Adaptability Means Sustainability

©Kia Bondurant

In the world of senior portrait photography, change is standard. For photographers who want to appeal to a new class of (let’s face it, highly opinionated) consumers, staying relevant means staying ahead of the competition and the trends.

Kia Bondurant, M.Photog.Cr., is keenly aware of this reality. The Kansas City portrait photographer has made a living by continually evolving her studio, her marketing, and her brand positioning to meet the changing needs of an evolving clientele. This isn’t just an effort to stay on trend; it’s a calculated business decision that impacts everything from her communication strategy to the products she offers.

©Kia Bondurant
©Kia Bondurant

“One of the things I love about the senior market is it’s new every year,” she says. “You can’t just set it and forget it. You have to pay attention to the fashion trends and what’s popular in terms of the backgrounds and the outfits and the poses. These are the buying trends. If you understand what people like, you can better understand what they’re going to buy.”

To keep up with shifting tastes in the senior market for both seniors and their parents, Bondurant recommends a steady diet of research, including a handful of essential activities:

  • Find a muse with a clue. It’s helpful to have someone in your life who knows what appeals to high school seniors and other teenagers. If you’re well beyond this age group, no problem. Talk to your kids or friends’ kids, relatives, younger photo assistants—anyone who’s plugged into that market.
  • Be social. Look at social media, especially the platforms that are popular with your clients. Bondurant finds Instagram to be an aspirational platform where teens and young adults share looks they’re striving for. Keep in mind that you’re using social media as a research tool, not entertainment.
  • Log some screen time. Watch what teens are watching, including music videos, and stay current on fashion in TV shows. See what the luminaries of the under-20 set are wearing and what’s trending.
  • Read print. Editors at the iconic fashion magazines still have their thumb on the pulse of high style, and these glossies can be useful for keeping tabs on current and upcoming fashion trends.
  • Do a deep dive. Make fashion and style research a regular part of your work, and go deep. Delve into your sources and pay attention to the throughlines that connect different styles or movements.

Take notes and use the information you gather to help plan for the next season.

©Kia Bondurant

To be flexible in the way she presents her senior portrait business, Bondurant runs a sub-brand aimed at teen girls called Style Muse Magazine. Style Muse Magazine started as a model program she ran in conjunction with a local women’s boutique.

Every summer, Bondurant provided models chosen from her senior portrait applicants with a fashion show at the boutique. She photographed the event and did mini sessions with each model. These shoots could get elaborate, with oodles of accessories, hair and makeup prep—the works. When the girls got hold of the resulting images, they shared them all over social media, and the event quickly became Bondurant’s main form of advertising. The program evolved into a semi-independent entity, with special mini sessions she now calls media days. Bondurant runs the sub-brand on Instagram so she can continually update the images and fluidly change the looks she wants to portray for each season.

©Kia Bondurant

To broaden her clientele and generate more bookings during traditionally slow times, Bondurant recently introduced two new product lines as spinoffs from her girl-focused senior portrait program.  

Guy lines. While Style Muse Magazine is for senior girls, Bondurant runs a more traditional senior portrait campaign for boys through her main brand, Bondurant Studios. For guy-focused portraits, she markets more to the parents versus direct appeals to the girls through social media. To get the senior boy portraits going, she reached out to parents of former clients to let them know she offers a program for boys.

“It’s all about letting the moms know we are working with boys,” she says. “They are the drivers for these sessions, not the boys.”

©Kia Bondurant

Bondurant typically does these sessions later in the year, after her Style Muse sessions wrap up, which has helped fill a formerly dead time on her calendar. In her first year doing the portraits with the boys, she added about 20 additional sessions that became some of her highest grossing. “The moms are usually so excited to get these images of their boys that they buy our biggest packages,” she says. 

Teens and tweens. Similar to the boy senior portraits, Bondurant wanted to expand to a tangential market that could help fill a slow time in her schedule. Again, she reached out to parents of former clients to offer sessions for younger teens and tweens. While speaking to some of the parents, she struck on the theme of confidence, which resonated with them.

“Parents of kids this age just want to build them up,” she says. “It’s a tough time, and it can be awkward, especially for girls who are still trying to figure out who they want to be. So, confidence was the key, and we really focus on building confidence through these sessions and these images because what parent wouldn’t pay for their kid to feel really confident in themselves?”

©Kia Bondurant

Bondurant created packages with slightly discounted pricing and different product options that work with this age group, such as quote books that build on the confidence theme. She was able to add 20 sessions during what had been a slow time. An added benefit: The teen and tween bookings represent an ideal feeder program for the senior portrait program.

The combination of these two additional lines of business led to a 25% increase in revenue the year they were introduced, not to mention dozens of new clients with all the associated potential for referrals and repeat business.

©Kia Bondurant
©Kia Bondurant

“Change is happening all around us, all the time,” Bondurant says. “And the biggest reason I see people not succeed when change happens is that they don’t do anything about it.”

Have those difficult conversations with yourself, she urges. Look at your numbers. Try to understand the deeper meaning behind the numbers and think about how you can adapt what you’re doing for better results. Most of all, take action.

“Shoot and connect with people about what you’re doing,” says Bondurant. “Invite them in. That’s what this is all about.”  

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.