PPA President’s message: Stock your tool belt

Audrey Wancket © Jamie Hayes

What skills could you add to your business? 

For a while I thought spring would never arrive. It was a very cold, snowy, long winter in northern Illinois, and yet here we are more than halfway to summer already. I hope 2019 has started off well for you, both creatively and financially. Let’s be sure to keep an eye on our goals and marketing plans throughout the year, making adjustments as needed.

I specialize in portraits, and May is the first month I can safely start to schedule outdoor client sessions. Photographing children is my first love, but my financial bottom line confirms that family portraits bring in the most income. So this is also the time of year I persuade past clients to schedule their updated family portrait sessions.

I know from experience that when it comes to working with families, there are certain things you should have in your tool belt. In this case, you can take tool belt as a metaphor for the complete set of skills you own or, like me, the literal tool belt I wear to carry the items I need while photographing a session.

Let’s talk about the skills needed. The technical skills of knowing your camera and controlling light are mandatory. People who are new to the profession or who are adding family portraiture to their current business should study a variety of family portrait styles to identify poses they like. There are fantastic educational videos on the PPA website that teach every style a photographer might be interested in: “Classic Family Portraiture” by Drake Busath, M.Photog.Cr., and “Photoshoot ATJ style” by Allison Tyler Jones, Cr.Photog., CPP, are two examples of wonderful lessons that teach very different styles. The psychology of working with family members is another important skill that’s covered in PPA videos. Look to the dozens of instructors who host PPA videos and webinars to help you add skills to your tool belt.

The equipment I keep in my literal tool belt includes all the little things I might want to put my hands on quickly during a session. When I need some essential item, I don’t want to break the rhythm of work, risk losing the attention of a toddler, or try the patience of a parent with their children. I used to carry everything in my camera bag until I watched “The Wedding Planner.” In that movie, Mary, played by Jennifer Lopez, is an extremely organized wedding planner who straps every emergency item she could possibly need inside her jacket. It was like watching a perfectly choreographed dance as she used these things to save weddings from numerous disasters and helped create a perfect day.

My tool belt contains tissues and gaffers tape (which can fix everything, including a shirt that won’t stay tucked). I carry a light meter and an extra card, batteries, and a gray card for white balance. There are (parentally approved) treats, silly toys, and noisemakers. A hairbrush, comb, and mini hairspray are essential. As are mini clips and a Post-it note listing the names and ages of all the kids.

The year is young, so there’s still plenty of time to take stock of our tool belts and fill them with new skills, fresh inspiration, and essential items we need to grow our businesses with satisfied clients.  

Audrey Wancket is a portrait photographer and the 2019-2020 PPA president.