noses and food stained mouths. It was a little detail so many parents were impressed by and thankful for.
Each of Sara’s sessions were $155 for 3-5 minutes shooting time and 4 digital images from the shoot. Once families receive the gallery, they will have the option to upgrade their package to order additional digital images if they want. Minus this upgrade, 65 families at $155 each brings the grand total to a whopping $10,000 gross income. Of course she had expenses. The Santa for one. He isn’t what I would call cheap. He’s good and with that comes a price tag. There’s also the studio space, decor, event design, and assistants. But $10k with potential session upgrades isn’t a bad pay day.
Overall I was impressed with the entire process. Yes, it is a lot of work and even I was completely exhausted by the end of 6 hours. What I loved about it is that each session is quick and to the point. There aren’t any location changes. There aren’t a million poses needed. You don’t have to worry about what kind of light you are photographing in or it changing too drastically.
When Sara first told me each session was 3-5 minutes my first question was is that enough time? She assured me in this environment is was and that in some cases it actually feels like a long time. Watching the sessions for myself, I definitely found this to be true. In fact when it was only one or two children 3-5 minutes was more than enough time. Time really only became an issue with families with more than 2 children. Why? Well because it took more time to coral everyone together and get them on the same page for the photo. Most parents wanted individual photos of each child with Santa and the more children involved the longer this took as well.
I’ve looked into various photographers that offer these and some shoot for longer periods, which extends the number of families you can photograph. Two additional hours creates the opportunity to photograph 20 more families!
You could also add on additional shoot days in order to really maximize the season. Sara told me of photographers she follows that bring in as much as $30,000 just from Santa Sessions!
Photographers have come up with a solution for families with two or fewer children and those with more. They offer two packages: A 5 minutes session to families with two or less children and require more time and a higher fee for families with 3+ children.
I’d love to know if you offer Santa Sessions or have ever experienced being a part of one. I fully thought I’d return to my family session days and offer these myself after hearing the numbers, but like with most things, after being a part of it you realize just how much planning and work really goes into them. I think I'll stick to fashion photography.
Images used with permission of Sara D. Harper Photography