Before my trip to Russia in August I wrote about what we should keep in mind when choosing our clients. While in Moscow, I photographed my own best clients and I thought it would be very interesting to find out how we, photographers, get chosen too.
Needless to say, there are many factors that influence relationships between creative professionals and those who hire them. But I thought that interviewing my own clients could be a great case study and we all could learn something from their answers.
Throughout my career in photography, I have learned that when you figure out who your most wanted clients are (check out my article Choose Your Clients Wisely) and treat them accordingly, they will end up returning to you again and again. Or they will send you more great business because you turned them into big fans of your work.
So, what is it that we can do to make our most desired clients choose us and stay with us?
I have to admit, when I asked my ladies, I expected a very short and simple answer: "Because you create beautiful pictures of me." But I was wrong. Their answers couldn't be further from my own assumptions, even though I have worked with them for years and I was sure I knew exactly why they kept coming back to me.
And before we move on, remember, that this article isn't about me or even these beautiful ladies for that matter. My main goal was to see if there's something that we don't know about our relationships with those who hire us. All the nice things that they have said about working with me are not some magic powers that I possess, but simple actions that you can take to make your clients love working with you too. Also, showing my old work is a little embarrassing, but it illustrates well, that it's not only about the level of our photography and retouching skills.
First of all, I would like to thank these ladies for sharing their pictures with us and taking the time to answer my questions to help us understand how we can become better at turning our clients into loyal fans.
Allow me to introduce them to you: Ekaterina Snatkina, 26 y.o., Moscow, Russia. PR & Marketing Manager at a well-known international entertainment & educational network. And Olga Kostyuk, my very first and the most loyal client, 26 y.o., Moscow, Russia. During the past six years that we have been shooting together Olga has grown to top managerial positions at large international companies such as Goldman Sachs, Renaissance Capital and Alfa Capital Partners. Neither of them has any previous professional modeling experience.
Why do you like photo shoots? What do our photo shoots mean to you? Basically, I wanted to know why women are willing to pay photographers.
Olga: "Every photo session and the whole day around it is full of inspiration and excitement for me. I experience a whole range of pleasant emotions: I get to be creative, have a great time with my favorite photographer, learn more about posing, how to move in front of the camera and what poses are most flattering for me. It may sound selfish, but it is My Day, it is all about Me, My Beauty and My Personality. I believe every woman should spoil herself like that every once in a while.
And as the result of such a wonderful day, I also get beautiful images which will not only make me happy, but I will also be able to share them with my family and friends. Even with my children and grandchildren in the future".
Ekaterina: "For me photo sessions mean having fun. And it is also one of the ways to apply my creativity. I enjoy the whole process from selecting our studio to choosing outfits and accessories. Depending on the studio setup I choose, I come up with different looks for myself, try on different styles.
Looking for interesting outfits, props and accessories at flea markets or stores is another attractive side of the preparation process for me.
I like all types of visual arts, and that is why photography attracts me so much. It’s exciting to take on a role of a model and get to take part in the creation of beautiful photographs, implementing something that inspired me in other photos or paintings that I saw before".
As you can see even though the reasoning is slightly different for my ladies, at the end of the day all said above translates into the following facts: women love being creative, women love to be the center of attention, and they also love seeing beautiful pictures of themselves and sharing them with their friends and family.
Remember all that and allow room for creativity for your client in the preparation process for her photo shoots with you.
Have you tried shooting with other photographers? Did you enjoy those photo shoots? What do I do differently that makes you choose me over other local photographers?
Olga: "Yes, sure, I have tried shooting with other beauty and fashion photographers - amateur and pro - but I realized that only the way you see me, the way you photograph me is my absolute ideal. You know how to create flattering images, what details and features to emphasize on. And our photos are never the same, they are never "just ordinary portraits". We create new styles within our vision every time.
I believe, there must be some photographer-model chemistry between us, like in any human relationships. It seems like you sense how I feel, what my mood is and what kind of images I am after every time. It feels like you can always predict how we're going to spend our photo session."
Wow, when I read this I was blown away as to how my regular preparation routines are perceived on the other end. Here's my "secret recipe" to making my client believe I could read her mind:
1. I always ask each client of mine to send me a handful of images that she likes a week or two before our photo shoot. This helps me to understand what kind of images she is looking to get from our photo session, what inspires her at the time and, most importantly, how to prepare myself for our photo shoot.
2. I do my homework and research the styles my client suggested even further. I search for similar images on the web, look for flattering poses, colors, framing and camera angles. This helps me to plan her looks and build my own shot-list, so that I am organized during the shoot, I know exactly what we need to do next and how I should set up the lights.
I have learned that taking the decision-making time out of the shoot is very important: you are prepared, you are confident. Your client will see and appreciate it - she can relax and enjoy the ride.
3. I show her the images I collected based on her preferences before our photo shoot, and ask her what she likes and what she doesn't. It gives me an even better idea as to what she is expecting from our photo shoot. Sometimes I may hear: "Oh, I love this pose!" or "I don't really like this." My client's feedback is extremely important at this point.
Ekaterina: "I haven't shot with other photographers as a client or a model, but being a PR & Marketing Manager, I do work with many photographers due to my job responsibilities. It’s important to see that a photographer is inspired and devoted to his or her profession. That is what I feel while shooting with you.
It is also nice to see that you are preparing for our shoots by searching images to inspire and advise me on better poses and looks. Another important thing to note is that you show me the images on the back of your camera during the photo shoot, so I can see some results in the middle of the shoot, and change the way I pose or my facial expressions if needed.
I have worked with photographers who don’t do that and it often happens so that the client isn’t happy with the results after all."
I have heard some well-known photographers advise against showing the photos to your client during the shoot. I don't believe that it's a good idea. According to my own rules: don't encourage your client to run to you and peek at the images during the shoot, but it is very helpful to show them what it is that you would like them to do differently. Explaining things verbally sometimes isn't as powerful as a simple glance at the back of your camera.
Which of my skills are the most valuable to you as my client: the way I handle lighting, the way I direct you and help you with posing during the shoot, or my retouching skills?
Olga: "Being a non-professional model it is very important to me to be directed by the photographer. I really appreciate you telling me what I am doing right or when I need to change my pose or my facial expression. I always try to remember your tips and lower my shoulders to visually elongate my neck, smile more often, etc.
I don't know much about lighting or color gels, but I see the results and I know when I love what I see.
Like most women, I know what I like about my appearance and I also know what I don't like. I'll tell you more: my flaws is all I see in my pictures. They seem to jump at me, even if nobody else notices them. It is wonderful to see how you can emphasize my favorite features and hide what I consider my flaws in the photographs you take of me.
Our photos become better every time, it seems like we grow together, and luckily your professional progress always outruns my wishes and expectations."
Ekaterina: "That’s a difficult question. I’m not a pro to judge such skills like working with light, but what's important to me is the way you communicate with me. You are always very positive and I feel very relaxed. You demonstrate your interest and excitement when working with me.
You are very involved in the process. I really appreciate that you provide me with advice before, during and after our shoots, which shows me your support and boosts my inspiration."
So, here we go. Who knew! I seriously thought it was all just about pretty pictures. And as you can see neither of them actually said it was just my photography or retouching skills.
I believe that goes to show that your portfolio and the level of your photography and retouching skills is what will bring all your future clients to you. But everything you have read above plus everything you can learn from your own clients is what will turn them into your loyal fans and create long-lasting relationships.
1. Ask questions. Always seek feedback from your best clients. You will be surprised how far your assumptions may be from the truth. I was stunned when I read my own clients' answers.
2. Do your homework. Thoroughly prepare for each photo shoot. Know what, when and how you are going to shoot, so that your client can relax, have a great time and let you take control.
3. Show your involvement and passion. Inspire! Let your passion be contagious. Remember, you create art! And make sure your client has a blast. If she really enjoys the whole experience, she will come back to you again and again.
4. Be helpful and proactive. Collect useful materials about outfits and accessories that you can send to your client to help her prepare for a shoot with you. For example, I email this article to my clients: 21 Ideas For What To Wear To A Photo Shoot when they are unsure as to what outfits to bring.
Collect visual boards to inspire your clients and figure out what images they like. For example, I email my Pintrest collection to my clients before each boudoir shoot and ask what images they like: ~ Sensual | Boudoir Photography Inspirations ~.
5. Keep improving your skills. Keep demanding more from yourself, keep striving to become a better professional.
Hope this was helpful. If you have learned something interesting from your own relationships with your clients, please share it with us in the comments. We would love to know that too!