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Q: When taking portraits for seniors in high school, the final images that are given to the client do not contain every single pose that we did during the shoot
(due to technical photography issues and/or the client just doesn’t look that great in the picture).
The parents question me on what I have done with these poses/pictures. I explain to them that we do all sorts of different poses in order to get the best and most flattering images (which is what they receive). They aren’t satisfied with this answer and want to see all the photos taken at the photo shoot….no matter what they look like.
I explain that I don’t edit all the photos, only the ones that I feel are the best representation of my clients. It doesn’t matter, they still want to see them. I don’t want to show them images where their children have their eyes half closed, where my lighting wasn’t right, or my exposure is out of whack because I’m afraid it will make me seem unprofessional and like I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing.
What do I do about this and how do I handle this situation? -A.W.
A: You’re going to hate me for saying it, but PREVENTION is the best way to handle this.
Obviously if it’s already happened, the toothpaste is out of the tube. We’ll get to damage control in a minute.
But managing your clients’ expectations on both the type and number of images they’ll receive should feature prominently 1) on your website, 2) in your pre-session discussions, and 3) in your contract.
Step into your clients’ shoes for a minute: They see awesome photos on your website. They pay a lot of money to have you “take pictures.” They hear five hundred shutter clicks during the shoot. They know when they click that many times themselves, they get 500 pictures out of it. And they’re excited because you “have a good camera” and they can’t wait to see all the pictures.
Their expectations have probably been already set by department store type photography, where THEY get to select from a several dozen similar poses on a touch screen. They agonize over which one makes them look the best, then they order their little packet of prints.
That’s what they’re used to.
Then you deliver 30 images.
Unless you’ve educated them as to your process before the shoot, you can’t blame them from going “HUH?!“
A comparison: If you shop at Target, you’re responsible for rummaging through racks and trying everything on until you land upon the “right” thing.
In super high-end stores, the rummaging is taken care of for you. The sales assistant looks at you, chats with you about your styles and goals, and then brings you a tasteful selection from which you can pick. Their job isn’t to bring you the whole store. It’s to make you look and feel good, and part of that is eliminating the exhaustion and self-consciousness that comes from trying things on that just aren’t right.
Part of what custom photography clients are paying for is for you to take the responsibility of eliminating repetition, bad shots, test shots, and eyeblinks. Instead of exhausting themselves slogging through every possibility, making hundreds of choices all at once, they’re presented with a beautiful collection of unique images with which they can immediately decorate their homes, send to Grandma, freshen up their online presence, etc.
This is a fundamental shift in thinking that requires preparation. If someone’s expecting Target when they go into the high-end store, no wonder they’ll be peeking around the salesperson saying “but can’t I just go look myself?”
To manage their expectations effectively, I recommend a three-pronged approach.
Describe your session process clearly and succinctly. Perhaps something like:
Your images are captured in a raw color format. After our shoot, I handpick the final images from the session and work with each selection to bring it to its full potential.
These final images are then presented to you in a stunning slideshow/ordering session….Most clients receive between X and Y images from our time together.
But people forget what they read, so this is just step one. Next up:
Your pre-session consultation:
As you deliver information before the actual session, walk them through the process again. Repeat that you’ll have the session, and during the session you try a lot of things and have a lot of fun. Then you’ll select the very best of those raw images, spend time developing each selection, and present those final beauties to them after about X days.
At that point, you can have a lighthearted chat about eyeblinks and open mouths, and also let them know that there are technical things you need to take care of during the session. You have to make rapid real-time adjustments which requires test shots, changing up composition, and solving any lighting challenges to ensure that you create the perfect image for delivery.
Those excess images help create the final product, but they are not the final product, and won’t be treated as such.
If the client has an issue with it, they can bring it up at that point. It’s much easier to explain beforehand than justify afterward.
People tend to forget what they read and hear only what they want to hear, so it’s important to get this in writing. Have a signed contract for every single person who gets in front of your camera (including friends and family, whether it’s a paid shoot or not) so that you have something to refer back to if they ask later.
Your contract can make it clear that you will select the best images from the session, state a minimum number (or anticipated range) of final images they can expect, and also affirm that you are not obligated to give the client any images that are not already presented to them.
One practical note: Watch how you number your images.
This issue was brought up in a recent forum discussion, and one photographer had a great suggestion: If you give them a selection of files, and the first two they see are 001 and 025, they’re going to naturally wonder what happened to images 002-024. You might consider renaming the files in numerical order upon exporting your final images, so this helps reduce people wondering what happened to the rest. (Brilliant.)
Now that we’ve set a system up to help prevent this in the future, let’s turn to how to handle a current situation:
FOMO = Fear Of Missing Out.
Let’s think about what’s really going on: If they love all the images they saw, they’re imagining what other delights they might be missing out on. Plus, they can’t stand to imagine what gems this photographer must have discarded!! They didn’t really like how their chin looked in that photo – what if there was another, similar snap where their chin looked better?!?!
(Think department store touch screen here – they’re used to being in control of those granular decisions.)
They also might be in the camp of “I have to preserve every moment, even if it’s not perfect.” After all, they have a lot of their own photos that are imperfect snapshots but they might have value to them because they still have people they love in them.
To handle the situation, stand firm on your policies, but explain your process so they understand that the whole shoot was designed and executed to deliver exactly what they got.
My precise wording would depend on what my contract said (ideally, you just have to say, “remember how we talked about this?”). But I would likely call them on the phone and say something like:
“I understand it seems a little odd to go through a photoshoot and hear so many clicks, and then receive ___ images. I’d love to tell you a little bit about the process and explain why this happens. During a photoshoot, I’m making real-time adjustments to lighting to create the perfect shot. I’m also occasionally firing “burst” of shots to ensure that I get an image with no eyeblinks, and to make sure we don’t get any shots of a person starting to talk or brushing their hair out of their face.
It’s necessary to take these images, they are part of the working process of art, just as a painter sometimes tries a few colors before making the final stroke. Or how a writer might try a couple of words before landing on the right one – she doesn’t publish all three words, the first two just served to lead to the third.
All images are captured in a raw color format, so the image-making process is not finished, even when the shoot is over, as funny as that sounds. My job at that point is to discard the eyeblinks and my own testing shots to select the real pieces of art that all the other shots helped create. I take those shots and spend a great deal of time working with them by hand to tone the color, smooth any imperfections, and produce heirloom pieces of art that are up to my artistic standards – the same quality of work you saw in my portfolio.
I don’t release any images not included with this set of final images, because they were neither created nor intended as final products – they simply enabled me to work out issues that arose to ensure you’d get the high quality images you received.”
Then I’d listen kindly to what they said, but I’d stand firm on what I provided.
If they get really insistent, you always have the option of sending them a few examples side-by-side with the shot they received. Meaning, an unedited eyeblink shot right next to the edited final image they received to highlight the stark contrast. Or a shot where someone’s mouth was open, mid-sneeze, etc, next to the final pose. I’d advise against this, because it may or may not satisfy them, and I’d rather not crack open that door.
What I’d hope to achieve with the discussion is to help them see the “other images” not as options that I’d blithely discarded, but as part of a working process leading up to exactly what they received.
Overall, I’d work it out over the phone, keeping a friendly Two Hundred Dollar Attitude, but staying firm that I do not show clients work that isn’t of portfolio quality. Then I’d make sure that in the future, I managed expectations (starting with my website), and cleared this up long before the shoot began.
Best of luck!
P.S. For more problem-preventing ideas about what to include on your website, you might want to check out How To Build An Absolutely Irresistible Photography Website.
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