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How to Keep Artistic Control as a Professional Photographer


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Do you feel professional photographers should control their images? As a pro photographer, you are the artist.  You create a vision and make it come to life.  From posing, to lighting, to post processing, you control the look and feel of your images.  Your style defines who you are as a professional photographer. You have a look, a process, and a brand.

Enter the customer…  What happens when your customer has different ideas? What do you do when the customer wants their family to wear all white to a beach session and you do not?  Or what if the senior you are photographing wants to do an unflattering pose?  What if a mom brought a prop you do not feel fits your vision?  What if your customer wants a photo edited a certain way that you feel is not the best choice, such as selective color? As a wedding photographer, what if your style is photo journalistic and your customer wants all posed family shots and lots of table pictures?

Is it your job as a professional photographer to please your customers under any circumstance?  Should you do what the customer wants since they are paying you? Should your art be compromised?  These are all very thought provoking questions, and there is no right or wrong answer for the masses, but there is for you. I highly recommend you give these questions some thought.  Consider the pros and cons of each, or even of meeting in the middle.  Define your position now so that when you are confronted with this situation, you will have a stance and let it guide your actions.

Below are some ideas on ways you can gain control of your artistic vision while maintaining great customer service:

  • Educate your customer: Teach your customers up front, through your website and in your consultations, about your style, posing, lighting, preferred locations/settings, post processing, and even preferred clothing choices.  Show your customers samples of your work. Make sure they see your vision and feel comfortable with it.
  • Guide your customer: Expanding on the educating concept, create materials for them, such as what to wear guides, showing styles and color choices. If you want control over clothing, as them to bring multiple outfits to a session, and let them know you will help pick the most flattering and appropriate ones based on where you will be shooting.  Let them know that you scout locations ahead and that you are the expert and know the best lighting to shoot in.  Make sure they understand your approach.  If you do weddings for example, and they want pictures of every table, and you do not do that, do not show any pictures in your portfolio like that and let them know up front.
  • Show your customer: Sometimes, the best way to educate or guide your customer is to show them visually.  They cannot always picture the outcome.  So consider actually doing what the customer wants, and then do what you want. If you do this, you do need to be aware that they may chose their way. But in many cases, they will “see” it once shown visually.  For example, many consumers will ask for a center crop.  They may not understand the impact of the rule of thirds and will want every subject perfectly centered.  On some photos this will work, but on most, it is not the best choice. So this takes us back to the “educate your customer…” Explain to them the looks you go for in post processing and give them examples of your end product.  Consider making examples of what you will not do as well.
  • You are the expert: Have confidence in your work.  If the customer sense you are uneasy or unsure about what you are doing, or that you lack opinions in any area of the process, they may take over.  If they see you as the expert, they usually will trust you and your vision.
  • Be Open: If you keep an open mind, your customer may actually have a new idea that you did not think of before.  Though it will be rare, a fresh set of eyes occasionally can lead to something that you actually love and want to incorporate into your future work.
  • Brand yourself: If you have a strong brand, style and identity, customers will better know what to expect.  If you have a wide range of environments, editing processes, and and overall style, your customer will not be able to define your work.  And it is easier for them to request things that fall out of your comfort zone or artistic vision.
  • Hand pick: If you are busy enough or value full artistic control, hand pick your customers rather than letting them just pick you. Don’t be afraid to turn down business if a prospect asks for things you do not want to deliver. The words “I am not the right photographer for you” can be empowering. Remember once you define yourself, you will know how much flexibility you have.  If someone falls outside of that, this just may be an opportunity to refer business to a competitor.
  • Put yourself in the role of a chef: Imagine you are at a 5 star restaurant. You chose it because of its reputation, menu, service, and quality. Envision sitting down and looking at the menu. What if an entree you want sounds amazing, but has one ingredient you dislike? You may ask for a slight substitution. You probably wouldn’t expect them to create a unique recipe that is not on the menu for you. But imagine if they said “no, we cannot accommodate your small request.” How would you feel?  If the chef may not want to “try your way” as he/she feels it would compromise the taste or quality. But you end up disappointed, or possibly even frustrated or angry.  This is not the experience most of you will want your customers to have either. So remember to decide, do you “take small substitutions” or even “create new menu items.” Or are you the chef that does not, under any circumstances, want to risk the taste of the food, and must always control the final masterpiece delivered to the table?

So next time you find yourself with a baby in a tea cup, not by choice, or selectively coloring in part of a black and white image that you did not want to, decide if you do not mind or if it burns you up inside.  Consider how you feel about controlling your vision versus making the customer happy. Also know that your photos will be displayed in your customers’ homes.  Your clients will share the images with friends, family, and others in your community.  If you do choose to compromise your artistic integrity as a professional photographer, and do something that is not part of your style or branding, you may dilute the very brand you worked so hard to create.

I was quoted in an article June 27th, in the Globe and Mail, on Fads in baby photography. And although I feel my points were exaggerated, it is still an interesting read. And sure to be controversial. I hoped my quote that said, “the tea cup is just not my cup of tea” would make the article…


No Comments

  1. Carrie Reger on June 28, 2010 at 9:07 am

    I agree with this article to a point. However, I live near a beach…and for some reason, no matter what I do to try to educate my clients, everyone wants to wear white on the beach. I would love to say “no way.” However, if I share with them that bright colors would work better…and they still insist on white–I have to go with that decision. After all, they will be looking at these pictures for the next 30 years.

  2. Karen Cupcake on June 28, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Hahahah! Carrie.. Im with you…….. I always suggest NOT wearing the jeans and white shirts..and most of the time they agree… but Not Always. I just try never to post those photos in my site. And I ALWAYS use the ” bring it all and let me pick it out” thing! My favorite was recently someone said ” I am SO glad I listened to your suggestion on the outfit!” hehehehe! However…….when it comes to editing the images and selective color. Its their print. I do whatever they want. If they want to pay for it… Go for it baby!

  3. Daniel on June 28, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I tend to be willing to make those substitutions and concessions, to a point. Except portfolio work of course, enjoy that because it’s one of the few times you’re guaranteed complete control 🙂

  4. Pam Montazeri on June 28, 2010 at 11:03 am

    What about the lady who took a low res proof I emailed to her, added her own “antique” to it, then posted it on Facebook? I had put a fair amount of editing into that photo, and I wouldn’t have minded if she used it on FB, but I’m not a big fan of antique…and it didn’t look right anyway! Ugh.

  5. Ashlee on June 28, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    I was researching a photographer for myself a few years back, and fell in love with this one photographer’s style. Very bright colors, heavily processed. It wasn’t what I normally shoot at all, but I loved it. I just knew I was going to book her. Turns out she was a “child only” photographer, and wouldn’t budge. I wanted like 95% photos of my son with just a few mommy and me shots tacked on. She refused, so I didn’t end up booking her at all. On the one hand, I understand that she has to stay true to what she does. I get it, she’s not willing to change her vision. On the other I wasn’t asking her to take photos for her portfolio or photos for herself, I was just asking her to take photos for ME. Photos that I would be happy to pay her for, that wouldn’t be outside of her style, etc. It felt like a burn because I totally fell in love with her, and she wasn’t willing to make any accomadations. Anyway, I try to keep that experience in mind when customer’s make requests now. When I’m in their home, and they just want that one pose that I hate? No big deal, just shoot it and move on. Half the time they end up not even ordering the one shot that they just had to have because I’ve given them 25 other better choices.

  6. Estelle Z. on June 29, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Went to the site, wow what cute clothes. I love the Cotton Candy Apron Halter Dress. Please enter us for a chaNCE TO WIN. ESTELLE Love all the adorable outfits and yes the photography is lovely!!

  7. Christa Cervone on June 29, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I love The Cotton Candy Apron Halter Dress

  8. Elaine Carter on June 29, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Love love love the Stella dress. Thanks for all the wonderful giveaways you do.

  9. Kim S on June 30, 2010 at 11:49 am

    I am a facebook fan already!

  10. Corporate photographer London on July 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    You are right – its all about communicating with the client. I find it very frustrating when they start behaving like a would be art director, dictating angles and content- but a little pre shoot discussion would avoid that. Grant

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