Definitely Not Your Average Studio
Bonnie St. Pierre is right on course, following her chosen path in high quality commercial and fine portrait photography. For more than twenty years, Bonnie has been a do it all - whatever comes in the door photographer in the Manchester, New Hampshire area. Her studio is a separate building attached to her home.
Five years ago, Bonnie made a choice. She decided to redefine her entire studio operation, moving away from weddings and generalized portraiture, and referring her sports and teams to other studios while preferring to place her emphasis on growing the custom portraiture side of the business and high quality commercial photography.
She has no interest in vying for high school senior contracts or any other production work. At the same time, she completely changed her pricing, getting a substantial fee up front and having an expectation for a significant order. By raising her prices, she was now able to spend more time creating in the camera room and in post shoot work to produce end products which were clearly superior.
Bonnie states, “People come to me because they have made a choice to get true high quality professional portraiture. Everything I do is custom. I am not interested in assembly line sessions. Clients know they are not going to an Olan Mills or mall drop-in studio.”
Bonnie’s creation fee is $200, and she is even considering raising it. Her minimal expectation is $450, however, her average sale for custom portraits of babies, families, children, and high school seniors is in excess of $1000.
Executive sessions are $245 including art work, and they get the disk. She doesn’t get every person needing a portrait or business image in her area, but she gets the ones who matter - the customers who know the difference. She generates enough business to prove her belief that there are clients who want what a dedicated professional photographer can offer. Because she gets what she needs in upfront fees, Bonnie doesn’t worry too much about customers copying her work.
Bonnie first learned of the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system years ago but held off acquiring a system until she went digital. She viewed it as a natural progression because she was already building backgrounds and was getting overwhelmed with the clutter and storage. In addition, after she went to the trouble of building a background she tended to use it for a long period of time.
Her backgrounds also required that she carefully light them before she even began lighting the subject. With Virtual Backgrounds, she could have an infinite variety of backgrounds at her fingertips without the clutter. Furthermore, she could customize her work by changing backgrounds in seconds, never having to be stuck with any one background.
With Virtual Backgrounds, Bonnie did not have to separately light the background as the brightness, focus, position, color and even the proportional size of the background was now all under her control.
She also chose to acquire a Virtual Backgrounds system because she recognized that her customers were more and more often expressing their satisfaction with their own digital snapshots taken in the outdoor environment which they viewed as good enough. “I wanted to focus on doing things my customers could not do,” states Bonnie.
“My lab rep, Peggy Hatfield of LenzArt gave me a copy of the book, The Professional Photographers’ Perfect Storm and everything began to fall into place. I realized how I could continue to exist in spite of all the amateurs and pro-ams. Peggy has always been a source of great support in paying attention to the business end of my studio, and handed me the book to read. This really got me going. Virtual Backgrounds has been a blessing. It has enabled me to be so much more creatively without leaving my camera room. Though clients sometimes still ask to go outside to use our beautiful grounds, they are coming to realize that I now can bring those outside backgrounds right into the studio, assembling a total environment that supports the image I wish to create. I now do nearly everything in the studio with Virtual Backgrounds. I am very pleased with it. It was a great investment, and I have no regrets. I see even more potential developing niche-work that makes the photographer to go to. It’s unlimited!”
Bonnie has been surprised by the response she has gotten from her colleagues in professional photography in terms of her use of Virtual Backgrounds. At first, she wanted to stay quiet about her purchase of a Virtual Backgrounds system so she had time to develop her skills. Her state competition prints were images with projected backgrounds, judged without any knowledge of the method of creation, and she walked away with two blues! That gave her the confidence to continue to reach down deeper for even more creative ideas. She began to share her excitement with her peers, but when she let other photographers know about her new adventure with Virtual Backgrounds, they were interested in the technology but saw it almost as a gimmick. They didn’t seem to get it as a powerful photography tool.
Bonnie states, “In my opinion, it takes a special kind of person to use a Virtual Backgrounds system - one who is willing to invest in their business beyond the latest and greatest new camera. One who is able to improve upon style and make business grow. Most photographers have passion but they don’t place enough emphasis on business. They may have dozens of canvas and muslin backgrounds and continue producing the same old things they have done for years and years, because that’s what they have available and it’s easier than making a change. Customers today demand variety. In addition, they are learning that going outside and pointing and shooting with a digital SLR is not the answer any more. The amateurs have claimed the outside world. We, as professional photographers, have to do what the amateurs can’t do.”
“Virtual Backgrounds inspires me! It helps me be so much more creative. I customize my work for each customer. Many of my competitors probably won’t get Virtual Backgrounds. They won’t make the investment. They just don’t understand. But that’s ok with me because it helps to make me more special,” writes Bonnie.
Bonnie feels that the Perfect Storm and the bad economy are going to force more photographers to look into using Virtual Backgrounds because of its many unique advantages. Bonnie writes, “This is a time when the more serious photographers are going to have to make changes so they can survive. They really don’t have any other options.”
Virtual Backgrounds is proud of the work that Bonnie St. Pierre is producing with her Virtual Backgrounds system. We expect to hear and see much more from Bonnie in the near future!