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As you prepare for a photo session with clients you probably run through a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. Cameras? Check. Lenses? Check. Lighting modifiers? Good to go. Props, stepstools, spare batteries? Got ’em.
But one thing that often gets left behind, so to speak, is a set of expectations that you and your client might have for the photo session. You might have something in mind for the session based on your experience, your work with previous clients, or the particular set of gear you are bringing along. But if your clients have a different set of expectations it can spell big trouble and will require a lot more than a few batteries and extra memory cards to fix.
Think of the many ways in which your expectations influence your perception of the services and products you buy. When you go out to eat you will expect a certain level of service based on previous visits. If you go on vacation you will probably look for reviews online and base your satisfaction of the accommodations on how well those expectations were met.
If you hire a contractor to remodel your kitchen you will make sure to have lengthy discussions with them to make sure the work they perform is precisely what you want. It’s fair to say that as a consumer you probably base many of your buying decisions on expectations that have been set for you.
And yet, as a photographer, how often have you worked to set expectations for potential clients? Your website might proudly proclaim that you do weddings and formal events, but there are probably two dozen other photographers in your area who offer similar services. The same goes for most types of photography: families, youth sports, products, high school seniors, or even aerial drone images.
You’re good at what you do but what makes you stand out from the rest, and what can your clients expect when you show up to take pictures?
One of the first things I learned when I started doing portraits for clients was that the things which I thought were the most important were not at the top of my clients’ priority lists. I spent so much time thinking about pricing and choosing a template for my website that I neglected to properly craft a message letting clients know what they could really expect out of me.
A few dozen sample images of portraits in parks along with a testimonial or two are a great way to market yourself. But these don’t really tell clients much about your approach to a photo session or what you will do to get the shots they are looking for.
Think about the many ways in which you can set expectations in advance to let clients know how things will go. This goes well beyond simply telling your clients how much you charge, how many prints or images you will deliver, and whether you take checks or credit cards.
For a session to go smoothly think about the more esoteric expectations and do your best to manage them before a single click of your camera shutter. Some items to ponder would be…
This is just a starting point. You are going to have other things that are unique to yourself and your photography. And even though some of these might be clearly spelled out in your contract, it’s a good idea to set and manage expectations clearly and without room for misinterpretation. A contract may cover you in legal terms, but don’t assume your clients have meticulously read and understand every single word.
In my experience, one of the best ways to set these expectations is to have some kind of real-time back-and-forth dialog with your clients. Exchanging information over email and social media is fine, but when it comes to hashing out the details of a photo session nothing beats a phone call or in-person meeting.
If the latter isn’t all that practical, then, by all means, talk with your clients on the phone or via video chat. This can help you set a positive tone for the session, ease their minds about any concerns they might have, and give you a chance to explain what they can expect. Reassure them that you have their best interests in mind.
There’s a flip side to setting expectations and it’s one that sometimes gets overlooked when planning or executing a photo session. You might have bent over backward to let your clients know what to expect from you, but what have you done to let your clients know what you expect from them?
Just as every photographer is different, each client is also unique. They have an attitude and approach that separates them from everyone else. In order to make sure things run smoothly, think about ways to communicate your expectations of them with your clients. Otherwise you, and they could end up knee-deep in frustration with no easy way out.
As before, these are only some of the things to consider when setting client expectations and the best way to go about doing that is with a phone call or other type of back-and-forth conversation. This information might be on your website, but it’s incumbent on you as the photographer to do everything you can to make sure your clients know what you expect of them. Don’t simply just assume they have read through every page of your site.
Finally, one tip that might be useful to you is to make a checklist of these items so you have it handy during conversations with the client. This way you can update it over time as new issues come to light, and you can make sure to properly address all the most pressing expectation issues that could come into play before, during, and after a session.
The goal here is to make every session a positive experience for your clients as well as yourself, and the more work you do to manage expectations for all parties involved, the happier everyone will be.
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