CuddleXpo experience

As promised in my last update, here’s a bit of a breakdown of the experience of doing headshots/portraits at a professional conference.

My primary concern leading up to the event was how much interest there actually was in the service I would be offering. On the one hand, I knew that plenty of people in the cuddling world have small businesses and therefore probably needed professional shots to use in their branding and marketing. So having something easy to offer while they were at an event like this, would make them primed to buy.

On the other hand, this kind of quick service might put people off. Maybe they hadn’t really thought too much in advance and they would want photos but didn’t feel camera-ready… As it turned out, when I was barely halfway set up on the first day people were queuing up for the signup sheet. I wound up getting 12 sessions over the course of the 2 days.

Because this is a “business” post I’ll run the numbers. I think photographers - especially those starting out - are way too afraid of showing our work and I don’t want to be another one of “those people.”


  • A two light setup with basic off-white backdrop

  • Lights were constant (florescent), definitely would love to go with flashes next time around

  • My Nikon D3200 with 35mm f/1.8 (which is like a 55mm equivalent, so ideal for portraits)

I was situated in the main hall where there were presentations going on all day, right along side vendors selling various products. I believe I was one of the only service-based vendors. I didn’t have any proper signage, the lights and my little “pricing sheet” did the talking.

I planned for about 15 minutes per shoot and the pricing breakdown was as follows:

  • $15 - 5 RAW photos (1 outfit/look), no edits

  • $25 - 5 edited photos

  • $30 - 10 photos, including 2 outfits/looks

  • $50 - 10 photo edited

In case you can’t tell, those prices are SUPER cheap! And I was told so by my clients that day. I’m sure that it was a good reason I got as many signups as I did, but on the other hand I feel like I could have/should have charged a bit more. It’s so funny how much I’ve found myself falling into the same “traps” (i.e. not valuing my work enough) as I’ve read from other people and I still didn’t learn! So the takeaway here is don’t under-price yourself!

While I probably went too cheap, I believe that I delivered a professional service in a fairly high volume setting. I’ve gotten back good feedback from my clients from that day. But I also know going forward I’m going to do a better job of representing my value on paper.

Learning experiences:

  1. Bring a mirror! Letting someone quickly check themselves was the number one issue that I wound up having to deal with in editing. I could have made my life easier and made my clients feel just that much more comfortable if they had a simple mirror there to do their hair or double check their makeup.

  2. “Measure twice, cut once” - Kind of like with the first point but I realized that most of my sessions were not taking anywhere near 15 minutes. It’s fine to have the energy and get right down to shooting, but that moment to double check things can save you from some dud shots and, again, trying to fix things in post.

  3. Lighting! I’m greatly appreciative of the lighting setup that we had, but I know I can get even better results in the future if I plan that part of it even more. The one thing I will have to seriously consider is the value/capability of constant or strobe setup. I think having a constant lighting setup was less of a distraction. If flashes were going off every few minutes that might be a distraction.

Without further ado, here are some of the shots I was most pleased with:

Things That Worked

  1. Being a calm, welcoming presence. It’s easy to see the list of people and go “okay, I have to get through this, which can really undercut the interaction with the person who is right in front of you. I was able to “turn on the charm” in a natural way, which helps relax others.

  2. Letting them review the photos. Even though this was a fairly quick service, giving the customer a level of control/input that shows them that you know what you’re doing is important. I didn’t have a tether cable so I just poppped the SD card out of the camera and plugged it into my laptop.

Doing the Math

Afterwards, I did the math on things that I directly spent money or time on to make this happen. I cannot emphasize how low my overhead was on this: I had most of the equipment on hand, and I was able to borrow the lights for the event. The fact that I did not have to pay for my placement at the event also helped.

Figuring in time to edit on the day after (which I believe around 5 hours), I was making a reasonable $25/hour.

By the way, I tracked my time editing using the app Toggl. It made tracking very simple and even the free version was enough to keep clear track of time. If I took a break, it automatically would stop the clock after going idle in case I forgot to manually do it.

$25 is nothing to sneeze at, it felt good to get paid and have a deadline to work with. But there is definitely room to grow. I would like to thank all the wonderful people who hired me to take their pictures, as well as Keeley for putting on the CuddleXpo and inviting me.