Main image for the current blog post

Mini-sessions are a popular buzzword in the photography world, and for good reason—they’re a lot of fun and offer some great benefits.  But many people don’t understand exactly what a mini-session is, or how it differs from a traditional full-length photo shoot.

A mini-session is a short photography session that takes place at the location and time chosen by the photographer which gives clients between 3-5 final photographs.

Read on to find out the difference between mini-sessions and full sessions and which one is best for you and your clients. 

Mini-session with four kids on different backgrounds.

What Is A Mini-Session?

The term “mini-session” might sound like simply a shorter, cheaper version of a full session, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are some of the key differences.

A mini-session is:

  • Short and takes less than 15-20 minutes from beginning to end
  • Takes place at a location that the photographer chooses
  • Takes place on a date that the photographer chooses
  • Between 3-5 final images for clients

Another major difference is that mini-sessions are stacked, meaning you shoot multiple sessions back-to-back. That’s why mini-sessions are cheaper. They allow you to maximize your time and offer volume pricing.

What A mini-session Is NOT:

The biggest misconception about mini-sessions is that they are a more affordable custom shoot. mini-sessions are NOT custom. Clients can’t pick the date or location for a mini-session. If the clients are looking for newborn photos or family photos on a specific date, a mini-session is not for this client.

In order for you to charge low prices and still make a profit, you must be able to book multiple mini-sessions back-to-back. That’s why a mini-session can’t take place at a client’s house or on a date of their choosing. 

Additionally, a mini-session isn’t longer than 20 minutes and won’t produce 10+ images. If the client  wants a longer session and more images, a full shoot will better suit their needs.

Pro Tip

Keep in mind that you will invest about 9 hours of back-end work for every hour you shoot. This includes client communication, culling, editing, retouching, uploading, and business tasks like marketing and accounting. 

Another thing to consider is the actual breakdown of your profit. The average photographer makes a profit between 19-25%. That hour-long $1,000 portrait session nets the photographer just $190-$250 (about $19-$25 per hour before taxes and healthcare costs). And this doesn’t account for the seasonality of the photography industry, meaning your income is inconsistent.

All of this adds up to the fact that a custom, stand-alone “mini-session” isn’t going to earn a photographer any money. To make a profit, you must stick to the parameters of a true mini-session (short, predetermined date and location, and fewer images). 

Newborn in blue bedding.

What Is A Custom Portrait Shoot?

A custom portrait shoot will often include pre-session consultations between you and your client, take place at the clients chosen date and location, and result in 10 or more images presented to clients in an online gallery where they can choose their final prints. 

A custom portrait shoot is:

  • Any newborn shoot
  • Any wedding
  • Any in-home shoot
  • Any session where the client determines the location/date

Depending on the photographer, custom shoots typically last at least 45 minutes and give your client many more photos to choose from. They involve more pre-planning, customization, and choice. They  will likely be able to incorporate more people and outfit changes if preferred. 

So, Is Your  Client Looking For A Mini-Session Or A Full Session?

Let's break down which type of session best fits your clients needs and will give them the end results they want, and allow you to make a profit for your work.

If  the client wants to:

  • Choose the location
  • Choose the date
  • Have more images/varied images to choose from
  • Book a wedding or a newborn shoot
  • Have someone in the shoot that requires more time to adapt to new people / new situations
  • Have a photoshoot in their home or a special location

Any of these will require the client to book a full session. 

If  the client wants to:

  • Have a more affordable option
  • Is flexible on date and location
  • Doesn’t want a specific look
  • Can achieve their objective with 3-5 images
  • Are willing to go with the flow of a shorter time slot (and be punctual)

They are potential clients for a shoot at  your mini-session event. 

Here are some helpful questions to ask the client if they can’t decide between a full photo shoot or a mini-session: 

  • What is your objective for the photoshoot? If you want several images to choose from to display in your home, want  a specific look, or if you’re creating a photo album, a full session is the best fit. A mini-session is a great option if you need a photo or two for an invitation, an announcement, or a holiday card. 
  • How do your kids do in front of a camera? If your kids are hesitant around new people or will need time to get comfortable in front of the camera, a full session might work better for you. A mini-session may not be enough time to get the quality images you want. 
  • What is your budget? If you want to update your family photos while saving some money, a mini-session is a solid option. Booking a mini-session also gives you the chance to see if the photographer is a good fit before investing in a full session.
  • Where and when do you want to shoot? If you don’t have a clear idea of where you want your session to take place, a mini-session will work for you. But if you have a specific location in mind, a full session makes more sense. And if your availability is limited and you’re on a tight schedule, a full session will give you more flexibility. 
  • Will a mini-session make you feel rushed? Think about how you and your family will feel about a 20-minute photoshoot. Is that enough time for everyone to relax and take great photos? Will you feel frazzled and stressed? Are you worried about being on time for a 20-minute slot? If the idea of a short, less predictable session doesn’t feel comfortable for you, a full session may feel better and produce better results
  • Also for consideration: Some mini-sessions are themed. Make sure you like the theme, props, and feel of the planned session before booking. 
Photographer photographing a family in their studio

Take our quiz!

Final Thoughts

Simply put, a shorter, cheaper custom shoot isn’t a mini-session. Photographers advertise mini-sessions for a specific location on a set date and book multiple clients back-to-back to maximize  time and offer volume pricing.

Let’s run through the main differences between a mini-session and a full photo shoot  one more time.

Mini-sessions are about 20 minutes and produce 3-5 images and they are mostly limited edition and usually themed. On the other hand, Full sessions are at least 45 minutes and produce a wider variety of images. They give the client the flexibility to choose the date, location, and props. Any time you’re booking a wedding, newborn shoot, or in-home session, you should be charging for a full session.

Both mini-sessions and full sessions offer benefits, but the right session for you depends on your client’s specific preferences and objectives. 

We hope we’ve cleared up any mini-session misconceptions. Offering both options is a great way to grow your photography business. Download our mini-sessions 101 e-book for more info on mini-sessions, including planning, pricing, scouting locations, promotion, and more.

Image of an ebook preview

Stuck on Mini-session ideas? Download our FREE 12 Months of Mini Photo Sessions Calendar here and get started! Use the monthly suggestions as inspiration to create your own idea or just use our recommendations.

Image of an ebook preview

Get it all done with one simple plan

Sign up | Access tools | Get the business you want