Have you ever had a client who was upset because their images didn’t look as good as they expected?

You’re not alone. I see comments like these frequently on forums and I have had this discussion numerous times with other photographers, including photographers on my staff. Sometimes clients are challenging and are looking for ways to get a deal. More often, however, it may be your fault.

You may have fallen short of expectations in one or more of four categories:

  1. The Creative Side of Photography: “The couple didn’t have any chemistry” or “those kids were so difficult to work with” may be true statements, but they are not excuses for why you didn’t deliver great images. If you are being paid as a professional photographer, it is your job to deliver professional images. Learn to pose people to look their best. Prompt people to react, even if it involves them laughing at your expense! One of the first weddings Whitney and I photographed, the couple had one of the most stressful days of their lives. The bride’s family did not want her to marry the groom, but they still came to the wedding. The groom’s parents disliked each other so much that Dad decided he was not coming to the wedding. However, the day before the ceremony, he changed his mind and showed up. Talk about a tense room! After the bride saw the photos, she thanked us for helping her make the wedding look like what she’d envisioned. We delivered what we promised, even though we had to work extra hard to catalyze happy, romantic photos. Are you frustrated with your backdrop and surroundings? You can control them. Guide your client across the street. You’ll find something better for a backdrop. Cropping in-camera and using light creatively are also ways to make undesirable backgrounds work. Check out how Jerry Ghionis and McLellan Style make basic surroundings look amazing!
  2. The Technical Side of Photography: Just because cameras are better and easier to operate doesn’t mean they’ll take great photos without any photographic expertise. Read your manual; learn how to use your camera and master lighting. Numerous times I’ve heard photographers say, “It’s not my fault their photos don’t look like the ones in my portfolio. I’m known for being a natural light photographer and they chose to have their wedding and reception indoors.” If you accepted the job, you agreed to deliver great images –no matter what the lighting conditions may be. Athletes and musicians spend more time practicing than they do performing. Photographers should do the same. Know what you’re doing before you start your session. If someone is paying you, you should not be using their shoot as a learning experience.
  3. Business & Marketing: Do you address expectations with your potential clients? Before booking a client ask, “What are you looking for in your photography?” Their answer may not match up with how you perform as an artist. Just because they’re willing to pay you doesn’t mean it’s wise to accept the job. Asking this question will help you pre-plan the session or wedding. For a session or event to run smoothly, it always helps to pre-plan. Even photojournalism requires pre-planning. Your work must be consistent. If you advertise a specific style on your website, you must be able to produce image that match that style. You may have made amazing photographs at the last workshop you attended, however, there is a good chance the instructor set-up lighting and posed subjects for that shot. If you’re going to show that image to prospective clients, be certain you can reproduce it on their wedding day. If you can’t, then you’re misleading the client and they’ll be disappointed when their photos don’t look like what they expected.
  4. Your Attitude: I recently read a thread online that was very disheartening. Many photographers were telling stories of walking into weddings where they knew they couldn’t deliver great photos because the photographers didn’t like certain hair styles, they thought the subject was unattractive, they disliked the wedding décor, or they thought the bride’s choice to wear her mother’s wedding dress was a bad decision. When a photographer decides a client is “not worthy” of their full effort, then of course the client is going to be displeased when they see their photos. Bad attitudes = Bad photographs. In the story with the stressed bride and groom, Whitney and I could have easily said, “This wedding is a mess. The clients will not get great photos because it’s their fault nobody in this room is happy.”  Instead, we realized we needed to work harder than ever to capture photographs they were expecting.

Having trouble finding a great backdrop for your portraits? Start looking for angles and patterns rather than scenery.

Outdoor wedding gets rained out and tornadoes are just around the corner? Lighten the mood with some cute umbrellas. Have the girls go barefoot, and give the bride a bottle of champagne!

We’ve all heard horror stories about why the client is to blame for bad photographs. What stories do you have that tell how you worked extra hard to make great photos in challenging circumstances? How did you deliver your best work, even when you were put in a difficult situation or atmosphere?

About Peter Carlson

Peter Carlson’s outgoing, laid back, quirky personality is the main reason both brides and photographers love working with him. Through photography, he and his wife Whitney focus on the unique personalities of every couple as well as the joy and happy emotions that are felt on each wedding day. Photographers find their classes fun, inspirational, and easy to implement. Peter & Whitney run their own studio, Dove Wedding Photography,  as well as The Collection and The Nashville Photography Class

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