The IPS Series: How to get your clients to love their artwork as much as you do

We’re starting a new series on the blog for photographers all about focusing on giving your clients gorgeous heirloom products that they are going to LOVE. 

IPS series for photographers by Nicole Starr Photography

You’ve seen the endless discussions and debates in online groups of photographers debating the two most popular business models in the industry— an all-inclusive model with the digital images included in the session fee, or a product-focused model where clients can choose their prints and albums through you and it’s often done as in-person sales (IPS).

I’ve seen photographers have tremendous success with both models, and it really is all about which one fires you up, which one you can get behind 100%, and which one makes you feel like you are providing the very best experience possible to your clients.

Personally, I’ve been using the IPS model for 5 years and it works wonderfully in my business.  I love getting together with my clients for their gallery reveal appointment after the session, playing their video slideshow, and watching them fall in love with the images we created together.  I love to see them get so excited as they choose their favorite images and decide where to enjoy those portraits in their homes.  I absolutely adore their reactions when they unwrap their packages and exclaim that it is so much more beautiful in person than they imagined, carefully turning the pages of their new linen album or unveiling their gorgeous new wall art.  

IPS series for photographers by Nicole Starr Photography

They come back for their next session, and before we’ve taken a single photo they are already talking about the album that they want to create or the new canvas they want to hang in their living room.  They realize that their portraits bring them so much joy where they can see them every day, and they don’t want to have them get lost on a hard drive somewhere where they will never see them or never get around to printing them.  They value the products and they value the service that comes along with it.  That is why I do what I do.

Whichever model you offer to your clients, you have to love what you sell.  If you love digitals, sell them!  If you love tangible keepsakes that you can see and feel, go with that!  That’s what it is all about.  If you love it and you are passionate about it, they will love it, too.

Me?  I looooooooove albums.  Some of my favorite memories growing up were sitting behind the sofa and poring through boxes of photographs and countless photo albums with my sister.  Now as an adult, I love being able to look through my grandparents’ albums that are many decades old, turning the pages that so many hands have turned and enjoying the stories that unfold on the pages.  So when I start talking about albums with my clients, they get excited right along with me and it makes them love these albums for their families, too.

IPS series for photographers by Nicole Starr Photography

I offer a few different types of albums to our clients.  These are the exact same albums that I print for my own family, so I really do stand behind their quality and beauty.  There is the fine art album, a beautiful linen album with ultra thick pages printed on photo paper with two different finishes on the pages.  The storybook album is a smaller album with press paper pages.  And finally, for a fun little gift I have added on the mini accordion albums that many families love sharing with grandparents.  

When I share our sample albums with the families that I work with, they get so excited to see the quality of these keepsake books and they immediately start imagining their photographs on the pages of the album.  We talk about sitting on the couch with their little ones, turning the pages and telling them their favorite family stories about when they were little.  These are not meant to be tucked away in a drawer somewhere, but to be enjoyed and to become a part of their daily life.

One of my favorite client stories recently was about Baby Blake.  She came to me for a newborn session, and returned for her first birthday session.  Her mom and dad told me that she was obsessed with babies, and that she loved looking at pictures of babies.  They had an album from her newborn session, and every morning she wanted to look through the book at all of the babies on the pages — she didn’t realize that every single photo was of Baby Blake!  This became her favorite book, and it’s going to become a memory that she has forever as she gets older and continues looking through the pages of her baby album.

IPS series for photographers by Nicole Starr Photography

I could say that I am so lucky that the families I work with value these products just as much as I do, but honestly, I don’t believe it’s luck.  I talk about our keepsakes all the time.  They are displayed prominently on my website, there are a ton of blog posts with product features, and I share these product photos all over my social media pages.  During the initial inquiry stage and during our first phone call, we start talking about which products will be the best fit for their family and get them dreaming about the new gallery wall they are going to create or the album that they will share with their children now and pass down to them 20 years from now.  They are excited to have tangible keepsakes before they even book their session.  I really do believe that when you are passionate about the experience you offer to your clients, you are going to get the type of clients that value the same things you do in their portrait experience. 

Stay tuned for our next post all about choosing products that complement your brand that your clients will love!

Cake Smash Series: 70+ Theme Ideas for your Next Cake Smash Session

Your baby's first birthday is coming up, and it's time to party!  What better way to celebrate than with a portrait session?  Personally, cake smashes are my FAVORITE! 

We've come up with a list of the most popular (and also some of the most unique!) ideas for first birthday sessions and cake smashes.  We hope that you'll be inspired to plan a one-of-a-kind cake smash for your baby's first birthday!

Cake Smash Themes, Nicole Starr Photography

Classic themes:

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Tea party
Dr. Seuss
Rubber Duckies
Sock Monkeys
Rainbow colors
Shabby Chic


Teddy bears
Farm animals
Woodland animals
Ocean animals
Zoo animals
Bumble bees

Seasonal cake smash theme ideas, Nicole Starr Photography


Winter wonderland
At the beach
Surf’s up
Cherry blossoms
Spring garden
Falling leaves
New Years Eve

Cake Smash Themes with Children's Books, Nicole Starr Photography

Classic Children’s Books:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Guess How Much I Love You
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Oh the Places You’ll Go
The Little Prince
Peter Rabbit/Beatrix Potter books
Where the Wild Things Are
Make Way for Ducklings
Blueberries for Sal
Goodnight Moon
Harry Potter
Winnie the Pooh
Peter Pan
Alice in Wonderland

Cake Smash Alternatives, Nicole Starr Photography

Food alternatives:

Spaghetti & meatballs
Pumpkin pie
Seasonal fruit (strawberries, blueberries)
Apples/apple pie for fall
Ice cream
Cookies & milk

You've got the perfect theme -- now what do you decorate with?  I provide all of the decor for my cake smash sessions at the studio.  Here are some of my favorite items I like to keep on hand to make our sessions a little more whimsical, creative, and fun!

Decor ideas:

Paper bunting in many shapes
Tulle balls
Tissue paper puffs
Twinkle lights
Patio lights
Cotton clouds
Hanging flowers
Ribbon streamers
Flower garlands
Eucalyptus garlands
Fake flowers to hang from the ceiling
Mason jars
Beaded curtains

Don't forget to check out the other posts in our Cake Smash Series!

Telling a Story through your Cake Smash Session Images

I am a storyteller with a camera. 

As a cake smash photographer in Saratoga Springs & Boston, I am all about telling the story of my littlest clients’ first birthday celebrations.   Personally, I love doing this in a classic way with a first birthday cake smash session.  

But it’s not just about making a mess out of the cake.  

As a photographer, your job is to discover and tell a story.  There is an entire story that unfolds when you place a cake in front of a baby, and today’s post will help you discover the key elements so that you can capture the full story in your next cake smash session!


While you can’t exactly have the words “Once upon a time” to obviously clue us in that this is the beginning of your cake smash, there are so many other ways to visually portray the start of the session and the beginning of the baby’s birthday story. 

I like to start my cake smash sessions with a pull back shot of the entire setup BEFORE the baby is even in the frame.  Capture the cake, the decor, and close ups of the little details.  Capture the perfection before the mess that occurs later on!  I do this while parents are getting the baby ready, and I tell them that I’m just testing out my light — which is true!   Sometimes I take a few test shots while waiting for the family to arrive as well, just to make sure there are no other adjustments I want to make to the setup.

Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer

After those couple of quick shots, the focus is no longer on the decor, and it’s 100% on the baby.  Forget about the decor and watch the story unfold!

Get ready for the action

Next we’re ready for the baby!  I explain to the parents where they will place the baby in the setup.  I ask them to place the baby behind and off to the side of the cake just a little bit.  This way, the baby can crawl or walk towards the cake, showing off their new gross motor skills.  It also gives you a great opportunity to capture the excitement, interest, and curiosity on the baby’s face as they see their colorful cake for the first time!

You are on camera duty, and the parents are on baby-chasing duty.  If you keep getting up to position the baby, you are going to miss a lot of incredible shots, so I make sure the parents know that they’ll bring the baby back into the set if the baby crawls (or walks!) away.

Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer


It’s all about the angles!  Start from far away and move in with your camera to capture the entire scene, and then close ups of the baby.  I like to get really close and capture the frosting on their feet, the little pieces of cake that they’re putting into their mouth, and those tiny fingers grabbing the cake.  

One of my favorite angles to capture in the middle of the shoot is the bird’s eye composition.  I grab my step stool and shoot from up above with my 35mm lens.  I sing, clap, and do anything I can to get the baby looking up at me.  It’s my favorite shot every single time showing those wide and sparkling eyes, their beautiful outfit, and the messy cake that they’ve enjoyed all in one shot.

Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
saratoga springs cake smash baby photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer


The image that you use to represent the end of the session may be the very last frame that you capture that day, but I find that the image I choose to show the end often isn’t the very last frame, but one from earlier on when the baby was just over it.  

Maybe they’re crying or crawling away from the cake.  Maybe their big brother or sister came in for a few photos and for a taste of the birthday cake.  Maybe mom’s arms are reaching into the frame to pick up the baby at the end.  Maybe the baby is signing “all done” with their hands all covered in frosting.  Whatever it is, there’s your shot to show the end of the story!

Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer
Nicole Starr Photography | Saratoga Springs Cake Smash Photographer | Boston Cake Smash Photographer | Saratoga Springs Family Photographer | Boston Family Photographer

Some cake smashes last for 20 minutes, and others last for 5 minutes. If you prepare the family to expect this ahead of time, it will be no big deal if the sessions goes a little short because the baby is not feeling it.  Nevertheless, you can still capture a beginning, middle, and end to the story through your images by changing your angles, composition, and looking for storytelling transitions that occur naturally in the session.

Think they're all perfect and filled with smiling, happy babies?  No way!
If your next cake smash session doesn't go as planned, don't worry!  
Check out my favorite blog post that's a compilation of so many recent sessions: 

After the Session

Don't let the story end with that last photo!  Take it to the blog to share behind the scenes pictures, details about planning the session, and tell your readers a little more about what happened in between frames to tell the full story of baby's first birthday cake smash!

Why Work with a Mentor? : A Guest Blog Post by Jessi Metzger of Lovebug Photography

I always love opening up our little piece of the internet to guest bloggers, and this week I am so happy to welcome a fellow photographer to the blog!  I first met Jessi Metzger of Lovebug Photography last summer, and today she is sharing her heart on the blog!  

Jessi is a cheerful, colorful, inspiring mama of two; an incredible photographer whose heart is in her lifestyle sessions; and over the past year she has become such a great friend in the industry!

When I asked Jessi if she'd like to write a guest blog post about her mentoring experience last summer, she was all over it!  Actually, she suggested it before her mentoring day had even come to an end last summer.  Throughout the past year, I've loved our FaceTime calls and watching her business evolve to fit her family's lifestyle while feeding her artistic passions, so I am thrilled to share her experience with you today!  Enjoy her post!

**All images in this post are copyright of Lovebug Photography, Rochester, NY.**

Jessi Metzger, Lovebug Photography Rochester New York

Tell us a little about you and your family.  

I’m Jessi Metzger, the lady behind the lens at Lovebug Photography. I specialize in creating warm, authentic and playful portraiture for babies, kiddos, and families in the Rochester, NY area. Mama bear to my two loves, Clark (4) and Rosie (almost 2!!) and married to my handsome honey, Steve, for almost seven years. Those are my kiddos in the photos below!  I love me some coffee, the ADKs, nerdy novels, playing with my family, watching The Bachelor (haha- don’t judge me!), Children’s ministry and relationship building.  

Jessi Metzger, Lovebug Photography Rochester New York


Tell us about your business, and your favorite types of sessions or client experiences. 

I love my photography business. Deep friendships have been formed because of it. I have been entrusted with journeying through life with precious families. I absolutely adore and treasure my wonderful clients!

Every time I do a session that genre is suddenly ‘my favorite!’ But if I had to step back and choose just one- I’d say lifestyle newborn sessions have my heart. There is something so intimate and precious about capturing a growing family’s first few days home with their beautiful new baby. That sweet time passes so quickly, and I find myself treasuring these sessions. 

What were the key areas in your business you wanted to improve before your mentoring sessions?

Like most, I started my photography business out of a deep love for capturing life’s fleeting moments, and a desire to make that love a profitable income for my family. I remember when I first started building my portfolio I charged $20 a session (yes, seriously…) and felt guilty taking even that. I realize now that $20 barely even paid for the gas to get to and from the session. I slowly started looking around at what other local photographers were charging and priced myself accordingly without really knowing my numbers and cost of doing business.  "$150 for a session? Well, that’s better than $20!"  But I had a horrible wakeup call the first year tax season came around.

All those hours away from my babies? The added stress I added to my family’s schedule? The research, practice, marketing, advertising and countless hours editing? I had barely broken even. Forget about a profitable income- I was donating my time to photograph these sessions.

I felt frustrated and overwhelmed. How could I have worked so hard and have nothing to show for it? I internally battled with myself: no matter how much I loved photography I couldn’t justify the commitment if it wasn’t benefiting my family.  I knew that I needed help in the areas of time management, organization, sales techniques and brand recognition to really allow my business to grow and be beneficial to my family’s day to day life.  That was why I looked into a one-on-one mentoring experience.  

Jessi Metzger of Lovebug Photography, Rochester New York

Talk a little about your mentoring experience.

Nicole and I did two mentoring sessions together — first an online mentoring through FaceTime, followed by an in-person mentoring session.  During our first meeting we created a detailed plan of how to jumpstart my business with practical steps to put them in place. I felt confidence for the first time ever since starting my business. I still had a lot to learn, but I suddenly felt as if I had a knowledgeable friend walking along side me, helping to show me the way!

I was blown away by what a skype consultation held, but the in-person mentoring was nothing short of phenomenal. We dove deep into what seemed like every aspect of my business to unearth where I was struggling and why. Nicole was amazingly open about sharing her steps for success, passing along numerous guides, layouts and forms. I didn’t stop scribbling notes the entire time I was with her.  


How has your business & your personal life changed because of what you've been able to implement since your mentoring experience?

My confidence in myself and my business has soared. I know I’m offering my clients a beautiful, high-end experience and confidently stand behind my pricing (which is now done appropriately to account for my cost of doing business!) My branding flows well and my social media presence is much stronger. I feel much more like a successful businesswoman than a mom-with-a-camera-hoping-for-the-best. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m proud of myself. Truly proud of how far I’ve been able to come. 

Jessi Metzger of Lovebug Photography, Rochester New York

What advice do you have for photographers who are looking to make some big changes happen in their business, and who are seeking out education opportunities? 

Find a mentor whose style and business model reflects your own. I knew I wanted to offer a full-service, high-end experience to my clients so I sought after a mentor who offered that to her clients. Once you find a mentor you want to work with, GO FOR IT! Nothing has been more encouraging to me than having a business cheerleader who I know has my back and wants to see me succeed. 

Thank you so much for sharing your heart and telling us a little more about your business, Jessi!  

Are you looking to make some big changes happen in your business this year?  I'm now offering 4 unique mentoring opportunities, both online and in-person.  I'd love to chat with you to see if this might be a good fit for your business this year!