Real life is beautiful.
We established that in Part One of this series. But although this philosophy sounds wonderful, it can be hard to follow through with, particularly when it’s personal. In my last installment in this series, I explained that I believe there are two major barriers to overcome in Lifestyle Photography – ignorance and insecurity. I outlined ways that I work to combat ignorance by cultivating true relationships with my clients. Once the barrier of ignorance has been removed, and people become aware of Lifestyle Baby Photography, we are still left with their insecurities. Even if my potential clients embrace the concept that Real Life is beautiful, in a global sense, they have probably not truly grasped that their Real Life is beautiful. My job is to prove this to them. I have to help them see beauty in their own everyday experiences.
My clients are amazing customer evangelists. (Side note: If you haven’t yet read the book Creating Customer Evangelists, pause your reading of this post and go buy that book. It’s that important.) When I photograph a session, I try to share that session with my clients as quickly as I can via Facebook and my blog. I want them to have the images while they are still feeling emotional about the experience. I am always amazed to watch what happens after I share the images. My clients immediately begin the evangelization process. They share with their networks on a large scale. They single out the mostly likely potential candidates for me, and then they push those people to connect with me. They transform from my clients/friends into my personal sales representatives. It’s a foolproof technique, because they are sincere in their pursuits. They have no reason to push their friends towards me, because I offer no incentives for their doing so. They do it because they believe in me, and because they believe in Lifestyle Photography.
Even with all of this encouragement, many of these potential clients remain resistant to Lifestyle Photography for one simple reason. They fear that their Real Life isn’t beautiful. This insecurity remains as the greatest barrier to my ability to gain new clients, even though I am surrounded by amazing customer evangelists.
There are two points at which I have the ability to combat this insecurity. The first situation is one in which the potential clients are intrigued by their friends’ images and excitement, and they contact me. I hear various excuses for why their life isn’t currently beautiful enough to be photographed.
“I have to lose this baby weight first.”
“We need to finish decorating/unpacking/renovating our home.”
“Newborns don’t really do anything interesting. Maybe when he’s older”
They never come out and say “No,” but rather, they inevitably say “Let’s do this later.” They are waiting for that day when suddenly their Real Life seems worthy of being photographed. (Just in case you are wondering, that day will never come for these people. If you let them fall prey to the ‘Later disease,’ they’ll always find reasons to wait. Their Real Life will never be perfect enough unless someone intervenes.)
I love the challenge of these opportunities. Whenever I am met with “maybe later” responses, I try to bring the focus back to the real point of these sessions. I assure them (often in a sweetly sarcastic manner) that I am not going to be taking closeups of their dirt or their clutter. I ask them to look at session after session on my blog, and then ask if they really noticed any baby weight. I ask them if they really think that their newborn is uninteresting, or if they are, in truth, fascinated by the smallness and perfectness of them as they sleep. I tell them that the point of these sessions is not to document their inadequacies, but that the point is to document their love.
I ask, “Do you love your family, regardless of their imperfectness? Sometimes because of their imperfectness?” The answer to this is invariably, “Yes, of course!”
I respond, “Then let me capture that. Trust me to capture that. I promise that your Real Life is beautiful. Just give me one chance to prove that to you.” If this conversation doesn’t completely seal the deal (and sometimes it doesn’t. Why would they trust me? They don’t know me yet.), I ask them to go back to that referring friend and discuss their doubts. This strategy almost always brings me to the second scenario in which I need to work to combat this insecurity.
My clients amaze me with their persuasiveness. Often, they’re so persistent with their friends that they convince them to book a trial session with me. They don’t try to sell them on a full baby’s first year collection, they just convince them of the importance of booking a simple newborn session. I’ve even had clients pool resources and purchase a newborn session as a gift for a particularly insecure mom. (This has actually happened more than once. Seriously, my clients are amazing!) When this happens, I am entrusted with a true gift. My clients are trusting me to take care of their friend. They believe that Real Life is beautiful, and they are giving me the opportunity to share that belief with someone they care about.
If I fail to follow through, I am not only losing the opportunity to create a new and amazing client relationship, I am causing damage to current client relationships. I have to show them that I truly mean it when I say that Real Life is beautiful. They must see that I’m not talking about other people, but that this philosophy also applies to their Real Life. In these situations, I have to prove myself. I have to listen to my new clients. I have to learn about their insecurities and doubts prior to our session. I have to work to instill a sense of trust and relaxation during our session. I have to deliver images of their Real Life captured beautifully soon after our session. I have to do everything in my power to prove that their perception of their life as inadequate is wrong.
My first task is to learn what they are afraid of. Most clients aren’t going to offer up this information. It’s not easy to talk about fears and insecurities, particularly with a stranger. I have to ask them questions. I have to get them talking. Most importantly, I have to listen not just to what they say, but also to what they don’t say. If their referring friend has any information to share, I make sure to listen to that as well. If I know this mom is concerned about her weight, I need to make sure I never share any images with her in which she looks even slightly heavy. I need to be sure to shoot her from flattering angles and to compose my shots in ways that hide her trouble areas. If I know she’s worried about clutter and disarray in her post-baby home, I need to make sure to stay focused on her and her new family. Many times I shoot a few pull back shots that showcase the clutter and craziness, but with a mom who’s already paranoid about that part of her life, I make sure not to include these in the blog or on Facebook. Instead, I’ll save them for a Pictage gallery. By the time she sees them there, she’ll already have embraced the fact that her life really is beautiful, and those images will just be amusing reminders of how crazy (wonderful) everything really is. (This works, I promise. I’ve seen it a million times.) I have to really really listen to what she does and does not say, and I have to make sure that the photographs I take work to combat those fears and insecurities. I can’t assume that I know how she feels. I have to listen. (By the way, sometimes just giving this potential client/new mom the opportunity to talk about herself is the key to gaining her trust.)
After I feel I have some sort of grasp on what my new client’s fears and insecurities are, I then have to show up at the session prepared to fight them. When I show up at her house (newborn gift in hand, as explained in my last article), I always greet her with a giant hug and some sort of compliment. I have driven to their house with the client’s insecurities rolling around in my head, and I’m prepared for the worst. Because of this, I don’t have to work to create some sort of compliment. Without fail, my thoughts go something like this: “Are you kidding me? You were worried about being in front of the camera? You’re adorable! This will be a piece of cake!”, and since I struggle with my verbal filter, those thoughts are usually exactly what comes out of my mouth.
New moms, in general, are exhausted and overwhelmed and need encouragement. (I also try to bring my new moms some sort of a physical pick me up, usually in the form of Starbucks.) Hearing me say, enthusiastically, that I think her session will be a piece of cake, is usually just what she needs to relax and enjoy herself. I encourage her throughout the session. I compliment specific aspects about her home, I ooh and aah over her baby, I heckle and joke with the dad, and I lavish the mom with compliments relating to things happening during our session. I make sure they never feel like they’re taking up too much of my time. I assure them that if the baby needs to nap/eat/scream/etc, all of that is beautiful and all of that is photo worthy. I never stop photographing, unless it is to offer a hand. I try to never leave the session during a stressful time, even if we were basically done with the session when the stress begins. I work to make sure our sessions end on a peaceful note, but there are times when that isn’t possible. Sometimes the baby really is having a terrible horrible day, and sometimes it feels like she cries for the entire session. I know that when it feels like that to me, that feeling is magnified intensely for my client. When this happens, no words from me are going to assuage her fears. I will promise her, as I leave, that we captured beautiful images, but she will not believe me. It’s understandable. She just experienced the same stressful time that I experienced, and for her it is personal. She will not be able to see anything beautiful about it. In these situations, she doesn’t need words. She needs proof. From this point on, the images have to be that proof. The images have to prove that her Real Life (even the horrible part that she just experienced) really is beautiful.
Once the shoot has ended, the hard work is done. If I’ve done my job, I’ve listened to my clients fears, and I’ve worked to combat those fears during the shoot. All that’s left is to process images and share them with as quickly as possible. I choose as many amazing images as I can, focusing on the happiest moments, but not avoiding the difficult ones. I’m not going to convince my client that her Real Life is beautiful by only showing her the traditionally beautiful parts. I have to show her all of it, and I have to showcase it beautifully. When the images are culled and edited, I am left with a story. The story these images tell might have messy moments and stressful moments and sad moments, but the overwhelming theme of the story will be love. In every image, love should resonate. That’s what makes Real Life beautiful, after all. If I have done my job correctly, this story will change things a little for my new client. It will be impossible for my client to walk away from this experience without thinking, “Wow. My Real Life is beautiful.”