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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Photographer - choose your clients with care, and vice versa


I hear a lot of negativity around the traps these days. Horror stories about the client from hell. Or the photographer who just didn't come up with the goods.

I'm happy to report that I don't really have too many horror stories of my own and I think that partly comes from being picky.

Yes I know that for many of us times are quiet and beggars can't be choosers. But if you don't actively choose who you work with then I think you're letting yourself in for some heartache, or at the very least a sense of dissatisfaction.

I mean would you let the guy who took this photograph shoot your wedding? You might end up looking like a camel? And yet I often get people asking me if I'll shoot their wedding when I've never done one in my life. My first question to any client I haven't met before is "Have you seen my work?" It often amazes me that people would even think of hiring a photographer without having an idea of the style of their work but it happens all the time. If their answer is no then the first thing I do is send them to my website. If they're sitting in front of a computer or their iPad then I do it there and then on the phone.

Often if the subject they're asking me to photograph is like nothing on my site at all then the first thing I hear on the other end of the receiver is "Ahhh. I guess you don't do weddings then?" Nup. But I can recommend some great wedding photographers for them to go and have a look at - and I place the emphasis on look before they bother to call.

I always know that if somebody hasn't looked at my work then they're not invested in having ME as their photographer. They'd basically be happy to have any shutter-pushing monkey who will charge them the least amount of money. And they will mostly likely get something that doesn't live up to their expectations if they give me the job. I don't want that and the client certainly doesn't want that.

I was chatting to a graphic designer friend of mine the other day and we were lamenting the fact that anybody with a new dSLR (in my case) or a MAC and inDesign (in his case) can hang out their shingle without having any idea of the costs involved in running a professional business. And how many of these people run themselves out of business and take quite a few more-established professionals with them.

And it occured to me that in order to not have to compete on this level you need to pick and choose your clients carefully. And to do that you have to know what it is you want to shoot and how you want to shoot it. And you have to be confident that every job that comes in you will be able to put your heart and soul into and create the type of images that will have clients knocking down your door. Not just any clients mind you, but the clients who choose you. The clients who love what YOU do and are more concerned that they can work with you then what you charge.

I have clients that I have collaborated with for more than a decade. We're more friends that clients now. Many of them are interstate and overseas but we always make it a point to catch up socially when in each other's neck of the woods.

When Cyclone Yasi hit many of them called me up to make sure I was OK and whether there was anything I needed. One even offered me free accommodation in one of her hotels if my house was damaged. They're the type of clients you need to cultivate. The ones that love you and love what you do and wouldn't dream of abandoning you for the next cheap wunderkind that knocks on their door.

But you only get that by being great at what you do and only choosing to work with the clients who fit in with your vision. And clients, beware that you're only going to get mind-blowingly fantastic work when you work in collaboration with your photographer and come together as creative minds and friends. Take any old client that comes along, or work with any old creative who can meet your budget, and you'll never experience the absolute joy of being in total harmony with the other creatives on your team. Let's get rid of the negativity and concentrate on cultivating our own great relationships people.