Beyond The Lens: Behind the Scenes of a Professional Photographer
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a custom photography business? Maybe you are a portfolio-building photographer and wondering how you should be handling client relations and workflow – I, Sarah Vasquez, know I certainly was at one point in time and can remember feeling like I was drowning in all the information out there while trying to find my own niche and way of doing things. I am going to share with you, step by step, how I handle the client side of my business from the first inquiry all the way to handing them their prints and why I do things the way I do them.
When a potential client contacts me about scheduling a session the first thing I do is email them my digital “welcome pack.” (If you don’t have one, you can get a free template here.) In this folder I include my detailed pricing, my contract (which also includes my policies and model release), and a client questionnaire. I then instruct them to fill out the questionnaire and e-sign the contract and then send both back to me. I usually point out that each little paragraph needs to be initialed; my purpose in this is because it is a few pages long and I want to make sure they at least skim over all the information. How many times have we just skipped over terms and conditions and signed the paper? (I’ve done this more times than I care to admit.) This way there are no surprises later and it avoids all that awkwardness of me saying “it’s in my contract” only to receive a blank stare. I’ve also learned that this seems to cut down on some people’s need to negotiate later down the road.
When I get the questionnaire and contract back from them I officially consider them a client so I create a client folder for them which will eventually contain all photos and documents related to that client. At that point, I offer to buy them a cup of coffee or tea and ask to meet with them so we can discuss what they are envisioning and go over any questions they might have as well as talk about your products; I particularly like to highlight canvases, float wraps, storyboards, and classy photo jewelry as most people I’ve encountered don’t think beyond an 8×10 or maybe an 11×14. Be sure to bring samples if you have them! This is also a good time to actually schedule the session if you haven’t already and collect payment for the session fee.
After the shoot I grab a cup of coffee and import all my images into Lightroom. When I first started portfolio building I would try and pick and choose which files I was going to upload but then I decided that was too time consuming and just uploaded everything but the obvious trash (way out of focus, for example). It didn’t take me but a few sessions using this method to realize I was creating more work for myself, so now I just upload everything (even when I know I have a few junkers in there) because it is much easier to see when you can zoom. I do my initial culling at this point by flagging (X is the shortcut for rejects and P is the shortcut for picks) all the obvious trash and the the photos I know I love at first glance. Then I use ctrl+backspace (command+delete on a Mac) to get rid of all the rejects.
I go through this culling process probably 3 times total, each time narrowing it down and paying more attention to detail. I know some people will find this to be an inefficient way of doing it – and it probably is – but this is what I have found works for me for 2 reasons: 1) if I study a photo that closely all at one time, I find I actually start missing things and 2) I want to make sure I am showing my clients only the very best of the best (which is also why I never show a client an unedited photo as it does not represent my best work). From there I open in Photoshop CS5 (I didn’t know until a few months ago that you can right click a photo in Lightroom and click “edit in” to open it in Photoshop; after you finish editing it will save your .psd in Lightroom!) and do my usual magic and then export from Lightroom to a folder with the client’s last name.
After I have finished all my editing I contact my client to schedule an in-person ordering session. I prefer to do this in their home because it is easier to make suggestions about prints and where and how they should be displayed. If the client does not want me to come to them, I meet them at my favorite tea or coffee shop (their choice) and schlep all my product samples with me just as I would do if I were going to their home. We go through the images together and select which ones the client loves most and from there we begin either selecting a collection that would be best for them, putting together a wall display, working on an album, etc. After the client has placed their order I will upload their photos to a private gallery on my site for 72 hours so that friends and family can order if they so choose.
When the client’s prints come in I go over them and make sure they are satisfactory so that I don’t deliver a product that isn’t exactly as it should be. After that I package them up in my boutique packaging that matches my branding and usually include a small gift from me along with a thank you note and print care insert. Sometimes I email the client and sometimes I call them to let them know that their goodies are good to go and then I hand deliver them at whatever time we agree upon. It is SO gratifying to see how happy my work makes them and it is honestly the best part of this job. Knowing you have helped a family capture and hold on to their memories is such a wonderful feeling.
So, that’s what I do. I came up with this process after much trial and error. I used to scour forums and blogs looking to see how other photographers handled these sorts of things and I would often try their methods; sometimes they worked for me, but more often than not they didn’t and of the times that they DID work it was usually with some tweaking of my own. I find my process and way of handling things is always evolving and I think that is just the nature of business and we just have to embrace it. I hope this helped you some in getting an idea of how you can interact with your own clients, just remember that it is a gradual process in finding your niche, so just embrace it and hold on for the ride.
Sarah Vasquez is the owner and photographer behind Hope and Memory Photography. She specializes in older babies and young children but also photographs pregnant mommas, newborns, families, and the occasional senior. Sarah is inspired by culture, music, emotion, and light and is known for consistently capturing her subject’s personality as well as her processing and use of light. She loves exploring new places and desserts almost as much as new blog stalkers and Facebook fans.