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Client vs Boss: Who Is in Charge at Your Photoshoot?

Published: 16/08/2019

"The customer is always right."

That's what we've heard time and time again over the course of our life. It started early, from the perspective of a customer and now, as a business owner, it's from the perspective of the service provider. It's an important mindset when customer service is involved, and we absolutely should make every effort to satisfy our customers. However, I've read a lot of comments on blog posts here on PFRE and in various real estate photography Facebook groups that suggest to me that the sentiment gets applied a little out of context in some cases; and I feel it can really work against you when applied incorrectly. Allow me to explain...

"The customer is always right", applies perfectly in situations where you make a mistake. You need to take ownership of the mistake, and take every reasonable step you can think of to fix your error or to make it up to your client. If that's obvious to you, good. It's not obvious to everyone though, so I'll leave it here to be digested by everyone. How you handle a mistake is way more important than whatever pain the mistake itself has caused your client. The customer is right in this case, and you are wrong. Fixing it is excellent customer service, and your client will love you even more for the character you show when you take ownership and make it right. Also, the customer is right to want diligent, effective communication, timely responses to their inquiries, and punctuality. They are right to expect you to be nice, respectful, and look presentable. Do those things.

If you and your client disagree on something however, that does not necessarily mean they are right. There are many shades of grey here, and we can't cover them all, but I'll try to hit on a few points that I think are most important. I'll assume that you are doing a great job in the customer service department that I just outlined in the previous paragraph.

First and foremost, do what makes you happy. In the context of how your photos look, this is really important. I talk about this a little in my tutorial, and I think it's a critical consideration. I believe it was Scott Hargis who I first heard comment on this, and it resonated with me. When you shoot in a way that produces photos that you love, you will be happier. You will probably be better too, because you're emotionally invested in the work you are doing. It will motivate you to learn more, and be more thoughtful about where you put your camera, how you light (or don't light) a scene, and whether or not you bother to move an object that is hurting your photo. When you take the time to be creative, to be a good problem-solver, and to make the best photo you can in the time you have, you will be happier in your business and that will trickle down into your personal life. Also, your clients will notice your passion, and that's a good thing. They will trust you more, and give you more freedom as a result. You will get to do what you think is best, and your client will trust that you have their best interest at heart and will not have to "manage their photographer" at the photoshoot.

So let's apply that concept a little with a couple of practical examples:

You have to define your ideal client. It's an important part of your business. Would you rather have:

  1. A bunch of clients who like what you like, expect you to do it, thank you when you deliver your work, and pay your invoice right away?
  2. Or a bunch of clients who don't like what you like, and expect you to make photos that you find unattractive?

Group 1 is group of clients which you can make happy with little to no effort, and have lots of fun along the way.
Group 2 is a group of clients for which you constantly have to bend, accommodate, and have to wrestle with.

Think about your ideal client. You've read this before: Put in your portfolio what you would like to shoot, and you will attract those clients. Start it today, and before too long, your portfolio will be completely different and you will be more attractive to those ideal clients that you have defined. Presumably, this is a path to happiness for you. I know it is for me!

You can decide whether you turn the lights on, or turn the lights off. You probably prefer one approach over the other. I tend to hear the following comment mostly when the photographer wants to turn the lights off. It goes something like, "my clients insist/demand that I do X". Your client is not right. Neither are you, by the way. It's a matter of opinion and preference. But if one makes you happy and the other makes you unhappy, then maybe you need different clients. Again, define your ideal client and go after it.

You can shoot at a longer focal length. Again, it's a matter of preference, so nobody is right or wrong. But if you are shooting corner to corner at 16mm, I can tell you that you probably are not putting much effort or thought into your composition. There's nothing inherently wrong with shooting really wide--I shoot wide often, so please don't misunderstand me--it's just that when you do it as a default behavior instead of as a creative decision, something feels different about the photo. If you get a different "feeling" (thanks, Tony Colangelo!) when you shoot at a longer focal length, but your client insists on "making it look bigger", then your customer is not right. Shoot the photos that make you happy and attract clients that like what you like and appreciate your perspective.

You can expose windows how you feel best suits the space and your photo. I already went down that rabbit hole and it was fun for everyone! Read about it here: Part 1 , and here: Part 2. Then go listen to the Shooting Spaces Podcast interview where we talked about these articles as a follow up, here.

You are the photographer. You know what you are doing. You know what looks best, and you should do it. (Don't get cocky, though! Share your work and get feedback; especially from those whose work you appreciate. You'll learn something every time you do, and you will improve.)

You got into this profession for a reason and I doubt that being an order taker from your customers was part of your vision. Shoot what and how you want to shoot, and if you do it consistently over time (which is the recipe to success in anything, by the way), you will attract a different client who appreciates what you are doing. That client is out there. There are lots of those clients out there. You don't have to do anything radical here. Simply make the best photos you possibly can and be really nice to work with, and you will succeed. And by the way, if your goal is to move to a different type of client, such as architects or interior designers, you'll probably want to consider taking an approach to your photos that would resonate with that market.

When you shoot in a way that gets you excited - whether it's excitement over the photo you just shot, or excitement about what you're going to be shooting tomorrow - it will cause you to WANT to improve. A photographer who is always improving sounds like excellent service to me. Who wouldn't want that?

Garey Gomez is an architectural photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a three-time PFRE Photographer of the Month, and the creator of the Mastering Real Estate Photography tutorial series.

Garey Gomez

3 comments on “Client vs Boss: Who Is in Charge at Your Photoshoot?”

  1. Great topic....

    I'd love to add that there is much value in educating the client (show them the back of the camera, explain light temperatures, etc.... - some don't want to learn, and that's fine, too.) and also skilled conflict resolution (billing issues / expectations on timelines / seller preparation) to develop a long-term relationship.

    The client will always have a vendor. Maintaining a long-term relationship makes things run smoothly helps make sure you are still that vendor for years to come.

    TONS of value in letting go of relationships which don't satisfy either one of you. (You can sense when it's not paradise for everyone...)

  2. There are a couple of considerations here.

    1. The vast majority of real estate do not really care much about the quality of the listing photos, as long as it is acceptable to their sellers; and they tend to view the photography more as a service providing a commodity to satisfy their seller's expectations, rather than viewing the photos as significant marketing materials. To the extent they consider the photos to be marketing materials at all, it is just as documents to convey information about the basic features of the property, not to highlight its aesthetic appeal or sell a lifestyle.

    2. Even many of the agents who do value photos as serious marketing materials to market homes and their own brands will often defer to the sellers when they weigh in on the style and quality of the photos, which leads to the question of who is really the photographer's client in such situations; and it is often the case that, when the sellers weigh in, it is only after the photographer has delivered the photos. In my experience, this does not happen often, but it happens often enough that photographers should be prepared for it.

    I avoid dealing with the first type of agent mentioned above, and they tend to avoid me because they place a very low economic value on listing photos and my rates are in any case not within their range.

    As for doing what you like, I think it is a very good thing if you can do that and find steady market for what you do in the world of commerce. However, we have to remember that what we are doing is commercial, not fine, art, and needs to serve the purposes of others. There are very few people in the creative world who serve commercial clients who can always do exactly what they want for all commissions. That said, I don't think anyone can be all things to all clients, and you need to offer a unique and appealing point of view to give clients a reason to choose you and to avoid becoming just a commodity. I suspect that even Annie Leibovitz (just to name someone really well known who is at or near the very top of the current editorial and advertising photography realm) doesn't always gets to do exactly what she wants every time. For example, from some of her comments, I get the strong impression that she would have preferred to continue to mostly do the sort of photojournalism with which she started her career, but the lure of more money was what influenced her choice to specialize in the sort of highly stylized editorial portraiture for which she subsequently became famous.

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