If you’ve been in the photography business for any length of time – surely you’ve dealt with clients who seem just fine during the session and then later…they have things to say or worse – they say NOTHING.
After a decade of photographing people I understand better why this happens. Most people don’t want to speak up. They don’t want to make us feel bad. They suffer through the session and say nothing. And because they say nothing – they confirm their worst fears about the session. It’s a terrible cycle!
Here are 8 things your client is secretly thinking but not telling you and some ideas about how to help them open up:
1. The client hates their _____ and will try to avoid photos because of it.
You’ve met them: they slink into the back, peek through shoulders of other people, act super cranky. I think we don’t acknowledge this enough – how stressful it is to be photographed.
Ask. I always ask people what they like and don’t like about themselves in images before we start. You’ll be surprised how this deflates the anxiety they are feeling. If they are having trouble telling you – ask them to show you a photo on their phone that they REALLY like of themselves. And if they can’t do that – ask them to show you one that they HATE and ask why. That little change in how I approach clients has really increased confidence in having their photos taken. I promise they’re worrying – ask them and really listen. I schedule my sessions with extra time for this – so they can talk and really process what their anxiety is. Once we start, it’s palpably better.
This client scheduled a full meeting with me BEFORE she decided to book to discuss her anxieties. It was a gift and made her session so much more meaningful.
2. They’ve done nothing except obsess about the session since they booked you.
Regardless of what made them contact you about the session –as soon as they make the appointment they’re obsessing. What do I wear? What will it be like? Will I look stupid? Should I schedule makeup? What if my kids/husband/dog/wife/parents act out? What if I hate every image? What if I rains? Why am I doing this again?
I give my clients my cell phone and tell them if they’re worried about anything to text me. I never mind – and I always welcome the opportunity to help calm the anxiety they’re feeling. Sometimes they’ll send me outfits or pictures they like and I always give them honest feedback. If they are stuck on what to wear I tell them to pack a whole suitcase and I’ll help them decide. If they are worried about kids behavior – I reassure them that we have lots of tricks to help make it fun and quick – but also coach them to choose the time of day their kids function best and to have snacks on hand. The more we can relieve the anxiety the more relaxed they are – and the better the images are as a result. If you aren’t comfortable with giving out your cell phone – compile a list of FAQ’s you can send to them.
Perfect Outfit choices for fall.
3. They have no idea what you are seeing and that makes them more anxious
One of my close photographer friends argued with me about this – they didn’t feel that showing a client images as they were shooting was a good idea. I completely disagree! I tell every client – there will be 20 minutes of hell. You will feel awkward – I will take awkward photos – but we’ll keep looking at them and adjusting until you say “wow. Is that me?”
It’s a trust issue. It’s a self esteem issue. Once you get those words out of your client – you can really push them to take amazing pictures because you cracked the code. It’s a gift and we should be giving it to them without fear.
Also – a little trick I use when we start photographing is that I will DELIBERATELY show them a terrible outtake – and say – here’s why this doesn’t work. SHOW them the terrible photo. Invite them into the process.
An actor who wanted her personality to show. This image works better and ended up being one of her favorites.
4. They feel foolish.
If you take photographs of other people and avoid getting your photo taken (and yes, I’m talking to YOU) – you’re doing your clients a big BIG disservice. I insist that everyone who works for me go through a session or more. How can you empathize with your client without understanding how scary and uncomfortable standing in front of someone - someone pointing a camera at you no less -- is when they have NO IDEA what you are seeing? Hire someone. Pay for the session. See how the process works and more importantly – notice how it feels.
Photo by Carla Ten Eyck. I was soooooo nervous!
Photo by Erin Cajina. Getting everyone in the shot took a giant amount of effort!
5. They won’t love your favorites.
I struggled with this for a long time. “YOU DON’T GET ME!” I would think to myself and get mildly pissed off. One day I thought – you know what? It’s NOT about YOU. It’s about your client. And what they like. And how they see themselves. YOU don’t have to live with those photos on your wall – they DO and they like what they like. Let them choose and love what they love – and be okay with it! Use your favorites in your portfolio – and don’t take it personally when they shake their head and go “ewwww” when they see your personal best. Take it all in stride.
They chose this one.
But I LOVED this one. They did not choose it. Wah wah.
6. They expect you to make them look and feel amazing.
That is our job. Sorry but it’s our job. Because if they don’t feel amazing – it shows in the image. And they hate them. And then they don’t buy them or they buy them but vaguely resent having to. Spend the couple of minutes analyzing who they are – what pose looks MOST kick butt for them. Not everyone photographs the same. Take the time to understand what works for them. Study body types, and don’t be afraid to talk to your clients about what works for them.
This mom was more comfortable leaning in. Teenage boys can be challenging to pose naturally – especially with their moms!
7. They are not photographers and will have ideas about what they want that will not in anyone’s imagination – work.
They’re paying you to be the professional right? And yet, they will come with ideas about light and location and “the shot”. Sometimes – I take the shot they are insisting on – because I can see it’s not going to satisfy them until I do it. THEN I make my adjustment and show them the difference.
Clients wanted the entire LIVING ROOM in the shot.
My suggestion instead.
Clients only request was dog and baby together. Instead of disturbing the baby – I suggested we approach things in a more relaxed way. (You can see parents were right there and dog was AMAZING. I photoshopped hands out of frame afterwards.)
8. They are expecting direction during the session.
It’s intimidating isn’t it, when you get a person or a group of people and you just don’t know what to do with them? They’re loud and bossy, or quiet and awkward, or resistant. What do you do?
For me? Humor. I always address the elephant in the room. I’ll say – hey! You guys intimidate me –stop talking and help! ::laughing:: Or I assess who the most gregarious of the group is and pull them up front and have them start placing people. Or I’ll put them in poses and then say “omg don’t ever pose that way again!”
The trick is to be in charge. Even if you have no idea what to do. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and admit you have no idea what to do next. People get that. They understand themselves better than we think they do. They know the challenges. So I find it most successful to think of them as friends first and appeal to their sense of humor. It’s never failed me and it won’t fail you.
I think the trick – if you can call it that – with working with clients in general is to encourage conversation, to ask the hard questions, to address the elephants in the room, to be vulnerable but still in control. Your clients will benefit from your openness and fearlessness and it will help them to be open and fearless too.
Canon 70-200 2.8 II
Canon 24-70 2.8
Sigma 50 1.4 Art Series
Canon 1DX II
Tammy Swales is a portrait and wedding photographer in Rochester NY.