Being a good portrait photographer takes more than just shooting beautiful photos. The portrait experience begins from the moment the client first contacts you, and doesn’t end until the final product is delivered. One of the most important aspects of client interaction occurs during the shoot itself. If the photos turn out nice, but your client had a bad time creating them, that’s all they’ll ever think of when they look at their prints. Here, I present you with a list of things you should avoid during a portrait session.
1. Give the impression it’s not going well
If the shoot isn’t going as well as you’d hoped, you can’t let your client know. It might be cold and raining, your client might be awkward in front of the camera, you might be out of posing ideas, the location might be terrible and un-inspiring, or your client’s child might refuse to look at the camera. None of these are an excuse for letting your client feel like the session isn’t going less than perfectly. The minute they get the inkling something is wrong, it’ll put a damper on the entire experience, and could result in even worse photos.
2. Treat your equipment poorly
A lot of professional photographers get to the point in their career where they stop babying their camera gear. We leave the caps off and toss them in a bag without a second thought. But your client is paying a lot of money to hire a professional photographer, and they know that a portion of that payment goes to purchasing your professional-grade equipment. If your client sees you throwing a big expensive lens into your bag, they may feel like you’re not very professional, you don’t value the things that are important to you, or even that they overpaid for the session.
3. Take a phone call
Once your shoot begins, your cell phone should be silenced and put away. Your focus should be on your client only for the entirety of the session length. You shouldn’t be taking phone calls, checking email, or responding to texts – even during “down time”.
4. Forget about the details
It’s really easy to get swept up in a session; plotting out your next location or pose before the current one is complete. But your clients are paying you to not only photograph them, but to make them look their best. That’s why it’s crucial to remember the small details. How does their hair look? What are their hands doing? Is their clothing bunched up? Do they have genuine expressions? These are the small things your client expects you to notice and fix before you start pressing the shutter.
5. Disregard your client’s comfort and happiness
The ability to read people’s feelings even when they don’t say anything is an important skill for not only photographers, but also business owners in general. The last thing we want is to make our clients do something that makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps you’re having them pose on a busy sidewalk, and they’re easily embarrassed. Or maybe you’re telling them to sit on the dirty ground in their nice clothing. It never hurts to ask permission before assuming your clients are okay with something.
6. Stop talking
Talking while you shoot is a crucial skill for photographers that can make or break the mood of a session. A portrait shoot can be a stressful and self-conscious event for some clients, and they need your constant feedback to know they’re doing what you want them to. If you need to stop talking for a moment to focus, then just tell your client that you need a moment to think about your next move. They’d much rather know what’s going on in your head than wonder if they’re doing something wrong.
7. Talk badly about other clients
I’m sure a lot of us have been in a situation where we’ve told a potentially embarrassing story about another client during a session. Maybe it was to make your current client feel better, or maybe you were just running out of things to talk about. No matter the intentions, putting other clients in a negative or unflattering light is never a smart move. Not only could what you say could get back to your clients, but your current client will start to wonder what stories you’ll tell about them at your next session.
8. Touch your client without asking permission
Not everyone feels the same way about being touched by strangers. What might feel completely normal to you, feels like an invasion of personal space to someone else. Always ask permission before touching your client, smoothing their clothing, or adjusting their hair. It might be helpful to ask for blanketed permission the first time you see something you’d like to adjust.
9. Cut the session short
If your portrait session is based on a length of time, it’s important that you utilize that entire time. Unless your client asks to end the shoot early, it’s your responsibility to make your client feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, and receiving the same treatment as all of your other clients.
While this is not a comprehensive list of “don’ts”, it should be used as a helpful reminder to us all to put ourselves in our clients’ shoes when wondering whether or not something is appropriate during a shoot. How your client feels their session went will directly impact the chances of them becoming a repeat client, or referring their friends.
If you’re feeling brave, I’d love to hear about a time when you did something less-than-professional during a portrait shoot, and what you learned from that experience. Leave a comment below!
Kelly Benton lives with her husband and two adorable dachshunds in Northeast Indiana, where she works from home as a Wedding Photographer. When she’s not photographing over people’s love, she’s a wannabe-rockstar triathlete with a penchant for funny movies and craft beer. Check out her blog or connect with her on Facebook.