How a Bad Client Consultation Changed My Portrait Photography Business

How a Bad Client Consultation Changed My Portrait Photography Business

Are you doing your best in client consultations? I wasn't, and my work was suffering for it. A thorough client consultation is a free, simple tool that can make a huge impact on your portrait photography business, both in terms of shoot quality, and in getting happy clients to come back for more. The best part is, it’s not difficult at all. You just have to do it.

A Bad Consultation

The “aha” moment for me happened during a portrait session with a repeat client. I had photographed this family several times, so when the mom requested another photoshoot, I simply texted her a time and place and we were set. I didn’t ask any questions, and didn’t think twice about it.

When the time came, I loaded up the minimum amount of camera gear and headed to the same old spot, took the same old pictures, and headed home. When I popped my SD card into the computer and started culling through the photos, I had a strange sense of deja vu. I looked through the last session that I had shot of this family, and there it was. Same location, same poses, heck, the dad was wearing almost exactly the same outfit as last time. I was appalled. How could I have put so little thought and planning into this client’s portrait session?

It dawned on me then that in a way I had lost control. By having no discussion with my clients about their expectations or desires, I was in fact leaving every decision to them. And guess what? They aren’t photographers. They don’t know what location or clothing works best. They don’t know what time of day our session should be held. Most of the time, they are not going to want to rock the boat or throw out suggestions, so they are going to go on what little they have from you, the professional photographer, and neither of you are going to be happy with the results.

Planning through consultation is the absolute key to creating portraits that your clients are going to treasure and more importantly, spend money on. Yes, a good client consultation will give you the tools you need to push your business to the next level in terms of value and how much money your clients will spend with you. Since I started doing good, in-depth consultations, I have been able to raise my prices to an over $1,000 average.

A Good Consultation is the Key to Client Happiness

The best way for you to deliver on your clients’ expectations and produce amazing images that they will want to purchase more of, is to sit down with them face to face and work out all the details. At the very least, you should communicate with them through telephone or messaging, but face to face is always best. You not only need to know their desires, you also need to be able to tell them their possibilities, because odds are, they won’t even know what their options are. They need to know and see some of your amazing ideas before they will even know they have those options. And once you know their expectations, you can design your shoot down to the last detail, so that there will be no surprises to trip you up in that precious time you have to spend with them.

Successful portrait photography through client consultation.

Portrait photography sessions go much smoother with good client consultations.

Find out what their dream photos would look like. Create mood boards to show them examples of different styles you are capable of, or even build a Pinterest board of different styles you’d like to try, and have them choose their favorites. Are they looking for light and airy, dark and dramatic, or even fun and silly? Find and discuss some different location options for them, in case they don’t have a special place in mind. Ask them what they will use the photos for? Are they just for holiday cards? Are they looking for a special portrait to hang over the fireplace?

Go the Extra Mile

There are some instances where you might need to visit with the client in their home. You may need to help them decide what type of photos they want in relation to where they will be displayed. You might be able to upsell a larger size art print or wall collage if you are able to see the space they have available for it. You also may also want to visit their home for a wardrobe consultation, or even go shopping with them. If they are unsure of what to wear, you can help them with this through the use of mood boards or Pinterest.

Get All the Details

If you are offering professional hair and makeup services, find out what their daily style is, and see if they want to just enhance that, or go full-on glam. Your makeup artist will be so happy to have this information when they arrive and get ready to perform their magic.

Happy clients resulting from a thorough portrait session consultation.

Happy clients resulting from a thorough portrait session consultation.

Ask your client to help you make a list of all the shots that are must-haves for them. Today’s family dynamic can be a confusing and touchy subject, and it’s better to find out now that the stepson refuses to be in portraits with his stepdad, so that you don’t have to bring that up during the shoot when everyone is there. Plus, working from a shot list ensures that you don’t forget any special moments that mom wants to capture.

Add Value to Your Sessions

If you are looking through this and thinking, “no way will I make money by taking all this extra time,” then maybe it’s time to think about how adding these services will make you a more valuable photographer. If you have been thinking of moving up to a higher priced business model and thus a more wealthy clientele demographic, these steps are crucial. A high-end business must provide the most exceptional customer service in order to attract and keep high-end clients. This attention will make them take you seriously, and will put you up at that next level in sales.

What are your most valuable takeaways from good client consults?

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3 Comments

Anete Lusina's picture

This is interesting. I don't really do many portrait sessions or even family sessions but I never considered doing a proper consult (as in face to face one, as opposed to a brief conversation via emails) for the ones I have done so far, because it seems like it's a lot more straightforward than, say, a wedding. However, after reading this it makes sense to start applying the same attention to portrait/family sessions, too!

When I was in the portrait business I worked very hard to get in person consultations.
It was like pulling teeth.

They never had the time or interest to do a proper consult. They were paying upwards of $2K for a session and prints yet they could not understand anything more than a brief conversation on clothing choices and possible locations.

I am almost entirely a commercial photographer now and delight in working with business pros who understand the need to collaborate and pay for project that makes them look good to their boss.

Lisa Fitts's picture

Nice tips I am planning on implementing a few of these on my next consultation. I typically use it as a casual meetup but it makes sense to dig in a little more for a better experience throughout the entire process. Thank you for sharing!