I have been fortunate enough to have two days work experience in a Venture Photography studio, at their branch in Chichester. Venture Photography is studio only based, and is predominately family and child centred which is an area I am keen to learn more about. From my own personal experience of photographing my own family and other children, I have always leaned towards a natural setting, either in the home, or outside.
When I first started contacting photographers and studios about work experience I did email Venture to try and arrange work experience, but as in many cases I did not get a reply. However, some weeks later, Venture were advertising at my local supermarket and taking peoples details for follow up calls to arrange studio bookings. I left my details as I am quite interested in having some family photographs taken, but I also mentioned that I was a photography student and would be looking for some work experience. I received a call from Ben, part of the telesales team, and whilst we arranged a booking, he also arranged for me to attend the studio to gain some work experience.
On my first day, there were no studio bookings during the time I was there, so instead I was able to sit in on a ‘viewing’ and later see some of the administrative and creative processes. In the first instance I sat in on a ‘viewing’, which is where a customer returns to look at the photographs that have been taken and decide what they want to order. I sat in with Simon, who is a photographer and sales viewer at this branch.
One of the first things I noticed, was that the reception area and the viewing area were very well presented. Smart, welcoming, and obviously numerous examples on the walls of the various image styles, formats, sizes and frames available.
The viewing is essentially a presentation, played on Ventures ‘in-house’ package, which is played along to music. Images from the studio session are shown, as well as examples of how images would look in a ‘collection’ or in different formats. Once this has been viewed, the images can then be looked at individually and the family are encouraged to make a decision, based on a traffic light system of selection, no, possible, or yes. The family I sat in with indeed found it difficult to whittle down the images, and in the first instance did not reject very many. To help the selection further Simon then showed the family the images in groups according to their similarity for example; group family shots, followed by individual portraits of the children, couple shots etc… so that they could select favourites from each group. Once they had selected their favourites they then looked at building a ‘collection’ which is essentially one photograph, consisting of a variety of images from the shoot. Venture offer numerous packages and images can be purchased, singularly, in groups, framed, non-framed, collections and albums. It became apparent that this family wanted a ‘collection’ image. Simon spent some time showing them different collection formats and placing their chosen/favourite images. In the end they opted for a 9 image collection, which gave them a variety of group family shots, group children shots and individual portraits. They also opted for a digital frame, which meant that they would receive all of the images presented, although they are only viewable on the digital frame, and would not be of high enough quality to upload to a computer or to get printed.
I then spent time in the back office, where on this particular day there were three members of staff answering phone calls and editing photo shoots. All the staff present worked in both the studio and the office editing, depending on the diary bookings for the day. They worked on Windows PC, and used photoshop for editing purposes, and then their own ‘in-house’ package to place images into example collections, or to vary the sizes and formats according to potential frame sizes. I was asked to do some basic editing from a group family studio session. This consisted of adjusting curves, in particular for the white background images, they then had inbuilt settings which were allocated to the function keys, which made adjustments to contrast, sharpness etc.., this was simply a case of pressing F2, F3, F4. The image then had to be flattened, and the dodge/burn tool was used to make sure the background was all white and any of the studio, such as edge of the background or lighting was painted out. I then saved the images so that they could be cropped and edited further later. Whilst I was doing this I was able to talk to the staff about the processes. I was interested to learn that more often than not people edit each others shoots, often because there are so many to work through. I imagined that the photographer that had taken the photographs would want to edit their own work, however this was not the case.
I asked about timings given for studio sessions and for the editing process, and I was informed that it is suggested it should take about an hour to perform the editing from a photo shoot, an hour for a studio session, and one hour and twenty minutes for a viewing session. I asked if if was always possible to perform all of the editing in an hour and was told that it was not always the case, and can depend on the number of photographs taken. There are a defined set of images that a photographer has to try and take with a family; obviously group photos, photos of the parents on their own, photos of siblings in groups, singular portraits, and then these are taken with slightly different compositions e.g. close-ups, upper body, and full length. I presume this is done, to ensure a good number of consistent images are obtained. Obviously if it is just a ‘couple’ or a ‘baby’ only session then the photographer may not follow such a set criteria of objectives. It also seems that the telesales are quite important, obviously not only for setting up the initial appointments, but also for getting clients to think about the kind of shoot that they want, as they encourage people to bring in props or changes of clothing.
Once the edits are completed on photoshop a number of edited images are selected for viewing by the customer and these are placed into a slide/presentation show. There is usually a mix of formats, and also some in colour or black and white to demonstrate the different possibilities available. An introduction screen is created which basically says ‘welcome back’ and is then personalised with the families names, which I imagine is done to make the customer feel that theirs is a personal experience. I asked how many images are presented, and was told between 30 and 40, but certainly no more than 40. Ultimately, the presentations are clearly geared towards selling when it comes to the viewings. I think that it can be quite an expensive experience for some families, especially those that have been lured into the photo shoot by way of a special offer, indeed Venture even offer various payment plans to make their products more financially available and accessible to families by enabling them to spread the cost. I suspect that on many occasion this also perhaps encourages customers to spend more than perhaps they intended to. From what I could gather the photographers are not paid by commission, so although they receive training in how to perform and conduct a ‘viewing’ session, there is no financial incentive, which I think is perhaps a good thing. Certainly the viewing that I sat in on, there was no ‘hard’ sell, but in fairness perhaps the photographs spoke for themselves. A lot of business is found through advertising special offers, or discount sites such as Groupon, many of the bookings are made under special offers. This basically gets the clients through the door, and whilst some may only want to take the initial single photograph offered as part of a deal, I have no doubt that many do go on to order additional photographs and collections.
On my second day with Venture I was able to sit in on two studio sessions. This meant I have been able to see a complete cycle of the processes involved. The studio room itself was an enclosed space, with the walls, ceiling and floor painted white, creating an infinity cove. There were four flash units in total and the camera used was a Canon 1ds mkII.
Jody was the photographer for the first session and it was for a family of four; mum, dad and two young children, one aged two and one just four months old. Before heading into the studio Jody let the family have a look through some display books, demonstrating the various styles of photographs, and asked them to pick out any that they particularly liked. Venture advertise four main styles; ‘signature’, ‘mononchrome’, ‘digital’ and ‘statement’. Signature has the white background and seems to be the one most commonly opted for, particularly for group family shots. Once the family had selected some images that they liked Jody asked, what is was about the images that they liked to try and get a feel as to what the family wanted to capture in their session.
Once in the studio, Jody obviously had in her mind to take certain images so that a complete ‘set’ could be taken. The family also brought in a change of clothes for the children, and also toys, musical instruments and books. Although Jody had set ideas in mind, I could also see that she had to go with the flow, particularly with the young children. There were moments where the toddler didn’t want to do what was suggested, or was getting bored and fidgety. So its clear you have to be quite adaptable. At one point they were looking for a book for the little girl to pose with, but as she was pulling all the toys and books out of the huge bag her mum had brought along, I suggested that in itself, might make for a good picture, so Jody took some images of the little girl rummaging around in the bag throwing toys around. Usually it would just be the photographer in the studio along with the family, sometimes they have large extended families in for photographs and I can imagine it would feel quite crowded at times. I was able to help out by dashing in and moving props quickly and also holding the 4 month hold baby when needed! The session was supposed to take an hour but we did overrun slightly, as I think Jody felt she still wanted to get capture some key images. It was quite difficult getting images of the two children together, as the toddler was a bit reluctant, and obviously with the baby being so young, care had to be taken when placing the children close together, towards the end the baby became a bit upset. I think an hour is probably about the right amount of time for a family, although it perhaps doesn’t seem very long, especially with outfit changes, I think it gives enough time to get customers settled and relaxed, and then it stops just before it becomes too overwhelming for young children. I could see from this session that it defiantly required thinking on your feet, especially in a limited time frame. I know from my own experience toddlers are not always compliant with instructions or even willing to pose for photographs.
The second studio session started a bit late as the family shoot overran slightly. This time I worked with Babs and she was photographing a couple with their Chihuahua dog. The couple had been customers of Venture before, but this was the first time that they had included their pet dog. Venture offer family portraits with pets, or even just pet portraits, I can only imagine how much more chaotic that would make a photo shoot, having to contend with young children and animals! Fortunately, in this instance it was a couple and one very small dog. I did take a few photographs this time; the camera and lighting is basically all set up to go, so all I had to do other than move around was literally press the shutter button. It was interesting watching the shoot progress as you could visible see both the dog and its owners relax more as time went on. As with the children, I think the photographer has to basically go with the flow in terms of what the dog will and will not do. Also, I noticed that Babs was very good at directing the customers in how to sit or stand, there were moments where they were a bit awkward with a pose, but with a bit of direction they looked more comfortable. The session was completed on time, and the couple seemed more than happy with how the session had progressed and were looking forward to returning for a viewing. Once a studio session is finished the clients book a returning date for a viewing. The images are loaded straight onto the computer system into a customer file, ready for editing before the arranged viewing date.
Overall, I found it a really interesting experience seeing the processes from a professional studio that specialises in family photography. Although I think there are elements of sales involved with a chain such as this, I suppose if you go to a studio such as Venture, then as a client I think you know what you can expect, you know exactly what type of photographs you will receive. From the clients I met, it certainly seems that they returned because they knew exactly what they could expect, and retaining customers is certainly key to many successful businesses. I would have liked to have had some work experience in a smaller independent studio, so that I could compare the processes, but unfortunately, the ones that I contacted either said no, or just didn’t reply. Venture obviously specialise in studio family photography, whereas many of the smaller independent photographers that I contacted for potential work experience, offer a multitude of services, both within a studio environment and elsewhere.
It was a really interesting couple of days, and I am exceptionally grateful to the staff at Venture Chichester for accommodating me in their work place. Although I can certainly see the appeal in this type of family portrait, and indeed will be attending at some point in the future for my own family unit to be photographed, when it comes to photographs of my children I think my heart and my photography preferences will always lean towards a natural environment.