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Ah yes, the priceless questions photographers get from their clients. If your work involves human subjects, you may occasionally feel that you’re locked in the eternal struggle of staying true to your vision, while still making your clients happy. Any of these photography client questions sound familiar:
While it may feel like you can only have either one or the other, I’m convinced you can have it both ways: happy, well-served clients, and a strong standard for how you shoot and share your own work. Here’s how we tackle the three tough client questions we get most often:
I KNOW, I KNOW, when you get this question your first instinct may be to delete their email and never respond again (or am I the only dramatic one?). But this one is an easy one to tease apart. The goal here is to get to the bottom of what the client really wants. So, before you launch into your response, ask them leading questions to find out real the root of the issue.
The first possibility is one of sheer numbers: Do they fear that they won’t get enough images? Are they hoping to go through them to make sure that you really did select the best ones for them? This is the time to gently explain your process to them. Explain ow you carefully cull, deliver only the best image, and spare them the misery of pawing through all the shots of their double chin or half-closed eyes.
Conversely, they might not even know what a RAW file actually is. Some clients think that RAW is a synonym for unedited, and want to try out their own iPhoto tricks on their images later. Now’s the time to lay down some education about the advanced programs that can open RAW files, including the fact that they require quite a bit of training to use them correctly. Normally that’s more information than the average client has ever gotten about photo editing, and they are able to reframe their question to express their needs more specifically.
This is also a good time to throw out the old “It’s industry standard to not provide RAW files, so that we photographers can provide you with the exact final product that is worthy of your time.” They wouldn’t walk into a chef’s kitchen and judge their work based on the raw meat in the fridge, the same holds true for their photographer.
Once you hear their concerns, and educate them through your process in a professional and kind way, most sane clients realize that asking for the RAW files just isn’t realistic.
Okay, the late 90s jumping shots aren’t our bag either (if it is yours though, I hope the clients who ask for this are finding you!). However, we make it a firm policy to never say no to a client’s idea. Not only does it throw off the energy of the shoot, it makes the client feel that they are separated from the process of creating images; that their ideas aren’t as good as the professionals. In short, it makes them feel bad, and a subject who feels bad will never create the bomb images you want.
We always say yes if a client has an idea for an image that we aren’t particularly into. It lets them know they’re an integral part of the process, and encourages everyone to get creative with the shoot. Not only that, but sometimes we think a particular pose or scene isn’t going to look good, and it ends up being an awesome idea that we never would have come up with ourselves. That kind of discovery is golden. Never think that your style is so entrenched that you can’t hear new ideas, and always be ready to learn and experiment when you have clients who are in it with you.
All that being said, sometimes you do end up with shots that are just not you, not your look, and not something you necessarily want to represent you. Guess what? You get to choose what you share, how you blog, what your social media will show off, and how you want your portfolio to look. Deliver the client’s images with a smile, make the client happy, and share the ones you love on your own pages. There’s no rule that you have to share every image from a shoot. Select your favorites and move along.
I will be the first to admit that I’m abnormally flattered when people assume that I’m a Photoshop wizard, just because I’m the photographer. Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.
However, the reality is that I am fairly abysmal at it. I would rather spend my time out shooting, than inside glued to my computer, making people look ten pounds thinner, or removing the billboard from behind the venue. Just no thank you.
So when the Photoshop question comes up, I try to manage of expectations ahead of time, as much as possible. When the parent at a wedding asks very seriously if you’ll make them look thinner, I respond with something like, “There’s absolutely no need for Photoshop on a perfect day like today. Everyone here loves you and wants to keep you just as you are. Also, no.”
If there’s an object that could easily be moved from a scene (garbage cans, a sign, trash) then I make a point to move them before shooting, so the client is aware that not everything is post-production magic.
Our general policy for retouching in Lightroom is that if something will not be there in two weeks (e.g. a bruise, zit, etc.) we’ll do a light erase, no problem. If there are larger things that the client requests be handled in Photshop, like the mother of the groom who insisted that I edit all the photos of her scowling in the background (you can’t make this stuff up) we let them know individually that we do have a per-image rate for Photoshopping. If they want to go ahead with it, fine by me, but it’s a friendly reminder to clients that Photoshop isn’t a magic button that photographers press behind the scenes to turn every Furbie into a Victoria’s Secret model.
The moral of the story is to be kind, ask questions, and get to the bottom of what your clients really want when they ask you these dreaded things.
Then let me know in the comments below. What questions do you dread? How do you respond to them? I’d love to hear how you tackle the tough ones.