First we’d like to introduce ourselves!
Matt and I (Jessica) are a husband and wife professional photography team; Matt is the photographer and I am the “baby wrangler,” newborn poser, and studio manager. Together we are “Matt Cramer Photography,” and we specialize in custom newborn and baby photography in Los Angeles. We founded our company in 2010, shortly after our son was born. We were both working full-time, corporate jobs and found ourselves craving more time with our son and a better work/life balance with our new little family. Our son was growing before our eyes, and we knew that we wanted to make a change that would give us the quality of life and flexibility we dreamed of. (Which btw, 17hats has made a massive contribution to this, but that could be a whole other article!) So, we put our heads together, and drawing off Matt’s photography skills and my business background, we found out fairly quickly that we made a pretty great team!
Before The Pandemic
In “normal times,” we offer in-person newborn, baby milestone, and one year cake smash photo shoots in our LA studio. We have photographed more than 1000+ babies throughout the years and are extremely focused on posing and photographing newborns safely. With more than 115+ five-star reviews, we are currently ranked as the #1 Best Newborn Photographer in Los Angeles on Yelp. We are most known for our organic, elegant, and natural style of newborn and baby photography.
However, as you know, COVID-19 has turned everyone’s lives upside down. Like so many other businesses, ours came to a screeching stop. Obviously, we followed the statewide shelter-in-place mandate, which included the shutdown of any non-essential businesses, and were forced to cancel all future photography sessions.
Unfortunately, this also cancelled our entire family’s income. We went from being able to afford our modest but very happy life, to literally not one cent of income. Panic mode set in. What were we going to do? How would we survive? After processing what was happening around us and moving through the sheer terror of it all, we started to put our heads together.
What Could We Offer?
What could we still offer our clients during this time? Sure, in-person sessions were not an option anymore, but what was? I went into research mode, combing photography Facebook groups, articles, and forums for ideas. Some were suggesting selling gift certificates to use at a later date, but many were hesitant, as this would only backlog our session schedule once we were allowed to open back up.
Others were toying with the idea of guiding parents on how to pose their newborns in bowl props they had at home and tricky positions to be edited by the photographer, but this was criticized by many as “unsafe,” and we agreed.
I was getting emails from photography groups we are part of that suggested things like reaching out to clients and trying to sell more prints or albums at a discounted rate, but even our lab was closed due to COVID-19! I encountered roadblocks for every potential idea.
How To Improvise During A Pandemic
I needed to dig deeper and think bigger. So, I took a look at what was going on around us globally and how other industries were adapting to the pandemic.
What was the most common and obvious factor? One thing was glaring. Everyone was turning to technology and virtual options. I went back to the idea of guiding parents to take their own photos at home – with a massive emphasis on simplicity and safety – and then thought about what we could do with those photos once we had them. In our typical newborn sessions, we often do something called a “face swap” for the family photos, where mom, dad, baby and sometimes young siblings are all photographed together. Inevitably, there will be a photo where everyone looks great, except big brother is looking off camera or maybe mom blinked.
This is where the face swap comes in. We can take another photo where they are looking at the camera or haven’t blinked and replace it using Photoshop, so our final result is one photo where everyone looks great. I started to think about how we could use this idea for a newborn photo.
What if the newborn was looking off camera or blinked, could we theoretically replace it with another face? If the lighting was right and the angle was easy enough, the answer was yes. Now we were getting somewhere. If we could help parents find the best natural light in their home and take a simple and straightforward photo of baby, without any kind of tricky or unsafe posing, we could then take this photo into Photoshop and face swap it into our existing portfolio images with a similar facial angle.
Our excitement started to build as this concept began to formulate. We decided to test it out on a few clients whose sessions we had to cancel due to COVID-19 and found that it worked perfectly. So long as we could effectively communicate to parents how to light and photograph baby at home, the photos were turning out incredibly realistic. We may have just found a very real and unique way to service our clients during this unprecedented time!
Hence, the Newborn Photoshop Collection was born and I went full steam ahead with marketing on social media. It was touted as “a newborn session without leaving your home” and “a zero contact newborn photography option during COVID-19.” I described that this concept was launched specifically for new parents who are still looking for those artistic newborn pictures of their baby that our portfolio has become known for without the risk of taking baby out of the home.
Our marketing explained the process involves parents taking photos of their baby from the comfort of their own home (guided by us via FaceTime or text with very specific written instructions and examples), and then emailing those photos to us. From there, we take their in-home photos and work a little Photoshop magic to produce a handful of beautiful, professional images of their newborn baby.
The Positive Outcome
The response has been incredible and the benefit this new option has brought to our business has been overwhelmingly positive. First, it absolutely saved us from having to refund clients whose sessions had to be canceled. Can you imagine having to issue refunds on top of zero income!
Second, it has enabled us to continue to offer a service to any newly inquiring clients despite being shut down. This has meant potential clients still have a reason to visit our website, send an inquiry form, and perhaps even talk about us to their friends and family. So although we are not holding in-person newborn photoshoots in our Los Angeles studio, we are remaining relevant and top of mind to potential clients.
Third and perhaps most important, it has actually opened up entirely new client bases for us which is something that I never thought I would say during a global pandemic. Geographically, our services are not confined to just the Los Angeles area anymore, as we can now service clients from anywhere in the world. In fact, we are receiving inquiries daily from all over the United States – and even one from India!
This Photoshop Collection is offered at half the investment of our lowest in-person session package, capturing a more budget-conscious client who perhaps would never have considered our services to begin with.
Finally, there is an entire segment of new parents who, COVID-19 or not, are not comfortable leaving the home with a new baby. This could be for a variety of personal, medical, or cultural reasons, but now that we have a very real option for them, we have just opened up yet another potential client base. So, while this new service will never replace our nuanced and meticulous in-person newborn photoshoots, it has absolutely been made a permanent addition to our menu of newborn photography services.
In the end, although COVID-19 stripped so many small business owners of everything we had, it also made us think outside of the box and take a hard look at our business. It made us adapt. It really forced us to look at alternatives for our business and find ways to earn revenue that perhaps were right under our nose! Don’t you just love a silver lining?
Matt Cramer Photography