My photographer-friend from Moscow Aleksey Dovgulya is visiting me in Los Angeles right now. We went to the same high school, but only met in 2008 after I got into photography. While I was studying in Australia Aleksey built an impressive list of commercial clients in Russia. In the past few years he has photographed for major brands such as Rolls-Royce, Renault, BMW, Schwartzkopf & Henkel, Benetton, Vogue, Christian Louboutin, and the list goes on and on.
Aleksey has also been teaching photography and retouching around the world for the past 3 years, and I personally think he's a Lighting Magician. We kept catching up every time I went to Moscow or he came to the States, so it was only natural that we eventually decided to combine our knowledge and experience to create something together.
We have been working on our Beauty & Fashion Photography: Go Pro digital book for a while, and are now finishing the final chapter called Working With Commercial Clients. We spent many hours discussing its details last night, and I would like to share some helpful points from it that may take a while for emerging photographers to figure out on their own. Starting shooting for big clients can be intimidating, so hopefully this article will help you find the correct path to commercial success in that area.
Remember, that each client and project is unique, and you will have to adapt and think fast to be successful. And I am not even talking about your artistic vision and technical skills here - that's a given, if you think you are ready to shoot for serious clients. Today I would like to talk about common sense, human nature and communication, your clients' expectations and fears.
Clients' Expectations & Fears
1. The main and most important expectation your every client will have is that you will solve their particular problem, and deliver a top-quality result without them needing to know or worry about how you achieve it. You are the professional they are paying, and all they want is the final result that they have envisioned. They don't want any excuses or explanations as to why you couldn't get something done or missed a deadline, all they care is a top-quality result delivered in a timely manner.
2. Unreasonable deadlines and expectations are not rare. With that being said, don't bite off more than you can chew. If your client is asking to shoot a clothing line with 5 models within 4 hours and submit magazine quality images for their catalog tomorrow, think twice before you agree to deliver that. Don't be afraid to explain what's doable, what's not and offer alternative solutions.
Don't take on unreasonable responsibilities. Be honest and tell them what obstacles there can be, and that you may have to charge more or need more time to complete the project. Again, at the end of the day your client will need just the result. They won't care whether or not you had a chance to eat and sleep for a few days, and that your sleep deprivation is the reason why the images are not as great as they could be.
3. Your additional help is often highly appreciated. Be helpful and resourceful. Take control over the things, in which you are more knowledgeable than your client: help finding a proper studio, creative team, offer more ideas on how to rationally achieve the desired result, figure out call times for the team, etc. Be a go-to professional for your client.
When you are hired by an advertising agency, all the mentioned things will most likely be taken care of. But if you are hired directly by a company, their personnel will definitely love you more if you help them prepare for the shoot.
4. Professional common sense, appearance and communication. You are expected to look, act and sound like a professional. If you're dressed appropriately, you are well-mannered, punctual and speak a professional language, your client will be appreciative, respectful and communicate with you the way you deserve. Your personal level of acceptance of the working conditions and environment, as well as how you allow your business partners, clients and creative team to treat you is very important too. If you show up late, use bad language, disregard the dress code your client mentioned, chances are you won't be treated as a serious professional, let alone hired again.
However, if despite of how you represent and hold yourself, your client is being rude, disrespectful, has no boundaries and treats you badly - don't be afraid to tactfully point it out, and be prepared to leave if that doesn't help. Respect yourself, you are a professional they hired to do business with, it's up to you whether or not put up with unprofessional nonsense.
There are a few things every client is usually worried about when hiring a photographer they'd never worked with for an important project:
1. The photographer will show up significantly late or won't show up at all.
2. The photographer won't cover the entire shot-list, will miss an important look or shot. Will forget to shoot an important detail or will not shoot it in the way it is required.
3. The photographer will "disappear" after the shoot.
4. The photographer won't meet the deadline, and fail to submit the final images when required.
5. When you are hired to shoot at an event, your client may also be worried about how you will look and hold yourself while walking around and shooting among the guests or attendees. Needless to say, distasteful appearance, unprofessional language, inconsiderate behavior are big turn-offs for any client.
So, as you can see, your clients have a lot of things to worry about. If you keep this in mind and lessen their fears and worries, while meeting their expectations, being helpful, honest, resourceful, easily accessible, you most likely will be loved and appreciated.
Aleksey admits that he does not actively market his services online or on social media and he does not need an agent, simply because all his big clients are referrals.
Deadlines & Delegating Some Of Your Responsibilities
The more you successfully work for commercial clients the more your name and reputation will spread around. Word of mouth on that level is a very powerful thing. And the more serious jobs you get the less time you will have to execute all parts of the image creation process, so chances are you will soon face the following choices:
- Shoot a lot, fast, cheap and deliver substandard results.
- Shoot very little, take time, provide top-quality and charge a lot.
- Shoot a lot, fast, charge a lot and provide top-quality - this sounds like what we all would love to do, doesn't it? And it is possible, if you build a strong team to help you with the things where your personal participation may not be necessary. You can hire virtual assistants to take care of your emails, social media, and website. You can hire producers to take care of pre-production and retouchers for post-production.
Only invest your time into the most important parts of your business, the parts that will move you and your brand forward. Consider hiring and training your own team that will make it easier for you to cope with the work load.
We hope that this article was helpful. And if becoming a Beauty & Fashion photography professional is what you aim for, make sure to sign up to our newsletter to get notified when our upcoming digital book Beauty & Fashion Photography: Go Pro! is out.