How would you feel about getting paid to build your photography portfolio?
Maybe you’re just getting started in birth photography and you need images for your portfolio. Or maybe you want to try something new that you learned or you’re ready to get more experience in your niche. After walking hundreds of photographers through the process inside our courses, I’m sharing what we’ve learned is working and what is NOT working to get paid to build your portfolio.
A question we get multiple times a week inside our free Facebook group for birth photographers is how do I get started in birth photography? How do I find someone willing to let me photograph their birth but also let me share the images to get more clients?
Whether you’ve photographed 0 births or you’ve photographed a few but you want to get experience which a specific type of birth (like homebirth) – it’s clear that you need a portfolio of whatever it is you want to be known for a to photograph. We talked in the previous episode about how to target your ideal client on social media. And if you’ve only photographed 1 birth (or 0) you’re going to run out of images to share pretty quickly right?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There are a lot of things to consider and it’s common for our brains to shut down when we feel overwhelmed. But if you don’t take the time to learn not only how to run this model call but the common mistakes to avoid, well friend, chances are you’re going to bump into those mistakes yourself!
What is a Model Call?
In a nutshell, you’re offering a significant discount on a particular session type in exchange for the family agreeing to let you share the photos online to prospective clients.
Why Run a Model Call?
If you’re new to a genre – if you want more specific images to share inside that genre – or if you just learned how to do something new and you want some more practice before offering it full price.
When SHOULDN’T you Run a Model Call?
If you want to make money when you’re not booking clients, it is not a good idea to do it through a model call.
The last thing you want to be known for is the discount photographer and start competing on price, because that my friend is a race to the bottom and burnout.
You’re not Walmart, you’re not Amazon. If you have the experience and the skill but you’re still not booking clients, please do not run a model call to get clients. Instead you need to learn sustainable marketing strategies for photographers, which I teach inside marketing school for photographers.
1. Not charging anything (why people do this, why it is a mistake)
Sometimes photographers think that by not charging anything, it will be easier to find clients and it will speed up this whole process. And sometimes it might. But there are some big reasons I don’t recommend doing this for free.
- The client isn’t invested
When I was a newer newborn photographer, I have never photographed twins and I really wanted experience. So I put out a model call for twin newborns. I got some bites and I chose someone to photograph their twins!
Back then, my studio was in our home, so I had the every part of the house that they might be in deep cleaned. I purchased coordinating outfits for the twins too, since they are boy and girl twins.
So I was vacuuming, they were supposed to arrive any minute, when I got a phone call from the mom, saying that they couldn’t make it because they were having a hectic day. I just sat there, I didn’t know what to do – I had set aside the entire day, I got a babysitter for my kids, I had turned down other applicants – it was a big problem.
And it was in that moment that I realized – I never had a paid client do that to me. I never had someone who invested money just not come or tell me that they’re not going to make it AT ALL. Because this person didn’t pay anything, they weren’t fully invested.
Now, imagine that happening for a birth and you’ve been on-call. You’ve turned down other people and you’ve set your life up to be available for this person, and they have their baby and they don’t tell you and then later say, “Oh I’m so sorry, we changed our mind.”
I hear this ALL THE TIME, so please just charge something.
- You’re not as invested
As a client, honestly, I don’t want someone to do something for me for free. I want them to be IN IT and excited and invested. If you had something really important come up last minute, you’re more likely to tell the client it won’t work out if they haven’t paid you – I know you’re unlikely to do that but when money is exchanged the photographer AND client feel more secure with the transaction.
When both you and the client have some skin in the game, so to speak, it changes the entire dynamic and everyone shows up differently! Even if you charge a refundable deposit and give it back after you photograph the birth, please charge something.
Also, consider what it is going to cost you and your family for you to be on-call. Will you potentially have to leave a portrait session to go to a birth (and how will you compensate that client)? Do you need to hire on-call childcare? Chances are you will have some costs (whether it’s actual money or time) associated with this model call client so don’t short change yourself! 🙂
2. Calling it a model call to your clients
This is a new recommendation because I’ve always called it a model call. But more and more photographers are posting in our student groups saying that their clients are getting confused or think it’s free because the photographer is externally calling it a model call which means “free” to a lot of people or that you’re paying them.
Instead try “portfolio building discount” or if you choose to call it a model call it’s important to make it VERY clear that this is a PAID experience, but you are offering it at a significant discount.
3. Not enough traffic
Sometimes we assume because 10 people saw our application or sales page or offer that we can get 4-5 of them to apply. But the truth is, the average conversion rate (meaning they took the action on the page you wanted them to take) is around 20-30%.
So if your goal is to book 5 births, and you can get 50% of your consults to book you, you need 10 consults. Ok cool, so then you need 10 applications right?
In order to get 10 applications with the 20-30% conversion rate you need at least 50 qualified people (not lookie loos) to see that page.
When a student tells me they didn’t get as many applications as they hoped, my first question is always “how many people saw the sales page or the application page?”
Inside the model call challenge course, I share our process for launching anything and how to apply it to the model call. There is a pre-launch process where I share specific things to share on social media to build excitement. If you notice those posts (that aren’t selling anything just starting to talk about it) aren’t getting engagement, aren’t getting comments and aren’t getting shared – that’s a good sign you’re not reaching the right people and to start to work on getting in front of the right people before you announce your model call.
4. No model call release
This next one breaks my heart so if you want to run a model call for birth photography specifically, listen up. Imagine this: you set up your model call, you book 5 births in the next 60 days and you get the call to photograph the first one. It’s a beautiful, daytime, homebirth and you cannot believe you’re so lucky to get to do this! You’re thrilled with the images, you start editing and send a few to the family to approve for you to share.
They respond saying how much they love the photos, but that they’d prefer you not share. They say, I know you wanted these for your portfolio, but we decided we don’t want such a private moment shared publicly.
Now you have this sinking feeling in your stomach. You did all this for a major discount and now you can’t even use the photos!
Do you post them anyway? No.
Do you argue with the freshly postpartum mom and explain your side?
Oh friend I just want you to avoid that all together. And here’s how you do that:
In their consultation – before baby is born – say these words: I’m offering this discount because I need images to share publicly on social media and my website. By accepting this discount, you’re agreeing to sign this model release and let me share the images publicly. If after you see the images you decide you don’t want them shared, you will be responsible to pay my full fee which is $XXX.
I know this can be an uncomfortable conversation but it’s critically necessary to avoid the situation I described above. If you need a model release drafted by a lawyer and ready to go, head over to taviaredburn.com/modelcall and use code TAVIAR10 for 10% off.
5. Price too high
Pricing. Oh pricing. It is such a great, hot button topic haha. Here’s the deal, if your price is too high – you run the risk of people not wanting to take a chance on you. I want you to make money with your model call, but I also want you to get the experience.
So you have to decide, is it more important for me to book 1 or 2 births at $700+ or would I rather price this thing lower, get more applications and get to be picker about who I select in the $200-$400 price range.
There isn’t a right or wrong here, but when you’re priced too high for the model call it is going to be much harder to get booked. Depending on your area, under $400 is definitely the lower end and more likely to get people interested.
Remember, these model call clients are NOT going to be your ideal client. They want an inexpensive birth photographer who is building their portfolio and you want experience quickly. It’s a win-win for this situation, but this person is most likely not going to stick with you as you raise your prices and that is okay!
6. Thinking it’s a one-time thing
Ideally, it is a one-time thing. In a perfect world, you launch the model call and fill all the spots, build your portfolio, and make a few hundred or thousand dollars. BUT if you don’t fill up the first time or you don’t get any applications, you’ll have to start looking at ways to re-launch it.
When you tell yourself that this HAS to work – it’s way too much pressure. You can always do the model call again if you don’t fill all the spots! Just change it slightly, like change the due dates or the type of birth or client you’re looking for and run it again.
An important part of this is a quick debrief process from the first time you ran it:
What went well and what didn’t?
Where did the first one stop working?
How can you improve it?
If you don’t take the time to consider this, you’re likely to make the same mistake again.
IF you’re a student inside either of my courses and you need help with your model call, please post about it in our student FB groups. They are a wealth of knowledge from photographers who’ve been where you are!
You can’t do it alone. That’s why we created the Model Call Challenge and Certification for Birth Photographers to help photographers through this process from start to finish, ensuring they have a successful model call that yields them more clients and higher revenue.
The MCAP is designed with you in mind – our goal is not just to get your business back on track but also give birth professionals the tools they need to be their best selves as well.
Let me know if I can answer any questions or refer you an expert who might be able to help!