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I vividly remember the first time I was asked to take photos for someone that I didn’t know. We had friends in common, and she had seen some of the photos that I had taken of friends and family, but we had never met. We talked over the phone, and arranged a time for me to come to her home and take some photos of her daughter. The big day arrived a week or so later, and I was SO nervous. I wasn’t sure what her home looked like, or what the lighting situation would be, or whether her daughter was sitting up by herself yet or not. I didn’t know how long I should stay, whether I could ask to rearrange furniture, or how the photos that I took would be used. Going into the session, I didn’t feel like I was in control, and I didn’t like it one bit.
After that, I began doing portrait consultations with new clients. We would meet for coffee, and I’d casually ask questions about their favorite things to do as a family, favorite colors, favorite books, and whether they liked candid photos. My hope was that this type of a consultation would let us get familiar with each other, and feel like a casual coffee date between new friends. This was a major step in the right direction compared to having no consultation at all, but I still wasn’t getting the information that I wanted, and it was largely because I tended to dance around the questions that I really wanted to ask, rather than asking them directly.
Now, I approach consultations much differently; including a list of specific, direct questions that I ask each and every potential client. I ask what they’re planning to wear. If the session includes children, I ask about the kids’ favorite songs, TV shows, or books. I ask whether they prefer more formally posed images or candid images. Do they prefer color photos or black and white photos? Are there any locations that have special meaning to their family? I ask a LOT of questions during portrait consultations, but have realized that there are two questions in particular that are the most crucial in allowing me to better understand my clients’ wants and needs for a session, which in turn allows me to produce a better end product for them.
One mom shared with me that while she had called me for family portraits, she was also getting ready to apply for a new job and wanted a photo of her by herself that she could use for her LinkedIn profile. Another mom told me that she was working on special memory books for her children and wanted a photo of herself with each child individually. I’ve had requests for newborn sessions to feature specific hats or quilts made by family members, and I’ve even had requests to feature specific tattoos during portrait sessions. One family asked if they could bring along a bunch of crazy hats, goggles, and glasses for a silly photo or two. Almost every single time I ask the question, I’m blown away by the concrete information about the client’s hopes for our session that I may never have known had I not asked the question specifically and directly.
Very rarely, asking this question also reveals that I’m actually not the best fit for that particular family’s wants and needs. For example, during a consult with one potential client, she told me that their family was very casual, and that they really wanted some lifestyle photos in their own home, maybe with them and their children baking or drinking hot chocolate in their kitchen. I LOVE that style of photography, and kept thinking that we were really on the same wavelength and that it would be a great session. Later on during the consult, I asked if there was anything that she wanted to make sure we captured during her family’s session. At that point, she pulled up a Pinterest board that contained images of a family drinking hot chocolate and baking. The problem was that her inspiration images were actually all from a stylized session from another photographer, and as we continued to talk, I realized that they weren’t actually “inspiration” – she actually wanted me to recreate that session exactly, down to every pose and every prop, which I was not willing to do. I am so thankful that we had a consultation prior to her session, and that I asked some very direct questions which allowed us to get past the general and on to the specifics of what that potential client really wanted, because it simply wasn’t something that I could offer.
Again, such a simple question that can give you such helpful information going in to a session. Upon asking that simple question, one dad told me that they had a wall in their house that they’d like to fill with portraits of each of their four children, also that they’d like them to be an 11×14 canvas print in vertical format and they’d like all four to be black and white images. Knowing this in advance was so helpful because I was able to really be intentional about creating portraits of the four kids that would look cohesive when grouped together by making sure that the background, lighting, and posing were similar for all four children. In addition, I knew that it was probably wise to include more vertical black and white images in the end gallery than usual, because it was the most important thing for that particular family.
Other clients have told me that they already have their Christmas card picked out, and are just waiting for a photo to complete the card. Being able to see the card template in advance can help me visualize the “feel” that want. There has been at least instance when I’ve suggested switching locations once I saw the card that they had selected – family portraits in a field would have worked well for a shabby chic card, but just didn’t seem as well suited for the ultra modern, minimalistic design the family had chosen. A simple location change really made a big difference in the cohesiveness of the session and their end goal!
In general, I prefer to meet in person for pre-session portrait consultations. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen due to my schedule (or theirs) and we end up doing a consultation over the phone or via email. In those instances especially, I think it is absolutely vital to ask a few specific, direct questions. Don’t beat around the bush – ask the questions clearly and concisely, and then listen. Really listen. Don’t be afraid to reiterate what you think you’ve heard, back to them. I often say something like, “I’m hearing that you care about capturing the candid moments more than having a photo where everyone is looking at the camera and smiling, is that right?” Which then gives them the opportunity to either affirm that idea, or to tell me that they do really love candid photos, but would like one with everyone looking and smiling as well. Either way, I’m given the opportunity to understand my client’s hopes and expectations a bit better, which makes it easier for me to give them a session that they will really love and treasure for years to come.
Do you hold consultations prior to your sessions?
Are there any questions that are on your must-ask list?