Sandon firm comes top of the class: Middle East success for studio photography firm

An innovative Hertfordshire photography firm has come top of the class, after rapidly developing to become one of the largest school photographers in the United Arab Emirates, with help from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Exports now account for just under a third of Sandon-based Pret-a-Portrait’s £2.5 million turnover: The studio family portrait and school photography firm is now achieving annual overseas sales of £700,000 since their first export order in 2008.

Starting with school photographs in England in 2005, Pret-a-Portrait’s fresh approach of studio-style pictures of each pupil and year group meant their business quickly expanded. It wasn’t long before the friend of sister of Director, Adam Berry, who lives in Dubai, persuaded a local school of expat children to give them a try.

Adam, who co-founded the firm in 2003 with friend Nick Kerr, said:

“The work picked up more quickly and was more profitable in Dubai than in the UK – we’re not sure why but expats were extremely enthusiastic about our work and buy a lot more photographs.”

“Our team of 40 photographers have been delighted! From a standard job as a twice a year school photographer to international postings in warmer climes. Plus the nature of overseas markets means they’ve been able to maintain practically year round employment – as opposed to just summer and autumn UK terms.

“Once they have taken the photos they come back and we process them here in our offices on the farm before uploading them online for parents to select the pictures they want.”

The firm has now found fame across Dubai after creating a photograph which featured local schoolchildren representing the Dubai cityscape, imitating the shadow puppet style of Britain’s Got Talent winner Attraction. The picture found its way into several national publications, making the front page of the daily Dubai broadsheet The National. And the 5ft by 2ft printed version made nearly £5,000 in an auction for charity.

This profile and the help of UKTI is helping the firm clinch contracts in schools across Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia and across continental Europe.

Adam continued:

“We appear to be pioneering our particular photographic approach and overseas work, providing ranges of pictures of school children in studio style shots that the parents love, and sending Hertfordshire photographers to schools across the globe! Our photos and style are obviously interesting enough for schools across the world to want to employ us and the parents like the work and pay enough online to make it commercially viable.”

Through UKTI they have been on the Passport to Export programme, commissioned an OMIS and worked closely with local UKTI International Trade Adviser Michael Macartney.

Adam continued:

“We have found the support from UKTI to be extremely helpful. From giving us the opportunity to network with other exporters to providing one to one advice. I’d say to any firm that hasn’t explored overseas markets yet – keep your eyes open for an opportunity and provide the best quality work – and the most unlikely of outcomes can work.”

Michael Macartney, said:

“Exporting can have a fantastic outcome for any firm. A lot of people tend to think that you have to have a physical product to export but services sell too. And the creative and fresh approaches of firms such as Pret-a-Portrait are in demand across the world. I’m looking forward to helping them explore further markets and secure further clients.”


Passport to Export



If you are based in the East of England region and are interested in developing your business overseas please contact:

UKTI East of England International trade Team

Tel: + (0)845 641 9955

Email: [email protected]

Find your nearest International Trade Advisor via our postcode search facility in “Contacts in your region”.

Sectors: Business Services and Creative & Media
Countries: East Anglia, Middle East, and United Arab Emirates
Topics: Getting Started
Export Action Plan