Q: What is the best way to deal with clients (usually women) who love the picture in general, but then make rather harsh comments about themselves? For example, they love everything about the family photo, from the location to the lighting to their kids laughing faces and they gush about that, but follow it up with, “If only my arms weren’t so saggy.” I feel lame just saying, “No, you look great!” but I don’t know what else to do.
A: This is the photographer’s nightmare version of the stereotypical wife asking her husband “Do these jeans make me look fat?”
What a minefield!
When this issue comes up in photography forums, many get hung up on discussions of posing and retouching. And those are totally appropriate and relevant topics. But no matter how carefully you pose someone, or how tastefully you retouch an image, there will always be clients who make self-conscious comments about how they look.
When comments like this come up, it does feel lame to simply disagree with the client. And in fact, when you disagree with people, they usually dig in their heels and become even more convinced that they’re right.
Whenever possible, I avoid responding at all. In some cases, silence is the best strategy, and the comment is lost and forgotten in the natural stream of conversation.
However, sometimes ignoring the comment will make the client feel like you’re giving tacit approval to their statement – making things ten times worse!
My solution, if silence is not an option? Redirect.
There are two parts to an effective redirection: Tell them what you perceive, then bring in a positive emotion.
“I think you look beautiful/handsome and happy to be with your family.”
“I think you look gorgeous and in love with your fiance.”
First, when it comes to aesthetics, people can’t really argue with the phrase “I think.” It’s your opinion, and that’s how you perceive it. You are acknowledging that you heard what he or she said, but simply expressing that you see it differently. Sometimes all people need is a little reassurance, and they’ll move on.
Second, refocus their attention on what matters. These images are truly about preserving the joy that they feel together as a family. They’re about making the intangibles of love, memory, happiness, and meaning into a tangible product. (Don’t we have the best job in the world?)
Thus, the second part of your statement should be a comment highlighting the strong presence of one of those intangibles. I doubt anyone is going to argue back and say “No I don’t look like I’m in love with my husband!!” They may still hate the way their arms (or legs, or hair, or nose, or lips, or chin) look, but that’s truly out of your hands. Highlight the emotion, and move on.
As always, I’d suggest dealing with these (and all) issues before the session, wherever possible.
A client once wrote to me saying she was concerned about how she might look in the photos. I wrote back and assured her that all my clients experience these concerns, that these feelings are totally normal, but they’re usually forgotten once we start having fun during the session. I gently reminded her that in reality, we are usually the only ones who see the things that bug us most anyway – no one else is going to notice. Others just see the happy person they know and love. I finished up by saying that while small details seem important in the moment, ultimately these images are more about her relationship with Mr. Client, and capturing the happy emotions she feels when she’s with him. She resonated with that reply and felt better. No problems thereafter.
Bottom line: We all spend a lot of time looking at ourselves in the mirror. Thus, we’re each an expert on how we look. We know our “best angles” and notice any tiny deviation from that best.
Those deviations are simply going to bug people – there’s no way around it. Redirect their attention and try not to dwell on it. If they don’t want to buy that image, just cheerfully say “okay!” and move on.
I have a specific blog strategy that also helps me address these issues. It’s easier to talk about body image broadly, when no one feels singled out. There are also several things you can do to encourage an atmosphere of acceptance within your brand. I’ll share more about that this week….