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5 Lessons I Learned From My Own Family Photos That Will Help You Provide a Better Client Experience
Recently, my sister and I scheduled an extended family photo session and it was my turn to have the client experience. Spending 90 minutes in front of the camera taught me a lot about what it is like to be the client. A few conversations about the topic with other photographers made it clear that these experiences were more common than I would have thought. So, here are the five lessons I learned from taking a turn in front of the camera.
1. Be gracious when coaching your clients
You have answered the same questions fifteen times this month, maybe thirty if it is October or November, and your gut reaction is to roll your eyes. But, remember, your client is asking it for the first time. Having someone there to guide them through the process can ease the stress of the situation and make the client experience that you are providing far more pleasant.
From my own experience, having someone to confer with over wardrobe selection was beneficial to my mental well being. I’m not exaggerating when I say we shopped for a full day to find ONE person’s outfit. I walked in the mall with my morning coffee, and walked out to dark skies and moonlight. There were arguments and meltdowns, and not normally from the two year old we had in tow, about which color scheme worked best and whether certain outfits even matched. To say it was stressful would be an understatement.
When I finally texted our photographer with the question, she responded with pictures of similar colors at the same location. Knowing that we weren’t picking a disastrous color scheme was freeing and our outfits came together quickly after that consultation. I’m confident that had she rolled her eyes at us and not responded, we would still be at that mall.
Read more about how to coach clients through what to wear with a style guide in this great post.
2. Speaking of stress, understanding client psychology will help you have happier sessions
Someone, probably the mom who booked, has high expectations for these photos. They are going to be perfect.
She spent a lot of money on the session and the clothes. Maybe even professional hair and make-up. She spent hours researching a photographer, shopping for outfits, and coordinating the schedules of everyone involved.
One problem: her husband and kids and don’t have the same expectations, and the stress of preparing for the session is getting to them. In your mind, you are asking that mom to calm down before the session even begins. You probably even verbalize it mid session because a stressed family doesn’t make for happy photos.
But that intervention needs to happen long before your clients show up for a session for the best client experience.
In my situation, I was worried that this might be the last opportunity for nice photos with my mom. That momma with the high expectations? That was definitely me. Putting myself in front of the camera reminded me how stressful and involved the preparations for photos are. That reminder changed the way I approach the person coordinating the session and the client experience I provide.
Sending a client welcome guide or a pre-session guide with information that soothes the nerves and reminds the client that perfection (on their end) isn’t needed for great photos helps address these concerns up front. Giving clothing suggestions and a packing list for session day takes even more off of his or her plate. During the session, building in opportunities for the family to interact in meaningful and fun ways breaks the stress up as well and reminds the client that they are trying to preserve happy memories, not memories of three weekends at the mall.
3. Remember, people are often insecure in front of the camera
I was also stressed about how I would look in the photos. I know that I’m not alone in this insecurity because recently I was part of a photography training where headshots were offered. In the days leading up to the training, a lot of the chatter focused around how we, as photographers, were worried about our appearance in potential headshots. There were jokes about self-confidence, make-up artists, and hair stylists, but what it boiled down to was no one was comfortable just jumping in front of the camera.
Your clients probably feel the same way. Remembering this will change the client experience you provide.
Building your clients up can help them break past some of this, and helping them connect and engage with their family can distract them from it. For me, and my sister, hiring a professional make-up artist and hair stylist to take care of that part for us built our confidence. After spending the day being pampered, I wasn’t worried about how I looked during the photos at all. In fact, pre-session, I was finding the best selfie light in my sister’s house to document how awesome I looked and felt. That confidence definitely carried over into the photo session and changed the way our photos turned out. I’ve since added this suggestion to our client welcome guide with a line about referrals to our favorite stylists.
Being in front of the camera taught me about how much confidence matters when it comes to posing and looking comfortable in portraits. Being aware of how insecure many people are during photo sessions will change the way you talk to clients. We can, and should, build our clients up and coach them into confidence before, during, and even after the session. A little note about how amazing they looked might be just the boost they need.
4. Communicating expectations matters more than you know for the client experience
After most sessions I photograph, I sit in my car previewing photos on my phone. I can’t wait to know how the photographs turned out . . . and they aren’t even of my family. When they were of my family, I felt that anticipation tenfold.
Luckily, I snuck a peek of the back of our photographer’s camera and knew that we could expect some lovely photos, but my sister didn’t get a chance to see them. She was waiting for the sneak peek. I think we had this expectation that a sneak peek would go up right away because that is how we do it, but we didn’t bother to ask.
When the sneak peek didn’t come, the worry came instead.
Were our outfits so bad that the photographer didn’t want us on her social media? Did something go wrong behind the camera and the photos weren’t what she would want to feature?
None of that was true. It was simply October and she was busy shooting and editing. Realistically, it was October and we were busy shooting and editing, so we should have known what was happening. Yet, doubt crept in. I can only imagine what that doubt is like for a client that doesn’t know the insanity that is fall for family photographers.
The lesson here is to communicate early and often. If you only post sneak peeks on Fridays, let your clients know to expect one on Friday. If your schedule gets off, let them know. This should be communicated as part of your pre-session discussions and again at the end of your sessions. Just a two minute chat to set expectations at the end in terms of sneak peeks and image delivery will save your client from worry and you from their eventual panic attacks.
And really, you want to leave them with a good feeling about the session. They will remember how you made them feel and will refer you to their friends and family based on that alone.
5. Some poses are just uncomfortable
There is this location I sometimes use with clients that has an empty river bed with smooth river rock. I used to make people sit on those river rocks. The pictures were great, so I made them do it over and over. Then, my sister brought me to the spot and sat me down on those river rocks in order to take a photograph for a contest. My instant reaction was “we make people do this?” It was incredibly uncomfortable. The rocks dug into my hips, my back screamed from the position I was sitting in, and I couldn’t even consider naturally interacting with my son for the photo because I was trying not to cringe in pain. Pain, it turns out, is not what I want as part of my client experience.
I’ve since started practicing the poses I try to contort clients into. Two things happened when I started doing this: 1. My clients got better at posing because I could physically show them what to do and 2. I had to cut some poses because they didn’t feel right. If something doesn’t feel right, it is unlikely that your client will be comfortable in the pose and look natural.
On the flip side of this, when I’m being photographed and I don’t have any direction, that can be uncomfortable too. It was very helpful to have our family’s photographer give me basic directions on where and how to place my hands, when the lean forward for the most flattering pose, and when to stop thinking about my chin.
When you are interacting with your clients, you want them to feel comfortable and happy. When you spend time in front of the camera, it helps you to know what is comfortable and what is not.
You might just learn new tricks, locations, and poses that you can incorporate into your own workflow. Our awesome photographer took the time to learn something about each of our kids before the session. You should have seen my child glow when she unexpectedly asked him about his new YouTube channel. I’ve since stolen this trick, and it has paid off with each child I’ve worked with. Perfectly timed questions about lightsabers are great for coaxing shy little boys out from behind their mothers if you know, in advance, that they want to be a Jedi.
Summary: In the end, how they felt during the session is how they will view the photos.
Sure, when I sit down to write about it, I remember the stress of far too much shopping, the worry over sneak peeks, and the concern about just how many chins I might have in a given photograph, but when I am not nit picking the experience for you all, what I remember is that we had a ton of fun.
It didn’t matter that our beach sunset session was all gray skies.
What mattered is that our awesome photographer coached my kiddo into one of my favorite memories of him lately when she asked him for his autograph. He responded “No autograph. I don’t know how to write in cursive.”
What mattered was that we snuggled on the beach and played for an hour.
What mattered was that we took the luxury of time spent with nothing but each other. That’s what I’ll remember, and if you can give the people you work with a great client experience, that is what they will remember too.