The Mini Session

Every year, as we enter the holiday season, I see posts circulating the photography community about why mini-sessions are hurting our business.

If you're a photographer, chances are these posts generate a lot of emotions. Maybe your business is BASED on mini-sessions. Maybe you're a hobbyist and minis are the only paid sessions you offer. Maybe you're just starting out and are using minis to get your feet wet. Maybe you have a thriving business and are hoping to add minis for the chance to work with new vendors. Or maybe--you just really love doing them.

Seeing those posts can make it feel like we're hurting ourselves, or the industry in some way. It can feel personal.

For me--they've been making me think a lot lately of the why of minis. Why do I offer them? Why did I start? Why do I continue?

And the question that we really need to ask--as both photographers/business owners, and as humans trying to exist in an increasingly expensive world where how we spend our money weighs heavily most of the time--

What is the value of a mini-session?

For clients

I mention below that mini sessions are kind of like speed dating for photographers--and it's true on the client side of things as well. While you may only work with one photographer the entire year instead of 10 families back to back in a single day--the 15 minutes you spend with that person still says a lot. Do they make you feel relaxed? Do they connect with your children well? The experience of being photographed means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. You want to make sure the person you hire is someone you trust with that vulnerability. Chances are there is going to be a milestone at some point in your life you want professionally photographed--a proposal or wedding, your senior preparing for graduation, welcoming a new baby. Or maybe you're a business owner and need updated pictures for your website, or are organizing an event and want it documented for attendees. Booking a mini session gets you the pictures and experience you paid for at the time--but also opens the door to a whole new relationship. And just like a child's first experience at the dentist can set the tone for all future visits, a family's first professional photography session can inform how you approach all future experiences in front of a camera. Ideally, you walk away from your session not only looking forward to your images, but feeling confident in yourself, and truly seen by the person taking your pictures. 

Mini sessions let you sample things--photographers, vendors, but also places! It's hard to coordinate family schedules. And a barrier I hear often for booking a professional photographer is just finding the time. Booking a mini session allows your family to include photos as part of a greater experience. Spend 15 minutes taking pictures, and voila! you are already in a location where you can have fun and enjoy the day together, and maybe create a new tradition in doing so. And if you already have a tradition--chances are there's a photographer in your area offering sessions there already! Talk to your local tree farm or orchard and see if they have any thank-you specials for booking one of their preferred photographers, or if your photographer has any gifts included. You never know until you ask!

The obvious answer--but they are more budget-conscious. I truly believe that every family deserves beautiful photographs. Photography is art, but it's also memories. Our children will grow up. Our parents will age and eventually pass away. Nobody can predict the future. And even though cell phones make it easy to capture any moment at any time, hiring a professional ensures not just high quality--and high resolution--pictures, but that everyone gets to be in the frame. But the reality is--like with everything else--we all have to make choices about how we spend our money. If you have a local photographer you love but can't afford one of their full sessions, or just want that one photo for the holiday card, minis are the way to go. True, you don't get as many pictures, personal styling, or as much time together as a full session allows--but as mentioned above, when you end up needing photography services, now you know someone.

For Photographers

Minis don't allow a lot of time to connect with clients. Which for me, and most photographers I know, can be frustrating. We love creating art, and we love creating art for the people who hire us. But what minis do instead is kind of like speed dating--we learn really quickly how to break the ice with nervous kids, camera-shy dads, and reluctant teenagers. When you only have 15 minutes with a group, that 15 minutes has to be spent well. You learn very quickly what tends to make people comfortable, and what movement prompts to suggest for the camera-shy who don't feel comfortable just smiling. 

Minis allow us to connect with local vendors. Styled picnics, Christmas tree farms, antique trucks--all the key elements of popular mini themes come together, and amazing partnerships are formed. Though I no longer live in Tennessee, the tree farm I did minis at there became a favorite place, both to take clients and to take my own family. I never would have found them if I hadn't been looking for a place to host minis. While we should always be to connect and forge relationships with other vendors, annual minis form a tradition--for us as well as for our clients. 

We get to know our locals! I was talking with a friend recently--as photographers in a market that is largely driven by tourism, a lot of our regular business comes from people traveling from out of town. And while there is an incredible privilege in being part of somebody's vacation or destination wedding, connecting with the community is equally as important. Minis let us meet the families who shop at our grocery store, or take dance lessons and play soccer with our children. Some of these clients may become friends, or even family. Or maybe we just get to be a part of their annual holiday tradition--which is every bit as much a privilege as documenting somebody's wedding. 

Ultimately the choice to offer mini sessions--or to book one--comes down to works best for you. But that doesn't mean there isn't value inherent in minis, whether you make them a part of your photography experience or not. And really the best way to form your own opinion is to book one, and then come back and book a full session, and see which one you prefer!