Rick Harding’s father, Fred, started Harding Studio in 1946. As Rick took over the business, he found himself growing tired of fighting for the San Antonio prom business by continually lowering his prices and not having anything really special to offer to ensure that he got the contracts.
Frustrated, he decided that he was going to quit doing proms if he could not find a way to sign up the best proms without being the cheapest bidder. He chose to build his prom business around custom created backgrounds. Initially, he used large cardboard murals as backgrounds. Then he discovered the Virtual Background concept. With Virtual Backgrounds, he could promise the prom committees that his new technology would enable him to create any imaginable background setting to match the theme of their prom. For example, if the theme was “Evening In Paradise,” he could produce a choice of spectacular sunsets, complete with a beach, ocean waves and even some palm trees!
Whatever their theme, he had a variety of spectacular backgrounds. The plan worked. Rick soon began getting one prime prom after another and eventually he purchased a total of eight Scene Machine Virtual Background systems to generate the backgrounds for all the proms he was booking. Some of his largest proms required three simultaneous shooting stations. The larger proms could easily generate in excess of $10,000 in one night. An entire Virtual Backgrounds system would be more than paid for in one single night! Now, years later, he continues to get his choice of the best proms in the area without worrying about having the lowest price. His prom package prices range from $15 to about $50. The students listen to his proposal, look at his samples and sign the contracts, enabling him to bring in hundreds of thousands of prom dollars.
During some parts of the season, all eight Virtual Background systems are in use. Rick explains, “Prom contracts are never automatic. You have to go after them every year. There are always new students and sometimes new advisors. I do have competitors who try their best to get the contracts, but if I can get the students to let me make my proposal, Harding Studio usually gets the contract.” Rick is continually upgrading his methods. The students get to not only help choose the background, but they can even get intimately involved in the creation of the background in that Rick now uses Photoshop to create backgrounds that don’t even exist. For example, he can combine many different elements into a background, taking into consideration student suggestions.
While it sounds like a lot of work, Rick reports that most of his custom prom backgrounds take between thirty minutes and an hour to create on his computer. The students love to have input and Harding Studio likes the rewards. At the same time, Rick is making his life a little easier by inserting some of his props into his background slide rather than having to bring the props to the affair. Proms are definitely not the only thing the studio does. Harding Studio is one of the largest senior and school photographers in San Antonio.
Virtual Backgrounds is involved in 90% of the work produced, helping Harding Studio be one of the most successful operations in the ninth largest city in the US. Rick Harding now makes available to other photographers(outside of San Antonio) his custom background slides, promotional materials, and instructional materials. He can be reached through his Web site at www.hardingstudio.com.