A wedding photographer colleague of mine came to me the other day bummed out. She had gotten a less than stellar review on one of the bridal industry’s most used websites for brides to find vendors. She was frustrated and I was surprised. I know her work well and she’s exceptional. She’s cultivated a style that is uniquely hers and I can recognize her images in an instant.
She tells me that this client claimed to dislike her photos because they weren’t the style she was expecting and she wanted more “candids”. I asked my friend to show me her gallery and I was baffled. The style was exactly what I have come to expect from her and as for candids, I saw what I would consider to be quite a good number and variety. How could this client have such a distorted view of what she thought she was getting?
As we talked I came to find out that my colleague doesn’t do a whole lot of face to face client meetings, which is one part of my business that I find is absolutely essential. Here’s why:
1) People Don’t Look.
It sounds silly, but really. People don’t look. They skim. By and large they’re scanning thousands and thousands of images while wedding planning and they don’t have time to actually sit and “look” and everything starts to blur together. On top of it, if they have hired a planner who sends them recommendations, they’re even less likely to examine your website or portfolio with a magnifying glass because you’ve already come recommended so you must be good. Problem is, “good” is subjective to clients. Some may call “good” the airy, overexposed Instagram look while others call the HDR, vibrant, saturated look “good”. By sitting face to face with clients it forces them to focus on you and what you’re showing them and they come to have a better understanding of your style and what you offer.
2) You Learn Their Language.
When my friend’s client said she wanted more “candids” I asked her if she had gotten her client to define that for her. My friend looked at me like I was crazy. Most photographers, regardless of level, are going to know what we all mean when we say “candid”. It’s part of our natural vocabulary that we have an innate understanding of. ‘
Problem is, most clients aren’t photographers. They think they know the lingo from what the media tells them, but I’ve found they often have their own twist on the definition. It’s kind of the same if I were to go hire a chef. I love cooking and think I know a decent amount about it, but chances are I’m going to misuse sliced vs. diced vs. minced vs. chopped.
When I have my clients sit with me, I usually have a slideshow of favorite images going on the screen behind me as well as have several sample albums out on the table. I encourage them to flip through and as we’re talking, they see an image they get excited about and point it out to me “I love candids like this!” they’ll say. I’ll look at the image and it will in reality be a posed photo. I use that moment as an opportunity to tell them “actually that photo was constructed, but I do it in a way that evokes a natural response so that it looks candid”. All of a sudden the light bulb goes off and they begin to appreciate me for my creativity AND I begin to understand more of the look they’re drawn to.
Another term commonly misused by clients is “photojournalism”. When they tell me they want photojournalism coverage only and I use the face to face opportunity to explain that photojournalism isn’t want I do, but what I do is photojournalist inspired. True photojournalism would not interact with the couple, guests, or family at all. There would be no posing, no fluffing of the dress, or positioning of the veil. Again, the light bulb goes off and we’re one step closer to being on the same page.
3) You Learn Everyone’s Personalities.
For as advanced as we are with communicating electronically, nothing beats an actual real, first person, experience with someone. So many nuances in tone and implication can be felt 1000 times better through a face to face communication as opposed to an electronic one. When I ask a question in email I can’t instantly tell if it makes the couple comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or excited.
I only get their carefully cultivated response. Sometimes clients that are super enthusiastic and sentimental come off dictatorial and cranky when they’re making their lists of “demands”, but if I have a meeting with them, I can see and feel their enthusiasm and quickly deduce that they’re not trying to run the show, they’re just trying to share exactly what’s most important to them so that I understand who they are. Additionally, there’s a level of trust that forms when meeting someone in the flesh. They’re real. They exist. They’ve set aside time for just you. In an industry where couples are constantly scared off by media horror stories of vendors flaking out on them, making some time to forge some sort of relationship before hand goes a long way.
4) You Build A Culture of Loyalty.
In this day and age, we rarely have time for the people we care about. I don’t know about you, but I most definitely care about my clients! They pay my mortgage after all!
One on one time subconsciously tells clients that they are important, in fact, so important that I need to clear my schedule for you, not just clear 10 minutes to write an email I could have written to anyone. On top of that, all the things I’ve mentioned previously go toward helping the client feel heard, understood, and respected. When a client feels as if they’re important, heard, understood, and respected they are going to be the best referral you have. Not only are they hugely more likely to love the work you do for them, they’re more likely to shout it from the rooftops about what a great experience they had with you. They’re going to put it on their social media, tell their friends, and let all the other couples getting married know on the wedding planning & review sites. (Oh yeah, and they’re also going to be more likely to buy more stuff from you on top of their original package!)
Remember, It doesn’t take much more than an hour out of your time to sit and meet with your clients. If you find yourself struggling to communicate with clients, wondering why you aren’t getting 5 star reviews, or just don’t feel as “connected” and “in tune” as you’d like to be, I urge you to invite your clients out for a meeting. If you don’t have a studio space, meet them for coffee and offer to meet half way or go to them (another easy thing to do that goes a long way toward client appreciation). It makes a world of difference for me!
Lisa is a D.C. area based wedding & boudoir photographer. Follow her on & check out her website.