I hate having my pictures taken. It’s common, but still ironic, to have a photographer who dislikes being on the other side of a camera. This fall, I made a promise to my wife that we would have our family photos taken and I was able to experience the entire process of hiring and working with a photographer. It wasn’t my intention to treat this as a learning opportunity, but now that all is said and done, I can say that I have learned a lot. Experiencing the client’s perspective, watching another professional operate, and the renewed perspective gained for what a photo is worth are among many things I came away with from our session.
Dale Carnegie, in his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” says “Many sales people spend a lifetime in selling without seeing things from the customer's angle.” From there, Carnegie goes on to explain the importance of understanding and relating to the customer’s perspective. The importance of this was my biggest takeaway from our session. We all have our clients that at times we want to vent about. For me, I hate when a client emails me after a session wanting more. Sometimes they want to know if they can have their images earlier than planned. Or maybe they want to know if there are any more pictures of a certain pose they remember doing. It drives me crazy. After experiencing this from the other side, though, I can see why this happens. As clients, a lot of work went into our pictures. Purchasing and planning outfits, my wife getting her hair done, plus the money paid for the session had us heavily invested in the photography before it even started. This commitment fueled in us a lot of excitement and nervousness about how the pictures would turn out and if it was worth what we put into them. After waiting anxiously for my own photos to come back, I can relate to where some of these questions come from. While understanding this still won’t cause me to drop everything to get a client their photos faster, I will have more grace for them in the process and not just assume they are rude, impatient people.
This experience has also reinforced my belief in the importance of communication and customer service. There are always ways to improve in these areas and becoming a client has helped me to see ways to accomplish this. For example, giving a client a vague timeline for their photos or not clarifying on how many images they will receive only opens the door for questions and leaves you with a higher probability of having a disappointed client. The photographer we chose was excellent in communication during the entire process and left me with little room for false expectations. In the end, she was able to easily surpass what I expected, because she had communicated so clearly from the beginning.
Hiring a photographer also allows you to broaden your photography skills by seeing how someone else works. The first thing I noticed was that the photographer I hired was much more patient than I am at making sure she had all of the details of the image right before she started shooting. In my sessions, I feel like if I take too long my client will get uncomfortable, which leads to me hurrying the process. As a client though, this wasn’t the case at all. When our photographer would pause to make sure the little details were right, it left me feeling more relaxed and confident because she knew exactly what she was doing. Seeing someone so articulate in posing and getting details right has made me want to balance out my hurried approach. The language she used in directing us, as well as the careful wording she used to fix issues like hair and posture, stood out to me as well. Witnessing someone approach things differently than you would is one of the best ways to realize your own areas that need improvement.
When I was able to view my photos for the first time, I experienced some things I haven’t truly ever understood as a photographer. My first emotion was that I was amazed at how good they were. I have a one-year-old girl who during the session was not having a good day, and I didn’t think we were able to get any pleasant photos of her. Yet somehow, we had a full gallery of nothing but amazing photos. The fact that we had hired an experienced, professional photographer who knew how to handle our situation was easily worth the money. I also was surprised that many of my favorites were the candid shots that really displayed who we are as a family. The real moments have gained a deeper value to me than the more technically perfect photos. This has been a revelation for me about what my clients are likely to value the most.
One final take away from this experience is that these photos have a much higher value to me now than what I paid for them. These are memories of my family at a special time in our lives that I wouldn't trade for anything. In a world where clients will often try to tear you down about price, I have a new, honest appreciation for the worth of my photography that will be easier to communicate in the future. I no longer feel so strongly that I have to sell my value, but instead, I am more able to communicate an honest belief in the importance of what I do.
I believe that every photographer should hire another professional so that they can experience the other side of the camera. Take your time, do some research, and approach everything as a true client. Then choose a really great photographer that will show you what a premium photography experience looks like. The lessons learned alone are likely to be worth the price. Approaching photography as a customer, making notes of things that you enjoyed about someone else’s services, and getting to see how other quality photographers operate the different aspects of their businesses are all things that will help you to improve your craft. I am convinced you will be a better photographer because of it.