If you’ve run a photography business for any amount of time, I can almost guarantee that you’ve come across clients who make requests you don’t want to fill.
“Can we see all the outtakes?”
“Can we have the raw files?’
“I want to share this photo on Instagram, can I put filters on it?”
“Can we print this at Walmart for my grandma?”
"I'd like to edit the portraits myself."
And so on. Photographers share these requests in online forums, uncertain of how to handle the situation, and this is the kind of advice I see most often:
“Hell no, that’s your art, those clients are crazy!”
“Never show raws to clients!”
“Tell them no, Walmart prints will make your work look terrible!”
I can understand where these responses come from; photographers work hard to cultivate a recognizable style and they want the work that goes out into the world to represent that style. What I don’t understand is why photographers who want to make a living as service providers value the style of the images they create over the happiness of the people they’re creating them for. Shouldn't the main goal of running a business be happy customers? After all, it's not your client's job to advertise your work, it's your job to do that; clients are not walking billboards. That doesn't mean you shouldn't hand over the kind of images you want to get hired to create or incentivize referrals, but aren't you likely to get more referrals if you're willing to be flexible with requests that don't hurt you and, in some cases, might even make you more money? Ones that make your clients feel like you're doing your best to meet their needs? I don't think anyone should let clients walk all over them, but I also think it's important to remember that photographers are in the service industry, providing goods and services, and that customer service is equally as important as the goods provided because, let's be real, there are a lot of wonderful photographers out there willing to take your place.
Many of these questions can be avoided by taking the time to sit down with your customer and set expectations, explaining to them what you do and do not provide, what you will and will not allow. But, if your initial reaction is to feel insulted when your clients asks these kinds of questions, you might want to ask yourself why. Maybe you're valuing what you create more than you value the people you're creating it for. That's backwards to how business works. If all that matters to you is the work you create, then you might really be a fine artist masquerading as a service provider. But if you're serious about making work for clients, then a happy client should be your number one priority, and that sometimes means putting their needs above your pride.
Compromise is the name of the game, here. They want to see the outtakes? Sure, that will be a fee of however much money makes the effort worth your time. They want to buy all the raw files? Sure, that will cost this much extra. They want to edit their own photos? They can do that, but there will be an extra fee because you'll lose control over how the image is displayed. They want to put a filter on one of your photos for Instagram? If it really makes them happy they can do that, because you already have the original on your website and social media feeds in all it's carefully edited glory. If you think your way through it, there is almost always a way to make situations like these worth your while, while also making your client deliriously happy that you understood their needs and met them.
Try to remember that your clients aren't photographers and, more often than not, their favorite photos will be the ones they feel the strongest emotional connection to, not necessarily the ones that are the most technically perfect. How many times have you had a client whose favorite image is one you'd rather throw away? That makes us crazy because we expect them to share our artistic preferences when the reason they chose the image has nothing to do with composition and everything to do with their own emotional responses. I've noticed that when I feel offended or insulted that a client chose a certain image or wanted a certain edit, it's generally because I'm expecting my client to understand things about art or the photography business they have no business understanding. I have to remind myself that they hired me to create something for them, not something for my portfolio.
I read somewhere that the average person can tell the difference between a bad photograph and a good photograph, but that most people cannot tell the difference between a good photograph and great one. Why? Because the average person doesn't have a career that requires training their eye to see the subtleties that separate a good photograph from a great one. And if they're happy with a photo that isn't your favorite, and they want to make a print for grandma from Walmart, and they tell everyone that they love their photos and their photographer was the best ever, then how is that a loss?
Personally, the companies that I am the most loyal to are the ones who have treated me well, the ones who have gone out of their way to meet my needs. If you're in business, then good work is the lowest bar you can hit: it's expected that you'll do good work. What will make you stand out is your voice, and how you treat your customers. When you're working for a client, value them and the service you're providing them, because they're the entire reason you're in business in the first place. Save your artistic integrity for your portfolio work, and the only expectations you'll have to meet are your own.
Of course you should structure your business in a way that works for you and represents the kind of work you want to create. You should set customer expectations early, ask questions about what they want, and explain the reason you have certain terms and conditions. You should have contracts that spell out what you will and will not provide. But, after all that, you should also remember that you're in business to provide a product to a client, and that the most important part of your job is to send that person away happy they spent their well earned money with you, and not some other photographer.