Social media outlets such as Facebook and Pinterest have been great tools in the photography world. You can spread your work to hundreds or thousands of fans with the click of a button. Fantastic, right? However, those of us who are in business have all heard that phrase, “I saw this one photo on Pinterest…” Sometimes social media can overbear or otherwise dictate how we run our sessions. While outside inspiration isn’t always a bad thing, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of ourselves as photographers. While it is important for us to deliver what our clients want, it is equally important to stay true to our style. Here are some simple tips you can use to stay true to you in a world overloaded with inspiration.
Know your style.
In order for you to effectively convey your style to your clients, first you need to know what that is. Are you a more traditional, posed, portrait photographer? Or do you prefer more of a lifestyle approach with mostly candid photographs? Do you like stylized sessions with props? Or do you like to simply meet with your client at a given location and see what unfolds? It’s important for you to have a clear sense of what you love, in order for you to produce it for your clients.
Show what you love.
In your portfolio, and on your website and blog, it’s important to show things that are reflective of your photographic style. My style, for example, is pretty non-traditional. I direct my clients to a certain pose and then encourage them to engage in conversation and/or activities. We chit chat, get to know each other, play fun games, etc. This usually results in images filled with natural interaction rather than a large number of camera aware poses. Such naturally elicited images are always my favorites from any given session. Staying true to myself, that means 95% of the time these are the images I showcase. By doing this, I know I will attract those who are drawn to these types of sessions. Often times, your clients may not even know what they want until they see it on your blog or site. Why not show them what speaks to you? This will help you find your ideal client – or rather, it will help them find you.
Communicate with your clients.
This seems like a no brainer, but it’s so important for you to explain what to expect at a typical session. I tell my clients from the get-go what my style is, and I remind them another 2 or 3 times before the session. One paragraph in my welcome packet clearly reveals some of what clients might expect: “For the majority of the session, I will prompt you and your family members to interact with each other… You will never hear me utter the words, ‘Say cheese.’ Do not feel pressured to sit a certain way or make a certain face.” I go on to say that I will always aim for at least one photo of everyone looking and smiling at the camera (grandma always loves those!) but that is generally not what I build a session around. By laying the groundwork first, and establishing good communication, there will be no surprises for you OR your client. I call that a win-win.
Be up for something new – within reason.
All the photos I’ve highlighted in this post are from an engagement session I had this winter with a lot of Pinterest inspired ideas. I love when my brides use Pinterest to aid in the planning of their wedding – it helps them build a cohesive look for their big day and keeps them on track with their theme or overall vision. There were a few things this bride wanted to try that she gleaned from Pinterest, including a couple of signs, props and chalk. Usually chalk is a no go for me… I don’t want to do anything that might permanently damage public property. Considering this particular session was on family land, I was game to try it. The date of their upcoming wedding was to be written on a fence and they were to kiss over the top of the fence. The resulting shot is below, and I was actually very surprised with how much I liked the result.
Want to know which shot I liked even more, though? This next one, with the future groom opening the gate for his fiancé behind the date of their upcoming wedding. I love his chivalrous smile softly shining through, even though he’s beyond the focal plane.
Next up were these signs, which are really cute and fit the bride’s vision for her day. Would I normally use these props in a session? No. But I was willing to give it a shot, and remember, you don’t have to put it on your website or even your blog if it doesn’t fit your style. To best utilize the prop and stay true to my vision, I had them interacting and laughing with each other. Even though the focus may be on the signs they are holding, you’re still catching a genuine connection between them, which is ultimately what I strive to capture. The smiles on their faces simply MAKE this photo for me. It ended up being one of my favorites from the entire session!
If all else fails, just say no. If you’re being asked to do something unsafe, a post-processing technique that is simply not your style, or any other idea you don’t feel comfortable with, remember you can say no. Ideally you’ve opened up the lines of communication well before a contract has been signed or an actual session has been held. To meet the desires of your clients while staying true to you, try to redirect them in a way you can both be happy. As a final resort, you can try to refer them to someone who might better fill their vision. Try and create that win-win situation for both you and your client, so you both walk away with a positive experience!
Danielle Hatcher, California
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Danielle Hatcher is a wedding and family photographer serving Sacramento, CA and surrounding areas. She is a native Californian currently residing in Roseville with her husband, two great kids (soon to be three), and their mutt Jake-the-wonder-dog. Danielle shoots with a Nikon D700 and an ever growing list of lenses (just don’t tell her husband that). Her kids always beg her to stop singing along to the radio so she has given up on her pursuit for American Idol.