Business Trends
Improving Sales By Selling Your Style
An Interview With Robert Lino

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In the competitive business of consumer photography, selling your personal style has always been the way to improve sales and go to a higher level of pricing and clientele for weddings and portraits. I get asked about this topic of "personal style" a lot when teaching my own self-promotion seminars for photographers. As a photo rep, it has always interested me because of the higher value the clients themselves place on style. There are several questions on this topic:

  • How do you define the concept of personal style?
  • When do you make the transition to selling your style?
  • How do you sell your style when a client says that they "just want a portrait"?
  • How do you find your style?

To answer these, and other questions, we interviewed Robert Lino (e-mail: rlino@worldnet.att.net), a Miami-based portrait and wedding photographer known for his classical style. Lino first entered the field in 1975 and established his own business in 1986. He has been awarded the Photographic Master and Craftsman Degrees as well as the Professional Photographer Certification from PPA and numerous other awards from WPPI and the Professional Photographers of Mexico. His first book, Wedding Poses was published in 1997 in English and Spanish and is an illustrated handbook showing step by step instructions on how to pose for formal wedding portraiture. Lino was also included in the book, The Business of Wedding Photography, featuring 30 of the world's best wedding photographers. He has presented educational seminars at the PPA National Conventions, WPPI International Conventions, and in cities throughout the US and Latin America as well as in Mexico, Spain, Canada, Guatemala, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas.

Shutterbug: Robert, how have you defined your personal style for your business?

Robert Lino: Personal style is what you bring into your business that sets you apart from everyone else. In photography it could be your lighting techniques, your poses, your choice of backgrounds, it could be the way you interpret or tell the story behind each image. It could also be the way you sell your work, the way you present it, the way your studio is designed, or just simply your personality and the way you treat your clients.

I believe my style to be very formal, elegant, and romantic, but at the same time very natural looking and with lots of feeling. My technical strength is definitely posing. My portraits are very controlled, but they must look natural. In my mind there must be a reason for my subjects to do the pose they were captured in, and also a movement that would follow that pose to move on from it. It should be like a frozen frame from a movie. It should tell a story.

I also like elegant surroundings and sophisticated backgrounds. Most people prefer to be surrounded by an almost "perfect" environment; most clients do not find everyday reality the ideal setting for a portrait. I also prefer warm tones and old-fashioned accessories. I like my lighting to be somewhat dramatic, with defined shadows and lighting patterns.

SB: When do you feel that you made the transition to selling your style?

RL: I think it is really hard to determine a time when you stop "selling pictures" and start "selling your images." I believe this happens when clients start to ask specifically for you and when price or location does not become the determining factor in booking you.

I have been in business on my own since 1986. Before that I worked for another studio for 11 years. The reason I started my own studio was because most clients started to request that "Robert" photograph them, even before they had met me. Maybe that was the beginning of selling my style and I never realized it.

I think a clear clue that your style is prevailing will be when a client calls and asks, "Are you available for this date?" before they ask, "How much?" The ultimate proof could be when a client asks, "When are you available?" That tells you that they will work around your schedule because they want your style.

SB: How do you sell your style when a client says that they "just want a portrait"?

RL: The first question I ask is, "How did you hear about us?" That gives me an indication if they are familiar with my work or not. Then we try to find out what they expect from their session. We explain our style and how we want to capture who they are, and tell a story, not just photograph them.

It is very common that a client will want "only one photo" and does not care about the "session." Then, it is our turn to explain that we create many images in a session to select the best one and that the session is a vital part of the experience.

Sometimes price does become a determining factor. When asked about price, I would say, "There are definitely many choices of photographers in the market and my honest opinion is that if you cannot tell the difference, you should not pay a higher price. There are diamonds, and there is cubic zirconium, and most people cannot tell the difference, but what would you have on your wedding ring? Do you want just a picture to record the event, or do you want to create an image that will have a significance forever?"

Usually this will help to make up their minds, and honestly I do not believe they should pay for something they do not care about or cannot differentiate. I want my clients to understand the value and appreciate the entire photography experience.

SB: My photography students frequently ask me, "How do I find my own style?" When a photographer is just starting out today, how do you recommend they begin?

RL: For the starting photographer, I recommend a deep soul-searching to find out what they enjoy doing. This isn't the type of job you do for the money or the benefits; you only get into photography because you love it and because it fulfills your needs. Therefore you must find out what your needs are and what you like best and in what ways you can express yourself. So, this first step will determine personal style. Now that you know what you want, you can work on selling it. There is no sense in creating portfolios of images that you are not sure of selling. Save your energy and money for more specific ideas. If you are sold on them, it will be easy to sell them. When you do not have the paying clients, find a friend that will be willing to model for you and produce those samples. You will need a budget for the production costs but it is your investment in selling your personal style. You do not need a very large number of images, but they should be very good and very illustrative of your style.

SB: Finally, what are your personal recommendations for starting and running a successful and profitable photography business in today's economy and environment?

RL: Let's start with a list of what not to do:
Do not follow temporary trends or things that you are not totally sold on.
Do not try to make carbon copies of anybody else's style.
Do not rush into a studio site for your business; first establish a clientele and work on a budget to make sure you'll be able to cover the overhead.
Do not get overly concerned about your competition, live and let live, work and let work.
Do not always be watching the other guys, you won't have time to work on your own business or style.
Do not ever think that you know it all or that you have reached the top, as you could fall very easily.

Then, here is a list of things to do:
Do learn and research as much as possible. The clients of today are very well informed and much more selective, so know your area and sell it with confidence.
Do invest in a good portfolio with great images and the best presentation. That will be your passport to better client options.
Do be very consciousness of physical appearance; look professional if you expect to be respected.
Do create proper and professional looking paperwork, including presentation cards, price lists, advertising, and contract forms.
Do research and make good calculations when figuring out prices, make sure to include all expenses and adequate profits (do this from day one, price structures are very hard to change once your business is established).
Do always try to learn new things, see new products, and network with other photographers to help one another.

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