Meeting People Before You Shoot Them

Meeting people before you shoot them

So, today we’re going for another trip to the softer side of photography. Specifically we’re going to talk about portraiture, and the importance, benefits and winsomeness of meeting your clients before you shoot them, instead of just emailing a bit back and forth. If you take a couple of minutes and read through the post, and implement some of it into your workflow (if you haven’t already), I promise you it’ll make your portraits more personal, more intimate and just make for a much more pleasant experience during the actual shooting session. So, without much further ado, a couple of lists of reasons for, and ways of making the most of, meeting your clients before you shoot them. This week I’ve even tried to cut down on the fluff words (tried being the operative word here).

The why of it

We're trying to avoid this feeling during the shoot

We’re trying to avoid this feeling during the shoot

Why would you even want to meet your client before shooting them? I mean, time is money, and you might be spending that time shooting another client, but in my experience you really should take the time, because in the short run it’ll make your portraits better, and in the long run that will make for more, and better paying clients. Think of it as a quality over quantity thing.

  • Killing the social anxiety – It is pretty common for human beings to feel some sort of anxiety or insecurity when meeting new people for the first time, it is also very common for most people to feel insecure and self-consious when having their portrait taken. Meeting the client before the shoot, is an opportunity to get rid of the first part, the ordinary meeting-new-people anxiety, and that is a huge boon when it comes to the actual shoot. The more safe and comfortable your client feels, the better your images will be.
  • Check out the raw materials – Meeting your client before the shoot itself, is a chance for you to look at their facial features, their body language, pick up on all the small unique facial gestures we all have, see how they smile, frown, laugh and how they look when thinking hard about something. Those are all really useful pieces of information for you as a photographer, when planning the shoot itself. Sure you can get some of this by Facebook stalking them, but you can’t get even close to the amount of impressions you get from actually meeting someone.
  • Ask the important questions – There is no substitute for an actual face to face conversation when it comes to understanding other human beings. And making sure you understand what they’re looking for in the portrait, what they dislike about themselves, what they love about themselves and what the portrait is for, is incredibly important for you as a photographer. If you get all these things sorted out in advance, you’ll have a much more stress free shoot, and you’ll be secure knowing what you’re looking to create, instead of flailing about trying to make 20 different portraits just to make sure you get “the right one”.
  • Get paperwork out of the way – This is obviously different for different photographers, but I’m pretty inflexible when it comes to paperwork. Each shoot requires releases, license stuff etc. And it needs signatures. It is much easier getting this out of the way beforehand, in my experience.

 The how of it

And end up with something more akin to this

And end up with something more akin to this

You’re convinced that my idea isn’t completely ridiculous, now you just need some pointers on how to actually go about having awesome pre-shoot meetings with your clients, well you’ve come to the right list :) Or well, at least the list of stuff that I think matters when meeting your clients.

  • List your questions – Make sure you have a list of questions, either on paper or in your head, so that you actually get all the answers you need. It’ll obviously depend on your client and your style, but common questions I almost always ask includes, but isn’t limited to:
    • What made you pick me as a photographer? – No, this isn’t about ego petting, it is about figuring out what about your portraits made your client go with you. This is important, since I’m often surprised by the small stylistic details clients latch on to. I often ask for examples and bring my tabled with a portfolio on so that I can see which of my images they dig, and why they dig them.
    • What is the portrait for? – To me this is a super important question, because there is a damn big difference between a headshot for a tech-company CEO, and a headshot for the local life-coach’s website about personal emotional learning. This will, hopefully, influence your choice of location, lighting, vibe etc.
    • What is your favorite thing about yourself? – This is sort of open ended, but people’s answer is usually telling. Some people will list physical features, which is totally useful. Others will talk about their personality, which is also useful. Often an added bonus is that people automatically also talk about what they dislike about themselves (probably a result of the society I live in, so your mileage might vary here) which is also very useful info for me as a photographer.
    • What do you want the portrait to show? – Another open ended one, and purposefully so. Usually this question also ends up netting me a ton of useful information about what vibe I’ll be going for, attitude, lighting style, atmosphere etc.
    • What do you do? What is your hobbies? What are your interests? etc. – Firstly these sort of questions are good for just deflating any tension in the situation, most people love being asked about themselves, and talking about themselves, and it’ll either way net you a bunch of good topics to talk about during the actual shoot, if you run into awkward silence and such.
  • Try to connect – Try to actually connect with the human being in front of you. I’m blessed with a natural curiosity towards human beings, so for me it is super easy to get completely engaged in a conversation with someone, and this really helps. I suspect that people can tell if you’re genuinely interested in them, so try to be. It’ll make conversation smoother and you’ll have a much easier time reading them, understanding them and remembering the stuff you noticed.
  • Be reassuring – You’re the photographer, you’re the one who knows what is happening, why it is happening, how it is happening and your client is more or less at your mercy when it comes to the result of the shoot. So let them know how the two of you are going to make awesome images, make sure that they understand that you’ve got this, and that they’re going to be super happy with their images. It’ll make for a much less intimidating experience for them when it comes to the actual shoot.
  • Don’t open the conversation with paperwork – While you shouldn’t try to sneak the paperwork in at the last moment, that just comes off as sort of… cliché 80’s movie used car salesperson’ish. You shouldn’t start out with it either. Whenever you feel like you’re getting towards the end of the meeting, and you’re sure you understand each other with regard to expectations and such, whip out the paperwork and get it over with. Don’t act like you’re doing something bad, don’t excuse the paperwork or anything like that, it is part of your professional treatment of your client and there is nothing wrong with it :)

So there you go, I hope I’ve convinced you that you really should hang out with people before shooting them, and if not, do tell me why in the comments :) I’m always up for a healthy debate, and I’m ALWAYS up for learning why and how I’m wrong, it is one of the best teachers :)

  • Sam Gill

    the title of this made me laugh.

    • Andrew Sible

      “Hey nice to meet you, say hello to my little friend!”


      • Andreas_Bergmann

        Actually if you fire the sb-800 (i think) at full power at someone, it is both really bright, and goes pew pew like star wars lasers, so pretty close? :)

  • Tamisha Diaz

    Great article and confirms my reasoning behind meeting clients before the session! Thanks!

  • Markus

    I agree with the article, but a while ago, on some forum I noticed models complaining about creepy old guys with cameras just trying to get dates with young models by inviting them to planning meetings.

  • cameragirl

    I recently had this model who wanta to do a tfp tell me that I am odd to want to meet up before a photo shoot . She says she has been modelling for 15 years in new york and london and has never heard of this . So it mst be a Canadian thing ..lmao …She wanted me to know how much more professional she was . yawn …yet she needs tfp and her so call manager /agency can pay for it ? I really wanted to say to her in 15 years …sorry your not that big …never heard of you lmao