Business + Marketing

Fine-Art School Portraits: The Beauty of Volume Photography

April 9, 2021

By Lindsey Turner of Lindsey Victoria Photography

I tend to be more of a “consider something fully” instead of a “jump and figure it out on the way down” kind of person. My decision to add fine-art school portraits to my business was a little of both. It had been in my heart and on my mind, but I wasn’t really sure volume photography was for me. Then over the summertime in 2020, an opportunity presented itself and I jumped at the chance, confident I could learn what I didn’t know. 

[Read: 3 Ways Photographers Can Market For a New Reality]

Adding fine-art school portraits to my offerings has been a game changer for my business. If you’re curious if this is for you, I’m excited to share my experience and hope it helps to get you thinking about this as an additional income stream and marketing opportunity for your photography business.


Most photographers start their business because photography is their passion. I know I did. But I quickly discovered that being a professional photographer is 20 percent being an artist and 80 percent being an entrepreneur. Photographers wear countless hats: artist, marketer, customer relations specialist, salesman, content creator, social media manager, bookkeeper…you get the idea. One of the first business decisions you have to make as a photographer is what or who you want to photograph—what your genre and niche will be—and then how you will diversify your offerings to make a living doing what you love.

I have two niches that light me up in different ways:

  1. lifestyle newborn and family photography
  2. lifestyle branding photography

So when the opportunity to photograph school portraits came to me, classic, authentic portraits of children felt like a comfortable extension of my lifestyle family work.


volume photography school portraits research
All Photos © Lindsey Victoria Photography

When I said yes to fine-art school portraits, I spent about a month learning what I didn’t know. I took Schooled, an online course from photographer Elena S Blair, and I researched online proofing and ordering systems, labs, packaging, lighting and backdrops. I ordered equipment and invested about $2,000 in a strobe, octabox, trigger, c-stand, seamless paper backdrops and stands. Can you photograph fine-art school portraits with natural light? Absolutely. I made the choice to invest in artificial light so that I could work flexibly and consistently.

[Read: 4 Common Misconceptions of Shooting Natural Portraits with Artificial Light]

After photographing school portraits in the fall, I attended the virtual SPAC Conference (School & Sports Photographers Association of California) in January 2021. It was eye-opening to see the many ways you could add to your business, from schools small or large to sports teams and dance studios. Volume photography could easily be your entire business if you wanted.


volume photography practice

Next, I set up a studio in my garage to practice. I photographed my son and invited some friends over so I could practice shooting school portraits with their kids as well. I walked through the entire process, from photographing them to culling and editing, setting up an online gallery, having them place an order, and delivering the prints and digitals they selected.

[Read: Basic Portrait Posing that Every Photographer Can Master]


I photographed my first school of 65 students at the end of September, my second of 240 students in early October and my third of 80 students in February. I highly recommend you start with a smaller school when you first begin shooting volume photography so you can get comfortable with your workflow and get familiar with the answers to these questions:

—How long does your set up take?
—How will you identify each child?
—What jokes or silly prompts work best for each age group?
—Will they be sitting or standing or both?
—How long does it really take to photograph each child?


school portraits natural expressions

Volume photography is a totally different approach from lifestyle family sessions. There, I have at least an hour with one family and have plenty of time to make the kiddos comfortable and let them explore their environment. With school portraits, you have only a few minutes with each child. 

[Read: 5 Tips to Photographing Children]

As a result, I focus on silly humor to prompt natural expressions, which changes for each age group. If a joke isn’t “landing,” I move right on to the next prompt. A natural expression isn’t always a smile. Some kids are just more reserved. Parents will first and foremost want to see their child, so don’t force something that doesn’t feel like them.


volume photography silly verbal prompts

Being silly and unexpected works for 85 percent of the kids I photograph for school portraits. Here are a few of my go-to prompts for young children that work:

1. Stuffed Animal on My Head

I put a small stuffed pig on my head, and hilarity ensues:

Me: “I want you to meet my friend the giraffe!”

Kiddo: “That’s not a giraffe! It’s a pig!” 

Me: “No, he’s a giraffe. He’s yellow, has a looooong neck and spots, right?” 

Kiddo: “Nooooo, he’s not! He’s pink and he’s a pig!”

Me: (Continue to insist it’s a giraffe and deny it’s a pig.)

2. What I Had For Breakfast

Me: “You know what I had for breakfast?”

Kiddo: “What?”

Me: “Ice cream. You know what I put on top?”

Kiddo: “What?”

Me: “Hot dogs! I love hot dogs on my ice cream for breakfast, don’t you?!”

3. Repeat After Me

Me: “Repeat after me…ready?”

Kiddo: “Okay.”

Me: “Pumpkin.”

Kiddo: “Pumpkin.”

Me: “Pickles.”

Kiddo: “Pickles.”

Me: “Zucchini.”

Kiddo: “Zucchini.”

Me: “No, not bikini, ZU-CCHI-NI.”

Kiddo: “I said zucchini!” 

Me: “Why do you keep saying bikini? I said to say ‘ZU-CCHI-NI!’ Let’s try again.”


pop-up events

I followed up with a pop-up event in October to accommodate the distance-learning students who needed school portraits, as well as other families in the community who wanted fine-art school portraits of their children. My 20 slots sold out in 24 hours. 

I wasn’t planning to do this again, but I got so many inquiries after parents started posting their photos to social media that I planned a second pop-up event the next month. That also sold out.

[Read: The Right Way To Do Mini Sessions: Special for Them, Profitable for You]

Without a real studio, I took the opportunity to work with other small businesses in my community. The first pop-up I hosted was under a tent outside at my local community center; the second at a beautiful yoga studio. I paid to rent each space, and the businesses cross-promoted the events with me, which boosted visibility and local brand awareness. 


portrait pricing and packaging tips

The thing you might not know about photographing school portraits is the fee structure. While the school is engaging you to take school portraits (and yes, you need to be a legal business, have a contract and liability insurance), they don’t pay you. 

Schools are typically done “on spec,” meaning that you photograph every child and then the parents have the option to purchase their child’s photos, but there is no obligation to do so. Exactly what you charge is up to you and your cost of doing business, but what you’re offering is different than a big box-style school photography company. You should be pricing accordingly. 

Here’s how I price and package my school portraits:

—I offer discounted print packages for one pose, starting at $55 for two 5 x 7 prints
—À la carte prints start at $30 for one 5 x 7
—Framed prints start at $95
—A single digital file is $50
—The full gallery of digital files is $90 (it’s an offer they can’t refuse!) 

[Read: How to Price and Structure Senior Portrait Packages]

My prints are archival quality with a deep matte finish, and exclusively black and white. The schools I’m currently serving are private schools, so I can afford this higher end fine-art school portrait model. Some people order just one 5 x 7. My biggest order to date has been $850 (the parents had three kids). In my first school, 85 percent of the families made purchases, which I’ve discovered is a great average. 


school portraits are an added income stream

Last year was my third year in business, and it turned out to be my best year because of the fine-art school portraits.

Like the rest of the world, I sheltered in place in March 2020 and didn’t photograph for almost six months. In late August, I started photographing families outdoors again, keeping my distance and always wearing a mask. Between my two schools and the two pop-up events I held in the fall, I photographed over 350 students. That income made up 60 percent of my total income in 2020, with the other 40 percent coming from lifestyle family and branding sessions.      

[Read: Diversifying Business—10 Questions for Photographer and Entrepreneur Daniel Kudish]


There are so many programs out there for proofing and selling your school portraits—Shootproof, Pixieset, GotPhoto, PhotoDay, ImageQuix. Like any other software, you need to explore several to see which is the best fit for your needs. I create an unlinked Welcome page on my Squarespace site for each school where I introduce myself, prepare the parents before school picture day, ask them to fill out a brief form where I give them a chance to request a password for their child’s gallery, say yes or no to my model release and opt-in to my email list if they’d like. 

After photos are ready, I update this page with a tutorial video of how to view their photos and place their order. Educating the parents means I get fewer questions in my inbox. This then also directs them to my website, where they might look around to learn more about my newborn, family and branding sessions. 


black and white photo good fit for family photographers

Fine-art school portraits are a perfect fit for my Connecticut-based lifestyle photography business. So many parents have never had the opportunity to have beautiful school portraits of their children that look genuine. The “norm” is big-box companies that use cheesy backgrounds and force smiles that end up looking nothing like their child.

The black-and-white volume photography I deliver families are classic and timeless. The focus is on the child’s face, not what they’re wearing. I’ve gotten the most wonderful feedback on these school portraits, and it brings me so much joy to know that parents see their child’s personality in my photos.

Only you can know if this feels like a good fit for you. It’s a lot of work, and there is certainly a learning curve, but I’m continuing to refine my back-end process, and I really love doing this.


You might be thinking, Okay, this sounds great, but how do I book a school? Once you’ve sorted out your process and created a portfolio to show what your fine-art school portraits will look like, start reaching out in your community. If you have school-age children, talk to their school. If you have friends with children in other local schools, ask if they’d be willing to recommend you. Write an email they can copy and paste to send to their school. 

I recommend starting with a phone call and following up with an email. If you don’t hear back, don’t assume it’s because they’re not interested. I always send another follow-up email because school administrators are busy, now more than ever.  

If you’re having trouble getting in the door at schools, launch a pop-up event. In this case, I charge a “sitting fee” to reserve their time slot so you can plan ahead and know they’ll show up. I then provide a coupon code to credit toward their purchase. 

If you give this a try, I’d love to hear how it went. Feel free to DM me on on Instagram or Facebook to share your experience. 

Lindsey Turner runs Lindsey Victoria Photography out of Litchfield County, Connecticut, where she photographs fine-art school portraits as well as branding, family and newborn sessions.