Shooting Weddings Part 3 – Choosing a Client

by Peter Zack

Shooting weddings can be a challenging and rewarding aspect of photography. I hope from these articles, you get some inspiration and tips that will help you develop your own style and business. The funny thing with a blog publishing setup, the articles are posted by date and you may be seeing the most recent first. If so, go to Shooting Weddings Part 1 and then you can follow each section in the series.
If you have a question or idea for this or other articles, contact us here.

So you’re looking at the title of Part 3 and saying, he’s mixed it up. The client chooses me to be the photographer. Nope that’s completely wrong for a number of reasons. I mentioned this in an earlier article and didn’t elaborate. This is in my opinion, as important as anything else you will do with your business. You must make every effort to meet the clients a couple of times to discuss what they want and your style of shooting. I said earlier that, we have to be open to different shooting styles and what the client wants. As photographers, like painters, we are better at some things than others. You might be a great street shooter and can nail that candid type of photograph better than anyone in your market. I might be a great landscape shooter and have the ability to visualize and capture a great landscape with the couple. Sometimes it’s very tough to meet the couple because we live in the internet world. They may be in a distant city and trying to book you online. In that case you should send them a large sample of your work via an FTP transfer site or something similar. Then call them to discuss what they want and and what you do. Make sure everyone is clear on what you offer and can produce.

So if you meet the couple, bring a big sample of you work. A completed wedding album would also be good. Don’t just show them your best stuff. Let them see what a package will look like. There should be no surprises for the couple when it’s delivered. Remember that it’s 2-6 weeks + for delivery and they have been waiting for the most important memento of that great day. Meeting them offers you some very big hints as to whether you will work with them. One of the biggest mistakes for both you and the couple is taking every job you get because you know you can do it and you want the income. It’s not fair to the couple and a mistake for your business.

I like this image for a number of reasons. Her face shows the love she feels, expressed fully. They are clearly having fun by the ocean. Nice afternoon light. It has an air of romance.

I like shooting a romantic and fun couple that really like to try different things. A bride that doesn’t mind ‘kicking up her heels’ and getting the dress dirty. The more adventurous she is, the better the photos will work. You need to assess the couple at the first meeting. I look for a few cues. Do they touch each other a lot when you meet? Are they comfortable in front of a stranger? Do they disagree on aspects of the wedding? Is he involved in the planning with a genuine interest or just can’t wait for all this to be over. Does he have ideas about certain photos? Do they hold hands? Can you sense that they are not only in love but also best friends? Do they get each other and you?

If the answers to these questions are an overwhelming yes, then I want these people as my clients. I say this from experience. I’ve take the wedding because I wanted the work and didn’t think these were important issues. Generally the work turned out fine and the customers were happy. But it was the most exhausting wedding work I’ve ever done and seemed like a mental battle to make each shot work the way I’d like. Why? We didn’t connect.

One good example is a couple I booked a few years ago. It was early in the season and bookings were slow. I had just moved to a new city and wanted to get established. At the meeting, I had noticed that she was doing all the talking. It felt like they were planning a funeral, not a wedding. There wasn’t much joy in the process. They sat in seperate chairs. I have 2 comfy chairs and a sofa in my office. I invite couple to come in and see where they choose to sit. There’s a table in front of the sofa and the chairs at one end. So if they go to the sofa, it’s a good start. If they sit apart in the chairs, I’m now looking at how close these 2 are. So this couple sit in the chairs. They never held hands or touched each other the whole time. I booked them anyway. Through all our discussions (they didn’t want engagement shots), they didn’t mention their comfort or lack of comfort with PDA (Public Displays of Affection). The entire wedding day was a workout for me. All the shots I had in my head were useless and I had to create a whole shot list based on very stiff and uncomfortable clients who wouldn’t kiss and didn’t like touching each other. If you were a street shooter as described above, you’d produce a better package for this customer than I would. They liked the finished product, but if all my customers were like this, I’d get a job flipping burgers and just take pictures of flowers.

Consider this. It’s not wrong to be this way. Some people are very shy and prefer their intimate moments at home. Others are not. It’s not for any of us to judge. The flamboyant clients may not last and the shy ones might celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My point is, that you have to be able to work with them and get what they want. If you can’t, don’t take the job. It’s not fair to them and too hard on you.
I’ve said before that you need to be adaptable to their wishes and shoot in a style they like. But that doesn’t mean every wedding job is right for you or that you are right for them. Or that you have the skills and natural ability to shot the style they want. Consider your shooting style carefully and analyze your strengths and weaknesses. You might be a great candid shooter and can do a nice PJ style album. You might not feel comfortable creating and capturing good “classic” wedding shots. Those posed shots that you think look stiff and unnatural. We all excel at different styles.

Street shooting a wedding

This is an example of an adventurous couple who wanted to try different shots. We found an abandoned car that was unlocked for a fun shot.

Book the weddings that are appropriate to your comfort and skill levels. It does not mean that you can’t learn and practice other styles. How? Study other peoples work, study other portrait art forms and photography. Also when there is time, with the weddings you have booked, try a new idea for a few minutes. Go to a wedding every time with a new idea. Make each one a learning experience with a fresh approach to the work. Some couples want those close up shots that are really intimate. Maybe you’ve never tried this. So take some time with them and set up an idea. I’ve told couples that I’ve never done [this or that] and would like to try something different. If you have a good connection with the couple, they will agree and you might get a great series to give them and at the least, you have started to learn how to apply the lessons for the next time.

The other thing you can do is work with another pro on an off day. Volunteer your time to work with a respected pro once in awhile and watch his/her style. In fact work with someone of the opposite gender. If you are male, a female photographer is great to work with. They have a different and often more “romantic” eye. My assistant is female and I love the different look she can bring to a photo. But please do not book a couple that wants PJ style and you can’t do it. Taking the job for the money is a mistake. It could even land you in a courtroom. Reputations take years to build and seconds to wreck, never to be recovered.

This could ruffle some readers feathers but I hope more photographers would be in a courtroom when they can’t deliver what they promise.  Pushed out of the business  because they are incompetent. I don’t wish any photographer ill will but there are too many Cowboy shooters looking for a quick buck and not taking into consideration how important this day is to the couple and their family. They pass off a CD full of snap shots that your 10 year old could do.   I welcome competition in my market when the other shooters are all considerate and hard working pros. It makes me work harder and study the craft with more intensity. There’s a big difference between a shooter who studies and works this job every day, full time and those that take rent money every couple of Saturdays’ .

Consider this scenario. I have a photo of a grandmother that was a candid portrait at a wedding. I knew that she was the oldest member of the family and everything revolved around her. She was mentioned many times at meetings before the wedding day. I must have tried 40 times to get a nice shot of her not staring at the lens. Finally one series worked.  She loved the shot and so did the family. She said she hated having her photo taken (and it showed) and had never seen a good one till this.  Unfortunately, she’s no longer with us. The couple and members of her family wanted so many copies of the shot, I sold them the image and rights to it, to do as many reprints as they wanted.  If you are there just to make money and don’t care about the couple’s needs, then you deserve to be in front of a judge. Your work is far more important than you may ever know. If you mess it up, there’s no turning back the clock and a refund just doesn’t cut it.

Back to the article title,  you take your experience and use that to assess whether you will choose that couple to work with. If it’s doesn’t seem or feel right, or you can’t shoot it the way they want, be gracious and turn them down, recommend another photographer. Have a well reasoned explanation as to why you will not be able to take the job and hopefully you can get that from this article.  There’s nothing wrong with telling a customer that your style of work will not suit what they have told you they want in the album.

One further thought. Know your competition. How they shoot and how they work. Meet with them and look at their stuff. Have a relationship with them. I’ll discuss the reasons why in the next article.

So the title is correct, you choose your customers, not the other way around.

Cheers and good shooting – Peter Zack

Pei Wedding Photography

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