Managing a volume photography business can often feel like a balancing act—juggling clients, gear, editing, employees, orders, sales, etc. while also trying to grow, foster creativity, and maintain daily sanity. PhotoDay is here to help photographers modernize and simplify their workflows so they can focus more on what makes them happiest.
In this interview, photographer Jake Carr shares how he got into photography, started J7 Images with his wife Jill, and how PhotoDay’s technology has helped grow their volume photography business. Based in Illinois, Jake and Jill specialize in sports photography and have expanded into the school market thanks to the time-saving tools of PhotoDay including Capture, FaceFind, online galleries, and direct shipping.
Keep reading to learn more about Jake and his advice to other photography studios!
PhotoDay: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business. How did you get started in the world of volume photography?
Jake: I grew up in a photography studio household; my dad was a part-time photographer, and every science project I did was about film and ISO. But I really didn’t catch the photography bug until I was in my 30s.
I was a sports guy and wanted to work in sports. My dad gave me a DSLR when I was about 32, and I took it to a basketball game where I suddenly figured out that I could put sports and photography together—all the things he had taught me for a bunch of years started to click.
So I started taking pictures, posting them on Facebook, and the next thing you know you get the, “Hey can you take my family pictures? Senior pictures?” We started out as generalists for a while.
I used to referee the youth football league, and my buddies knew I was starting to take pictures, [so when their photographer bailed on a Saturday, they asked me to capture it.] I called up Miller’s, figured out how to use their ordering software, did my first football league…and made more money than in all of the shoots that we’d done up to that point combined.
We figured there was something there, so that’s where our volume sports photography business started. Over the past 10 years, we’ve grown and gotten to where all we do is volume photography.
I met Lisa and the PhotoDay crew this past March at the SYNC conference, where I had a chance to speak. We found PhotoDay, realized they work with Miller’s (which was fantastic, because we love them), and it’s been absolutely amazing. We just finished a “September to remember”—we started doing some school pictures, and we couldn’t do it without PhotoDay. We don’t have a large staff or a big crew, but it’s been amazing.
PhotoDay: So you primarily do sports, and you just started getting into the school market this past year. Do you cover any other markets?
Jake: It’s pretty much an 80:20 ratio of sports to seniors. We’re getting into senior season now, and with the sports work that we do, we get a lot of family inquiries. It feels like every time a family orders pictures around here, they’re getting on PhotoDay and ordering from J7. So we look for ways to give back—if they want family pictures, too, we’re more than happy to take care of our good customers.
For the most part, we love doing football leagues, baseball leagues, high school sports, and banners. We produce banners for the seniors, but then we take those banner images and put them on PhotoDay so they can order them as 8x10s, metal prints, buttons, etc. so we can get residual sales from it.
PhotoDay: What volume do you typically photograph annually with all of your different jobs combined?
Jake: (laughs) I’m not a very good data guy, and that’s what I love about PhotoDay; I can start comparing things year over year. We were using paper order forms—there are boxes of paper order forms in my basement from 10 years of doing this. Typically, our sales are in the six figures, and we’re on track to have a record year—I finally feel like we bounced back after COVID.
It’s hard for me to put a number on, but I think with the data we get from PhotoDay we’ll be able to get a better look at year-over-year and month-over-month. PhotoDay is definitely helping us grow. The technology has helped us create awareness for our leagues and allowed us to say yes to leagues that maybe we wouldn’t have in the past, just because we can do everything online and send it right to their homes. The only time we have to travel is the day we do the shoot; we don’t have to work back and forth to deliver things.
PhotoDay: That’s great. PhotoDay really does take care of keeping track of the hard numbers for you and allows you to let go. Moving onto PhotoDay itself, how did the transition go for you? Was it a smooth switch from paper to digital or was it more of a learning process?
Jake: [A big draw to what PhotoDay] allows us to do is the sale after the fact. All the time we get compliments on our pictures, “Oh those are so great”—but with paper order forms, you limit yourself to basically that initial order, and it’s really hard for parents to go back and order more.
So what if grandma wants a picture or they really want another magnet or button? When we do deliver a bulk shipment, we put a label on there with the PhotoDay code saying, “Hey if you want to order more, go here.” And it really helps— I mean we’re getting sales that we were always missing out on before because people love what we do, they love those pictures, and they want to order more. That’s one way that PhotoDay has completely complimented us.
We do all of our school pictures through PhotoDay. [The private galleries] where each person has a personal code and is only seeing their images are amazing. Last year when I did my first school, I used a different platform and had to create each gallery individually without the Capture app [and all of the PhotoDay tools], so it was really labor intensive. We would not be doing school if we didn’t have the technology of PhotoDay and Capture.
PhotoDay: How has your experience been with Capture? We’re very excited about the work we’re doing to make it even better and more efficient.
Jake:I absolutely love the Capture app. It is a savior for schools. And now we’re working on our workflow to figure out how we can use it for sports. We’re getting rosters for sports, creating memory mates, and [want to explore how we can streamline and improve the process using some of Brian Derenski’s composite workflows]. I can count on one hand out of hundreds of kids the times that the facial recognition didn’t match correctly—it even matches up twins. It’s been a lifesaver. And all of the export tools for yearbook files and student IDs are such a time-saver.
PhotoDay: We love to hear that. Brian has some wonderful workflows that he’s devised, and we introduced a whole new feature based on it. For your own marketing, how do you communicate the PhotoDay process to your customers?
Jake: We use a QR code generator to create codes that we display at the event. That QR code pulls up the short code and access code in a text message so that all they have to do is hit “send” to subscribe. We try to get everyone subscribed to the gallery through text which has worked really well. For schools, we try to get their email addresses, as well.
Everyone’s familiar with QR codes and really embraces that technology. We have a handful of people that still want to do paper envelopes for schools and we’ll make accommodations, but out of 500 people maybe 10 of them want to do something on paper versus the computer or their phone.
PhotoDay: That’s wonderful to know that the vast majority of people are open to the process. Going into your daily life, how has the PhotoDay workflow saved you time? And what are you doing with that extra time?
Jake: It’s amazing. J7 Images is still a side hustle for me (that’s really a full-time job). The way we have grown this year, I never would have been able to do that without PhotoDay. Typically we hire a lot of part-time staff to help with ordering, but we’ve been able to spend less time, money, and resources on that. The errors and customer service end of things are also less now that everything goes through PhotoDay. We pre-make and put a lot of our memory mates on PhotoDay, and if there’s something wrong like a spelling error or an unmatched team, people will catch that before they place their order now which saves us a lot of time and energy.
For school pictures, being able to have those orders come in as people want to is amazing. We no longer have to wait for all of the orders to come in, then deliver them in a bulk shipment. Everyone has the freedom to order when they want.
Over time as you keep adding galleries, it creates a steady income for your business—which we never saw before. It’s a nice bonus, and I think we’re getting sales that we totally would have missed out on.
PhotoDay: Regarding getting into photography, if you had to start over again, what would you do differently?
Jake: I probably would have done it a lot sooner! I would have gotten into volume a lot quicker than we did, too. I love my sports stuff. I love being out there with the kids, and we have a ton of fun. One of the things we’ll talk about at PhotoDay Experience is how PhotoDay takes a lot of the personal experience out of it by making it convenient for parents by being online. So what you do at the session, what you do to set the stage, and the images you create become much more important now because once you take and publish the images, all of the interaction happens in PhotoDay. So you do the work on the front end and set the image and approach on picture day, so they know the photos are going to be good before they ever see them just by the way you interacted with people. That’s the part that I love about sports. From the payday standpoint: school pictures. There’s nothing that beats going into a school and spending 5 hours trying to get kids to smile (that maybe don’t want to smile), but if you have fun with it and make a good day of it, it’s going to pay off—especially through PhotoDay, with minimal effort on your side once you get the images edited and uploaded.
PhotoDay: Do you have any specific advice for those who are on the fence about using PhotoDay?
Jake: (laughing) What are you waiting for? Don’t be scared. The customer service and onboarding are amazing. Yes, there are things you need to learn. It is a change. My markets are relatively small in north-central Illinois, but the parents embrace this technology. People are blown away by FaceFind when they learn about it.
It improves the image of your brand and allows you to do so much more with your time. You can focus on your images, you can focus on editing, you can focus on creating new looks and items. There’s no reason to wait. I was a little nervous at first, as well, and eased into it. But it’s definitely the way to go.
Thank you for sharing your story and motivating us to continue growing and exploring, Jake! You can connect with J7 Images on Instagram and Facebook. If you’re headed to The PhotoDay Experience, don’t miss his session all about booking more business.