When this returning client asked me to meet them at their parent’s farm in the woods, for their fall family photo session, I was thrilled. It’s always a little mix of fun and scary to shoot a big family session in a new location. (It was also my first session with live chickens present!)
I began professionally photographing clients over five years ago. What started out as a nearly life long hobby, turned professional the day the first client paid for my service. (Or maybe the second or fifth client?) Since then I have had the privilege of quite a few return clients year after year. I am so grateful for them and the friends they have referred to me.
My tip for getting return clients?
Clients are attracted not only to the photos they receive, but also the experience they have with you when they are in front of the lens.
1: BE YOURSELF & BE RELAXED
It’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of photography, because there are A LOT of them. The more familiar and practiced you are with your camera and photography in general, the less consuming this part can be. My shoots go downhill (sometimes fast) if I am having equipment or technical problems. So try to nail those out before your paying sessions start. Posing also proves challenging for may new photographers. My advice is to have a game plan. When I started I even wrote it down. I had a list of shots I wanted to get (or the client wanted) in the order I wanted to get them. Sometimes you have to get creative depending on setting or people issues, but this will really help you feel like you have a handle on the session.
Let your personality shine. If you are very reserved, this might be more challenging for you and you might need to dig deep. Sometimes I have to jump around. Sometimes just being silly with little kids will help them warm up. With all children (who can speak) I spend a lot of time asking questions. I also do my best to explain to them when we are doing so they are not so freaked out in front of the camera. For older kids this usually helps take the performance pressure off of them.
2: MAKE THE EXPERIENCE ENJOYABLE
Being prepared with a plan for your session will really help with this. Be sure you have scoped out your location in advance and have a plan on where you want to stage your photos. If it’s a public place, I always check the city website to see if there will be any events happening at the time of our session.
When I look at photos of my own family, I don’t just see what’s printed on the paper, I remember the experience. I remember the mood, the weather, the smells, the laughter (and the sometimes fighting). So what I’m really seeing is the whole experience. Your clients do the same thing when they look at the photos you deliver. If they had a good time, felt cared for, had fun, etc.. those feels come back when they see their images. I’m always reminded of this when a client falls in love with an image that didn’t stand out to me. Instantly I realize they are having an emotional connection to that image. A connection I may or may not even understand.
This was the third year in a row I have photographed this family (others here and here). The first year a few of the boys were not so interested in having their photo taken. They were skeptical of me and what was going to happen. This year I am excited to share, even the most unwilling participant smiled and even talked to me! Yay! Patience and time are the best methods for clients like that I think. I anticipate next year’s photo experience being even better.
I had so much fun with these three girls during our session in a beautiful St. Louis park. No only were they super photogenic, they were so much fun to play with.
It’s truly such a privilege to photography families.
(Check out the sneak peek photos from this session here.)
Sneak peek for the Ortinau family. “Hair” might be a good title for this family shoot in St. Louis last weekend. These kids all have great hair. I think we spent most of the session getting it out of their eyes as much as possible. I totally forgot about the hairspray in my camera bag! It would have come in handy. I was really looking forward to this session as I got to work at a new location- the family’s log cabin! It’s a super cool, and VERY old, cabin on a bunch of land in what is nearly the suburbs but almost rural part of St. Louis. Giant tree swings, tractors, porch benches, and giant old trees came with the great location. Not to mention 2 goats, and a bunch of chickens.
More photos from this fun session coming soon!
This weekend I photographed a family session for one of very first paying clients. I looked back at that first session and reflected on what a ride it’s been over all these years. I recoiled as I saw mistakes in composition, lighting, posing, technique… but I was also proud. Proud I stuck with it, even when it was hard. Proud I continue to fight off the internal struggle to be perfect and competitive. Proud I feel like I have found my “voice” as a photographer.
With photography more accessible and popular than ever, I see and hear so many people looking for their style and voice with their camera. I have been there. Trying to emulate what other people do, hoping it will work for me too, or my results will look the same. It reminds me of a child trying to laugh or talk like their parent. It’s funny, because it doesn’t ever fit their face or size. You know right off it’s a copy and not original.
Sometimes this type of process, replication/copying/mimicking/emulating call it what you want, can land you in your own space, with your own voice. When I studied art, our teacher had us copy great works. This process annoyed me at first because I wanted to be an original. Had I been mature enough, I would have seen her plan. Copying the masters taught us technique. Paint doesn’t just land on a canvas, you have to mix it just right, hold the brush a certain way, even pay attention to your posture and breathing. After we copied the work, we used the technique we discovered from the “masters” to create our own works of art “inspired by the masters”. Ah-ha!
I think this is one of the most valuable lessons of my education. While copying outright and calling it your own, is ethically, morally, and legally wrong, it is a great lesson in technique. Just as our parents showed us how to walk by walking ahead of us, each of us has our own stride, sway, stance… My hope is that the same is true in the world of photography.
Photography is art. I see my photography as a way to capture a moment in time. When I am photographing families, I count is a deep honor to capture a moment in their love, their lives together, and their growth as a force of change in their world. I am not just “taking pictures”. I wait for the moment when comfort settles in, when personalities show, when who the subject really is becomes visible. Those are the images that mother’s cling to, that father’s are proud of, those are the images that make me smile.
If you are a photographer trying to find your way. Keep looking. Everything that works for me, will never work for you. You can read a hundred blog posts and books, take classes on technique and posing, have the best equipment available, and still not have a voice. Take what works for you, and keep it. From what doesn’t work, figure out why you don’t like it, and move ahead from there. Soon enough, you will find your place. Now stay there, and grow taller. Get better at what you do. There is room for everyone, because every eye sees life differently.
How adorable are these three sisters. Since my house is full of boys, it was such a joy to spend time with a troop of girls. We met at one of my favorite St. Louis parks and even had a visit from a deer who must have wanted her picture taken too. More photo images, and tips on posing sisters coming soon.