I stepped into photography world over 10 years ago and was lucky enough to have a wide variety of clients from different parts of the world. This made it essential for me to be flexible while negotiating or taking jobs despite cultural differences, from Armenia to U.S., from Mauritius to South Africa, Singapore, various European countries, and more. Usually you will get hired based on your portfolio, but sometimes there are clients who don’t understand much about photography. This is where the danger is. Everyone wants to get top results for the money they spend by hiring you, but what is considered the best for such clients?
With my experience I came to a conclusion that I have to pay more attention to my intuition before taking any job, even if it is a really well paid one. There is a niche of clients who aim to get professional photos but have no clue what that means. You might try to have a visual agreement with them based on some mood boards, but that’s not a reference for them. The truth is that they might be absolutely happy with amateur snapshots or selfies, but it won’t be with you no matter what you do and how hard you try. Why is this?
Reference Story 1
A couple of months ago I was contacted via social media for a model portfolio shoot. I had no particular details and offered several packages to choose from. The most expensive package was selected and we arranged the two-day shoot. My intuition already warned me of possible troubles when I saw a few photos on Instagram where no face of the client was visible. I love challenges and decided to do my best despite any circumstances. The girl came to the studio, she was fine looking and I wanted to bring the best in her as I usually do. My intuition spoke again when I learned she didn’t bring anything with her (outfits, accessories, etc.). I supported every possible way by providing my own outfits, makeup, and all as this was basically her first shoot. A free consultation was also provided as a bonus to help her get into this industry more knowledgeable. I put myself in a positive state and wanted to be as helpful as possible. The situation repeated on the second day when she arrived with absolutely nothing again. We had to shoot three different styles. Again I did my best. This might sound strange, and bring a logical question as why I didn’t send her back. Totally right, but things don’t work like that in Armenia, where I live. I went ahead and did all I could in that situation.
Then I took the payment and sent the photos as agreed. As a thank you to my efforts I received a message that all the photos are bad and she wants a full refund. This was unpleasant, but I took it with a cold head. I knew I did much more than enough and the final photos were just like the photos in my portfolio with the same quality and approach. I decided to show the pictures to some of my colleagues and friends before replying to her, to be sure I am not judging the photos from a subjective point of view. Every one of them confirmed those were my signature kind of photos, basically for what I was initially hired. After having opinions from several people I replied to her and declined her request. Top of the case was accidently meeting her outside, wearing an outfit I styled for the shoot. Point? Be aware of people who don’t like themselves and if something inside buzzes you, save yourself and avoid talking that order.
Reference Story 2
I used to live on a magical island called Mauritius several years ago. It is considered a top wedding destination and I used to do a lot of wedding shoots back then. At some point I was requested to shoot fake wedding scenes as an advertisement campaign for the Singapore wedding market. I involved my local photographer colleague to work with me so I didn’t miss showcasing any of the beautiful locations on the island. Prior to the shoot we did a casting for the fake bride and the groom, fixed the locations all over the island, and got a complete confirmation from the client. In addition, we worked on a mood board and aimed to get that kind of results and atmosphere. We had all planned, organized, and confirmed. The shoot went as planned. We traveled the whole island featuring the best locations with the best models, and all this only to see unhappy clients who would take depth of field in the photos as low quality, unfocused photos. This was crazy.
Photo 1: Real wedding booked based on the Fake Wedding album. Photo 2: Couple on jetty concept with dramatic sky and clouds as a a natural backdrop. The later one also won an award.
At the moment my colleague and I were the top requested photographers in Mauritius and they were unhappy. Unhappy, as they wanted mobile-quality pictures, all in focus, with no mood and value. Basically anything you can snapshot with any camera and nothing like the mood board we created. We had a long conversation with the client trying to give understandable information about good quality, but it didn’t help. We canceled our agreement and maintained the rights for our pictures.
Photo 1: Another booked order based on the Fake Wedding album. Photo 2: Same location, similar accessories, but with a real couple who were extremely happy with their wedding album.
The final photographs served as perfect advertisement for our wedding services on the island. It would have been a shame losing them. This was some five years ago and I was not going to lower my skills standards just to be paid. Eventually people would know I shot those average requested images and I would lose the clients I aim to work with.
Photography is very subjective and everyone has their own vision and expectations. What is good quality for one is considered as an out of focus photo for another. What is perfectly color graded photo for one is a great starter to apply a heavy Instagram filter for another.
Look at the situation straight. Most of the time you will get hired for what you can produce. Make sure you produce your best at all times. Don’t lie to yourself and your art. Being authentic to yourself will result in a unique signature. This will serve as a solid ground to get clients who value, understand, and are ready to pay well for your art. You will grow as an artist and be happy for what you create.
Money is good, but sometimes we win by losing. Eliminating wrong clients on your list might be the best thing you can do for your career. Have you had unpleasant situations with your clients? How have you responded to them? Share your experience in the comments.