Photography Spotlight: Andy Bondurant

Colyn Montgomery


This month we interview Andy Bondurant, founder and director of Senior Portrait Artists (SPA).

Andy Bondurant is the founder and director of Senior Portrait Artists (SPA), the largest organization of high school senior photographers. Andy maintains an active online forum, SPA Talk, publishes SPA TK Packets, and organizes SPA Events. If you’re a senior portrait photographer, you can’t miss SPA’s January event in San Diego, CA.

Animoto is thrilled to have Andy featured in our December print ad! Andy started Senior Portrait Artists in 2005 but has been immersed in portrait photography since he married Kia Bondurant of Antisdel.s Photography in 1995. We sat down with Andy to bring his 15 years of industry experience to you.

How has the industry evolved since 1995? Since you started SPA in 2005?

I think the biggest change since 1995 is the introduction of digital. It’s completely changed how photography is done and who can be a photographer. When digital was introduced it was super high end, but eventually it lowered the bar for the entry into professional photography which expanded the industry by leaps and bounds. Though there are those out there who consider this a negative, I see it as an incredible opportunity for the industry to change and grow – which is exactly what has happened in the last 15 years.

I think the second biggest change or evolution since 1995 is the rise of women in photography. When you think about it, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for women to enter the industry in the numbers that they have in the last decade. They know what the average photography client wants because the average photography client is a woman. The way that photography is done and sold is changing to fit that end client – and women photographers are leading the trend.

Since 2005, the inception of spa, the biggest evolution is the advent of social marketing. 5 years ago, the easiest way to get a new senior client was mailing a postcard or brochure and having a website with some of your basic info and images. Now, I know of very successful photographers who won’t mail a single postcard yet have just as good or better results using Facebook as their main marketing tool. Which, of course, highlights the need for a product like Animoto that integrates seamlessly with Facebook and other web 2.0 applications.

What about the expectations of seniors? How have those changed over the last 5 year, and how should senior portrait photographers adapt to succeed

Because the average high school senior lives in a digital world they expect some sort of digital product. Whether that be a large selection of their images in a slideshow presentation, a few images for their Facebook page or, increasingly, the expectation of receiving all their images by electronic file. While currently the average senior client (which still has a lot to do with Mom) wants the opportunity to purchase wallets, gift sized images, and framed wall portraits, I think the trend will be to expect the opportunity to purchase the session files. This has been a frowned-on practice by photographers, but I think that most photographers will need to come to grips with how to best offer this product to their clients, while maintaining the average sale they need to make money.

What role should social media play in each senior portrait photographer’s business? How have SPA members used social media successfully to date and how do you see practices evolving?

Seniors live on Facebook (and in some areas MySpace), so having some sort of presence is critical to the marketing process. Many spa Members have followed in the footsteps of Rod Evans who was the first senior photographer that I know of to really tap into the power of Facebook to connect with current and potential clients. I think the key to what Rod has achieved through Facebook is he creates “benefits” for being a fan of his studio. Benefits can be as simple as giving sneak peaks of upcoming products or sales, offering Facebook-only specials, or can be more elaborate – like giving gifts to those who fan your brand.

The rise of social and web media has certainly led to the decline of print advertising. The reasons are obvious, the cost of creating a Facebook Page is nothing, and the interactive ability of a Facebook Page is unmatched by print marketing. However, as more and more photographers go the Facebook route the same complaint heard about postcards 5 years ago will be heard about Facebook (every photographer has a Facebook page, the market is too saturated, my voice is lost). While the cost of mailing a printed piece is much higher, the results from mailings could begin to improve again as that part of the market opens back up.

SPA is active on Facebook and you maintain a blog in addition to the website. How has this helped you reach senior portrait photographers and build the SPA network?

Senior photographers are on Facebook because seniors are on Facebook, and that means we need to be there too. I have to admit that I haven’t read Seth Godin (let the boo’s begin), but I’ve talked to a lot of people who have and this is the key takeaway that I’ve heard from them: create a tribe or a group of people who are willing to follow you. Start a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account or whatever it is that allows you to create a “voice.” In general, I believe people want to be a part of something bigger than them. Today, photographers need to create a “voice” that people can follow. And a side benefit of creating a “voice” – you’re also building a deeper relationship with your senior clients which makes them more passionate about you and more likely to recommend you to their friends.

How are senior portrait photographers embracing the latest SLRs’ ability to capture video?

This is such a new technology that it’s not being widely used right now, but in general I’ve seen some photographers shooting video either with their SLR or even a FLIP type video camera. Usually, this is used to create an upgraded session option that includes a final product that has video integrated into a slideshow of the session. Video is another way that studios are differentiating themselves from the competition, and giving their clients an even more memorable product.

Why is video important in serving the senior portrait market and how does Animoto fit into a portrait photographer’s arsenal?

What I find amazing about the technology combining video and still photography is that it was available to the consumer before the professional. Not only is this amazing from a technological standpoint, but the consumer (especially the high school senior who has grown up with this technology) is used to using a point and shoot camera or cell phone that has video capability and simple video editing programs to create their own videos. Since they can do it themselves, they expect it in the professional arena.

From that standpoint, I think that Animoto is a lifesaver. Once the video is shot and cut down to short segments you have a very simple-to-create, yet very professional output.

Have you seen photographers using video within their Animoto videos in any especially interesting ways?

I can’t say that I’ve seen anything unusual within the video itself, but just the fact that it’s an option to a senior client establishes a studio as a cut above the competition. I also think the ability to promote yourself with video helps from a marketing standpoint.

Marketing is more important now than ever; do you have any tips for studios looking to leverage Animoto in marketing and selling to seniors?

What I love about Animoto is how ridiculously inexpensive it is for what you have the potential to make with the product. The more you use it and show it to clients, the greater the ROI opportunity.

Two simple ways to use Animoto in marketing and selling to seniors:

  1. Create a short Animoto video of each client to post to your Facebook page. Tag them in the video, and you now have a client who will do your marketing for you, showing all of his friends and family your images with a really cool video.
  2. Make sure that you either create a product in your price list, so an Animoto video of the full session can be purchased, or make the Animoto video a bonus product that can only be obtained when a minimum purchase is made. You can make that bonus either a free item or an item that can be purchased, but the key is for the client to reach the minimum order first.

Any predictions about where the senior portrait industry is headed over the next few years? Any advice on how studios should prepare?

In general, I think the middle ground is shrinking in the photography industry. Either a potential client is going to spend the most they possibly can to get the best product, or they will spend the least possible to get the most basic product (to the point of just doing it themselves). From the outset, spa has targeted studios who are reaching the former group – studios that position themselves at the top in their local market. Despite the recent economic challenges I don’t see this changing much. The studios that try to be a step above the department store/mall photographer, but do not strive to be at the highest level are going to continue to struggle.

However, I do see the rules for how a “boutique” studio offers their services changing. I think that these studios will need to figure out ways to create an entry level for their product, with the key being how much time is spent with each client. How can they offer a top notch service to each person that walks through the door, while at the same time being compensated equitably by each client? What we are finding is that it breaks down to the time spent with each client.