Focus Your Attention

Focus Your Attention

A couple weeks ago, fellow Fstoppers writer Peter House wrote an article on focusing your work. I got excited at the possibilities of him giving tough love on the photography community as a whole. This article however, while exceptional, was centered on focusing your business efforts to grow to new clients. I’m here to do it a little different, and going to tell you what you're doing wrong and why you need to stop.

Everyday, we're flooded with Facebook groups such as “Photographer Problems” and other private outlets for photographers to complain about bad clients, being suckered into working for peanuts, and tedious retouching requests. We're hit with reminders that not all clients are created equal, and that sometimes work can be a chore; and sometimes find ourselves complaining about how tough our work can be. Stop that.

You're a photographer, do you realize the luxury of that? You're in a career that you chose, that you love (Or why else are you here?), and that you want to do. Don't neglect that. I’m a firm believer that photography is one of the greatest professions in the world. I do what I do because I love doing it. I love the planning process, the creation process, and I love the reactions on faces when I capture someones beauty on camera.

Sure, not all of my work is easy work, but I don't want it to be either. What makes work work is that it is challenging at times. Sometimes you have to jump some hurdles in your photography career, everyone has to. So stop looking back behind you at that hurdle you jumped and start looking forward to the finish line. Professional photography branches out much further than just making a living doing photography. Professionalism is the key to separation, and professionalism comes from showing courtesy, politeness, and overall pleasantness with all of your clients, regardless of how much of a pain they can be.

The fact remains that photography is a growing industry. With reasonably priced cameras, Instagram, and being part of the digital age, photography has become an art form that nearly every single person in the world is now interested in. Certainly this makes for a wealth of new competition for us professionals, but competition can be exciting. With that competition also comes many different options for consumers to choose from. So who do you think they're looking to hire? The photographer who is occasionally complaining about troublesome clients, or the photographer who seems excited to have clients and excited to capture photos for them?

There is a failure of recognition within the photography realm. Many people still believe that the photography industry is just a creative industry where you're able to float around and create art that expresses who you are. Unfortunately, this is just not true. Photography is a customer services job just as much as its an creative job. No longer are you able to just walk around, take photos that represent you, and make a living simply doing that. Now the job is as much about communicating with your clients, and having those different interactions within the realm. Pre-production is so important, and the work doesn't end when you get done pressing the shutter button. With any interaction process, you're going to run into disagreements, and the occasional problematic client. This is part of the customer service process.


I'm not going to give you some elementary school lesson on “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.” However, I will strictly say that people will feed off of your attitude. If you're not having a good time on a photo session, your clients will be less into it as well. Your photos will suffer, and the continued work following it will too.

The Correct Ways to Deal With Problematic Clients

Adjust Your Paperwork/Pre-Consultation -

I stopped getting problematic clients the moment I sat down one day and decided to refine all the paperwork I had for my sessions. Instead of creating a simple pricing sheet, I decided to flood the paperwork with the breakdown of everything that goes into the session, from wardrobe suggestions to proof gallery settings. My paperwork for a simple head shot session is 3 pages long, and literally explains everything about the pending photo shoot. Not only does this provide my clients with a comprehensive list of what they are getting within the session, but it also has something for them to reflect back on before asking for more work done by me.

Adjust Your Expectations - 

Another attraction to problematic clients might be within your own expectations. A large part of this job is within communication. You're no longer as a photographer expected to just take photos and deliver them when the post production is complete. Photography has turned into a service, and you need to recognize that as part of the package. You either need to focus more attention on your expectations and assuring yours are meeting with theirs. Often, this means you need to do more work, which will often lead to my next point...

Raising Your Prices -

If you find that you're dealing with problem clients time and time again, that is usually a good indication that you need to raise your prices 25%. If someone is expecting more out of you, that usually means that they don't have value in your work and feel comfortable with asking you for more. Raising your prices will provide value to your brand, and will stop clients for expecting more out of you. Who do you think has a longer customer service line, Walmart, or Saks Fifth Avenue?


Now there is no surefire way to avoid troublesome clients in this industry, it just sometimes comes with the territory. It is important however, to recognize the luxuries in your career choice. You don't have a boss to see, a time to show up to work, or anyone stopping you from spontaneously taking the day off to play video games all day. These are luxuries that 95% of the workforce isn't graced with, so you certainly need to show an appreciation to them from time to time.


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May I gently suggest writing "centers on" and "revolves around," not "centers around."

Zach Sutton's picture

Suggestion taken.

I think a lot of pros don't realize how much energy has to be put into client services. Personally, I don't have the temperament or the personality for it, and it hurt my business. Once I got honest, I realized that I was actually the problem in my client relationships. My success only came after I hired a couple of people who are incredible at keeping clients happy.

Mike Pomazal's picture

By having more detailed paperwork, are you trying to deter certain clients, or just try to educate them about what all is involved in the headshot, thus showing them the value in what you are doing?

Zach Sutton's picture

Certainly the latter.

I am a bit of a workaholic, so I try to answer any and all questions before they're even asked. That is why my paperwork is so comprehensive. It makes the whole process a lot easier for me, and it does stop them from trying to get more than what the package includes.

For me somehow, dealing with all this stuff makes it just more fun and more of a challenge.
I'm quite new to this market and getting the first payed jobs totally changed my mind on what was expecting me. I didn't expect having to deal with so many things that don't have to do with the creative process but I really love it.

Nice article!

Zach, I am so frustrated with my current clients. They want it all now, things they never even paid for. But your post makes 100% sense. Perhaps I am not the best photographer, but I haven't raised the prices in the past 2 years, and I need to do paperwork with even non-profits. It all makes sense I outgrew my average client. Oh Zach, I have been following you since you still lived in Michigan, thank you so much for inspiring me.

Zach Sutton's picture

Hahah. Thanks Mariia...I know who you are, we're FB friends afterall :-)

Being someone who once lived in your town, I can contest that Southwest Michigan can be tough with clients. I've always found by giving them all the info they'd ever need and that usually stops them from asking for more. Feel free to send me a message on FB and I can share my paperwork for you.

Great article! However, I have extensive paperwork and I find that clients don't read it. So I've implemented follow up communications where I ask if they have questions regarding the paperwork. If they say they haven't read it, I encourage them to do so.

Alfredo Rodriguez's picture

Zach, thanks for the article. It definitely opened my eyes to some things I was doing wrong.

Love the, "Who do you think has a longer customer service line, Walmart, or Saks Fifth Avenue?"!!!!!!!

Sent to Kindle. :)

If you don't mind, am going to share this with my photographer FB group. This is a great article. Thank you for addressing this common problem with clients and your solutions.

This is priceless thou. "If someone is expecting more out of you, that usually means that they
don’t have value in your work and feel comfortable with asking you for

I honestly never thought that pricing myself more competitively would under value my work. I also like showing clients the breakdown of their session. Makes them see that there is more to their project then just pressing a button.

Cydnie Molloy's picture

I recently retired in order to pursue my own photography business. I have done a lot of freebies of chosen subjects in order to establish my portfolio. I totally agree that pricing effects first impressions and sets the expectation of quality photography. I really like the idea of the paperwork outlining the process of the shoot. This would surely improve the flow of the shoot and produce better shots. Would you provide an example of the pre-consultation paperwork? Then I can see the steps that you would share with a client ahead of time. Thank you for a concise and informative article.

Zach Sutton's picture

I've posted some of my pre-production paperwork in the past --

"Who do you think has a longer customer service line, Walmart, or Saks Fifth Avenue?" Bam! Owned! Great insight...

Thanks for the inspiration.
I <3 Fstoppers!