Tips for Client Photo Sessions – What it’s NOT All About

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There are a host of things which are important when doing photo sessions for clients. But if you’re not careful you could end up falling into the trap of assuming that photo sessions are about something that they really are not. The list of things to keep in mind covers topics such as lighting, exposure, location, posing, and even practical elements like what to charge and what to recommend they wear.

I’ve personally made some mistakes in my development as a photographer when I got caught in the trap of focusing on the wrong things. An understanding of what client sessions are not about can be just as impactful as knowing what they are all about.

With that, here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you set out to take pictures for people.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About - family portrait

It’s not about your gear

I know how fun and exciting it is to get new photography equipment. While I don’t have an entire room full of cameras and lenses, I do have enough to fill a pretty large backpack, and I once chased down a UPS driver just to get my new 70-200mm f/2.8 lens one day early. I always enjoy showing my latest camera purchase to friends and family. While none of this is necessarily a bad thing, an obsession with photo gear can actually become a hindrance when working with clients.

I can remember some photo sessions from a few years ago that I’m almost embarrassed to recall because of the way I showed up and starting flaunting my cameras, lenses, and accessories for my clients. There were times when I would make it a point to explain that my lenses had super wide apertures which meant that they were so much better than a kit lens.

Or when visiting with potential clients I would make sure to point out that I was shooting with the latest, greatest, and costliest full-frame camera on the market. Shamefully, I have even gone so far as to literally pull out speedlights, tripods, and other accessories that I had no intention of using just so the clients could see that I had them.

mom and baby photo - Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About

Clients want results and to feel important

In hindsight, not a single client I have ever worked with was impressed with my camera gear. They wanted results, not grandstanding, and it was the pictures that mattered to them rather than the gear I used to make the images. For all my clients care, I might as well be using an old Canon Rebel T3 and the on-camera flash! (Truth be told I know some photographers who do great work with a basic setup like that.)

If you try to dazzle your clients with how cool your camera stuff is, it could actually make things worse by setting unrealistic expectations in their mind of what you can actually do. Or worse yet, you could come across seeming like an arrogant show-off even if that’s not your intention at all.

When you work with clients I recommend leaving gear out of the equation entirely. Don’t talk about your cameras, your lenses, your super cool equipment bag with dozens of folding pockets, or the camera you don’t have but hope to buy someday.

Discuss your goals for the photo session, explain your plan for getting the kids to smile, or take a few minutes and just get to know your clients on a personal level. Don’t make the session about your expensive fancy camera stuff. Instead, make it about your clients and let them be impressed with your pictures, not your camera.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About - photo of a little girl

It’s not about your last gig

Have you ever been to a holiday gathering and had the unfortunate luck of sitting by a particular relative who just wouldn’t stop talking about all the things he or she has done, the places they have visited, or the new stuff in their house?

Every time you bring up something from your own life, they counter with a swift rebuttal, “Oh you went to the Grand Canyon for a day? That’s nice. But it’s nothing compared to the week I spent backpacking in the Swiss Alps!” 

All you want is to share some of your life experiences, but all this unfortunate friend or family member wants to do is play an endless game of one-upmanship until you finally excuse yourself to go get some pie. And you don’t even like pie.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About - family photo

Think about those uncomfortable situations the next time you are at a photo session with clients and you feel tempted to regale the people with tales of fun, excitement, and adventure from previous sessions. You might have some fun stories to share of how you barely got the shot before a thunderstorm rolled in, or you might want to pull out your phone and show off some amazing images of that time you photographed a destination wedding at a national park.

Focus on the people in front of you right now

The best course of action in those situations is to say nothing at all and keep the focus squarely on your clients and the job you are currently doing. You know, the one you are getting paid for.

Regaling clients with tales of your previous sessions can make them feel inadequate by comparison, and often sends them messages that you don’t intend. It can make your clients feel inferior, outclassed, or even jealous when pitted against the fantastic tales being spun of your other work.

Save your stories for your friends and instead talk with your clients about how great they look, how much fun you are having, and how you plan to address the questions and concerns they might have.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About - family photo siblings

Rest assured your clients already have a high opinion of you and your work based on what they saw on your website or heard from others. Otherwise, they would not have asked you to take their pictures. So put away the stories of past gigs you’ve had and make the session about the only people who matter at the moment – the ones in front of your camera.

It’s not about how awesome you are

Look, I get it. As a photographer, you’ve done some pretty cool things, seen some great places, made some incredible images, burned the midnight oil into the wee hours of the morning to make sure your RAW files were edited to absolute metaphysical perfection.

You’ve got some stories to tell and you might have even earned an award or two along the way. Perhaps one of your pictures ended up in a print publication, or you teach photography classes at your local vocational/technical school. As Ron Burgundy might say, you’re kind of a big deal.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About

All this may sound harsh, but I bring it up because I’m ashamed to admit it used to be my attitude. There were times when visiting with clients that I would make it a point to describe, in painful detail, how hard I worked on other sessions. Or I’d brag about the number of images on my memory card the last time I did a similar shoot. And I would talk about this as if it had any bearing at all on the quality of my work when all it did was alienate people and send them the wrong message about me as a photographer.

The most important people in the room

Your clients don’t care about the stories you might want to tell them demonstrating how great you are. What they care about is the job you are doing for them and the pictures they are paying you for, not your stories, your adventures, or your portfolio.

They hired you for a reason, and they are probably already familiar with your work after seeing samples on your website or talking with friends, family, or other client referrals. They already think highly of you or they wouldn’t have hired you, so you don’t need to keep reminding them of your greatness.

Tips for Client Photo Sessions - What it's NOT All About

Conclusion

When it’s time to do the photo session just show up, do the work, and rest easy in the confidence of knowing you are an awesome photographer. You consistently produce great results, and people like your work enough to pay you for it! Let your work speak for itself, pay attention to your clients and their needs, and you’ll get some phenomenal photos that will keep your clients returning and sending others your way as well.

What about you? Do you have any lessons you have learned from doing client photo sessions over the years, or mistakes you feel comfortable sharing with others so they can avoid the same pitfalls? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

  • Mike Remski

    So basically, focus on the client in front of you and do the job they are paying for?
    Good reminder, but really it should be common sense, no?

  • G. Allan Carver

    You are 100% correct in that it is all about the client. If you want genuine smiles, for example, have them talk about what makes them happy. It is more likely that there will be that light in the eyes. Portraits are more about people than just photos. You could get a great shot of a corpse, but who is going to want to pay for that? You want life, vibrance to shine in their face and eyes. There needs to be some sort of emotional connection to the photo for clients to like it so much that they are willing to pay a good price for it. Just thoughts from my experiences.

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