Way back in January, before Covid-19 was part of our lives, (remember that? It was before we knew that furlough was a real word, before we knew what WFH stood for, and before we put anti-bac on everything), I wrote a little blog about what it’s actually like to be a photographer. If you haven’t read it, you can find it here. Lockdown has given me a fair bit of time to think (but surprisingly little time to do – has anyone else found that?!) and following on from that blog, I’ve realised a few things about what takes a family photographer to the next level. They’re things I try and practice myself, or things I admire about photographers that are way further down the road than I am.
It’s a super power in life, but never underestimate the effect your kindness will also have on your clients. I’m not talking about giving away so many free things that your business is unviable, but your clients will ALWAYS remember how you made them feel. Do you want to hear a story? My photographer friend told me recently about the time she went for a photoshoot with another, very well known Cardiff photographer. She took her son to the studio, and after the shoot, the photographer turned to my friend and said
“You’re a photographer, aren’t you?”. My friend realised that the photographer must have googled her name before the shoot, so she replied “Yes, I am”. “Oh I’ve photographed LOTS of photographers’ children” said the photographer told her. “What’s your business name?” she asked. My friend told her. And then came the reply from the photographer, as she made her way towards her laptop – “I’m going to look at your Facebook page”.
In that moment, my friend decided that she could either let the embarrassment, inferiority and intimidation that she felt show, or, she could put on a (fake) brave face and take pride in the just-about-a-year-old business she’d created. “Oh you should look at my website instead, all my best work is on there”, she told the photographer. The photographer found my friend’s website and proceeded to look through her photos. “Your work is beautiful” said the photographer… “I don’t think I like you – you’re competition”.
The photographer may or may not have been joking, but the way she made my friend – her client – feel will stay with my friend for a long time. When your clients look back at the images you created for them, they will feel the emotions they felt at the time all over again. They will remember the way you acted towards them. Be kind :)
2. Technical wizardry
Understanding your camera and its settings is such an important part of being a family photographer. You wouldn’t drive a car for the first time without an instructor, you wouldn’t (really shouldn’t!) ride a horse without lessons, you wouldn’t jump into a swimming pool without knowing how to swim, you wouldn’t build IKEA furniture without reading the instructions (unless you’re my husband). There will always be ‘professional’ photographers who pop their camera on auto and hope for the best, but really, learning or being taught how your camera works and how to get it to do what you want it to do is pretty important. But did you know that lots of photographers go beyond their cameras and know how to calibrate lenses and screens, build websites and use editing software? There are 2 option really – harness your technical wizardry super powers to do all these things yourself (a good way to run your business), or, make enough money to pay someone else to do all the technical things for you (also a good way to run your business).
3. Super human vision
If you’re a photographer yourself, or know anyone who is, the phrase “look at that light!” is bound to be part of your life. Seeing beautiful light and running to it (or finding the harsh light and running from it) isn’t really what I mean by super human vision though. What I’m talking about is being able to see things in photos that other people can’t, just as soon as they hit your editing screen. You know that speck of dust on the dad’s cheek? Or that tiny stray eyebrow hair above mum’s left eye? How about the crumb in the corner of baby’s mouth? I mean they’re only visible if you zoom in to 200%, but what if the client has photoshop and they zoom into the photo at 200% and notice these things too?! Better to be safe than sorry, hey?! Luckily, with the aforementioned technical wizardry, it only takes a few taps of the magic wand (aka the patch healing tool) and you’re sorted. No more blemishes, even at 200%.
4. Lack of embarrassment
Usually the first thing I hear from any grown-ups at a session is “I don’t like having my photo taken”. My answer is always “That’s okay”. 99% of the time I get the posed, everyone-looking-at-the-camera shot first (don’t you find that grandparents LOVE that shot?!), and after that, they have my permission to not look at the camera for the rest of the session. But here’s where the lack of embarrassment super power comes in – I don’t just leave them to it to have fun as a family, I have games, jokes, songs and prompts up my sleeve to help the family engage with each other while I snap away. Yes that’s right, I sing ridiculous songs in front of other adults, give them rules and instructions for games, and generally prance around to make small children laugh. Lots of the smiles you’ll see from grown-ups in my images are actually them laughing at me.
English might be my second language, but I’m 100% certain that this is a word. So even though you may be a technical wizard and know your camera inside and out, at the end of the day, it’s technology. And technology sometimes has a mind of its own. The photo below was taken recently during a full afternoon of minis, with this session being the second one of the day. And guess what? My camera stopped working. It wouldn’t grab focus at all, it was jumping all over the frame and telling me that eye AF wasn’t enabled. I could feel the panic rising in me, but unflappability is something I’m working on, so I didn’t let the panic in. I explained to my amazing and very understanding clients that I was having trouble and asked if we could take a 5 minute break. I checked my settings incase I could see anything that had changed (I couldn’t), swapped lenses to see if it was lens-related (it wasn’t), took the battery out to see if that sorted it (it didn’t), and then turned it all off and let it sit for a minute before hoping that a miracle had happened (it hadn’t). So basically I had no idea what was wrong and therefore no idea how to fix it. (At this point I feel like I need to assure you that if my clients are reading this, it won’t be a surprise to them – I explained exactly what was going on). I took control of the only thing I could, which was my reaction. I offered to keep shooting, but that if we didn’t get the images I wanted, we’d come back next week and do it again. It took double the time it should have done, but thankfully, we did get the images (and they’re lush).
I wish I could say I had all these super powers! But having goals in business is healthy, right? I’d love to look back on this blog at the end of 2021 and think that I can claim one more of them as my own. What are your super powers as a photographer? Who are the photographers you look up to because they always seem like they’re nailing it? If you’re not a photographer yourself, maybe you have an idea of what you’d like your family photographer to be amazing at? I always love hearing your comments, so feel free to add them below.
About the Author
Clare Harding is a Cardiff-based photographer specializing in maternity, newborn, child, and family photography. You can see Clare’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.