It is a common expectation that when clients hire you, it is because they like your style and think you will help project their brand’s identity. But what do you do when, despite previous exchanges, on the shooting day, you realize that your clients have entirely different expectations. Do you just change everything to adapt to their needs or do you say no?
Recently, a client of mine contacted me about a new outdoors lifestyle shoot for his brand. Having shot for them since for three consecutive years, I know how they work, how they plan everything meticulously, and I trust them because of that. But more importantly, I knew what their expectations would be, mostly. At least, I thought I knew. Since our first shoot, I have enjoyed working with those clients. However, my recent shoot proved challenging.
We started very early. All the sets built were photographed with five models without any trouble. We had the perfect blue skies and the perfect light. However, later that afternoon, the light had changed drastically and the installed sets were now standing next to the sun’s glare on the sea waters. The idea was to get the orange-pink-blue skies, minus that overwhelming glare. I was told it was necessary.
For the next two sets, we had two issues. In the first one, I tried to get pale blue skies with my subject bathing in a warm light. But my clients preferred white washed skies which differed from the original mood board ideas. I compromised on this because it was not as unflattering as I thought it would be.
For the second set, we had 30 minutes or so before sunset. I had a nice backlight with the models’ back to the sea. With no direct sunlight, lighting six models with just natural light while retaining the sunset’s colors proved complicated. You’re probably thinking that this is easily fixed with, for example, a few flashguns on the models. I thought so too. I resorted to a couple of flashguns and more reflectors to fill in the shadows on one side. While it looked good to me and that I was finally satisfied with the light, my clients did not share the same opinion. They wanted an even more natural light. Mind you, the light with the flash was almost natural. With a slight tweak in postproduction, I knew it would be just like what I thought my clients wanted. But my clients still did not agree with what they saw on the screen.
Communication Before the Shoot
I realized that day just how essential it was to communicate with your client. Knowing their expectations and having a clear mood board laid out will help sort out the direction of the photoshoot. Your client has an idea, but you as the photographer, as the one with the technical abilities and experience, will know if what the client wants is doable. I recall this one article by Lee Morris about a portrait that was meant to look as if it was shot in the ocean at night. Instead of shooting in the ocean where the risks of things going wrong were higher, the portrait was shot in a pool. My point is, only you as the photographer will be able to assess the level of difficulty of a requested shot. You then plan your shoot accordingly.
Establishing a clear mood board for the colors and the setups will always help you in getting closer to the final imagery your clients want. Sometimes, what I do is send some other images that I think are similar in terms of mood to my clients, just to know if I’ve got it right. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and when I don’t, I just know this is something I ought not to replicate. If possible, scout the shooting locations at the exact time you want to shoot there. You can then gauge the quality of the light and save yourself some prep time come the shooting day. In my case, I knew the location for this recent shoot, but my mistake was not taking into account where exactly my clients would put the set. While it had to be done, we lost precious time moving the set to a better spot.
Solving a Problem on the Shooting Day
My major problem on that day was as follows: If the artificial lights and the reflectors gave off just enough light to expose the models and allowed me to underexpose the image just ever so slightly for the sky's colors to come out right, why was my clients still unsatisfied?
It is my belief that photographers should always act in the clients' interest. The clients hire us, pay us, and if we want more jobs from them, we should strive to please them. But can we act in our clients' sole interest if it’s to our own detriment? A few times, I’ve had a few miseducated clients who would just propose an idea that’s not feasible under current shooting circumstances. Or they might propose an idea of poor taste and when this happens, I take a deep breath and close my eyes for a second. Because I know a discussion will ensue when I will explain to my clients why this idea is not good. Arguing with diplomacy and tact is a must. I dislike shooting an image of poor taste as I usually refuse clients who show poor tastes. If they give me carte blanche, I might reconsider, otherwise no. Nobody wants unflattering images in their portfolio.
Now in this case, it was getting dark quickly and I did not think the photos without flash looked really well-lit. I thought about what this would be like in print later. I was arguing from my perspective even if I was thinking of doing the best for the clients. I was getting nowhere until I realized I needed to explain from a different perspective. I put my flashes a few steps back as a compromise and that settled it. We lost time, but we continued to shoot now that we were aligned again.
You will oftentimes find yourself in a bit of a pickle when your client wants something and that you do not feel it is right. But take a step back and think.
Is what your clients want bad for them and for you? Then say no and propose a different idea. Take the lead, consider perhaps a different angle, or change lighting, etc. Being bossy can sometimes help. Just don’t overdo it and always be respectful. On the other hand, saying no and not offering any alternative will just make the clients tell you to go ahead with their bad idea because nobody can think of any better.
If what your client proposes does not sit comfortably with you, but might be worth trying, say yes, and give it a try. It can lead to a good surprise. Also, telling the clients that they had a great idea is a good way of making them like you more, ease tensions, and make them more open to share with you. A mistake from your part might even be brushed off easily if your clients like you more.
Compromising sometimes is also worth it. Managing clients' expectations can prove difficult but finding a middle ground will lead to the satisfaction of both clients and photographers.
Have you ever faced this kind of situation before? If so, share your story below.