How to Quadruple Your Portrait Profits

Scottsdale, Arizona-based headshot photographer Tony Taafe went from selling $60,000 in his first year of business to $250,000 in his third, and he wants to help other photographers do the same thing.

Taafe knows a few things about sales. Before becoming a photographer, Taafe was an award-winning sales associate in the UK for luxury car manufacturers Audi and Bentley. Those companies spent thousands of dollars teaching Taafe how to sell a luxury product, so when he became a photographer and saw the standard portrait photography sales model, he realized how much money his peers were leaving on the table. He decided to take what he had learned from luxury car sales and put it to practice in the photography world.

Tony Taafe

I recently got the chance to interview Taafe and pick his brain about some of the techniques he thinks are vital to increasing the income of portrait photographers. One of the first things I noticed about Taafe's approach is that it is client-focused. At the beginning of our conversation, he said: “people buy based on how they feel,” which is a maxim commonly understood in sales. Customers don't necessarily by products, they buy how a product makes them feel: younger, more beautiful, part of the in crowd, nostalgic, confident, etc. So, if a photographer wants to cultivate good feelings in their client, they have to give the client a fantastic experience. The photographer should clearly understand what their client needs and wants and should pay close attention to how the client feels and behaves during the process. Taafe said that if a photographer's goal is nothing but profit, they will quickly run into roadblocks. The goal must be taking care of the client, being responsive to their needs and desires, and giving them a fantastic experience. The money follows.

Client experience above all.

Shared with permission of Tony Taafe

The next thing Taafe does is something many portrait photographers find surprising, if not outright terrifying: he includes the client in the culling process at the end of the session. Rather than send clients home with a proofing gallery or having the client come back to the studio at a later date to see and choose their finished images, Taafe sits down with the client once the session is over, and they take 10 to 30 minutes to narrow down the portraits together. The client then purchases their favorites at the end of the session. Taafe says there are several benefits to approaching the selection process this way.

  • If the client has questions or concerns, the photographer is on hand to answer and guide them — never to make decisions for them, Taafe says, but to help them when they're struggling over choice, to guide them through the process, and help them feel confident in their choices.
  • Too much time between the portrait session and the image culling and purchase allows feelings to cool and doubt to set in. Many clients appeal to friends and family for advice when choosing images, and those differences in opinion and potential disagreements could hurt the client’s confidence. Doubt makes clients spend more conservatively.
  • Finally, allowing clients to choose their own images gives them responsibility and a sense of ownership in the process. Rather than just receiving the photographer's picks, they’re taking home images they chose. In moving to a client-assisted culling process, Taafe says it's important for photographers to remember that clients don’t look at images the way a photographer does, and their favorites may not be the photographer's favorites.

After including clients in the selection process, one of Taafe's biggest recommendations is getting rid of packages and package pricing. His reasoning is that creating packages sets a limit on what the client is likely to spend, because clients are unlikely to add additional images to the package they have already purchased. The cost of your most expensive package is, in essence, the most a client will ever spend with you, because they’ve set mental expectations based on your guidance. Of course, there may be exceptions to the rule, but income works on laws of averages. Instead of using packages, Taafe recommends going with a session fee and a per-image price. He says this helps remove limitations clients might feel about how many images they buy. The way he suggests setting up the pricing helps you make your current average every time a client works with you.

Shared with permission of Tony Taafe

His suggestion is to charge a flat session fee and allow clients to buy images a la carte. This way, the bar to entry is lower, and there is no upper limit on what a client can spend. Since they haven’t already invested in a package with a set number of images, they can just buy what they want. This makes them feel more in control of the situation, a psychological bonus, and takes the imaginary cap off how many images they can buy. I asked him what I suspect most photographers would ask: “wouldn't this set up make clients hesitate, paying for a session upfront knowing no images were included? Wouldn't that feel like more of a risk to a potential client?”

His answer was that this question is more of a mental block for photographers than it is an actual issue for clients. Out of all of the people he has photographed, Taafe says he has never been asked this question. He told me that photographers will often try to put themselves in the client's shoes, but are making assumptions based on inside information. Photographers need to remember they are far more familiar with the photography business than clients are and shouldn’t look at the process assuming clients will think the same way. 

When I asked him what he suggests as a good average for session fees and image pricing, he said that that will vary widely based on the market, but a good rule of thumb is to take your current sales average and reduce that by the price of a single image. Then, make your average price (minus the cost of one image) your new session fee and the difference your new price per image.

Shared with permission of Tony Taafe

So, to keep things simple, say your average income per session is $250. Make $50 the price per image, and make $200 your session fee. Then, as soon as the client books, you’re already almost to your current average. And once they’ve bought an image, which they’re almost guaranteed to do, Taafe says, “everything beyond that is profit.” And those little additional sales stack up over time — in Taafe’s case, to the tune of an additional $50,000 between 2018 and 2019. And while his main business is headshot photography, he says these are principles that extend beyond that genre and can work across the board.

To summarize Taafe’s advice:

  • Make client experience and customer service your number one priority.
  • Remove packages and use a session fee plus per-image pricing that will get you to your current average with no extra work.
  • Include the client in the culling process to preserve their emotional connection to the images and help them feel empowered in the process.

These are some of the steps Taafe used to increase his profits nearly four-fold in the first three years of business, and he is convinced that other photographers can do the same. But I'm convinced that the most important part of Taafe's approach, what may make photographers fail if they miss it, is that he truly cares about taking care of his clients. Speaking to Taafe, it was clear he wants clients to feel heard, to know that their wishes are respected, and that they aren't just a cog in the wheel of a photographer's income. I think if photographers get this step right, the rest will fall into place.

Do you use or have experience with any of these techniques? What has your experience been?

If you want to learn more about Tony, his sales method, or check out his work, you can find him here. You can also see Fstoppers headshot tutorials with Peter Hurley here.

Lead image shared with permission of Tony Taafe

Log in or register to post comments

89 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Lost me at Award-winning.

I guess I'm the only one that gets the shivers every time I hear one of these 'X made a million, now they want to help you do the same' things.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Sucks for you. I've spent almost 2 decades in sales, with more awards than I can keep track of including a number of trips to locations around the world, and I'd endorse his method. It may not be a cut and paste solution for everyone, but the building blocks it offers are superb.

Deleted Account's picture

Fabulous. Happy for you.

Dennis Johnson's picture

* doubt

Melanie Birt's picture

and without that @jonathanbrady we wouldn't have met in Australia and had such a fun few sessions....

Jonathan Brady's picture

BEST sessions EVER! :-)
I had NO IDEA what went into professional photography back then! 🤣 Glad you did!

peter rath's picture

He has a grand total of 7 Yelp reviews but made $250,000 as a headshot photographer in Arizona ? Prove it !!!

And Fstoppers, I just lost a lot of respect for you.

Jonathan Brady's picture

$1000/day doesn't seem absurd if you're hustling, offer a great product, and thoughtful, top-tier service.

peter rath's picture

Are you kidding ? $1,000 / day in Arizona ? For a headshot photographer. Absurd ! But maybe I'm wrong. So prove it !!!

Nicole York's picture

Dude, if you don't think a headshot photographer can make that much, maybe you need to reconsider your ideas around value and what people are willing to pay for. There are photographers who make more than 1,000 per SALE (some by quite a lot.)
People will pay quite a bit of what they value.
That's the entire point of this article.

peter rath's picture

Prove it ! That's the point of my comment. Anybody can say (and write) anything.

His website doesn't rank, he has 100 followers on Twitter and his Hypeauditor profile shows that he very likely bought his Insta followers.

But I'm willing to be proven wrong. So prove me wrong.

Tony Taafe's picture

Peter, my website ranks first on page 1 on google. I don’t put a lot of value in Yelp reviews, and how exactly would you like me to prove it to you? Should I DM you my tax returns? Or ha e FStoppers publish them for you?

peter rath's picture

Even though your website was registered 3/2017 it doesn't rank on Alexa. And it probably ranks #1 on Google when you search for it on your computer because it's your website. It's not even listed on the first Google page when I search for a photographer in Scottsdale on my computer.

And yes, your 2019 tax return, prepared by a CPA, would prove it.

But I already know that you're not going to make that available.

Tony Taafe's picture

My website is ranked first on the first page of google, man. I’m aware of how not to search for yourself on there. You’re a crazy human. Happy new year.

Mike Dixon's picture

It does when you search for "Scottsdale, Arizona headshot photographer"

Jared Wolfe's picture

Google maps reviews are far more valuable than Yelp. I found Tony ranked number one when I searched 'Headshots scottdale' even ranked above Yelp.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

He doesn't have Alexa rank and has no MySpace page. He must be fraud.

Robert Teague's picture

I don't do portraits (don't even have any interest in them), but still found nuggets of good ideas and suggestions on this article. Thanks for taking the time to share them.

Robert Teague's picture

I live in Phoenix, the area his studio is located at is an expensive location. He's obviously doing well to be in that location.

Jon Meadows's picture

You need to hang out with more successful people, dude.

william hicks's picture

You're only going to find value shoppers on Yelp. I consider that more credible than people gushing about how they can't believe what they got for fifty dollars

peter rath's picture

I wouldn't exactly call $300 headshot session with unlimited wardrobe changes a 'luxury' session. And his website is so low in visitor counts alexa doesn't even rank it.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Yelp is irrelevant in the luxury / premium service space. For people willing to pay premium prices, their time is too valuable to waste leaving Yelp reviews and they’re not looking to Yelp to evaluate premium service providers.

Personal recommendations is where those Yelp reviews you’re looking for are taking place. Conversations between one premium shopper and another.

peter rath's picture

$300 for a 'no time limit' session is not luxury.Shooting often enough at those rates to make $250,000 a year in Arizona is impossible in my opinion. But I challenge the author and photographer to prove me wrong.

sam dasso's picture

If you are good salesman you can sell 19 cents banana taped to a wall with duct tape for $120000.
Do you want a proof from the guy who did it?

Nicole York's picture

Yeah...Yelp isn't exactly where I'd go to find reviews on a service like this one, man. You might want to raise your views a bit higher.

Josh Line's picture

Where is your help article and tutorial on making money in business Peter?

Robert Teague's picture

You don't sound happy that he's made a success of his business.

Lee Whitman's picture

Scottsdale is one of the wealthiest places in the country. If you're doing the hustle right you can make that much just shooting an average of 5 headshots per weekend.

Jon Meadows's picture

Yeah, you are wrong, Peter.

J Maloney's picture

Finally an article about how to make money in photography! I love it, keep them coming. A breath of fresh air from the constant drivel of lens, camera, and smartphone reviews!!!!

Nicole York's picture

Happy to help!

Jon Meadows's picture

I agree. We need more help for photographers out there.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

award not pulitzer? then who care!

Dennis Johnson's picture

i won an award when i was 12. i was the best of 6 of us in class and the teacher even gave me a gold star on my report card.

Jon Meadows's picture

Did it come with $250,000?

Dennis Johnson's picture

he didnt win $250,000, it was his turnover in his third year. turnover in my first year of business was 1.800.000, - euro rounded of. turnover doesn't tell you much when you dont know his cost. exactly $250,000 turnover is made up, its a bs number. would like to see his net profit.

Gabriel SAP's picture

This kind of portrait business is so strange to me. Here in Brazil we sell packages with a pre defined number of pictures. We do the session, send thumbnails for the cliente to choose, then we edit the selected ones and send them through wetransfer os something like that. Sell prints is REALLY rare for portraits. Sometimes they just cant pick just the 20 or 30 pictures in the package and they buy extras.
Me and some friends have tried this "american model" with no success.

Jeff McCollough's picture

It depends on the local area. Here in Bolivia I have trouble booking weddings because people here think that all wedding photographers do both thanks to some that do do both.

I don't sell prints for headshots as most headshot clients don't need prints for anything.

Len Currie's picture

He's doesn't talk about selling prints.

Matthew Hamilton's picture

So happy to see this write up! This method has worked wonders for my business and best of all it makes the client feel much more included and in control!

Amy Osborne's picture

Love it.

Taafe is the real deal. He's a go-getter, never one to rest on his laurels and not one to brag about himself. I watched him attain proficiency in headshot photography and apply his prior experience in luxury brands to his headshot business with huge success, all the while giving his time and effort freely to help others achieve their own dreams.

Way to go, mate! I know you won't let the haters weigh you down. People are strange. Keep going! Your Crew is proud of you, as always.

Fristen Lasten's picture

His website says his session fee is $300. Photos are $65. Two sessions a day max. Let's say 5 days a week for 48 weeks. Let's say a customer orders on average 4 photos. That totals approximately $270k a year. It's a hustle but certainly doable.

He was trained by Peter Hurley. His style is almost identical. Props Tony. Thanks Nicole.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah but that's if you can shoot that many sessions.

Jon Meadows's picture

Guessing Tony averages more than 4 images. And there’s corporate work.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah I guess so. But then again that's if he can book at least one headshot a day.

Trevor Walker's picture

It’s about time this damn article got written! Using Tony’s process my sales went from $300-$500 per person to $600-$1000 per person. Game changer for sure!

Annett Meyer's picture

Happy he shares it with the world! It works !

Steve White's picture

Tony's method isn't unusual in portrait photography. Let me explain.

I'm an amateur photographer. My day job is a university professor of medicine. My university needed a head shot of me for its website. Our internal university photography shop (yes, we have one, two full-time photographers and they hire others for specific jobs) set up an appointment for me, accommodating my very busy clinical schedule. The woman who shot my portrait was thoroughly pleasant, chatty, completely professional, and willing to show me her process. We spent about 45 minutes shooting (white background so that the web people could do as they wished, three Profoto strobes, soft box, shooting tethered into Lightroom). At the end she and I together went through the images, and we narrowed it down to about a dozen that we both really liked. My choices were certainly different than the ones she was suggesting, but no problem, we talked, and I could see that she was educating herself on what was important to me. She then said, "it's your portrait for the university. Which one would you like?" I chose one, second-guessing myself the whole way. She was reassuring, told me that I made a great choice, and then did a fair bit of post-processing right in front of me. Dang, she was excellent, and I felt very good afterwards.

So she did what Tony did --

-- involved me every step of the way
-- allowed me to help cull and select images
-- provided me with a superb experience before, during and after the shoot

Now I didn't buy a package; after all, the university was the customer here. But what this photographer did was what Tony is suggesting to all of you -- get the customer involved, make it an excellent experience, give the customer control, and remember that customers see things differently than you do.

More comments