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Responding to a Client Who Interferes with a Photoshoot

Published: 26/04/2020
By: Brandon

Lynn writes:

“I would like your opinion regarding a real estate agent's interference on the photoshoot. This particular agent arrives 3/4 of the way through the shoot and then questions me about each and every room in front of the owner. She will say, "Did you get that room?" I don't know if she is trying to prove herself to the customer but I find it demeaning in a big way. I have been photographing homes for 27 years and my problem that I am certainly in a zone while I am shooting the rooms. This just totally throws me off in front of the seller and I have lost my concentration. I mentioned this to her today and she was pissed. After all, I started this business before anyone ever photographed houses; I am hired for my expertise. What do you all think about this?”

Wow, that’s an interesting one, Lynn! My answer is a two-parter. The first part revolves around some info that is missing for me in your write-up. I’d want to find out from you if you’ve given some thought on the manner in which you've expressed your displeasure with the client. For instance, if you’d expressed yourself with an angry tone, it might have caused her to be taken off-guard or resentful, which might lead her to feeling “pissed”, as you put it. I’m not trying to insult your sensibilities, nor your professionalism, Lynn; I’m just wanting to cover off some potential explanations for your client’s immediate reaction.

If, however, you presented your concern appropriately and she still got pissed right away, then that's another story. If she’s a longer-term client that you have a previously good history with, then I might be inclined to try to salvage things. If she is a relatively new client though, and she’s already reacting to you this way, then I’d be inclined to part ways. I say that because someone who gets “pissed” so quickly, without giving thought as to how her behavior was affecting you, is a sign of disrespect in my eyes and for me, that is my personal “line in the sand”. Once it’s crossed, then it’s hard to come back from. The only time in my career when I’ve fired a client is over this very issue of feeling disrespected in their presence.

Anyway, that’s my two-cents based on the information you’ve provided, Lynn. I’m sure others will offer additional insights and things for you to consider. Thanks again for reaching out.



16 comments on “Responding to a Client Who Interferes with a Photoshoot”

  1. Yes I've been there. You need firm boundaries and don't give them wiggle room to make themselves look big. Do a walk through with these type of agents and quickly shoot all the options in camera before you pull your tripod out. Then go through the all angles with them before you start. Keep using works like "what do you want" so they don't get away with stuff like that. If they say "don't you know", say every agent is different, the angles in the suburbs and the beachfront are different,etc. Then only shoot what's confirmed, invoice and collect your money. Sometimes they say other bad things, not related to the angles shot, but just deflect, confirm the photos, and take their money. Funny thing ... the pushy agents bring in the most jobs ... and the friendly agents don't have that much work.

  2. ... if they're late and they're a new agent or a picky agent, I call before I go in and confirm what they want. If I know it's an agent that doesn't care, then I shoot whatever, but I don't give picky or pushy agents wiggle room to say dumb things

  3. I would make a decision about how important that client is to you first. Sometimes, you can turn a bad situation around for the better. Give the Realtor a little time to cool off, then (if you want to keep the client) try to get her to see your point of view. She probably felt guilty for being late to the shoot and was trying to cover up and look good in front of the customer. Sometimes you just have to let that go and understand that is what is happening. On another note, I understand about being in a zone and losing concentration. Shooting in full PPE now is distracting for me. It doesn't help when the owner or Realtor is breathing down the back of your neck!!!

  4. This is one of the most important areas where independent photographers can shine over the tour companies. Even if you charge the same price and deliver the same quality, you can win over customers. The contractors that work for the tour companies have even less motivation to satisfy a Realtor than you do. I would find a way to deal with these types of customers by answering their questions with technical questions you know they will not have the answer to. This is a very innocent way of putting them in their place right in front of their seller. They are most likely to say..."Well, you're the expert". What will your response be to him/her when they say..."You're the expert, what do you think"?

  5. Yup, have had this happen many times. It’s especially irritating if the agent says some like, “Oh, I forgot to put this particular pillow on the sofa. Can you reshoot this room?” They seem to think it’s just a matter of quickly snapping of another shot.

    Sometimes I’m really accommodating and say “no problem”. But other times, I make it clear that it will entail a lot of extra time (if, for instance, I’ve shot 5 different angles of that room and we need to redo each one).

  6. Best advice - smile and say to yourself, 'goooood' That puts you back in control. Failing that, you could also try sarcasm (in front of the owner) but only if you don't want future work from your realtor. The largest country house agent in the UK sacked a third of its agents and then invited the rest of us to their office in London to tell us how to photograph their properties. People came down from Scotland and all over the UK. I smiled a lot through that session :o)

  7. I have run into that same type issue a few times. I pull the agent aside, so the homeowner is not able to hear, and explain that I shoot several houses a day, and that when a client fails to have the home ready, or tries to "fluff" each room as the shoot is going on, that it puts me lete on the rest of the clients that day. I then state, without anger or malice, that if the agent cannot have the home ready to shoot and arrive before I do, that we not be a good fit.

    I have done this 3 times in 4 years. 2 clients amended their ways, and one stopped using me. I would have been fine with all them not using me (not what I want, but would be ok with it.

    There was another comment that said, in essence, the difficult and demanding clients are the ones that produce the most work. I emphatically agree. I do not mind difficult clients, or clients that want to choose shots. angles, etc. What I will not tolerate is inconsiderate clients. There is a huge difference between demanding and inconsiderate. Any client that wants to interfere in the middle of shoot is generally being disrespectful of your time. Sometimes it is a one off, bad day kind of thing, other times it is just someone who will not give respect and consideration unless you demand it.

    The former you try to live with, the latter you must either decide to be treated poorly or demand the respect that one person should give to another, regardless of the situation.

  8. I found Adam's comment interesting, "… the pushy agents bring in the most jobs … and the friendly agents don’t have that much work."

    Our experiences all vary. One of my absolute pushiest, most demanding...brought fair amount of work. Thought I'd take her input, learn, improve. On site during every shoot, very specific...after a few it started to get tiring. Then, she found another business that would do the 'entire kitchen sink,' 30-50 images, photo tours, unique customer ULRs...etc. For $100/shoot. Phone just stopped ringing. Got ahold of her, she told me, said if I'd match prices she'd keep using me. No, thank you. Smiling to myself I knew one thing, she wasn't going to get the same quality deliverables, plus 'more', for $100. Good luck.

    On the other hand, my #1 broker, going on 4 years... I shot for her nearly 3 years before I ever met her in person. Her admin found me, she liked my photos, has used me ever since. She's very demanding :). It's not uncommon to get a text: "need photos 12345 Street av." I know her service area, so it's often up to me to figure out which city/town the address is in. That's it. Take pic, send pics, get paid (billing service has her card on file, so I don't even have to get back to her for that).

    Pushy, demanding, its fine, even welcome to a point (clear communication). Beyond that point, well, I've enough stress in my life to go looking for it. 🙂

  9. This situation is why it's a very good idea to have an official ToS that you go over with the client.

    If the client wants to do the walk through with me to develop the shot list, that's no problem. The downside for them is we go from a maximum of around 25 images to 20. Chances are that I could have made another 5 images in the time it's takes. If the agent wants to be the "art director" and produce each image, we shift from my standard package to a half/full day arrangement. Probably a full day. Again, it's not a problem but the process will be much slower.

    I state in my ToS that properties will be photographed as-is. I'll line up chairs, move an ottoman and tug a bedspread to get rid of wrinkles, but my policy is I am not responsible for changing a thing. I might make a list of suggestions so the owner or agent can work ahead of me getting rid of trash cans, fans, small heaters, pet stuff, etc. All of the little clutter things that area quick to fix. They don't get to look at the lcd on the camera or tablet as photos are being made. That just leads to problems.

    Service comes with a price. It's not a bad thing when an agent wants more control, but if that takes more time there has to be a charge for it. The agent also needs to understand that bounds of your service at a given price level. As stated above, if you have multiple jobs booked for the day and the agent jumps into the middle of your workflow unannounced, you may be late the rest of the day which is not fair to the rest of your clients. Being on-time for me is huge. If I'm late and the agent was meeting me at a job before having to leave for another appointment, they might have to cancel the job or won't be able to let me in. If I ever were to be late, I'd rebate part of the fee which is something I'd hate to do but I see it as self-flagulation so I don't do it again. I want the agent to see that it's also going to impact me.

    One thing never to do is get into an argument in front of the seller. Be polite, but firm. "Did you get this room?" could be met with "I am 75% done and only have this room, this room and the backyard to go. BTW, will you be paying with a check or credit card?" If they still come back with questions try to stress a tight schedule and that you need to keep going so you have as much time as possible so you aren't rushing through those last few images. If they are STILL being a PIA, do whatever you can to delay any tough stance until later after you are done and out of the property. You do have to talk with the agent and can't just blow it off if you will be working with them in the future. There's catalog pricing and service and bespoke. If they want the latter, they should pay more and make sure that it's agreed on at the time the appointment is made so you can schedule time for it.

  10. I understand, we are professionals, many of us with thousands of homes under our belt. Having someone questions our process can be off-putting. But a change in how we perceive these questions can offer us a better selection of responses. Instead of viewing her questions as doubting our abilities, switch to the view that she is doing her job and ensuring that everything goes right for her client. Now we have options that allow us to look good and make her look good. After the first question reply with "Thank you for checking. When I am done, you, [Client name] and I can sit down and go through all the photos. We can make sure that everything is there and to your client's liking. If not, we can fix things then"

    Remember, agents hire us because we make them look good.

  11. My perception of this issue is a bit different, perhaps. I have just a few agents who make a lot of suggestions and, if they're late to the dance, it can mean some rooms being re-shot. Mostly they're about staging, but sometimes about composition. Here's the thing, they're very good agents, so I listen to them. While I believe I'm working with them, I know I'm also working for them, so I listen to them. They pay the bills and they pay on time, so.... you guessed it, I listen to them. But it's more than that, because they also respect and solicit my thoughts and and amazingly, they listen to me, too.

    As a practical matter, if I know they're coming to a shoot I'll try and wait for them or I'll start with the areas that they are less likely to want to tweak. And if they are there at the outset, we'll walk through and talk about what they want and what I think will work best. I'm also a big believer in the "blind squirrel" principle, which is one reason I listen to home owners ideas, too. It doesn't cost anything to listen, smile, and nod your head. Nor does it cost too much to take that odd shot to make them feel good. And now and then they have a good suggestion, after all, we can get stuck in a bit of a creative rut, too. It's nice to get kicked out of it, even if we are the smartest photographer in the room.

    My tune might be different if they didn't listen and were only telling me how to do my job, but that's not the case. In the end, they've at best made me a better photographer and at worst given me food for thought. Mostly though, it's a collaboration and it works. As photographers we want to be trusted and listened to. So do agents.

    It reminds me a little of the ultra-wide discussions here in the past. We feel we know composition better than agents, but in the end, after all the discussion, if they insist on ultra-wide we give them ulta-wide (or they move on to someone who will). Now we might throw in a few "better compositions" too, but so it is with this, too. It would be nice to tell them "get stuffed, it's my way or the highway" but that's not the best of options all the time.

  12. The luxury of being a real estate photographer..... Apparently you've never worked with an art director! Or creative director. The good ones partner with you.... The bad or young ones dominate over you. Smile, listen, attempt to accommodate meanwhile in the background of your thoughts sing the song, Money .... it's money money money! If they really get obnoxious apply a multiplier to the financial price. This can be accomplished by saying, "absolutely, we can do that, no problem, it's going to require extra work, the fee for that is__________ is this acceptable?

    The best way to fire a client is to make the price too high for them to work with you. This is twofold in your benefit. 1. You have not pissed them off because you are extremely nice but you've reinforced the value of your professionalism and experience with the price tag. 2. People think that the highest priced vendor must be the best because they are the highest price. So now this obnoxious overbearing individual will be singing your praises about how great you are because of how expensive you are. 3. When it's really important job this obnoxious individual come back to you and gladly pay the higher fee that makes it worth your effort to deal with them.

  13. The best client is one who calls you and pays you. Your schedule, fees and photography method will dictate a lot. A run and gunner will not have nearly as much time for "nonsense" as a multi-flash straight out of camera type photographer will.

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