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A few decades ago the Heinz company ran a series of commercials featuring people patiently waiting for their ketchup to be poured from glass bottles, each ending with the tagline, “The best things come to those who wait.” Even though these ads seem kind of silly now, they do have a lesson for photographers: sometimes it pays to be patient, especially when sharing photos with your clients.
Almost every time I return from a photo shoot, and start going through the pictures on my computer, I get caught up in the excitement and have a nearly unbearable urge to start sending pics, previews, and first-looks to my clients. I often can’t wait to share my work with them so they can see for themselves how things turned out. However, if you take the opposite approach and apply the brakes a bit, you and your clients will have a much more positive experience, and you will be better prepared for the long run and the rewards it brings. If you are the type of person who, like me, wants to send your clients a few sneak peeks or previews before you deliver your finished pictures, here’s a few reasons you might want to reconsider that practice.
Recently I spent an hour in the park taking pictures of a family, and as I was going through nearly a thousand images in Lightroom later that evening, I came across a few that I just had to share with the parents. They were so precious, and their little girl looked like she was having the time of her life, so I knew they would be thrilled to get a couple photos right away. I sent them to the mother’s mobile phone and she responded with ecstatic adulations, and a few minutes later the pictures showed up on Facebook where they immediately got dozens of likes and a handful of comments like “Great shot!” and “Lovely family!” So far so good, right? I mean, where’s the harm in sending a few pictures the evening after a photo session if that is the result?
My goal in sending a few initial photos was to give my clients a sneak peek (that’s literally what I said when I texted her: “Here’s a sneak peek from today’s session!”) which would whet her appetite for the rest of the photos, but in doing so I essentially ruined the surprise. It’s like sneaking a peek, to use the expression, beneath the wrapping paper a week before Christmas and getting a glimpse at your presents–it’s fun, but it makes the actual unwrapping a bit anticlimactic, since you already know what to expect.
Another problem with this approach is I found a few other pictures later on that were even better, but by then the surprise had worn off. Yes the clients were still thrilled to get their images, but by the time I had the official gallery all put together, with watermarked proofs for sharing on social media, the excitement had worn off and her friends were not as interested as they were initially. I basically sacrificed quality on the altar of immediacy, and in doing so hurt my brand just a tiny bit in the process.
If I had simply waited until all the photos were finished and given my clients everything when I was truly ready to do so, I would have had much better results overall. Every photo would have been personally selected, properly edited, and appropriately watermarked for sharing on social media. My client’s photos would have looked better and so would my photography operation in general. This same scenario has repeated itself time and time again, and often my wife has to talk me down from the edge. I’m eager to share a few quick photos, but if I just wait a week or two until they are actually ready for sharing, the results are always better for everyone involved.
This second lesson is more practical and less emotional, but it rings true for me every time. My initial edits to my pictures are almost never the same as my final edits, and thus rushing to share images right away inevitably leads me to getting an inferior product into the hands of my customers. My editing workflow in Lightroom looks something like this:
If I share a preview of the session with my clients, it’s usually after step 4, or worse, step 3. (Which sadly has been known to happen more times than I care to admit.) That means I am giving my client, and everyone with whom they share those sneak peeks, images that are quantitatively inferior to what I am capable of producing. If you were baking a cake that you know needs 30 minutes in the oven, would you serve it after 25 minutes because you can’t wait for your guests to taste it? No way! You would serve it only when it’s done and give your friends the highest quality dessert possible as a result. We should give our photographs, and the people with whom they are shared, no less than the time they need to be the quality they deserve.
Think for a moment about something special you have in your life: a physical object, a trinket or knicknack, or something with function or purpose like a bookshelf or cabinet. More likely than not, the things we hold dear, and to which we assign greater value, have one thing in common – they were constructed with care over time. Humans often assign greater significance to things that we know took a long time to create. Spelunkers gaze in awe at natural rock formations and crystals that were formed bit by bit, over millions of years. We pay more for wines that has been aged over time, even though they are often no better than their one-year-old counterparts. Rome itself, so the saying goes, was not built in a day. Why then are we, as photographers, so quick to share photos with our clients, if people expect that quality takes time?
I know how tempting it can be to want to share a few pictures right after you are done with a photo session. It hapens to me almost every time! It might get you some immediate accolades from your clients, but can be somewhat counterproductive in the long run. Early sharing can send the wrong signal to your clients, and their friends, about the quality of your pictures. Think about it from your clients’ perspective – would you feel good about spending $500 on a photo session if the photographer finished editing your images in one day, or would you rather know that he or she spent a week or two to get the colors, the cropping, and other edits just right?
If your clients have to wait a week or two for their pictures they will assign a much greater value to them, because they know it took you longer to arrive at the final product. When I think about giving clients a preview or sneak peek, my wife, ever the voice of reason, usually pulls me back from the edge and reminds me that we’re only helping our business in the short term. That is not creating the type of high-quality perception we want people to have when they think about having us do their pictures.
One of the nice things about the prevalence of smartphones is that everyone has a camera. Of course the downside to this is many people also consider themselves photographers, when they may not have all the training, experience, and skill that most of their professional counterparts possess. While I’m not one to judge, and far be it from me to say whose work has value and whose work does not, I do know that if you want people to spend money on your photography services, you need to give them a reason to do so.
Why should I pay someone $1500 to shoot my wedding if my friend says he can do it for half that with his new Canon Rebel and a kit lens? Why should I pay $300 for pictures of my kids when my sister can just use her iPhone with its really nice camera? The reason is because you, as a photographer, are much more than just a person with a camera. People are paying you for your knowledge and skills, your ability to work with people and capture their emotions, and to create beauty and art with the press of a shutter button. You have experience shaped by years of trial and error. Sharing pictures within hours of taking them can send your clients a signal that your work is no different than anyone else with a halfway decent camera.
By carefully culling your photos from a session, taking time to edit them to perfection, and choosing only the best of the best to eventually give to your clients, you are sending a message that you might not be the fastest game in town, but you mean business, and do quality work. To use another food analogy, anyone can stop at a fast food burger joint and get a quick meal. For a quality top-notch hamburger you need a sit-down restaurant where your food takes a decent amount of time to prepare. Even if both establishments get their beef from the same distributor, the public perception of the latter will almost always be greater than the former, partly for the simple reason that you don’t get your food right away. The same holds true for photography – the best things come to those who wait.
Of course one obvious problem here is how long to wait. As a general rule I like to give my clients their images within two weeks, and often a bit sooner. Much more than that and they can get a bit annoyed, as you would also have a problem waiting two hours for a hamburger, no matter how tasty it was. Every photographer is different, and the length of time depends on many different variables, but as long as you set your clients’ expectations upfront you should be fine. You might even benefit from over-estimating the length of time it will take, and then delivering your pictures a bit sooner. This type of under-promising and over-delivering can go a long way towards building goodwill with your clients, and give them an even more positive impression of you and your work.
What about you? Do you like to share your photos online right away or take your time? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.