…and why it matters to your photography business

We’ve all heard it.

“A Michelin star restaurant is not a McDonalds, and people know the difference.”

I hear it all the time when some photographers talk about their idea of a “boutique business” and how clients should understand the difference between that and the guy selling files and printing on cushions and mugs down the road.

As if.

As if people really should automatically know the difference between a Fine Art print and a machine-spewed glossy piece of paper with a picture on it.

As if people had any experience of all the finest nuances of portrait or wedding photography and could assess the value and merits of each individual studio they come across on the web.

As if people had a built-in quality radar that told them yes, this is so worth spending two months’ salary on, and maybe skipping a family holiday.

Problem is, they don’t. But wait, they do know about Michelin stars, and yet they’ve never set foot in one of those restaurants and probably never will — how can that be?

Everyone has experienced restaurants of multiple standards

The issue, of course, lies in the fact that everyone has experienced restaurants of multiple standards from the time they were babies, while no human on this planet has had multiple experiences of a professional photographer unless they’re a model, a celebrity or happen to be married to one.

Your cousin can sniff out a good steakhouse on TripAdvisor, but a wedding photographer in Slough? Where would she even start? Yet, countless brides, moms and small business owners try to do this every day, and photographers fail abysmally to meet them where they are and draw their attention to the only thing they can truly understand: Great service. Big G, big S.

Because people have no experience of the Michelin star food, and they can’t even imagine what it may taste like, but what they see from the TV shows about these restaurants on YouTube is that the service is impeccable, the decor is wonderful, the atmosphere is magical, and they can dream of being there themselves one day. They see the standard. And when they go out for a celebration or a special date, they seek the best food and the best service they can afford.

time, time turner, sand clock

On the other hand, how we talk about our photography and how wonderfully we “capture those moments” (ugh) is like trying to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who never tried it. We focus on stuff they have no experience of, and therefore can’t relate to. Our words become empty to them, and we lose them.

Service is the first thing that people understand, no matter who they are, how much money they have, and where they live. Everyone has experienced good service at least a few times in their lives. Our clients are people who want great service and can sniff that out a mile away. Or the lack of it. And they’re willing to pay good money for it, because great photography with poor service is a bad experience, and — believe it or not — what we do really hinges on the experience.

A great photo that reminds you of a bad time is not a great photo. A decent photo that reminds you of a great time becomes an amazing photo. That’s what happens in people’s brains, and as photographers, we’d better wake up to it or we’ll still be complaining that we can’t find the right customers…when our clients are busy out to dinner in Michelin restaurants instead.