It’s been four years since I shot my first wedding, and since then it’s been an incredible journey of self-(re)discovery and unimaginable growth. What started off as a hobby, turned into a handful of favor(s), which turned into an experiment: an experiment that had somehow exploded into a full-blown business, a business which now houses two brands and a handful of ambitious creatives who share my passion, vision, and philosophy. At the risk of sounding cliche’d, this was one of the most challenging endeavors we’ve ever had to face. We weren’t simply wading into the world of wedding photography; we were diving straight into the deep end
off a large cliff off a very large cliff, fraught with hazardous sharp edges with Tusken Raiders and Momzillas lying in wait.
“Bleeeerrggghh! So you want to be a wedding photographer, eh?”
The only thing that has kept us afloat all these years was simply focusing on our work, staying humble, and always being grateful for what we have. Most importantly, we were careful not get ourselves caught up with all the sexy and desirable imagery of what successful wedding photographers and studios should look like (thank you, interwebs), or the ridiculous amount of money we could/should be earning (thank you, random photographer at tradeshow-that-shall-not-be-named).
If there’s one thing I learned from previously managing two businesses (one successfully, and one not-so-successfully), it’s accountability: accountability for my promises to others, and accountability for my products/services. Clients set aside a considerable portion of their budget for wedding photography because they understand it’s that important. Clients are trusting us to do our jobs, and it’s a task and promise that I never take lightly.
So whenever I hear of stories about couples suing their photographer for $300,000, or couples suing their cinematographer for $120,000, I just scratch my head and wonder: “How/why/when did the wheels fall off that wagon?” and “What’s in the frigg’n contract?” (last question should be read with my native Brooklyn accent).
As I continued reading/researching all the details, I only came to one conclusion: the client’s expectations were not properly managed, either via a contract or verbal agreement.
Many of my clients will tell you, their first meeting with me can be somewhat overwhelming. They’re usually prepared to ask a laundry list of questions, all of which I address with boundless enthusiasm and clarity. However these very same couples then become surprised when I start asking them questions about their wedding day, their expectations, and their needs. It’s simply not a customary exercise of small talk, meant to get the clients to warm up to me. Absolutely not. In fact, I’m on a fact-finding mission to ascertain their needs, and whether or not I can promise my products/services will fulfill their very unique and specific needs.
So what did these two cases teach us?
1. Always have a contract.
Early in my career, I once had a friend of 15+ years who stood me up on the date of the shoot. Never mind the fact that I was already 3 hours into a 10 hour round trip journey to get to location of the shoot. Needless to say, I was livid. But the silver lining in all of this is that I learned a very important lesson that day: always have a contract. The contract outlines all the expectations between the client and photographer, and limits any misunderstandings that could potentially follow.
2. Manage expectations.
Every now and then, we’ll get clients who’ll want 50 photographers to shoot their wedding (more photographer=more pictures, right?), request a 2-day turnaround time, or they’ll send us a comprehensive wedding day shot-list they found on Pinterest. It’s during moments like these when we have to educate our clients, and explain why following through with their requests will interfere with the images they’ve tasked us to produce.
3. Know when to walk away.
Sometimes, we’re not a always a right fit for the client – and we have a professional responsibility to share that conclusion (with utmost respect and sincerity, of course). Clients have every right to decline a product/service if they don’t feel it’ll suit their needs. Conversely, photographers (and wedding professionals, in general) also have that same right as well. As it applies to our business, we would much rather have 49 happy couples a year who are thrilled with our products and services, than to have 49 happy couples and 1 very livid one. It’s our professional responsibility to step away from the dollar signs for a moment, and figure out whether or not we’ve ascertained the clients’ needs, managed their expectations, and felt reasonably confident that we’ll be able to deliver something they’ll love and cherish forever.
4. Make things right (if you really did screw things up, big time).
Things go wrong all the time. I am the expert of things going wrong on a typical wedding day. Batteries die during the ceremony, memory cards fail, and flashes misfire during the reception (note to current brides: we have a gazillion spares for this reason!). These kind of things happen, but these are not the bride and groom’s problem…these are OUR problems. If certain things were promised and were not delivered, it’s our professional responsibility to explain why, and it’s our duty to find a resolution that will resolve the situation (besides a settlement of $300,000).
I’m no industry expert, nor do I consider myself anything more than an average photographer who loves what he does. But what I do know is this: as long as I continue taking care of my clients without shooting myself in the foot, I can peacefully and happily take this little photography career of ours all the way to the top :).