"The customer is always right” is a pretty common saying used in the business world because it emphasizes the importance of providing the best possible customer service so your patrons are satisfied and come back. (1)
It shows that we should prioritize customers’ needs and desires, even when those customers might be difficult or have unreasonable demands. It’s like a gentle reminder to always treat customers respectfully and prioritize their happiness and satisfaction. Without them, the business would fail. (1)
The biggest issue regarding customer satisfaction in the photography space is one thing...
Your photographer will have specific ideas on how your session will go, what type of product(s) they offer you, and how they will achieve success to make you happy. Most of us have a standard operating procedure, and we follow that template for every client. We adapt as needed, but generally, our processes are the same for each client.
But what about you?
Well, this is the narrative we can help change. It's time to help you, as the client, become more informed and educated so that when you select a photographer, you are doing so with a clear understanding of what it means when you book a session and what exactly you can negotiate. Doing that not only eases the transactional aspects of your agreement but also makes sure that both parties are optimistic about the experience.
Lately, I've seen quite a few instances in public groups about clients frustrated with getting images back in a specific time frame, with the number of photos they get, with not being happy because of editing, etc. These examples are just a few of the concerns that any clients shouldn't have to be concerned about because those should have been addressed in the original contract with their photographer.
Here are some pointers for you as a client.
FIRST, stop asking for a photographer who is "cheap" or "doesn't cost an arm and a leg." I get it; we all have budgets. But if you monitor photographers whose work you've seen, you know there are some times throughout the year that they will offer specials that most likely will fit a budget you are comfortable with.
It's important to say that there are NO, NEVER, IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD; THIS IS THE BIGGEST FALICY IN PHOTOGRAPHY, 15-minute sessions. You indeed booked a 15-minute photo slot, and when you get there, your session starts at 10:00. Your photographer sets their timer, and you're promptly done at 15 minutes; you had a 15-minute session. Yes, YOU did. But the photographer had to spend 15 minutes photographing in addition to AT LEAST :
30 minutes driving time to and from the location
Mileage cost for wear and tear on vehicle
One hour sorting through images to select the best for your preview
One hour (minimum) doing simple edits for the final photos you selected
The time it takes to utilize ordering software (prints) or housing them in their paid-for online gallery.
Delivery time for prints.
SECOND, please ensure you both have signed a contract before paying a retainer.
That's it. Pretty simple.
Well, not so much. As you know, a contract is an agreement of terms between two parties. Sadly, some photographers do not use contracts, and this should be your warning that this is a photographer you don't want to hire.
A contract will have standard information like the legal terms for the state in which the session is taking place (which protects you and the photographer) should legal action need to be taken; it will have the date you agreed to the contract, the date of your session, the price you are paying for your session, and what you are getting in return for the price you are paying for the session. They will also contain vocabulary that addresses the photographer's style, the types of images you'll receive, the photographer's rights of the image use, how long the photographer has to deliver the photos, and any other terms relative to the photographer's business model.
Here are my suggestions so you can be more proactive:
- Research the photographers
- When you decide, compare their images on their website and social media sites. Scroll through to ensure they are consistent and the editing looks the same, so you know their style is standard, not an experiment from client to client. This is one of the biggest complaints after clients get their images back. Ask them to send you a portfolio of their last ten clients before you decide. Also, ensure that when booking a session, the pictures they've used for promotion aren't "photos for inspiration." While this helps show what a photographer will try to replicate, it's usually substantially different. Color-based inspirations are fine, but a set-based image can disappoint when you arrive at a session that looks different from what the pictures promised.
- Ask the photographer to itemize what you are getting in return for the price you are paying your photographer.
- This includes your session start and finish times, late arrival fee, and extended session payment.
- Cancellation policy and fee refunds based on that policy.
- Retainers. Time is money. Photographers book sessions in advance and require retainers to protect the time they've blocked off for your session. Retainers are nonrefundable for a reason. This is the same as your dental/doctor's offices' policies. They will, rightfully so, charge cancellation fees, and it shouldn't be any different for a photographer. Respect that.
- Create a shot list
Ask the photographer for the amounts of poses you can do based on the time commitment of your session. If you give them a whole page of images you want for the 15-minute mini-session you booked, for example, it won't happen. If you have a list of poses (mom and dad, mom and kids, dad and kids, kids together, kids individual, etc.), please ask your photographer if the session time you've booked is enough. If it's not, you can either book a more extended session or reduce your list. Please expect your photographer to give only what they've promised. Their time is JUST as valuable as your time.
- Do you get a Full Gallery review (all the images the photographer took) or a Preview Gallery (the best photos the photographer has selected)?
I am letting you know that you DO NOT need a full gallery review.
First, it will be overwhelming if you are required to select the images you want in your final package. Total galleries include awkward smiles, closed eyes, hair in the face, unflattering angles, etc. (FYI, Every photographer takes them and scraps them because they want the client to see themselves as they see them, which is beautiful.)
Second, photographers know what they are doing. They will choose only the best photos for the preview gallery. Trust them to do that. After all, you've hired them for a reason.
- Ask what items you'll receive (digital or print products).
Does your session include a certain number of images you get to select? Do not allow a photographer to give you a range. Could you be specific in that number? For example, a range of 50-75 pictures is an extensive range difference and could cause issues if the photographer only returns you 50, which, in theory, was promised, but you were expecting 75. If you want to opt for prints over digitals, please make sure the exact size and the number of prints you get in each size are noted.
- Ask what types of retouching the photographer does in their edits.
For awareness, most photographers will say that they do simple retouches (like simple skin smoothing, whitening of teeth, and pops of eyes) but DO NOT include major retouching like those listed below. Also, I'd like to point out that extensive editing will require additional charges, but make sure your contract notes those fees and understand that the photographer will need payment before those edits are done.
- significant skin blemishes/acne
- wrinkle reduction
- Brace removal
- body sizing adjustments
- Ask for an actual date, not an estimate, of when you can expect your images to be delivered digitally or in print.
Many photographers (in the past, myself included) give an estimate like "4 weeks". A precise date helps cause less confusion for the client, but it also ensures the photographer has a firm date instead of allowing themselves a few extra days because they don't have a date set.
- Ask the photographer what kind of images you are getting.
The term RAW gets thrown out quite a bit in the complaint space, but here is a simple tidbit about RAW images. You don't need them. Unless you're a commercial business/'corporation and you're willing to pay for them. For example, a name-brand shoe company wants a raw image from a photographer of one of their sponsored athlete wearing their shoes. This price should be at least $5000 PER IMAGE as a starting point. I am sharing this with you so you understand that raws are expensive unless they are being commercially mass-produced; they are unnecessary for a regular, everyday client. Most photographers will deliver a high-resolution .jpg. However, some offer varieties of image quality, so could you ensure you understand what they are delivering? When you get the photos, download the entire gallery immediately. Also, ensure you know how long the photographer will keep your files on their systems. You should have at least five years of digital access to them. As the five-year time ends, please request a follow-up email to pay an additional fee for a time extension. Better safe than sorry (I've seen two photographers in the last month that have deleted clients' images after some time, and the client never downloaded the whole gallery)
- If you are a commercial business, ask your photographer to create metadata for your images. There are a few reasons this is important.
- It allows others to know what this image is, where and when it was taken, and the context.
- It has keywords that allow you to search for an image in your files by a particular word or date. As a company, your photo collection should be organized so they are easily accessible based on topics or keywords. Keywords also populate images on the World Wide Web when someone seeks something specific based on context.
- The best way to figure out your keywords is by identifying the foundations and structures of your business and then detailing from there. Your photographer should be able to help you identify terms based on their research of your company before your shoot. (Pro Tip. Ask them what they think of your website and how you use content. If they don't have an answer, they aren't the photographer for you.)
Here is an example of a recent client and the information I attached to each of their images:
- Description of Photo | Drake Women’s Tennis plays against Wichita State at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Sunday, January 21st, 2024.
- Keywords attached to Photo | Drake Women’s Tennis, Women’s Tennis, Tennis, Drake Athletics, Drake University, Knapp Tennis Center, D1, NCAA, Missouri Valley Conference
Active participation leading up to your photography session is essential. This is a very simple, easy-to-understand, and follow guide to ensure you and your photographer have the best experience with a clear understanding of what will transpire.
After all, the customer is only right when they understand and agree to the terms of their transaction and, therefore, have a clear knowledge of exactly what they will get, unlike the food at a drive-through on any given day. ;-)
(1) - https://grammarist.com/phrase/the-customer-is-always-right/
Image courtesy of Sam Lozada