If you're like me, you will find that before shooting your clients you will feel as nervous as they are, or even more! I have found that there are certain things I can do to relax myself and my clients before, during and after our session, which also helps to create a long lasting relationship and hopefully creates a repeat booking. So, what can you do to make the photographic experience as painless as possible and create a rewarding relationship with your client?
If you simply try to "wing it," it's very likely that something will go wrong and will put you or your client in an uncomfortable or stressful situation. Before shooting a client, I always make sure that I have outlined what we are shooting and where. This also includes suggested ways of shooting, for example, for a boudoir session I'd briefly tell my client what we intend to shoot and where based on what I've learned about their personality and style so far. I'd also make suggestions on the type of clothes to bring, leaving them plenty of choices to suit their mood on the day.
When someone, who has never been in front of a camera, walks in for a session it's inevitable that they'll feel nervous. Giving a few pointers to your client (even if the shoot doesn't actually follow your initial plan), will give them reassurance of what to expect on the day and put at least some of their worries at rest. This also gives them time to voice their opinion on something that may concern them.
Obviously, if you're a wedding or event photographer, there's only so much you can do because hardly any event follows the plan on point. However, doing the homework and preparing yourself by obtaining your client's timeline, their expectations and researching the venue will allow you to voice your questions that may arise before the session, and hopefully avoid at least a few problems.
Either before or during my photo session, I like to simply sit down with my client and have a chat about the type of photography they like or would envision themselves in. It doesn't mean I will suddenly change my style of shooting or working, but it helps me understand what they like about themselves and photography as a whole.
I usually do this by either looking through a previously prepared mood board or a similar shoot I might have done with someone else. Asking a few questions about the imagery will usually reveal the things clients may be subconsciously worried or embarrassed about, such as particular poses or the type of clothing used. For example, when shooting boudoir I like to gauge how far the clients would initially be prepared to go by showing images of fully, partially clothed, and completely nude subjects. Even though they might become comfortable to bare it all at the end of your shoot, it's a good starting point to understand their wishes.
I've heard from family photographers that this also helps to engage with the little ones. Showing children a few shots on the back of your camera can make them more excited to be involved and thus bond with you.
I couldn't imagine shooting an intimate or portrait session without any music on. For me, it's not that important to listen to my favorite songs, but rather get in my client's mind by letting them choose their own music. If they don't have anything in particular in mind, I have several playlists always prepared to suit different types of sessions.
Music will let your client lose themselves in the session, and start ignoring the camera clicks. The more they retreat to their own thoughts and start enjoying the music, the easier it will be to capture them being at their most natural. This works well for couples, too. Whether you shoot them indoors or have got small Bluetooth speakers to bring with you on an outdoors session, the music will let the couple start forgetting about you and focusing on each other instead. Especially, if you tell them to do a little dance with each other.
Don't forget to prepare this in time, though! The last thing you want is spending time trying to find a decent playlist, while your client is waiting on you. Create a few playlists that work well for you and keep them on hand when you need to set the mood for your shoot, especially for locations that might not have any Wi-Fi available.
I've had a session where my photographer would look at the back of the camera, scratch his head, and loudly announce that the shot looks crap. I wouldn't have minded that if it was a one-off, but he wouldn't hold himself back throughout the session and afterward I felt like I have totally failed at what I thought I am relatively good at.
Since then, when I am shooting someone I have made it a habit to encourage my subjects. Majority of the time I do it without even thinking about it. If there's a particular pose or angle that is not working for you, there's no need to make your client self-conscious about their look. Instead, ignore it and move on. What they don't see (or hear), they won't remember it.
It's your job to put them at ease and capture the very essence of their personality, so don't make it harder for yourself by making your client retreat and become guarded, if you can't hold yourself back by giving negative comments. Simply asking your client to turn or move will do the trick, it also gives you the opportunity to suggest what you think is a more flattering position, without making it clear that the previous shots aren't quite working for you.
If you're like me, you'll be stressing before a session, thinking "how on earth will I make them have fun with someone like me?". So, if you're visibly nervous or uncomfortable yourself, your clients will pick upon it. Your emotions and body language will be something that they will subconsciously begin to copy, so make sure that you focus on making each session fun for yourself, too.
If you are visibly content and passionate about what you do, your client will start seeing the positivity radiating from you. Be silly, crack jokes, laugh, ask them questions about their life and hobbies, and you'll see them open up in front of you and your camera.
After your session has finished, it needn't be the last time you see your client. Make the most of follow-up interaction to generate repeat clients. A friend of mine, who's a family and newborn photographer, tends to get repeat clients, who come back between two and six times. This can be done through nurturing the relationship you have created with your client and sometimes offering an incentive, such as X% off every subsequent session, or perhaps complimentary prints or digitals.
If you're shooting families and gather repeat bookings, you'll get to see their children change and grow up, and you will eventually become a part of their life, too.
For wedding photographers, consider getting in touch with your client few months after delivering the wedding gallery and offering a small discount or referral fee that they can then use on maternity, newborn, family and other shoots in the future. Sending them a personal congratulations card on their first anniversary will also bring back memories of how well you engaged with them and could generate more work.
Even something as simple as a thank you email asking for an honest feedback could begin a conversation about doing another session, if they are satisfied with their experience. Don't forget your clients have family and friends, so word of mouth is a very strong marketing tool. Make sure you invest your energy in creating a strong and healthy bond with your client and you'll start to see good results!
How do you nurture your relationships with clients?