The Importance of Planning

As a photographer we know how important planning can be.  This is especially true when dealing with commercial clients and advertising.  When I talk about planning it’s not just planning the shot or the equipment or people you’ll need to make the shot happen for the client.  It’s about seeing the client’s vision even when they don’t have a clue as to what they really want.  In this day and age of the “Do it Yourself” approach, educating the client as to what is required for the shot and helping them with continuity of message has become part of our job as photographers.  That being said…….. About 4 months ago I had one of my real estate clients ask me to come in and do some portraits for a new advertising campaign for their team.  (This client was bringing me about 6-10 properties a month)  I told them not a problem and arranged to meet with them regarding what they were looking for and to help me get a handle on the direction they were going.  Well the first meeting was cancelled.  Then the second. And even the third was cancelled.  At this point I had grown frustrated and tried contacting the client by phone. One message.  Two messages.  Three messages over the course of two weeks were not returned.  So I resorted to email.  Finally a response.  But not from the client.  From his assistant.  Who was gracious enough to send a response along with a couple of samples of what they were looking for and to inform me that they had made arrangements with the members of the team to be at their office in 3 days time.  Now I know for realtors time is money but this had just gotten a little absurd.  I responded to the email saying that’s great but we haven’t even discussed what was necessary to capture what they were looking for or any number of other logistic and artistic questions.  No problem I was told.  They have a space where they want the images taken.  Just show up and it will be handled.  Needless to say I was very apprehensive.

THE DAY OF THE SHOOT                                                                                                    Upon my arrival I’m greeted by the client.  We briefly go over the examples of images his assistant had previously sent me.  The problem was that all of the images had different styles.  All were casual environmental portraits.  Some were highly stylized and others were just casual with no stylization to them.  I asked what exactly he was looking for and received a response of anything like these would be great.  By now alarm bells are going off in my head telling me that this client doesn’t really know what he wants and is hoping that I pull off something magical for him and his team.  OK.  PROBLEM #1:  Client doesn’t have a direction for this shoot.  PROBLEM #2:  The space.  Turns out the space they’ve decided would be good for this was a conference room.  This room had nothing in it except some folding chairs, a wipe board 3 beige walls and a wall of window.  Oh boy!  This was nothing like any of the images he had shown me.  Quick.  Quick.  Think of something.  I scrambled and came up with a way to shoot against the window and use what was showing through as a background.  PROBLEM #3:  They had scheduled an hour to shoot 6 people and try to get as many different looks with each as possible.  Wow.  The alarm bells in my head just got much much louder.

EPILOGUE                                                                                                                                  After completing the shoot and going over by an hour (due to realtors showing up late) I returned to my studio exhausted and even more apprehensive then I had been before.  Nothing we took looked like any of the examples he had shown me.  Still I went ahead and worked my magic with Photoshop and Portrait Pro and all of the other tricks I had and got some nice images.  I sent the proofs to the client and waited. And waited.  And waited.  I let a full two weeks go by before I contacted him.  His response was short and to the point.  “Loved the images.  They are really good.  Just not what I’m looking for.”  Like I didn’t see that coming.  So where is this rambling story leading to?  That was 3 months ago and while I have been super busy shooting real estate for other realtors, I have not heard from him or any member of his team since.  Lesson learned.  Don’t be afraid to take control of the situation.  It’s only through planning and preparation that you can meet your client’s expectations.  Even if they don’t know what those expectations are.

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