How to Handle Controlling Clients with Confidence

How to Handle Controlling Clients with Confidence

How to Handle Controlling Clients with ConfidenceHave you ever had clients who are such control freaks that they try to “direct” the entire session? Just controlling how the family dresses and selecting the location are not enough; they want to tell you where to stand, how to pose the group and where the best light is. The only thing you can think is, “What the heck do you need me for?”

A recent discussion

I came across a discussion on our Hobby to Pro site where someone asked how to handle such a situation. They’re a great group of people and kicked around some good solutions.

How you start is how you finish

I think the best advice offered was that when you talk with clients at the pre-portrait consultation, this is the perfect time to inform them of how you work and what to expect from the session. This also gives the client a chance to talk about what type of portrait they’re looking for and what the most important shots are that they want you to capture.

Just the process of talking about their ideas and vision for the portrait will put them at ease that you’re concerned about creating what they have in mind. The consultation is usually all that’s needed to keep the session on the straight and narrow 98 percent of the time. It’s the other 2 percent that makes us pull our hair out.

It’s important to show that you, the professional, know what you’re doing and that you have everything under control. This really helps keep the “take charge” types in check. They like to run the show, and if they sniff out any weakness, they pounce.

“But I’m an artist…”

I can remember a session early on in my career when a young mom showed up with a written list of all the shots she wanted. There were at least 40 items on it, things like the two boys looking off laughing, two boys hugging, one boy looking at the camera and one looking off along with 30 other combinations with suggestions on closeups and full length. Looking back, I probably didn’t handle it as well as I should have. My irritation was obvious, and there was a bit of tension in the air as we discussed her requests.

Don’t be a starving artist!

She made a small purchase from the session, but I never photographed her boys again. If I could go back, I wouldn’t let my distress show; it was not professional. I would simply say something like, “That’s a long list for young boys with short attention spans, so let’s prioritize the most important shots. I’ll try to get as many of the combos as I can, but my first priority is getting great shots rather than a lot of shots.” As in most interactions with other human beings it’s not always so much what you say as how you say it. Try to keep upbeat and in charge without sounding defensive, angry or sarcastic.

The customer is always right?

We all know that’s not technically true, but that doesn’t really matter. After all, they hired you to create an image for them. Many times, clients will kick out my favorite artistic images and instead want the most typical cheesy “school” type picture. It used to bug me, but guess what, they’re the ones writing the check, so as long as they’re happy, I’m happy.

Not every client “get’s it”

Some people just like it simple, a nice clean shot that captures the essence of what they see and love in their child. That’s okay, there will be many clients who seek you out and enjoy your artsy images. Keep doing and showing those images because that’s what sets you apart. Just keep in mind that if a simple shot makes for a happy client, then you did your job, because remember in the end the client is always right.

Stay flexible

Sometimes we may have a great idea for a pose or use of the surroundings, and we can get fixated on working it into the session. It may be an incredible image if we can pull it off, but just maybe this group is not the one to try it on. Get the images they request first and then try your idea if they’re open to it and if that doesn’t work, just file it away for the next group that appreciates your artistry.

Idle hands

Back to the client who just won’t quit being a thorn in your side. One trick I use to get that busybody out of my hair is to give them something to do. Take that big old reflector and ask them to hold it. If they’re getting the subjects nervous with their stage directions, I’ll have them hold it up in front of them so they can’t see. It doesn’t really matter whether the reflector is adding light or not; it’s doing its job keeping the would-be director quiet.

Your action plan

Use a pre-portrait consultation to find out what your clients have in mind, and you can let them know what to expect. When you’re both on the same page, you’ll both be working toward a common goal.

If you don’t already have a collapsible reflector in your tool chest, pick one up. Here’s a link to great, inexpensive reflector.

They’re great for bouncing some light back onto your subject and also sometimes more importantly, they make a great diversion for a troublemaker.