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Beyond The Lens: Behind the Scenes of a Professional Photographer

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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.

MCPblog_1 Beyond The Lens: Behind the Scenes of a Professional Photographer Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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  1. Kristina on September 23, 2013 at 11:30 am

    My biggest mistake was thinking that I should do portraits. I still might, but that won’t be for a while yet. The thought of posing people has me shaking. I much prefer uncontrolled action in events. Guess that’s the combat cameraman in me, haha.

  2. Debi on September 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Thank you! I couldn’t agree more. When I first started I tried to be like the photographers I admired instead of following my own path. I’ve since learned that lesson and am much happier being myself and my business is starting to head in the right direction now.

  3. Michelle on September 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Yeah. Ditto to everything that you said above. I think it’s natural to throw all of your cards into the hat at first, but it’s exhausting, and as you said, it doesn’t represent you as the photographer that you want to be. I did a lot for nothing. I’m now taking a step back, not marketing very much, and streamlining my process so I can shoot what I love AND make money. Well said!

  4. Pati N on September 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I haven’t yet made any mistakes, as I am safely just still doing it for me, as a hobby. I primarily do macros of nature. I do have a few family members who want me to do some portraits. I really want to keep my style and do something different.I think it just takes time and to me you evolve and slowly your style emerges. There are sooo many Photographers out there that so inspire me, my problem is always feeling I am not good enough.

  5. Stephanie on September 23, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I tried many types of photography before I decided what I liked best. Tried weddings too many “bridezillas”, tried sports too many “good old boys” on the make, tried nature and landscapes not for me I enjoy that as a hobby. Tried concerts and found that I love it. My best advise is try everything before deciding what you want to specialize in. I also tried portraits and studio work bleh too predictable…I do look at photographs from other professionals and work at perfecting my craft as an example of how great I can become.

  6. jessica on September 23, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    my biggest mistakes were not finding my style of shooting i worked with alot of photographers fell in love with many styles of shooting lighting with strobes natural light even editing style i wish when i started i worked harder at each before displaying my work i have now since rebranded my name with more of what i feel is me and so happy i did i still love to have the variety but i have found my self in each session because i know what i am best at and once in a while i like to challenge my self just for fun not for marketing purpose though and my best advise is to have fun with it don’t let it feel like a job you can lose so much passion when it starts to feel like a job

  7. Kim Hamm on September 23, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    My biggest mistake was not having all the paperwork, brochures,contracts etc ready when I began to get too much work. I would sit up at night making up the needed paperwork for the next days meeting. I didn’t want to turn anyone away so I did double time for about a year. get all your marketing, contract, brochures, sales forms etc ready BEFORE you offer to take pictures. its been exhausting rewarding but exhausting…. do you have a maternity brochure….sure!!! work work work ahhh here it is 🙂

    • Maria on September 27, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Kim Hamm, that is actually really great advice! that’s me for sure, or I always want to add something into a brochure and have to start all over again, when the client actually needs it like ‘now’! I need to get more organized and streamlined! good point, well said. :-)Great article and such good advice, I know it’s a tad clichí©, but there is some truth in the saying, “only compare yourself to the photographer you used to be”. I’ve stopped stalking other photographers sites because I was getting depressed, I put energy into myself and my own business now.

  8. Carmela on September 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    No big mistakes. I started taking self-portraits with a tripod and a remote to learn about positioning, lighting, backgrounds, expressions for portraits and headshots pics. People thought i was crazy taking pictures of myself. They thought it was all vanity. Doing self portraits taught me a lot about what works and what doesn’t. I also had created a portfolio without even realizing it. Then, I started getting requests/clients wanting portraits and headshots for their businesses. I quickly started planning, getting organized, paper work, price list, business cards and most importantly a WEB PAGE to showcase my work so that clients or potential clients had somewhere to see my work. Getting organized before you have clients is very important. I recently had requests to photograph events which I find a lot of fun since you have multiple people to deal with to get great shots. I found that I am good at more than one type of photography. So, it’s good to try various types of photography before you know which you are best at. It may be that you are good at more than one type of photography.

  9. Miranda on September 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Good article In my experience, I would add….not drawing a firm line between great customer service and unrealistic customer service. Making extraordinary exceptions to your business practices just to try and please a difficult client never ends well. You give give give and its still not enough. Its best to let them go! Finally after years in the field I am comfortable saying “Its important to me that in the end you are happy with the final product and for this reason I feel I may not be the best fit for you”. Thank you for considering our services, if you would like I am happy to make referral recommendations.

    • Priscilla on September 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      I would have to say you are totally right. Too many people bend over backwards for unrealistic requests. I’m all for delivering a product that makes my client happy but being realistic about it at the same time.

  10. Kristi on September 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you! I really needed to be reminded of this today! When I started my business 3 years ago, I decided that I wanted to do things a certain way even though I knew that others would not agree. It was what worked for me. It is still what works for me. However, the voices of other photographers and some friends telling me “You’re doing wrong!” have clouded my vision lately. This really hit home for me. Thank you for the reminder! Great post!

  11. Matthew Scatterty on September 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    The biggest mistake I’ve ever made is taking 3 hours of public transit to get to a shoot and realizing when I got there that I had left one of my (only) TWO batteries at home in the charger, and I had to shoot the entire Bar Mitzvah on one single six year old battery (with no charger to recharge it). That’s 1050 images over the course of several hours. It was the most wretched, anxious feeling, worrying that I was letting down the client, but I simply shot more conservatively and it all worked out in the end.But I will never make that mistake again!

  12. Josh B on September 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Finally someone says what I’ve wanted to. It is my business, I appreciate the insight, but I’m going to let my passion ring through to my products! Great post!

  13. dayna more on September 27, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Yep, I recently had my portfolio reviewed and the highest praise came for the images I included of my own children. All the others got a polite, “its OK.” When I photograph my kids, its for myself and my family and I shoot with my style and my passion. When I shoot for clients, I try too hard to be everything I think they want and I lose a little of who I am. I’m trying to define my style better and attract clients who want me, not the latest thing they saw on Pinterest. I’m a work in progress.

  14. Cathy on September 27, 2013 at 10:52 am

    My biggest mistake was worrying about justifying why I spent a lot of money on my camera instead of just having fun with it. I kept worrying about how I was going to make money to justify it.. Not anymore!!!! I am a volunteer photographer at my local humane society & that’s what I am most passion about.

  15. Alicia -- Beba Photography on September 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Thank you for this article! I love it and it confirms what I have already been focused on doing! It’s a big mistake I made when I first started shooting, but now that I am almost in my third year, I am finally developing who I am as a digital artist and am loving what I do as a photographer! : ) Shared this on Pinterest!

  16. Darryl H. on September 27, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I had a hard time figuring out what was my passion in photgraphy. I had someone tell me that I should do models and watch those photographers or shoot sports since you were an athlete in high school. I did a deeper dive and figured out that weddings and events are my passion. I love telling a story as if that person missed the wedding- they wouldn’t miss a beat. I put my energy into weddings and love IT!! I still do family portraits but I found my niche.

  17. Zmaani Feelings on September 27, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    This is awesome advice and while I did struggle with this issue in my initial introduction to Photography, I quickly realized that what I was drawn to in Photography was simply what was for “me” and that my authentic path was what I needed to follow to be successful. Creatively and financially. in particular its important to shoot what you love and in the style that you love. I do want to say that its also great to have a mentor and in all of the arts, people starting out will choose someone who they appreciate and may pattern themselves after that individual until their own style begins to develop but thats the most important part in the end. Being authentic to oneself.

  18. Sandy on September 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I love taking portraits of families, so everyone told me I would be great doing maternity shoots, newborns and glamour. But it is the family images that I love. I now have a studio built specifically with larger groups and children in mind. I take the other types of portraits if the specific image appeals to me, but that is all. I love what I do and no longer have the stress of having portrait sittings that I don’t have the passion for.

  19. Rebecca on September 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I’m very happy I came across this article. I have been photographing for 3 years now, and after three years I’m starting to realize what my true passion is but trying to figure out how I start turning people away.I love love love my newborn sessions and I feel very fulfilled after each session and I love when they come back in for their 4mth, 8 mth, and of course when they come back in to smash their cake at one year! I don’t want to miss out on those moments, and especially when those newborns become a big brother or sister, I feel honored to watch their family grow. I guess I could limit it to just maternity through one year? But also allowing a few family sessions within the year of course…..I’m sorry for all the babbling but that point of finding your true self is exactly where I am right now after 3 years…..

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