What I am about to tell you is based strictly on my own experience and flies in the face of convention wisdom, so - as I tell all my BetterPhoto online students when I critique them -take it with a grain of salt. But this is what I have learned in my 22 years as a child and family portrait photographer.
1. Common Wisdom: Mix It Up Yes, conventional wisdom may advise you to "mix it up" - that the more choices you give your clients in backdrops, the more portraits they'll purchase. They'll want one on the white seamless, and one on the old masters canvas, and one on the abstract, and so on.
Vik's Wisdom: Keep It Simple
In my experience, backdrops don't sell portraits - stories do. One of the ways I make my portraits tell stories about my subjects is to create collages combining 3, 5, or 9 images in one piece. These images must have some consistency in format, wardrobe, and mood, or the collage can fail visually and the story can become disjointed. So I usually shoot only one backdrop, or at most two backdrops, per photo sitting. This way, I don't have a frustrated client with two shots on white seamless and seven shots on mottled canvas and no way to fit them into a cohesive story. I sell the most images when I shoot the fewest backdrops per photo session.
2. Common Wisdom: Give Them Novelty
Abstracts, cityscapes, and novelty colors will simply inspire the client to purchase one of each.
Vik's Wisdom: Keep It Classic
I use white or neutral seamless paper 20% of the time; warm-toned, mottled muslin or canvas 70% of the time; and black velvet or velour 10% of the time. My backgrounds of puffy white clouds against the blue sky; dark realistic forest; bright, fantasy forest; sandy beach, etc., are gathering dust in my studio basement. (I like to call it "deep storage.") NOTE: Exceptions are high school seniors, who often want lots of different-looking individual shots to give away as wallet-sized portraits.
3. Common Wisdom: Holiday-Themed Drops Sell More Portraits
Holiday-themed photo sessions increase bookings and get more people into your studio, resulting in return customers.
Vik's Wisdom: Avoid Anything Contrived
Yes, it's true: If you offer holiday themed portrait sessions you probably will increase your bookings, and you will get new clients into your studio. But in my experience, these clients don't purchase enough portraits to make the event worthwhile (how many pictures does one need of their toddle with a bunny rabbit or in front of the Christmas tree, anyway?) And it's also my experience that these clients do not come back for traditional portraits.
The Good News
This is actually good news for portrait photographers. We don't have to invest a lot of money (and storage space) in tons of backdrops. And we don't need to buy any virtual drops, either ... in my humble opinion, all but the most artful extractions look cheesy. This means that we can focus (photography pun intended) on our subjects, our art, and our love of telling a really good story.
More info: Pro photographer and studio owner Vik Orenstein is the author of the new book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business (Writer's Digest Books, 2010). She also teaches three online photography workshops at BetterPhoto's digital photography school: Studio Portrait Lighting, The Business of Photography, and Photographing Children and Babies. Also, check out Vik's Pro BetterPholio website: vikorensteinphotography.com