10 Things Photographers Wished All Clients Knew
So, today I have a fun topic to share, but a few precursors before we get started:
A) I can’t claim full credit for the idea.
This post was inspired by one of my favorite Podcasts, Young House Love, a show all about home renovation, on which they did an episode called “This is How You’re Annoying Your Contractor”, interviewing general contractors who gave funny, enlightening, and - despite the somewhat negative connotation of the episode title - actually really helpful insight to make projects go more smoothly.
While planning a wedding isn’t quite as complex as building a house, the similarities were very apparent….inexperienced client hiring a trusted professional to lead the way through a major life event….so I decided to piggy back on the idea.
B) Sh*tuff’s about to get real real here for a minute.
I asked real photographers in multiple professional circles for their input, and added my own thoughts and feelings on the topics as well. In this article, you’re going to hear me speak very candidly about things that can help your relationship with your photographer go more smoothly (if that’s with me, then Yay! Win for both of us!…but if it’s with someone else, I hope I make a positive impact no matter where you go!).
I hesitated even writing this post, because, well, frankly, who wants to admit to their potential clients that sometimes things aren’t just sunshine and rainbows all the time?
It’s tempting to keep this kind of “behind the scenes” information as our own photographer-water-cooler talk.
But then I checked myself and realized that if you’re my type of couple, then you don’t need a bull-honky fantasy story that pretends that everything is always perfect.
(As evidenced by this image of my SUV packed to the hilt to photograph the Lucky 7 AQHA Quarter Horse Championship in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 2010…I can assure you the show staff were more interested in the fact that I came totally prepared than with how tidy my transport vehicle was).
So, no, you don’t need a cookie-cutter Top Ten list with gumdrops and unicorns to make you feel good about hiring someone. If you’re my type of client, then you’re going to appreciate the candor, and so….here goes….
So, combined with my own ideas, I asked several photographer friends and colleagues:
“What’s one thing you wish your photography clients knew?”
And the results were really interesting! I hope you find them enlightening as well.
#1 - Once you find a photographer you trust, trust them. They want you to be happy.
This came from several photographers who iterated some version of
“Clients should know that they do not need to give me a list of every single image they want”,
and other variations of situations that really boiled photographers wanting clients to trust their vision, their intentions, and their willingness to serve.
If you have done your research and found someone whose work and personality you absolutely love, it’s important to give them the creative space and benefit of the doubt that they have your best interests at heart. No photographer wants their clients to be unhappy with their images, so by default of being in this profession, they are going to do everything they can to make you happy.
If there’s a mixup or you notice something amiss, of course say something, but go into the relationship knowing that they want you to be happy, so trust them to make the most of angles, lighting, and timing to your advantage.
#2 - There is no magic filter, button, or shortcut to get the images delivered.
After the trust concern, the number two most referenced item on the wish list was about turnaround times and what all goes into the delivery of the images. Photographers from all genres stated some version of essentially the same thing…
”we wish clients understood what all goes into getting their images to them.”
As a photographer who has a full time Editor, someone who handles my Production (orders, albums, etc), and has two part time Retouchers as part of my team, I can definitely say this one resonated with me as well.
Whether it’s something simple like removing a spot created from a piece of dust on the camera sensor, or something more extensive like removing a person walking on the beach in the distance of your beautiful family portrait, we tend to be somewhat of perfectionist creators, and we don’t want you to see it until it’s perfect, but that work is not something we can automate, and must be done by hand, with love and care, and that sometimes takes time.
The cards have to be downloaded
Raw files backed up
File quantities cross referenced from the cards to ensure none were skipped in import.
Images are cataloged
Duds are culled
Best-of’s are flagged and rated
Selects are White balanced
Crooked images are straightened
Exposures are adjusted
Highlights and shadows get tweaked
Dodging dark areas
Burning bright areas
Back to the photographer to be Reviewed
Notes are sent
Tweaks are made
Images from multiple cameras are Sequenced for a consistent story flow
Raw images are Renumbered
Jpgs or TIF file are Exported
Multiple sizes and formats are saved for different uses
Everything is backed up both locally and online
Final files are uploaded to the gallery provider
Gallery has to be organized for a nice presentation
Slideshow is created
Blog post is written
Then, and only then, can you get the announcement that your photos are ready.
#3 - Unscripted, epic, creative shots, cannot be done in five minutes.
Photographers totally get it that you want to try to maximize that time together and squeeze as much in as possible. But from almost 18 years of experience, I can tell you passionately that this will never make you happy. The only times in my career that I’ve had complaints about the images I took, is when I did not speak up and say
“I’m sorry, but I can’t get through 50 family groups in 10 minutes”. :D
That’s not to say that we photographers can’t do good work in limited time…those of us who - like me - have been doing this a while, can nail solid shots in very little time, because we’ve done it a thousand times before. But that’s just it….it’s going to be something that we’ve done a thousand times before.
The images above are beautiful and I’m really proud of them, but these are the kinds of images I can do on muscle memory, practically with my eyes closed. I don’t even have to guess or think, I just pose the person and shoot it. Clients love them, they’re classic, and elegant, and timeless, but they aren’t particularly unique.
If you want variety, if you want images that look unposed and unscripted, if you want wild and creative, you have to give your photographer time to play and experiment and move around and change lenses and move the light and ask for different things of you, and then have time to make adjustments and try again.
So before booking, just ask “These are the types of images I want; how much time do we need to get these?”
#4 - Hourly rates include much more than just the billable hours spent shooting the images.
I can’t say that I run into this myself so much, maybe because I tend to get clients who are themselves working professionals and business owners, but because it came up so much in other photographers, and in case any of my own clients might wonder, I thought I would share it anyway.
It’s true, though, that there is more to a photographer’s hourly rate than just the coverage of the event itself.
There are four main components to a photographer’s hourly rate:
billable hours (time spent shooting)
administrative hours (time spent planning and taking care of office work like invoices and contracts)
production hours (time spent editing and retouching)
and overhead (the expenses we have no matter how much work we have - utilities, internet, cell phone, web hosting, software subscriptions, etc).
Those who live in an area with a higher cost of living and doing business, are going to have higher prices to offset their higher overhead. And photographers with more experience and a more distinct style are going to have a higher rate to compensate their billable hours for all those years of practice and refining their craft.
#5 - You can’t get the same products from Online Labs or One-Hour Photo Kiosks
I love a good deal, and I love the convenience of online ordering so I can pick something up in the same store I have to go buy shampoo. But the facts are there. One Hour kiosks use dye-based printers, which are a water-based ink that “floats” the color of the photo on top of the paper.
It is not archival, it’s going to yellow, and the least bit of moisture is going to cause it to run and be ruined. They’re also using cheaper paper which does not have a UV protectant in it, so it’s going to fade over time. The whole point of a printed photograph is so that you can enjoy it for generations. What is the point if it’s not going to last?
When you hire a professional photographer and have them handle your printing for you, it means they’re using a professional print lab that employs expert colorists and pressmen (and presswomen!). :)
And while you might think it sounds simple enough to order a “photo book” from an online lab, they simply cannot produce the same quality album, with hand-stitched binding, hand-stretched covers, color-corrected pages mounted to a rigid substrate with a protective finish, at the rates they charge. You’re getting a machined saddle-stitched (stapled) center that is not going to last, and the cover materials are often applied with a consumer-grade glue that gives off a bad smell, and the pages are not rigid, but bend when you flip them.
When you hold a professional photographer’s print or album next to a consumer lab product of the same name, there is no comparison.
#6 - Don’t leave your photographer hanging after you book elsewhere. Just tell us.
This one I heard over and over again, and I have to say, I fully agree.
Photographers (and all wedding vendors, for that matter) fully realize that part of the process is spending the time to email back and forth, have phone calls or meetings, and get to know your options before making a decision. Your photographer expects you to talk to more than one person. We are under no egotistical guise that we are the one and only photographer you’re looking at.
But as a boutique-style business, vendors are assessing you as much as you are interviewing them. Sure, if you’ve only spoken once, no big deal. But if you’ve gotten through several follow ups, it’s sort of like the start of a relationship, so when a client does this and then suddenly ghosts, you can’t help but think to yourself “wow, was it something I said?”.
So it’s totally cool if someone isn’t your first pick, but we would rather get some feedback - even if it’s negative - than to feel like we are bothering you by following up.
Do your photographer the courtesy of responding to their follow up and just let them know if they’re still in the running or not.
#7 - There’s a big difference between “someone who takes nice photos”, and running a professional photography studio.
This is not to say that someone with a nice camera who takes nice photos cannot do a good job taking some photos for you. They probably can.
But, handling the rigors of turning around several orders for family members all wanting different sizes and page finishes, checking the mounting to the substrate when a wall portrait gets back from the lab, or dealing with delays when shipping an album from the Italian manufacturer, is a whole different set of skills.
Think of it this way…
Your friend makes the best home cooked meals you’ve ever eaten in your life. That doesn’t mean they will run a successful restaurant.
You may know someone who creates stunning handmade bracelets. That doesn’t mean they should open up a jewelry store.
#8 - The phrase “Oh you can just Photoshop that” does not magically make it so
This sentiment came up in fellow photographers’ responses to my question, but it often boiled down to expectations and client education. I think we all do our best to inform clients of what to expect in terms of the level of editing that is included with their service, but inevitably there will be someone who assumes all Photoshop work is created equally. So, it boiled down less to the cringe-worthy assumption of being able to wave a magic Photoshop wand, and more over the feeling that very often, the person saying this assumes that this extra level of work is free.
Since you wouldn’t go into your accountant’s office with a disorganized box of receipts and say “You can just Quickbooks that, can’t you?”, or into your car mechanic’s shop with a busted oil line and say “You can just Jiffy Lube that right?”, without the expectation of paying extra for that service, so too should you be prepared to pay extra for retouching services that are not something the photographer had any control over.
While we want you to be happy, we can’t exactly help it that:
Your cousin wore a hideous fluorescent lime green tee-shirt to your wedding.
Your kid took a nose dive and is sporting an epic shiner.
Your maid of honor decided to test her porcelain skin against the rays of Florida sun and is now half lobster because of it.
Everyone tells you that you’re beautiful but you won’t feel it until your wedding photos show you shedding 20 pounds.
Yes, Photoshop is a very sophisticated tool, but like any tool, it is the skill of the person wielding it that really matters. And like most skilled creatives, a photographer’s retoucher wants to be paid for her time.
And that leads me to my next point, which is that I find many clients assume that if you’re a photographer, you’re automatically a skilled retoucher. Truth is, most photographers can only handle very basic edits (which is why most photographers include basic editing in their pricing). Anything beyond that, however, is outside of their skill set, or even if they CAN do it (like me), they still pay someone else because every hour I spend retouching is the time I can’t spend talking to clients or shooting more photos.
#8 - Photographers Wish Their Clients Would Read Their Contract (and share it with your partner).
This one popped up several times in my research as well, and knowing myself what it’s like to go through an awkward conversation with a client with whom you suddenly realize has no clue what they booked and now they’re upset with you for something they didn’t do, I had to add it.
So the story goes something like this…
boy meets girl
…girl hires photographer
……photographer shoots wedding
………boy asks about turnaround/products/next steps
…………photographer recaps contract
…………….boy is surprised, upset, confused
…………………photographer slow blinks
I know the planning part of the wedding or photo shoot is the fun part. You never think you’ll ever have any concerns, questions, or issues. You never think it will rain. You never wonder what happens if you break up, or someone gets sick, or the venue closes.
And…I love you boys and girls…but I find that most of the time, when I have a situation where it becomes apparent that the couple did not read the contract and understand what was included, it was because they assumed that just because their sister/aunt/brother/friend’s photographer did it one way, that this is how all photographers do it.
I understand how it’s easy to overlook. After all, if I had a friend tell me about her spa experience, and how they greeted her with champagne, played soft ethereal music, gave her a foot rub, a body scrub, and a facial all for one price, I might easily assume that booking my local spa package would look roughly the same, and I might see how I’d be confused when the champagne and foot rub were extra.
But, just like I could not reasonably be mad at the massage therapist for my own lack of effort to read the service menu, so too is it not fair to hold multiple photographers up to the same standards of what’s automatically included.
When in doubt, ask.
Most photographers, I know myself included, are just trying to do right by what we think clients like, but if we get a special request, we are usually more than happy to accommodate!
Reading the contract just ensures that everyone is on the same page, gives you a chance to reiterate any special requests we may have spoken about verbally but forgot to write down, and keeps everyone’s tushy’s covered in case something changes down the road.
#9 - Focus on the Fun, not on the Photos
Photographers around the country, when I asked what they wished their clients knew, gave a resounding unity in response when so many said
“we wish clients would just relax and enjoy the process, stop stressing every hair and wrinkle, and enjoy themselves”
I chuckle to think of this, because there is this exercise that they have you do at photography conventions, whereby the speaker will get up to talk about something like building your dream studio, or creating work life balance, or getting to a higher creative level, and almost always they tie in the concept of “ideal client”.
And in doing so, they’ll us in the audience to envision the clients you have gotten the best images, had the best experience, continued the longest relationships, and just really meshed with…those are your ideal clients. And almost always, several photographers, including myself, will raise their hand and talk about clients who just really came to the shoot, the event, or the wedding, ready to have fun and were “up for whatever”.
I can attest to that. I hear from clients all the time “I don’t want to look posed”, “I don’t want to feel stiff”, “I don’t want it to look like I know I’m having my picture taken”. And I tell them “the best way to do that is to come into the shoot planning that it will fun and enjoyable, not worrying about getting the perfect photos”.
Think about it, if you’re having fun, you’re smiling, your body language is inviting, your demeanor is warm and relaxed, and your expression depicts someone who is genuinely “in the moment”.
That is how you get great photos. Yes, I can manufacture emotion where there is none, but if you look back on those images and remember how you were annoyed that the people in the distance might be ruining the shot, or you look at them and recall how you kept shooting darts at your spouse for wrinkling your shirt, you aren’t going to associate the images with a positive, happy experience. You’ll see technically sound images, of people who look like they’re playing a part, but you’ll know the difference.
So, above all, go into your relationship with your photographer, be that for your wedding, for an engagement, for a family shoot, and make the mission to enjoy yourself and have fun. Everything else falls into place when who you are being is in the right frame of mind.
#10 - We Really Care That You Like Our Work…So Tell Us!
This might sound like a no-brainer, especially if you’re someone reading this who puts a lot of thought into the style and creative eye of the person you’re hiring to shoot your wedding or your family portraits. But you’d be surprised how many people receive their photos, and then just never say anything.
It’s like sitting in an empty room listening to the clock tick. It’s maddening!
Even the most seasoned, skilled, and award winning photographers I know shared this insecurity
“…no matter how high you reach in the professional echelons of photographic society, and even
if it’s never happened ever in your career, you still fear that your client will hate their photos…”
And it’s true! As an artist, and as a creative, you live in a constant state of betterment, which means the wedding I shoot today is going to be better than the one I did yesterday. The engagement photos I do next month are going to be better than the ones I did last year. Which means, what? That you ALSO live in constant fear that your prior work will be ousted and you’ll be “found out”.
I know, it’s ridiculous when you say it out loud. Obviously decades of experience and the love and support of clients and vendors in the community are testament to one’s professionalism and work ethic, but the imposter syndrome never goes away.
SO for the love of all that is holy, if you like your photos, email your photographer and say so, or post them on Facebook with a tag and a sappy story, or record a video of you opening your images for the first time.
I guarantee you’ll add at least 36 months of life expectancy to your photographer’s heart. :D
I hope this was helpful!
I certainly enjoyed gathering this information, compiling the input from many across the field, and adding some context so you can hopefully get a little insight into what makes your relationship with your photographer easier.