Death of the Online Gallery & Sneak Peeks

I get email after email asking what I’m talking about when I say things like “I don’t post a preview until the client buys”. Here is why the death of the online gallery has arrived.

Why I Don’t Post a Sneak Peek

Ariana Falerni said it perfectly: “The sneak peek…is kind of like seeing a bad movie preview. You know the ones I mean – the “comedies” that have like 5 funny jokes and you realize when you see the movie that you already saw all of the funny jokes during the preview.” This was a big light bulb moment for me. If you show your clients the 5 best shots (which they can then just steal off your website), then when they’ve waited anxiously two more weeks to see the rest (because they think that EVERY photo will be as good as your 5 best!) they feel disappointed and instantly fall out of love during the viewing appointment.

No matter how much they love your work, people often focus more intently on the negatives.

Their overall feeling about their whole experience with you may end up being “Oooh yeah. I just kinda thought the pictures would be better”. Trust me – I didn’t think this was possible. But I had it happen to me time and time again.

People have a short flippin’ attention span. I mean SHORT. I can’t tell you how many clie

No matter how you choose to show your clients their photos, these wall display guides are a perfect way to help your clients picture their pictures! {click the image}

nts have paid my £100 session fee (not that much, but a lot for my demographic) and then never buy ONE.SINGLE.PRINT. I kid you not it happened to me all the time. I attribute most of my past failures to lack of expectation management but now, even with measures in place to manage expectations, I still got no-sale sessions and I’m putting this down to the sneak peek and the online gallery. One they’ve had a couple weeks (or even just a couple DAYS) to drool over the sneak peek, send the link to all their friends and family and go back to them over and over again, they ‘get over it’ and move on to the next shiny thing that comes their way.

When DO I post the session highlights? After the sale or after it’s clear that your client is a no-sale. Now, this is really really hard to do. It’s really going to take some self control not to post your weekend pride and joys but trust me. Just try and see what happens with your next few sessions when you combine this with the death of the online gallery.

Why I Don’t Do Online Galleries

You’ve gotta kill that sucker d.e.a.d. dead. This is why:

  1. Like I said: short attention span. I stopped doing online preview galleries that stayed up until the clients decided they were ready to buy. Because then, you’ve got tons of sessions still up in the air, never resolved with the main purpose: the sale. Getting the products up on the wall. So I began putting a 30 day limit on my gallery. Clients had 30 days to buy. These galleries were heavily watermarked and un-stealable. But still, little sales.
  2. People are fickle. And impulsive. The world is moving SO fast and 30 days is toooo long. When you give them the luxury of looking at their photos for 30 days they fall out of love and move on to, as I like to say, the next shiny thing that comes their way. Like this:
  3. Have you ever gotten this email: “Hi I’m so sorry I haven’t responded to your email/call. We’ve just been sooo busy we took two holidays this summer and, you know, we just can’t afford any photos.” Gee thanks! You just admitted plunking potentially thousands on a summer of holidays and you can’t follow through on the session you paid for? What’s most confusing about this is that we make every effort to make sure our clients are really committed to the endeavor, right? Afterall, that’s one of the reasons we charge a session fee. 1.) They’re not serious unless they’re willing to invest and 2.) Once they’ve already made a financial/time/emotional investment, they won’t walk away without fruits of their labour.

What’s the solution?

In-person viewing sessions!

The in-person proofing session is the anti-gallery and these are the reasons I think they work better:

  1. As they are viewing their photos, ooohing and aaaahing over each new one that pops up, there’s no mistaking that they LOVED their photos. When everything is through email, you don’t know their reaction as they were looking through their photos. It hurts you feelings because you have no idea what they were thinking when they saw them and it makes it easier for them to not buy because it’s not like they made a big deal in front of you. Some of my most surprising no-buy sessions have left  me baffled and asking “did they even LIKE them?” I have no idea why these sessions ended the way they did when I count them among my best work. So, yeah…being there to see them fall in love is a definite perk to the proofing session. For both you and them.
  2. Because we’ve murdered the proofing gallery, this is their one and only opportunity to see those heart-melting photos. And if they want to own them? Well, they’ll have to buy.
  3. You will actually be in their home, viewing their living space and they don’t even know yet how much they will value your opinion and help in how to display their most loved shots. People might not realise just how stunning a giant canvas would look over their sofa but which sofa? The one that can be seen through the front window or the one only they can see? They might not know it, but they NEED you help!
  4. …in addition, you wouldn’t want them to buy a giant canvas from their white seamless studio session and then put it on their stark white wall. People don’t always think about this stuff.

How To Do One

So how do you actually DO an in-person viewing/proofing session?

  1. I like to do this exactly one week after the session. The memory is still fresh and exciting and they’ve waited just long enough to be excited but not so long that now they’re ticked off. The viewing session is scheduled at the same time as scheduling the photo session. No surprises!
  2. Make sure you aren’t overloaded with too many images. Each of my three sessions comes with a predetermined number of images to choose from.
  3. Create a beautiful slideshow with iMovie, iPhoto or Lightroom. Resist the temptation to use music. It’s cheesy and distracting. Personally, I just use the regular photo album area in my iPad and hit ‘slideshow’.
  4. Get the show ready to go on your laptop or iPad before you leave your place. Then when it’s time, you can just open and press play.
  5. Use an iPad so they can hold their images in their very own hands. But then they have to hand them back to you and thus creates the sense of urgency to actually purchase the images if they want to have them in their possession forever.

For a FULL 100% of everything you need to know about how I run these sessions, take my Sales in Plain English class!

What About Asking for the Money?

Let me get an ‘amen’ if asking for the money is the hardest part of what we do? At what point do you hand over a list of prices? What do you say if they gasp?

  1. Take them through their gallery to pick their faves.
  2. NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR PRICES. Never. EVER. I never ‘do a deal’. Sometimes, I will add a gift at the end but never because I was asked for it. Just because you don’t own a store where the prices are set in stone (even though they’re just little stickers) doesn’t mean you need to haggle.
  3. If someone has an issue with price, I will then mention my 50/50 plan. 50% on ordering, 50% on collection which can be up to a month later if desired. Then you can move on with “well let’s just put together what you really want and see where we go from there.”
  4. On the subject of money, don’t make the session about taking their money. Emphasize that the photos are art featuring their family and not merely paper & ink and try to make the cost a side note. It might help you to read what I said to this client who complained about my prices.
  5. Overall, talking about money should be easy if you have some prices on your website. In my prices list and in my initial booking email, all clients know that prints start at £30 and collections start at £350. If they hired you, they’re already willing to pay at least that.
  6. Honestly, when it comes down to it, sticker shock is just a result of YOU not managing your clients properly from the very beginning. I used to be so sly and secretive about my prices because I thought that if I was too open, then people wouldn’t book me. That may be true, but only because they’re not the right clients in the first place. Would you rather book the right client or book another one and then piss them off when you reveal your prices and lose the sale (and your reputation) in the end anyway? Even yesterday at a first meeting, I gave them my actual ordering menu which I pull out at viewing sessions. Because I respect my clients and treat them as I want to be treated. And I would want time to prepare so I could buy all the images I wanted.

What if You Just Can’t Bring Yourself to Do It?

This is the category I fell into for quite a while. First, I didn’t have the time (which is a ridiculous excuse). Second, I neither wanted to sell my own art nor was I particularly good at sales. And for the longest time, I hated talking about money. And when you’re not good at something, you can pay someone who is. The next best thing to myself is someone else who really believes in me so I hired a friend to do my sales calls. I paid her hourly plus a 20% commission and it worked out great. But I was missing out on the most important part of the session: seeing my clients cry with joy over their images. My self esteem as a photographer took a hit as a result and I started losing the will to work. Now, I love doing sales sessions (yes, LOVE!) and I’m so happy I started doing them myself.

In Conclusion…

The proof is in the pudding. My online proofing and ordering galleries were selling under £100. If they even ordered, that is. And my first in home ordering session surprised me with a whopping 600% increase. And so did the next. And the next. Try it – you’ll never go back!

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Elizabeth Halford

Elizabeth Halford


She blogs about photography and business with her unique plain English approach. Elizabeth has been-there-done-that with running a photography business that doesn’t profit a penny and loves teaching photographers how to get away from the starving artist model of running a creative business.
Elizabeth Halford
  • Scottie - Wow!!!! I can’t believe people spend £100 and then not buy any photos.

  • Meghan Davis - Wow – I never thought about it that way before, but it makes sense. Can’t wait for the solution tomorrow.

  • Jo Spencer - Never thought about it like this – but incredibly poignant comments. Will definitely be checking back to see what you suggest….showing them the proofs as prints in person?? hmmm….

  • Texan Mama - I’m waiting on the edge of my seat!!!

  • Chris - Still here….waiting for the follow-up!

  • celeste - I enjoy the article, but I have to disagree on your reasoning behind it. Yes, I know you already have an established business. I’m just starting out, but I like the sneak peek and it can be beneficial. I usually post a few on my fb and tag the clients. That way, their friends and family can see it and they get excited about the rest. Now, I don’t just through anything in their gallery just to fill it up w/pictures. I put everything I have into my session. For me I tend to have about 2 or 3 that I just love, meaning I would put up in my home. But my experience with the client is that they see their whole gallery and they end up getting most of the images. So, when I post images up I am paid already. I say require a minimum order requirement. That way you sell some prints and anything extra is a bonus:-)

  • Jan - Makes sooo much sense.

  • Chelsy Hulet - Wow. These are good things to know — I am just getting started with my photography business so why not get started on the right foot, huh?!? Thanks so much!

  • Andy Mills - I’m starting to agree with the online gallery theory – I would give a 2 week or 4 week time limit on the gallery, say that it takes up too much web space to keep there any longer (you are, after all, a very popular and busy photographer).

    Some photographers also have a 6 (ish) month limit for reprints, saying that images on their hard drive are archived after this time and taken off their drive (again, you are busy, etc., and have loads of images taking up loads of space.) Any orders after this time means you need to drag images off your drive, and as a result, will incur an additional fee.

    I know of one photographer who refuses to use online galleries and goes the personal route – he finds it cheap enough to have a number of 6×4 “proofs” done, and takes them in person to the client. He finds the client responds better to having something physical there, and having *you* there in person has an “inbuilt” pressure for them to buy something, even if you do absolutely no pressurizing yourself.

    You can also take a number of sample prints of varying sizes so the client can get an idea of how an image will fill a space on their wall and elsewhere in their home, etc. It’s amazing how many people will not have a clue, and will make do with an 8×10 where a 24×30 would look many times better.

  • Suzy E - I totally agree with you about the online proofing issue. When I first started, that is what I did – leaving galleries up UNTIL they FINALLY ordered. It didn’t work. I have recently opened a new small studio and had an HD flat screen TV installed. I’ve started doing in person proofing using LR 3 starting with a slideshow, then moving to the Develop module and flagging each photo either “YES, NO or MAYBE”. This has been awesome! My sales have gone up tremendously. Also, the client gets to see the canvas gallery wraps or float wraps or standouts on the wall and many decide they want one also. However, I am not sure that I am ready to stop doing Facebook sneak peeks. These have been so helpful for me and I have gotten several new sessions booked from people who saw their friend’s sneak peek. And I’ve also discovered that a lot of times what I think are the best photos are NOT the ones the client thinks are best. So I’ve not had ANY issues with clients feeling “letdown” in their sessions because they’ve only seen the sneak peeks. Quite the opposite, actually.

  • elizabethhalford - @Suzy: Oh by all means! Yes do the sneak peek but after they order! I def still post peeks into a session, but not until they’ve bought.

  • Rob K - I like to think I bring a unique perspective in that I’m the consumer AND the photographer (albeit far less professional than you, I assure you). I agree with your conclusion but not your reasoning. I’ve paid a photographer for a session and then have the photographer demand $8 for a 4×6. A consumer cannot justify spending 50 times the standard price for a photo when they already paid the photographer >$500/hr to take the pictures in the first place!

    I’d love to see a photographer that freed the consumer to enjoy the pictures rather than hold them hostage until they pay up.

    Want to see your business increase? Increase the session cost and provide free digitals or photo prices competitive with online print shops.

  • elizabethhalford - @Rob: I understand what you’re saying, but to meet my sales average, I would have to charge you £1200 according to that method. I don’t hold products hostage any more than the grocery store does. It’s a product. It costs money. You have to pay if you want it! The session fee is payment for the session product. The print product is another product all together.

  • Karina Bravo - I linked to your blog through DPS, and I have become a follower! This is an interesting point of view that as a new photographer, I didn’t even realize. Thank you for the insight. What I took from your post is that a gallery doesn’t add anything to the “experience” part of it all and it can become anticlimactic. I totally get it!

    I will keep in mind when I get my first sale!
    I look forward to more of your knowledge pilfering my brain!

  • Jennifer W - I started out with an online gallery and noticed that I was not selling what I had hoped for as well as my other boutique product and large canvas where not selling. So I have gone to in-person and it has made a HUGE difference.

    Now I have never thought about the sneak peak in the way you explained it and it truly makes sense. I really think I may start do them once there has been an order place and then do the sneak peak for the rest of the world to see.

    @Rob, I understand you do photography as well so you should know the time that goes into preparing for a session (ie., a consult (taking anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 or more hours of time with phone calls and emails) and getting your gear ready as well as collecting and even purchasing props. You also know how much time you spend doing the session not including drive time. That is what the session fee goes towards. Your time. If your session fee is $50 and you just put in 10 hours of work you just paid yourself $5/hour. Is it work it? I know I don’t like working for free. After you finish with a session most pro photographers sit at their computer for hours spilling out their creative which my by self-taught or workshops/school and it’s taken years to master some of those skills. By charging the boutique pricing for your price they are paying for art not a $5 8×10 taken with a point-in-shoot and no thought behind it.

    Hope this makes a little sense.


  • Rachel May - This is so fantastic!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

  • Different_view - I don’t remember the last time I read something on the internet and thought “What!  You can’t stop now!  How does it end!?”  Very good blog post.  And now, if you don’t mind I’m going to see how it ends in Part 2. =-)

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