by Ron Pybus Published 01/10/2008
Part 12 on the business aspects of being a successful photographer by Ron Pybus ma aswpp.
In a previous article I touched on meeting the needs of the customer, but this was only in passing. I have had several follow-up enquiries for further information. Answers to these form the basis of the current article. In the more general article about customer care I talked about the lack of spontaneity by some photographers, in that they always shoot the same 10, or so, poses. I have always tried to meet the specific needs of the customer and this article sets out how I achieve success in this area.
People book photographic sittings for a variety of reasons. Many book because they have been given a free voucher, or have theoretically 'won' a competition; others wish to record a specific event, from a 40th wedding anniversary to a picture of the family before they all fly the nest and go off to university. As a photographer you need to find out why they booked and why they booked with you. The reason will have an effect on what you take, how you take it and what you are able to sell.
Many people just feel that it is time to have a family photograph and you have just hit them at the right time with a promotion. In such cases you have to try to bring them round to an outcome - what they are going to do with the resulting photographs. Some may want to put them in an album, others to have framed and hung on the wall, and yet others to give away (all but one) to relatives and friends.
Just as there are many 'don't knows' there are others who are very specific. I recently had one man who phoned to ensure that I did photograph dogs. He booked an appointment and brought along a framed photograph of his, now departed, 20-year-old Irish Setter, stretched out on a chaise-longue. He wanted a matching photograph of his six-month-old Setter in exactly the same pose.
The original picture was of an old dog, who was quite happy to lounge around. The six-month-old was full of beans, into everything and quite averse to staying still for a second, never mind posing on a chaise (not that I had one) with one paw hanging off the edge. Not only did the owner want an exact image match, he wanted a matching frame - not easy when it was a swept frame and he also wanted the scrolls and shields to be an exact match. It took me some time to find scroll frames in my catalogue, but finding an exact match took even longer.
Following this, a phone call elicited the information that my suppliers had stopped making this particular frame six years previously, but that they 'may have one in the warehouse'. Fifteen minutes later they confirmed that they had just one and it was dispatched that day. This was all done before we started shooting - partly in the hope that the dog would quieten down as it became more used to the surroundings and partly because I would have to persuade the owner to choose a different frame if I could not have matched his specific requirements.
The first attempts at getting pictures of the dog were a disaster, partly because the owner was becoming more agitated as the dog would not obey him. Eventually I took the owner out of the camera room into the waiting area and took the dog back on my own. I had noticed that the dog had taken a fancy to the settee in the corner of the studio. I covered it with a plain sheet, swung the lights round towards it - they are mostly on extending arms with 180-degree swivel - and waited.
The dog once again jumped onto the settee and in his haste to jump off again, his front paw slipped off the edge of the settee, just like the original picture and in that split second the picture the owner wanted was in the bag.
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