You can only be profitable as a photographer if you have clients. Clients are the good and bad about being an artist. On one hand, you are paid to do what you love, but on the other, they usually don’t care about the same stuff you care about. In this article, I will tell you exactly what your clients want from you.
Let me start by saying that your clients are all different, and this article will be a vast generalization about what I found to be true. At the same time, I would be surprised if your particular clients didn’t care about what you do, when you do it, and how much you do it for. So, the only thing your clients will ever want from you is for you to: deliver images to brief, on time, and on budget. They don’t want anything else from you. With this in mind, allow me to explain every demand.
By far, the hardest thing to ask an artist to do is to put themselves into the client’s shoes. I urge you to be open-minded and read this article with a cool head.
When someone hires a photographer, they are looking to get images. So, all you do in their eyes is deliver files they can later use for visual purposes. The clients are paying for this because it is a product. This product, like any other on the market, is expected to follow some basic rules. It has to be what they want and when they want it.
Let’s consider a simple example: Canon cameras. If you have the budget to spend $1,000 on a mirrorless camera and you need it next week, you will find a store that can fulfill your requirements. You don’t necessarily care how the product was made or how much research went into it. Now that there’s a situation you can relate to, let’s apply this scenario to photography.
Nothing informs people more than being late on something. I hate when someone I’m paying is late. Your clients are also likely to hate missed deadlines. If you’re working on a commercial project, there is a high probability that the people who hired you also have deadlines to meet and higher-ups to satisfy. Time is of the essence with your clients, and they want it to stay that way. Plan accordingly, and don’t be afraid to throw an extra day in should that give you peace of mind. Remember, it is usually better to deliver images sooner than later. At the same time, if you deliver too fast, it may seem like you didn’t put the right amount of effort or pay attention to the images. Simply deliver on time or a day earlier, but never later. As a side-note, everyone and everything in the world of fashion is late, so don’t freak out if you get late work, but don’t be that person who sends late.
Clients that come to you are likely to have something specific in their minds. The degree to which that something is specific varies. Your job is to find out what they want in as much detail as possible. Ask questions, listen to the answers, take notes. Your clients come with a problem they need you to solve, and you need to be an expert in the problem and the solution. Sometimes, the brief can be ambiguous; for example, if someone asks for “soft, hard light.” Such a thing doesn’t exist. The client may imply a hard light with low contrast, or soft light with high contrast. Asking for a visual reference is always a good idea.
On big commercial assignments, you may be working alongside a video crew, and they are also working to brief. You will need to coordinate with them to ensure that the two teams can produce high-quality work while not distracting or interfering with each other.
Money is not an infinite resource. It is also informative if you have to go over budget or cut corners because of a budget constraint. There is, of course, a reasonable budget at each job level; nonetheless, I suggest making sure that there is enough budget set for the job before you send out an estimate. A useful item on the estimate can be a buffer of a few hundred dollars (or thousand, depending on production) for unexpected costs such as parking, extra rentals, accidents, and other stuff that may not go as planned. Depending on what your stands on these are, you may also include a sale or client discount. I don’t like doing that since it implies that I’m overvaling my work, which I am not.
Budget Versus Brief
In 99.9% of situations, the client either comes with a “here’s what we want, how much will it be?” or a “here is how much we have, what can you do?” In either case, you need to be careful with giving a budget or a brief and make sure that you can do it with the money you’re given. If a client has come with both, again, weigh one against the other, and add the timeframe.
If you are planning to comment that clients care about something else, feel free. However, I’d like to address a few things they are not interested in hearing.
There is no easier way to bore someone than by talking about the gear you’re using or breaking down the mad five-light setup you created. Sure, you are proud of the way you create the image. I am in the same boat, but be aware that the client is likely not interested in what you have to say about the gear. Talk to them about cars, their kids, or the weather if you are really out of stuff. Even if they are a photo enthusiast, it is unlikely they know or understand what you’re doing.
Think back to what I said earlier: you don’t care about the particulars of how your iPhone is made, at least not to the extent an Apple engineer would. The same applies to photography.