We are photographers. We know our cameras, our lenses, and our lighting equipment. But what about people? We all know that some people-skills are required in order to be a successful wedding or portrait photographer. And we are also aware that not everyone is born with a natural ability to put people at ease quickly. So we’re going to help you create a game plan for successful interaction with clients.
There are generally two types of photographers - the painfully shy introvert who got into photography for the sake of art, and the “can’t shut up” chatterbox who got into photography because they love human interaction. If you’re somewhere in between, then you’ve got it figured out. But if not, here are some solid tools to help you fine-tune your social skills.
If you are the quiet-type, then you know how tough conversation can be. You dread that uncomfortable feeling of those long awkward silences. You would rather be in front of a computer editing images than having to make small talk during the actual photo shoot.
If you happen to be the social type, who loves telling stories and making new friends, then your problem is letting silence happen. Back and forth conversation is great but a photographer rambling for 1.5 hours can be exhausting.
In our on-going effort to promote “just being yourself,” we believe you shouldn’t change who you are. Instead adopt this helpful routine to be you, but in a professional, polished way.
Go in with a solid socializing plan. Start with introductions and questions about them, then share a little about yourself, and close with post-session processes.
Introductions set the tone. If you know them and you are a hugger, go for it. If not, handshakes are great. If you are a kids’ photographer, always say hello to the little ones first; getting down on their level and building a rapport immediately. The session will go much smoother if you acknowledge them right away. Many little kids will likely be shy at first, and will gradually warm-up after a few minutes.
Take a minute to chat about any wardrobe changes, and/or special props, and formulate an outline in your mind for the flow of the session. Resist the urge to ask them about any ideas they might have, and instead just begin shooting. You don’t want to give mom the opportunity to get out her phone and show you her ten-million Pinterest pins. Instead, towards the end of the session, once your clients have experienced your creativity in person, you might ask if there is anything else they want to add.
Then, continue with a couple of conversational questions:
You can also ask questions about work or life, if it feels appropriate or it is info they have shared with you in the past. But if you are fairly certain they have told you the last dozen times you’ve seen them what they do for a living, and you still don’t remember, then don’t ask again. This will make you seem like you don’t care. Because let’s face it, even though you’ve done 200 sessions since the last time you saw them, they need to believe that they are your only client, and that you’ve committed their entire life to memory.
Also, make sure to include them both. For instance, if you ask one parent if they are staying home with the kiddos, or working, then you will want to make sure to ask the other. Never make any gender-role assumptions. Make sure your clients know you value whatever role they have chosen to take on.
And, if you are really on the quiet side, and most conversation is almost unbearable for you, then silence with a smile is nice.
What you say with your face is almost as important as what you say with your mouth.
Your expression shows you are a nice person, but on the introverted side. And most folks can appreciate that. The clients that really need conversation will start it up themselves.
Now for the chatterboxes, your biggest problem is not coming up with conversation. Rather, it is going on, and on, and on until your client has completely turned off. Chatterboxes are usually known for flirting dangerously at the edge of inappropriate conversation. It likely goes without saying that topics that should be off-limits are religion, race, and politics. If they bring it up, you can kindly listen. But try not to engage too much, unless you are 100% certain that you are on the same page. And whatever you do, don’t start blabbing about something you know nothing about. Your credibility will go down the tubes instantly.
Lulls in conversation are normal. And if start to feel like an interrogator with too many questions, fall back on posing and directing.
Instructing clients where to stand, how to sit or stand in the most flattering way, and how to interact with each other are all ways to fill the silence, and have the added bonus of drastically improving your images.
Photographers may be surprised to know that it’s okay to talk about oneself (a little bit). They love you and your work, so they are interested in YOU. We all know that it’s inappropriate to dominate the conversation with talk of your recent car accident, or how much you loathe your relatives. But interjecting positive anecdotes about that recent Hawaii wedding you shot, or a spread in a recent bridal magazine, or your new line of beautiful frames, gives you a bit of added street cred.
Two things we should note, as you tiptoe through the field of potential conversational landmines. First, is that all people are different, therefore all clients are different. So don’t be offended if someone isn’t the biggest conversationalist in the world. Don’t just assume they hate you! They might be the quiet-type too. Second, you may say something silly or embarrassing at some point. And you can forgive yourself! You want to keep your heart always open, and be kind and generous with your words. And when you do that, there will be an occasional slip-up. You will say something that just comes out wrong, or you might ask a question that you immediately notice is treading into sensitive territory. So don’t beat yourself up about it. We are human after all!
Now, once you’ve successfully navigated the session with light and fun conversation, it’s important to end with business. Let clients know what to expect next, your timeline of processes, and of course mention all the gorgeous keepsake products you have to offer.. Oh, and of course, wrap-up with a genuine thank you.