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What is really going on when a client doesn’t respect your authority.

I’ve been a photographer for a good long while, and while I can’t profess to being good at every part of it (I suck at maternity and refuse to do boudoir) for the most part I feel good about the “Professional” part that I put in front of my chosen career when people ask what I do for a living.

Yesterday my professionalism was sorely tested by Helicopter Mom. 

Helicopter Mom called a few weeks back looking for photos for her high school senior daughter.  In the space of 5 minutes I was informed  of the following things:

Her daughter was gorgeous, and I mean GOR-GUshhhhhhhh and any photographer that was lucky enough to point their lens at her would be a very lucky photographer, indeed.

Her daughter was a world class athlete, a VERY BUSY world class athlete, who simply had a very tight time schedule that needed  to be accommodated. Oh, and she is going back to school next week so her time is going to be even more limited.

That she  had lots of “connections” within her daughters Academy that could possibly mean “big business” for me.

I wasn’t keen on booking Helicopter mom’s baby  but I’m a whore smart business person and I treated Helicopter Mom the way I would any client. I went over the packages available, made some suggestions as to locations for looks she would like and followed up via email sending my Pinterest pages for clothing suggestions along with the online scheduler with my availability for the next several weeks.  I told her that I was very booked with other clients in the coming weeks, but if there was a chance the times I had available meshed with their schedules I’d be happy to work with them.

She booked two weeks later after I totally forgot about her. I groaned when I got the notification that they booked.

The senior girl was in fact lovely but extremely nervous and not especially good in front of the camera. This was made worse by Helicopter Mom’s constant barrage of “not that smile” and “Your hair is too puffy”.  I immediately went to my go-to technique for getting a mom to shut up, I gave her a gigantic reflector and had her hold it up so it blocked her view of her daughter.  You’re welcome for that tip, by the way.

It didn’t last, she yelled from behind the reflector.  At one point told me “Make sure not to do side views, her nose is really crooked”   I sent the senior to change into another outfit and tried to chat with her about taking it down a notch and letting me do my job when she pulled out the big guns.

She took out her phone and showed me that she had brought her daughter to the location the day before and she took photos of all the poses and locations that she liked and wanted me to recreate them.

Horrible locations. Dappled sunlight. Cheesy poses like her hands on her cheeks while she looked off into the middle distance.By this point I was losing patience and I was ready to hit her with the litany of this is not what you hired me for, you pay a professional for a reason, no I won’t do that, when something made me stop. I was so pissed and so flustered that I ran out of words, unusual for me.  But I stopped and I said

“What about these photos do you like?”

Her responses were that this pose was “youthful” and this one was “Innocent” and this one was “the smile that she does when she is really happy”

And I realized that Helicopter Mom was just a mom who was having a really really hard time with her kid getting older and she was one of those types that simply didn’t like not having control.  Professional or not, I think my attitude of “I know better than you” was hindering the relationship.

I looked her in the eye and said “My last kid goes off to college on Sunday. It’s hard, isn’t it?  And Helicopter Mom and I shared a teary moment.   I said ” I’ll do these locations if they work and a few of these poses I can work with too. But you have to trust me and let me take the photos.  If you can help and get that smile that she does when she is really happy by telling her how great she looks the photos will be awesome.”

And then, it was.

Stop: Yourself from making this about you.
Drop: Your tone and body language that is off-putting to an already defensive client.
Roll: With doing things that is a compromise without compromising your final product.

In this busy season I wish for all of you… Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable!
~Kim

7 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this information! I’ve been having a couple of difficult/weird clients lately, and so far this kind of mom has never showed up, and now I’ll be ready to deal with this kind of situation if this wave of clients continue. Thanks again!!

  2. Wow wow and wow. Awesome response. I would have made it about me and either clammed up and finished the session with palpable tension or told her I was done and would refund her money. Maybe in not the same words but yeah, this helps me to mentally prepare in advance so if/when the time comes I will be prepared to take a breath.

  3. What a great turn-around in the session! Good for you for digging down to the “why” and working it out.

  4. The why is so important! You have to man up and ask the client what went wrong to have a chance to doit right the next time.

  5. Love the gigantic reflector tip!! Thank you!

  6. Really, it’s about confidence.

    If you come in to do a job, and have the confidence, you know when to lead, follow or get out of the way..

    If you don’t, you’ve left the ship to flounder… and, it’s always the photogs fault when things get out of hand… unless… there is a director present and you are following the director’s lead… or if there is a lead photographer… and you are following their lead… else, it’s your shot buddy. how ever you make it happen or miss it.

    hugs

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