Welcome, 2023! Our most hectic season of photography is behind us. The first page of the calendar puts us in an exciting time of year: audit season. Hold on. That sounds like a terrible season, right? Audits typically scare people, so let me be clear. I’m not talking about those types of audits. I’m referring to a studio audit. For me and my wife, Carolle, a studio audit is a crucial activity that enables us to examine everything that played a role in the successes and shortcomings of the previous year.
Every year, studio owners have the opportunity to engage in various types of audits. They could be deep dives into sales, clients, expenses, marketing, or physical space. For us, we start January with an audit of our physical space, and we break that down by sections. We have a brick-and-mortar studio with both interior and exterior areas we’re responsible for. We perform separate audits for each space. We walk through these areas with a notebook and look at everything with a fresh set of eyes, trying to imagine how a potential or current client might react to our environments. This is the time to assess whether or not the condition of the walls, paint, carpet, lighting, parking area, décor, landscaping, signage, portrait displays, and even the scents of our foyer and studio are reinforcing our brand. Using the app Trello, we organize all the items identified during the audit that need attention and create a list of tasks. Essentially, we’re making the largest to-do list of all time. We then divvy up tasks to be completed during the first quarter. That way, during the busier months, we’re not spending energy on these maintenance tasks and can focus on photography, sales, and marketing.
I won’t kid you. This is a lot of work. It’s hard to do and emotionally exhausting but, ultimately, it’s very rewarding.Jeffrey Dachowski
After we complete the audit of our physical space, we take a look at our processes, marketing, studio automation, phone scripts, social media, branding, and packaging. I won’t kid you. This is a lot of work. It’s hard to do and emotionally exhausting but, ultimately, it’s very rewarding.
We use this time to evaluate our creative state, as well. We look at our posing, lighting styles, retouching techniques, and other creative endeavors. Each year, I’ve kept a folder on my computer of images I might want to enter for evaluation against PPA’s 12 Elements of a Merit Image. Prepping images for evaluation has been the most effective tool for me to improve my craft and gain confidence in my photography.
Starting in February, PPA’s new Merit Image Review will be in full swing, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. This update allows PPA to meet members where they are. Previously, each of us could enter up to four images into each degree category (master of photography, master of wedding photography, and master artist) once a year, and those images were evaluated in late summer. Many members didn’t take advantage of this benefit because the timing conflicted with their work, family time, and other commitments. Now, there’s no need to wait all year to submit images for evaluation, and you don’t need to submit four images at once. You can enter one image or up to four of them each month, February to November. This gives us the flexibility to work toward merits when the timing is right for each of us and when our creative juices are flowing.
As we roll into 2023, I encourage you to get an image ready for review and submit it. Gather the result, evaluate your outcome, then get another image ready. I’m a big believer in this type of endeavor. It has been and still is the fastest way to improve my craft, and it’s what gave me the confidence to charge what I was worth. I hope you find it to be as valuable as I have and that it sets you on a path toward your PPA degree.
Jeffrey Dachowski operates a photography studio in Bedford, New Hampshire, with his wife, Carolle.