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The Importance of "Being Present"

Published: 06/07/2019

Author: Tony Colangelo

Jake from Fort Lauderdale, FL writes:

“I’ve been shooting for about three years and I average about 15-25 houses a week depending on the time of year. Over the last couple of months though, I’ve lost four of my best and longest standing clients and even though I’ve gotten two of them back, I find that my confidence has taken a hit. Lately, it feels like I’m more focused on what might go wrong than actually getting the shot I want. It’s almost like I’m expecting the worst and my results are starting to show it. Can you suggest something?”

Well Jake, when working with someone in my coaching practice who’s having a “crisis of confidence” like you seem to be going through, my first goal is NOT to find ways to bolster their confidence; my goal is to increase their focus. That is, I try to get them to be more present in their work and focused on the mechanics of the task, executing each step, one after the other. In my opinion, confidence is not a thing to go after directly, it is simply a by-product of good execution over time.

There are many reasons why focusing on one task at a time is so important. For me though, the most important one is that increasing your focus on the task at hand stops your mind from wandering onto other thoughts. This is key, because when you’re in a slump, your mind will easily move to negative thinking (i.e., you’ll start to worry and ruminate); and when this happens, it’s so easy to mistake your worries for reality. Indeed, your problem isn’t that you’ve suddenly lost the ability to capture a good photograph. Your problem is that by devoting so much time and thought to what might go wrong, you’re taking mental energy away from doing the things you know you can do well.

So, how do you retain focus (and stay present) at a photoshoot? Let me make a couple of suggestions:

Breathe! I know this sounds like I’m getting all zen-like on you Jake but this is really important. Take a deep breath and then let it out very slowly (making sure that the time you give to letting it out is significantly longer than the time you take to breathe in). Remembering to breath is the most fundamental requirement of keeping calm. Remember, calmness begins the moment you take a deep breath and make the choice to focus on the task at hand rather than letting your mind focus on negativity.

Ask yourself questions. Given that it’s so important to keep your mind occupied on a task, I'd suggest asking yourself a few questions; and if you're really bold, ask them to yourself, out loud! This is something that I've always done in my photography (and in my previous careers too!) I find that forcing myself to come up with answers to questions that I ask myself during a shoot allows me to stay "in the moment" and focused on what's important in a given room/space. And yes, they tend to be the same questions (i.e., on composition, camera angle, lighting, etc.) but that's not important... The point is to occupy your mind so as to not to allow negative thinking to take hold.

Any other ideas to help Jake out of his slump?

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

13 comments on “The Importance of "Being Present"”

  1. Sadly there are times when a client strays. Most of the time you had nothing to do it. The grass just looked greener. You might also have been undercut with 'try me specials'

    Good clients generally come back, it's just business and in the long run good service with a good product will win because the other guy failed to live up to their initial offerings or couldn't get enough business to survive.

    I let my clients know I will bend over backwards to accommodate if possible. They appreciate it.

    If a wandering client comes back I make sure they realize I am fitting them in because of our past, a little guilt goes a long way.

    Now if you lost them because you have gotten sloppy, that's another issue to deal with. Ask why they left so you can provide your current clients a better product, but don't ask them to come back. You get to your A game and either they will or they won't, but you will be so busy you won't care.

  2. Agree with Tony's suggestions, but would suggest facing the elephant in the room and asking why you have lost four of your longest standing clients. Talk to them if you can, if they are ethical, they will give you a honest answer as to why they choose to move on. That is where you need to start to understand what went south.

    Your 15 to 25 properties a week are very do-able and you should have no problem servicing your clients. Maybe your clients issue is with your scheduling for them, not getting the days/times they are requesting because you are already booked. Maybe it is the new guy on the block offering them a better rate. It could be nepotism within the office. It could be a lot of things...but until you find out, you are susceptible to losing more clients for issues you are unaware of.

    Well, we just had a 7.1 I am checking out

  3. I have been involved in sales and sales training for a very long time. One of the techniques I learned a long time ago was explained to me in a seminar and I have practiced successfully in real life. Here it is...

    You just lost a client to another. You don't know why or maybe you do. Either way you just lost them.

    Call them and explain you are just trying to improve your business practices and you would appreciate their input.

    They may answer you with the reason they chose another service honestly. For example they may say "they were cheaper" or "they were available and you were not" or "they offered me free something or other if they were given a chance."

    Now here is exactly what you do after they answer... Pause and think for a second or two. This gives you both time to ponder what is coming next. No matter what you reply with "Thank you, are you saying that if I (give you a free thing or was more flexible with timing or whatever) you would stay with me?

    Then pause again. They will either answer yes or no. If the answer is no, then you say "I'm not trying to change your mind but there must be another reason, please help me understand what I have to do better."

    It does work most of the time. And yes it takes confidence to pull it off so put on you big boy pants and do it. You have nothing to lose.

  4. Let's see now, 25 homes a week divided by 5 days = 5 home per day if you take Saturday and Sunday off. If you work 7 days a week, that would be 3.57 homes per day. With that said, I'm guessing your send your processing out to some 3rd party firm. If you don't and you process the shots yourself, you must be an android. At 5 homes per day, each home will take about 90 minutes to shoot. for a standard 8 hour day. So at the end of an 8 hour shooting day. Next comes the processing of the shots. I hope you send them out so you can remain sane. If you don't, again, your an android.
    My point is, that something has got to give. Quality, consistency, inter action with the clients, attitude and more. I would back off to 2 or 3 home per day to give yourself some time to focus on what is truly important regarding your business. My business has consistently grown in the last 4 years but i put my quality and relationships first, not the amount of homes I do, I just raised my prices and no one bat an eye. Hope this is of some help to you.

  5. Actually having the technique and practice to handle a wide range of technical challenges ought to provide sufficient confidence for this work, in terms of the photography itself. (Customer relations and other business skills is a whole different matter.) Lacking that, you need to acquire the skills to be good at bluffing. 🙂

  6. I disagree with Pete's ideas - some markets don't demand the same work that others demand (and our pricing usually reflects that. I'm not sure where the OP is, but in my south Texas area, an average listing is under $200k, has 2,000sqft and agents are looking to pay less than $200. During this time of year, I, too, am shooting 5 - 7 houses a day, 5 days per week. For our average home, I'm on-site around 30 minutes, and post-processing takes me about 10 - 20 minutes per home. Some homes go faster or slower depending on a number of factors.
    I've created a shooting and editing style that suits our market at a price point that fits. I'm big on providing a quality service and usually the only time I lose a customer is when someone new comes along and promises more for less (which I'm not going to compete with.)

    Frank has some great advice about getting down to the nitty-gritty of exactly why a client left. It's a discussion that most people feel is too difficult to bring up, but, I've found that sometimes those clients are almost testing you to see how much they mean to you. If you lose them and never reach out, then they feel like they weren't important. If you do reach out, it shows that you care about the relationship. Perhaps you weren't available, perhaps they were sold the world in the pitch from someone else and now they aren't getting promises kept. Just reach out, the act along is worth it to show that you truly did appreciate them as a client.

  7. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to offer their thoughts. I do want to point out, though, that I wrote this article in the hope of addressing Jake's concern/question about his *confidence levels*, not his customer relationship management practices, as that is what he's asked help with.

    I'm not trying to be a hard-ass ... I just want to make sure that our colleague is getting the input/advice he's looking for. Thanks all !

  8. Volunteering at the Humane Society, working with dogs, they taught us that timid/aggressive dogs often have their issues because they lack confidence -- and the prime way for dogs to build confidence is through training.

    -- Bear with me! This goes to Tony's point: focus. I find that setting goals and attaining them, which of course requires focus, is great for confidence.

    How about setting 3 small, attainable, but useful goals, reaching them, and setting 3 more? Keep a growing list of the goals and check them off as accomplished.

    So, whether or not your daunted photographer goes after his old clients, he can take the focus off worrying by a) thinking about what specific, attainable goals would be useful to him (but not overwhelming with that huge shoot schedule) and 2) working to accomplish those goals.

    (Speaking of all that, another interesting post topic might be to ask what other folks are working on, to improve their daily workflow and skill set. Making more actions in Photoshop (which ones?), various similar small changes in their postprocessing, doing something different in their shooting, etc.)

  9. Tony, I have to agree a little and disagree a lot. Jake's work is good enough to have gotten him to where he is. His confidence in his ability to photograph a home should just fine right now. His lack of confidence is in his ability to deal with a finicky clientele. After shooting a thousand or so homes he better know what he is doing.

    Oh, there are times we get tired and sloppy, see something out of place and shoot anyway. It doesn't take confidence to pick up a pair of shoes or check your iso or do a color balance. It doesn't take confidence to tell yourself that you just did it wrong and go back in and do it again. It does take confidence to approach a client and ask them WHY. Now he may not like the answer, so he doesn't ask. But dollars to donuts, it's his lack of confidence in himself as a communicator that's the issue, not his ability to frame a shot.

  10. Tony:

    I agree with everything you said. I'd even go further: go more Zen-like.

    I find myself getting into a "zone" when I'm really focused. And I find compositions and details that I would never have found if I was not in that Zen-like state of mind.

  11. @Bill Jones ... sorry but I completely disagree with you. Jake's question was specifically around his photography and helping him with his confidence in that area. Had his question revolved around the confidence to reach out to former clients to ascertain why they're no longer using him, then I think your points would be more useful to him; but that's not the case here. I also think it's presumptuous to believe that just because he's done a thousand shoots that he knows what he's doing and/or can't go through a slump that affects confidence. We need look no farther than professional sports to see hall-of-fame caliber athletes go through extended slumps.

    I think @JW's comments are closer to what Jake was looking for (based only on the way he worded his question).

  12. @ Michael Yearout - Thanks Michael, I think it's a good point you're making. Most people, whether it's in their job (be it photography or something else) or in a sport/hobby, know what it's like to be "in the zone" ... where everything just seems to be easy and where time stops because we're so engrossed in what we're doing in the moment.

    Maybe that would make for a good post at some point in future! What do you think? 😉

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