Managing Artistic Expectations // Portrait Sessions

Sometimes I go through old posts to see if they need updating with fresh information. I’m constantly evolving so advice I gave a year ago might need sprucing up after I’ve had more experience. Take my post on managing client expectations. I really only talked about maintaining their expectations regarding how much money your end products will cost to avoid complaints, clients trying to get a deal and haggle.

But there’s so much more to it than that. There’s also managing the expectation of what their images will actually look like. In a post yesterday about balancing consistency and creativity , I mentioned a popular photo studio here in the UK called Venture. When you go to their website and view their work, you know exactly what it will be when you go. White seamless. Colours on steroids. Emotion, personality. What they don’t tell you is their prices. £25 for a portrait session seems too good to be true, right? What they don’t tell you is that an 11×14 (framed in the most gigantic frame you’ve ever seen) will cost a staggering £900. Their reason? ‘It’s art’. Yes, it is. But on their website, they just show the flash without mentioning the cash and then they get people emotionally involved, pull on their heart strings and whack them on a 3 year payment scheme for a few frames.

Ok…totally went off on a tangent there for a sec! The point is that you know what your Venture portraits will look like because the website shows you what they do. But what about on-location photographers whose sessions are unique and unpredictable?

Your first point of contact with your client will be your website where you will have a portfolio of your best work. It’s very important that if you’re charging for sessions and working professionally, you not be shooting for luck. The images in your portfolio should be images that you could create again because you took them on purpose.

If your website is 90% B&Ws, then you’re telling your clients that most of their photos will be, too. Don’t just get in a colourful mood one day and give them the polar opposite of what you ‘promised’ when they fell in love with you in the first place.

If you’re a photographer who deviates a bit, tell your client! Let them know their options. Better yet, ask them what images on your website drew them to contact you. If they’re predominantly B&Ws then you know they’re comfortable with B&Ws. If they’re posed, give them posed! If you can, get at least one shot that is as close to the one they told you convinced them to call. Just to be on the safe side. I find this to be the best way to give my clients what they want and manage their expectations about what their final images will look like.

  • Holly-Murphy

    WOW! I was just thinking about this subject! At the moment I am giving my clients their images on a disc to do with what the wish. I process the images as I feel they look best and then show them their ‘proofs’. I ALWAYS get the request of “Oh, can you also give me copies of images 4, 7 and 14 in colour instead of black and white?” I ‘happily’ oblige but honestly it drives me a little crazy. They are charged only a small fee for my time and these images that I am so proud of and still I feel they aren’t completely happy. :/

  • Have just started following your blog via Twitter and am finding myself nodding at every post I am reading so far! It is SO much about managing expectations.. ( and I am with you on the Venture thing – there is one just down the road from me, and people often come to me after they have been ‘Ventured’ before!). Keep up the great blog Elizabeth!

  • Totally agree!! btw, Love the pic of your son in the corner…what lens did you shoot that with? Just a little curious here :)

  • elizabethhalford

    @Frances: 50mm 1.4 :)

  • I just recently found your blog and also became a fan on facebook. I am loving what I’ve read from you! This post actually sticks with me a bit because as I’m just starting to see bookings pick up a bit, I’ve been wondering if I should have a questionnaire or at least a set list of questions to go through with each client to be sure I am going to provide them what they are expecting from our session. I’ve sat down a number of times and tried to put a list of questions together but it always goes into so many tangents and I end up with too many questions … is it typical for a pro photographer to have such a questionnaire?

  • Just came by your post and I have to say it completely agree with you on the subject of many “make over studios” and family friendly studios, who attract clients with a very low price for a session and then charge these poor unsuspected clients over £3000. (Wrote quite lot there and then realised I was ranting, so deleted most of it:-)) I think that it is much better to hire smaller companies or professional photographers who will be able to do a completely bespoke session with retouching and a cd at realistic prices. The matter of the fact is that unfortunately it seems that their “trick” works and therefore these studios are as large and as rich as they are. They charge an arm and a leg and no one can do / does nothing about it. Therefore it is extremely important to do a lot of research around and see what other people say about the photography studio they about to go to. If it seems very cheap – it probably is not at the end…. or it could be but you will end up with no images after your session and a lot of wasted and disappointing time.

    Thank you for touching on the subject! Great post!:-)

  • Awesome !!! You have described a new subject to us. This is really remarkable. Thank you.