Why is it so important to educate your clients and create bonds of trust? In this blog post, Pictage member and Phoenix Wedding Photographer, Jared Platt answers this question and gives three helpful tips to doing just that. Check out more posts by Jared here on the Pictage Blog and also get more information about his upcoming workshop tour coming to a city near you on our worthy workshops page.
I have a crazy notion that I would like to present to you today. There is a reason that people hire a professional photographer to shoot their weddings and portraits and other events, rather than having uncle Bob take the photos. If you think extremely hard you might come up with that reason on your own… I’ll give you a hint. It is the same reason that I hire an electrician to wire my home for a new set of lights, or a lawyer to represent me in court, or a doctor to remove an appendix. You guessed it. I hire professionals because I know that I do not know how to do the task myself and should I risk doing the task myself, it may have disastrous consequences. My house may burn down, I may wind up in jail, or my appendix may come out along with a portion of my large intestine.
Now, the electrician knows why he is hired, so do the lawyer and doctor. No one tells them how to do their job, no one even suggests a lists of things that the doctor might want to look at while he’s in there. That is because both the doctor and the patient are both confident that the doctor know what he’s doing and the patient does not. And yet, professional photographers are constantly plagued with client requests, shot lists and expectations that all too often are accepted by the photographer and carried out to the peril of the photographer’s artistic vision for the job. Why is this the case?
I will submit to you that it is because the client is not convinced that the photographer is a professional and neither is the photographer. There seems to be some question in the minds of both the client and the photographer as to who could do the job better. And this is not completely the client’s fault. Sure, the client comes to the first meeting with the baggage of erroneous expectations which are based on what their photographer shot in the 1980’s at their wedding, and the all too helpful bridal magazine shot lists and lists of questions they “must” ask to all photographers during the first interview. Yes, there are many outside influences that put the client in a doubting frame of mind from the beginning of the client / photographer relationship. But I am going to suggest to you that the photographer is one of the main reasons for this doubt.
That’s right, you as a photographer are shooting yourself in the foot at every step in the client / photographer relationship by the choices you make and the way you present yourself and your work. All of these choices you make lead the client to doubt your professionalism and mastery, so that even if they do hire you, they do not trust you enough to allow you to make the decisions when it comes to your work. And as the client makes more and more of the photographic decisions, the work suffers more and more and by the end of the client / photographer relationship, the whole affair has become a self-fulfilling prophecy where the client has proved himself right, that the photographer was not to be trusted because they provided only a so-so product in the end. But it wasn’t the photographer, it was the client who was calling the shots and making the decisions. It all seems so unfair… but it may be your fault.
Your relationship with your client needs to begin with you as the trusted professional photographer whom they are hiring because they respect your talent and trust your skills. This only happens if you present yourself as a professional, with confidence and firm convictions about your style and philosophies. Here are just a few tips on how to gain and maintain your clients’ trust.
1. Early Education:
Your relationship begins before you meet your client as they view your web site portfolio. Show in your portfolio only those images you want your client to expect. If you show family portraits from your weddings on your web site, you will attract people who are very concerned about the family portraits at the wedding and you will have hard time convincing them that an hour of family photographs is not in their best interest. I do not show any family portraits from my weddings in my portfolio. Nor do I show them in my studio album samples, for the same reason. If I have family portraits in my wedding album samples, how can I possibly expect my clients not to want them in their album? At every point in the relationship with my client I am leading and teaching them what to expect and how to use their images.
2. Show Confidence:
First, you will need to have some opinions and philosophies. I have many of these and they are very strong. Others have not developed these assets and still others may have them, but are reluctant to share them. Your clients will only respect your positions if you have strong convictions and can articulate them well. At every step in the relationship, on your web site, on the phone and in your personal interactions with the client, you should be teaching your client about your philosophies, helping them understand your convictions and selling them on your ideas.
When clients view my web site, they see a simple, elegant web site without distractions, like a photographic museum with white matted documentary photographs. I am subtly teaching my client that all of my products are clean and simple, my album designs are not crowded and trendy, but classic and timeless. When I speak to them on the phone for the first time, I express how important their wedding is and that nothing, even the photos should get in the way of them having a blissful day. I am teaching them that we are not there to have a two hour long photo shoot with family and friends, but that we are there to document the joy of their wedding day. When we meet for the first time, I talk to them about my love for the history of photography and the documentary photographers of the past. I show them my favorite images from may last few jobs and tell them the stories behind the images. I show them albums and tell them why I chose the images I did. I point out how black and white enhances a particular image because the image is not about color, but about two shapes coming together. I show them how cropping and image brings us closer into the meaning of that image.
All of this is done to teach my client how to be a better connoisseur of photography and to give them confidence in me and the choices I make while I am photographing. From their first moments on my portfolio site, to the day of the wedding, I am preparing my clients to expect and appreciate my style of photography and more importantly to trust my eye and my experience. The last thing a surgeon wants when he enters the operating room is someone looking over his shoulder, second-guessing everything he does. The only way to avoid this is to inspire in your clients the trust that is owed to a consummate professional. If you fail to do this, you may very well be plagued by the never-ending doubts from your clients that will besiege your art and smother your passion for photography.
3. Continuing Education:
Once you have photographed a wedding or a portrait session, your job has only just begun. The crucial teaching begins. You are not paid only to capture the images, but to review the images and assess their quality and beauty. The client still needs your help. You see, they are no more adept at choosing images than you are at reading your MRI. As a photographer, you have practiced the art of selection and can find the needle in the haystack. When I am finished with a wedding, I review every image myself and select between a tenth and a fifth of the images to present to the client. I do not present an endless number of similar images to befuddle the client, but rather the one or two best images. In this way, I am presenting them with the very best images in the wedding.
Furthermore, I use Pictage’s categories to separate the “Photographer’s Selects” from the rest of the wedding. This category is placed at the very beginning of the collection of online images. The images are first presented in a slideshow and then on Pictage and later in a proof book. All of which highlight the photographer’s favorites. As my clients see the highlighted images and compare them to the remaining images in the collection they are further trained on how to see their photographs and are gaining even more trust in their photographer’s eye for shooting, selecting and presenting their images. The hope is that with enough trust and enough training, when we get to the album phase, the client is fully ready to hand over the selection and the design process to their trusted professional photographer without intervening in the process, because they know that the photographer is skilled to make the very best choices. And should the client require an approval (which they always do), the photographer has taught them how to see well enough to recognize the beauty of the design and the selected images when the album is presented for approval.
The dream client, who allows the photographer carte blanche is only won by the photographer who educates his client and gains their complete trust. If your weddings are a constant struggle with clients who seem to want you to be something you are not, demand images you don’t want to shoot and are constantly second guessing your decisions in the post production phase of the job, I suggest that you look at yourself. You may be the problem. Look at your portfolio, your example prints and albums, read through your sales pitch or listen to your conversations. You may be opening the door and asking your clients to doubt you. You must gain their trust as early as possible. Start on your web site. Begin teaching them, early on, who you are and how you operate. At every contact point, teach them more, and show them why they should trust you. Because in the end, if your client doesn’t trust you enough to let you make the decisions, you have no one to blame but yourself.