I thought it would be really interesting to see a meeting from the Photographer’s side as it might help you understand the whole process better. I’ll go first then Robert will go. We both have different approaches and every Photographer is different which is why you really need to meet with a few. You will instantly feel the connection or you won’t. My philosophy and style might not be right for Robert’s clients and his might not be right for mine. Meetings are crucial!
In my opinion the goal of a meeting is strictly to see if the client and I are a good fit for each other. I am going to be there on one of the most important days of their lives and in order to Photograph it properly there needs to be a connection. I have no problems telling a client if we don’t seem to be a good fit. I’d rather not book the job then force a relationship to work. I also know that I will be photographing other events in their lives like pregnancy, baby and other events so I want to be sure I am right for them long term. I am good friends with many of my past clients, in fact I am headed to Seattle in a few weeks to shoot something and will be staying with one of my all time favorite couples with whom I have remained close with. To that end, I don’t come armed with paperwork, tons of albums, iPad portfolios and other fancy collateral to “wow” them.
It’s all irrelevant if we don’t connect!
I generally let my perspective clients start off by asking me questions and telling me about their wedding day. After that I go into the process of how I shoot and how I wind up with the style of images I do. I approach shooting and post-production very differently than most photographers and that is why my work looks the way it does…it’s why you are sitting in front of me in the first place. **Always ask about the Photographer’s process and how they do things, you will gain a lot of insight into their confidence, commitment and skill level. In general, clients have already looked at all my work online, gone through my blog and Facebook and have already seen imagery they respond to..that’s why they are meeting with me. In addition I show them full galleries of weddings so they can see the consistant level of work from a 10 hour shoot and that I do it at every wedding. Showing more work (the same work) again during a meeting seems redundant. Hopefully they have already seen a lot of other photographers work as well and had some meetings. Knowing that in advance (and even making sure before I take a meeting) ensures that the meeting won’t be a waste of time for either one of us. Either you find me funny, witty, creative and likable…or you want to spill hot coffee on me and run . The connection is everything! Below is a picture of the bride giving me a kiss at the end of the night and thanking me, the groom took the shot. Then proceded to do a full photo shoot of me and the bride. It was just one of those hilarious authentic moments that lets you know how much the couple appreciates what you do. It was unexpected and unscripted….it’s what has kept me shooting for the past 20+ years.
It’s all very natural and we always wind up talking about other things in their lives besides wedding photography. The whole process is about discovering who they are and what they want for their day. I manage the expectations from the client from the very beginning. If you want something that isn’t possible I will tell you. Be realistic about what you are asking for and what you want your final results to be. If you are having a Jewish ceremony and can’t be married until after the sun sets don’t expect beautiful , back lit, golden, warm ceremony shots. It’s not happening. We all approach meetings, shooting, production and client relationships differently. Kind of like choosing your venue…one is right for you and you will know it! My goal is to find clients I connect with, understand what they want and deliver amazing images. I don’t need to impress them with a fancy studio, marketing materials, my awards and accolades, etc. I have done and could do all that but that is serving myself and not you, the client. To me it’s all about the work and building a relationship. It doesn’t mean that my way is the best way, it’s just how I do things. I have one of the greatest jobs in the world, I get to drink my coffee at home and not in traffic, I get to travel all over the world and see amazing locations. I get to photograph people on the happiest days of their lives. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle and taking the wrong clients is just as bad for me as it is for them. Meeting them via Skype or in person ensures that we have a connection, email just won’t cut it.
The Real 411: As far as products and albums go, ALL photographers carry the same exact albums, we generally use the same labs and design tools. Yes, some photographers will argue that their albums, or prints or design is better and yes it might be to some degree but essentially it’s all similar. If your photographer doesn’t carry a product you saw some where else they can get it. Don’t base your decision on a product, base it solely on the work and the personality. The only thing you, as a client, needs to see is that the work you love is consistent across a few years of weddings and that they have been shooting long enough to truly have the skill set and not just be pointing the camera with a “spray and pray” mentality that they might walk away with the shot. Do your research! Look through the entire site, check out their social media pages, look for real reviews not just pumped up industry awards. Like any industry it’s all about connections and favorites and bragging and who knows who, etc. Disregard all the hype, the fancy websites, the marketing materials etc. Does the work amaze you?? If so take a meeting and find out if you think the personality amazes you as well.
I concur with everything Ryan said above, especially the relationship part. The connection for me is the most important factor when I am interviewing a potential bride and groom. I too have turned away couples that I didn’t feel were a match. Much like putting an end to a bad relationship it is aways best for both parties in the end, as is the relationship between photographer and bride and groom, especially when its something as personal as a wedding. I can not stress enough how important in is to not just like, but love your wedding photographers work, personality and character.
Your wedding day is a very intimate and personal day in your lives. The people who make the cut and get invited are your closest family and friends, people who have touched your hearts in some way, make sure that your photographer is someone who you would invite to your wedding even if they were not photographing your special day. This the number one reason why photography should be at the top of your list of priorities of what is most important to you on your wedding day and should be considered when allocating monies towards your wedding. You are not hiring a machine who pushes buttons your are hiring an artist, a human being who is unique as his or her eye or fingerprint. No two photographers see the same and each one has a different personality and unique gift they brings to their craft.
On my business cards there is a tag line that reads “When Photography is Your Priority” I want to photograph couples who value photography and want amazing images from their wedding, couples who put photography at the top of their list. I choose to photograph only twenty-five weddings a year so that I can have personal relationships with each of my clients, getting to know them and ultimately capture images that reflect their unique love and personalities .
Here is an example from my side of the camera. On New Years Eve I photographed a wedding in New York City. The couple who lives in New York hired me about one year prior to their wedding. We initially communicated on the phone and then continued our relationship via Skype. Even though they did not live in Los Angeles there was a great connection and I was excited to photograph their wedding. ( Don’t be afraid to hire a photographer who is not in your town) Long story short it was love at first sight, our long distance relationship over Skype had blossomed into a true Phomance when I arrived in New York. We did an engagement shoot in Central Park, I shot their rehearsal dinner and then on their wedding night, I was one of five or six people who the couple insisted come back to their suite at the end of the after party which went till 3:ooam. Here was the sum of my Twiiter that night. “It’s 5:00am I am in the bride and groom’s suite, I am eating a bowl of Fruit Loops, the groom is rubbing my feet and there is a New York City cop in the room, you just have to be here.” Of course there was alcohol involved but there was no fabrication in the tweet or my story, my point is that this is a very extreme example of of the type of relationships I like to have with my clients. From that connection comes trust and respect and when there is a symbiotic trust, there is shared intimacy between photographer and client and the images that result are as special as the relationship.
Not to worry all future grooms, there is no clause in my contract that says you have to rub my feet. I actually stopped him after I was done laughing in disbelief and had snapped off a quick picture as proof. However the act was sincere on the grooms part and that is what is so touching about the whole story. I have amazing clients and love the relationships and friendships I have developed over my twenty plus yeas as a wedding photographer. You too can have this with your photographer as long as you put the effort in to find the person who resonates with you. Hire an artist and not just someone who owns a digital camera and thinks they are a photographer. Do this and you will never have any regrets.
Moving onto the initial consultation. I ask my clients to tell me how they met and how they got engaged. I like to know these stories as it often influences my photography in the future. We talk about the wedding and their ideas and how they picture their wedding day. We talk about photography likes and dislikes, even though I have my own vision, capturing images that are important to my couples even though they may not fit within my vision is my job, and I want to make my client happy. We talk about the wedding day workflow and how they would like their pictures to be captured. We talk about timing and whether or not they want to do pictures before the wedding. As the expert I offer my wisdom from years of photographing weddings and then defer to my clients. I am not there to tell them how their wedding day should unfold, however I do try to steer them in a direction in which I know will work best for them and their situation. Ultimately, it is their final decision.
If we meet in person I like to show albums, the ones I use and ultimately the ones my clients will have in their homes too! I have albums that show a cross section of what I do so they can get a feel for me and my style. I also show albums from weddings from beginning to end so they can see consistency from through out the wedding day.
We discuss package options and even though I have set packages I always try create a coverage that works for each person by removing or adding items to fit their needs. Often I find myself adding in items in the package which allows me to make additional sales upfront while passing along a small discount to my client when they commit to everything they want up front.
Like Ryan and many other photographers I have a home based studio. Up until about three years ago I operated a studio or storefront in Los Angeles, a studio which I had maintained since I started my own business in Jan of 94. I opted to move my business home for the benefit of my three children and because of the changing world of the internet. More of my business was being handled online and fewer people were coming into my studio. I see my kids more now then when I had a studio. Now when I travel to shoot weddings it’s not so hard on me or my family and everyone benefits with both parents at home. Whether your photographer is in your town or in another state, home based business or store front, again love their work and love their personality.
For my local clients (Southern California) I meet with them in there homes or at the hotel or venue where the wedding will take place. I sometime meet new clients over dinner or for drinks and we have great conversations which better fits my personality. I enjoy being social and having one on one dialogues with people. Though necessary sometimes in business email can be impersonal, I always prefer the telephone or Skype if we canot meet in person, but face to face is always my first choice.
I feel that usually when the meeting is over both parties know if they want to work together when they part. I am not a high pressure person so I always allow my couples time after our meetings if they need some time. I follow up with my potential clients via email about one week later if I have not heard from them. I would say most couples I meet with, we end up working together, but of course not all of them , and that’s ok too! I feel like I end up working with the people who I should be working with and I always have the best experiences this way.
Ultimately I want my couples to recognize and love my work, and my art. I want them to feel that my work is different from anything else they have seen and that my personality meshes with theirs and together we are going to share a great experience and a lot fun on their wedding day. Because they trust me and allow me to capture images on their wedding day without boundaries or stipulations. When given this trust and freedom to do my job, I know that their wedding pictures and their experience will be incredible.