This article will cover a client case study on how I organised not only myself, but the client prior to the actual shoot day.
Topics I’ll cover in this article include:
- Initial client contact
- Client phone call
- Mood boards
- Interpreting client mood board into an actual shoot plan
- Final images
Just before we dive in, I just want to remind you that there’s a huge variation in the client jobs you may encounter and each one is almost always unique. The client job I’ll reference here is actually a very simple one as it’s essentially a portrait shoot even though it’s for a commercial client. The reason I chose this client as an example is because it’s a brief overview of some of the questions you should be considering and asking the client on any job, so although this example is fairly straight forward, just bear in mind that this process gets a little more complicated once you’re also dealing with an art director and/or agency in this mix as well.
Case Study – Benny Hancock
The client in question here was Benny Hancock, the owner of a new male cosmetic brand for which he needed some new portraits and commercial advertising pictures for brochures and website. The conversation starts off with some very broad ideas, the initial mood board I received was a little open to interpretation, which we then refined, finalised and most importantly agreed on as our final outcome for the day based on the constraints we had.
Chances are that this may be a typical workflow for yourself too at some point, so I thought I’d share how it went.
This will likely be different for many of you, but often a potential clients first email is along the lines of;
Love your work and I’d like discuss the possibility of working together on something.
I appreciate this may sound incredibly vague, but I cannot express how often I receive this as an opening to a job if a client is contacting you directly. I understand it though, they want to see what you come back with and the client is often sending that same message to a bunch of other photographers too. Their aim is often to get an idea of your approach without giving away too much about themselves at first. And by that, I mean their budget.
It’s from here that I’ll quickly try to understand what the job involves without first scaring them off. For example, I don’t want to quote them a day rate for a portrait, only to see that they want a far larger commercial gig or vice versa.
In this instance Benny had his company details in the email (this is your first big clue) so I knew it was likely to be a commercial job. Below that website was also his phone number so I simply called him to learn more. Having their number is nearly always a huge plus as speaking to someone will go a long way to form at least some psychological trust (aka rapport). Plus, many people find it harder to bullshit you over the phone compared to a well crafted email.
The Initial Phone Call
In this initial call, be extremely careful with what info you give away and also remember that anything the client says here is not set in stone until it has been confirmed in writing via an email.
Your first goal is to understand the bare bones of the shoot.
- What is the subject?
- How many subjects?
- How many shots are required?
- Is this for a company/business or individual?
- Where will the shoot need to take place? For example, will you need to travel, stay overnight, international trip, is it on location with/without power or is it in a studio?
This really is the bare minimum you need to know before quoting, but you should still have an idea of a day rate for an individual over a business before you pick up the phone. I guarantee you they will ask you, so either have a good excuse ready as to why you can’t quote, or have some ball-park figures ready for a few eventualities. This isn’t set in stone at this point, but don’t expect to get away with doubling your fee later on.
After the phone call I usually know whether this is going to be a smooth job or not. It’s not about how much the client knows about your job, it’s about how much they know about their own job and requirements. Many clients may not know what information you need, but if they immediately know all the answers to your questions I’ve outlined above, you’re probably going to be fine. If they stumble, ‘need to get back to you’ or ‘need to think about it/not sure yet’, it’s gonna be a tougher job for sure. I’m not saying you can’t turn these into successful jobs, but be extremely cautious of assuming anything and always, always thoroughly write everything down in the upcoming email, no matter how obvious it may seem to you.
Thankfully, Benny was the client, the business and the subject so he knew all the answers and resulted in a fairly easy phone call.
Email Follow Up
After my call, I try and get as many of the rough notes from our conversation down immediately. From there, construct a clear and concise email to the client outlining what’s involved.
Here is an outline of what I usually respond with.
Many thanks indeed for your call and for thinking of me and my work for your project.
As discussed on the phone, here are the requirements for the brief as I have it. If anything below is incorrect then of
course please correct me as soon as you can.
Proposed shoot date: xxxx xth xxxx
Location: xxxxxxxx xxxxxx
Deliverables: x-number of hi-res (xxxxpx x xxxxpx) and fully retouched digital files emailed to client
Deliverables Deadline: xxxx xxth – This deadline is contingent on the proofs being sent to client on xxxx xth and client confirming images to be edited by end of day xxxx xxth.
Project Proposal: TBC – Gelled lighting portraits of 1 male model
Project Notes: TBC – Images to be in landscape format for web orientation
Day rate: £xxxx
Digital files (including retouching): £xx each
Note that this file price includes the image usage fee for digital online media as well as print media for the next two years.
Total £xxxx (day rate)
xx £xx = £xxx (files)
TOT= £xxxx +expenses
Please note that all images released to you are still the sole property of Jake Hicks and will remain so in perpetuity unless otherwise stated. Images cannot be sold on or reused by any other person or brand without explicit written consent from Jake Hicks. The requested images are to be used exclusively with the Benny Hancock brand only.
Please let me know if you have any questions Client and I very much look forward to working with you on this project.
Like we stated on the phone, get any and all ideas across to me in the form of imagery so that we can lock down what we want to achieve on the day of the shoot. Based on your ideas already, I think the resulting images will look fantastic with my coloured lighting and I’m definitely looking forward to working on this.
Speak to you soon.
The email is friendly and to the point with clearly outlined prices. It’s useful here to note that I charge for files separately to any job, but you may choose to include them if you want to, although I don’t recommend it.
I will add that I think its an extremely good idea to include a charge for additional files here, even if they haven’t asked for additional shots.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where clients didn’t want more images after they’ve seen what I can do, and on most occasions the additional file costs are far higher than the initial job budget appeared to be.
Get your foot in the door and then blow them away with your work, but you can only profit from this if you anticipate it with an up front cost of additional files as early as possible. The trick here is that the client will initially ignore it as they believe it doesn’t apply to them at this point. When they see the shots and want more, the price is already there and you aren’t the ‘bad guy’ later on for seemingly holding ‘their’ images ransom.
Another clear thing here is to outline that you remain the owner of the images and in not so many words, they are simply renting the images from you. This can be difficult to fully understand by some clients, especially if the images are of themselves, but try to include it in your communications somewhere to avoid your images being sold at a later date, especially if brands or companies change hands or images get used in conjunction with a project you don’t agree with. You rarely have to enforce it, and it’s often a prevention over a cure.
One final point for you to consider on this section, is how you get this to your client and know that they are okay with everything you’ve outlined. Many photographers will insist on this being sent via pdf and signed off in writing for example, but I’ll leave that up to you as to how formal you want to take it. That approach may seem a little cold for a maternity shoot for example. Just use your judgement.
Lastly, you’re giving the client an action to follow up on.
“Get any and all ideas across to me so that we can lock down what we want to achieve on the day of the shoot.”
This is your request for a mood board and you client needs to get some example imagery over to you.
What is a Mood Board?
We’ve all had a conversation with someone about an idea they’ve had. They explaining it to you in terms like “I’d like a shot like that other gel shot you took. Yunno, the one with the girl in it” or
“I’d love something with a lot of colour in it. Something that’s really cool and edgy!”
If that sounds like a brief you may have had in the past, then it’s definitely time to start using mood boards with your clients. Failure to do so is almost guaranteed to lead to insurmountable frustrations from both you and the client,
A mood board in its simplest form is a collection of images that speak to a visual idea of what you or the client may have in their minds-eye. It is the raw visual representation of an idea. The more complex mood boards can include many, many ideas and even include images, quotes, songs and even physical objects that speak to texture or quality. Some mood boards can be thrown together in minutes and some take many, many months with multiple people in a team adding to it. The final purpose of any mood board is always the same though, to clearly communicate an idea to another person or group of people.
Why is a Mood Board Important?
As photographers we create images that are ultimately unique dependant on location, subject, message and so on. So even if we have a defined photographic style, we still need to be able to produce a piece of work that encompasses the idea the client has and sometimes, they may not even know what that is themselves. A mood board can help to visualise an idea not only for you, but for them as well.
Are they selling a modern product? Are they a customer focused company? Are they primarily selling to other businesses rather than direct to the customer? Does the client want a natural spontaneous portrait, or are they after a portrait that looks like the front cover of an editorial? You need to know all of this information long before you pick up your camera and by exploring all of this beforehand and setting goals for the shoot day, both you and the client can relax when that shoot day comes as you’re both working towards the same thing.
Receiving the initial Mood Board
This client mood board can be a random selection of single images, screenshots, or a pdf. Here is the email I received from Benny along with the mood board he sent.
Please see attached mood board of the vibe and things i really like, there is some of your work in there too.
– I wanted to make sure we at least capture me with each of the products in each set up we do.
Interpreting the Mood Board
There are a few things we can immediately take from this. Firstly, we have a ton of extremely creative ideas. Yes, this is fantastic and at first glance it looks like a dream client, but we need to reign in the shoot a little. We’ve quoted a day rate, so you need to be clear with what you can technically achieve in a single day. If the client wants x and x, but also x, will it require a multiple day shoot? Only you know what you can achieve in a single day though.
The reality is often that once you’ve agreed a day-rate, that’s the budget so you need to advise the client on what is possible in a single day based on what their core objectives are. In this instance, Benny wanted 5 different looking portraits (setups) so there was a couple of areas I had to be wary of offering with this limited time.
Another thing to be aware of in this mood board is the sheer diversity of imagery. I had to understand why certain images were being included here. After all, some shots may simply be included for colour toning inspiration, posing ideas or mood. The client may not want every aspect of every shot.
Follow up Call
After I had the initial mood board, I felt far better equipped to talk about shoot specifics as we both have reference images to pull from. With this mood board in hand, I called Benny to discuss some refinement.
It’s at this stage that I like to take some control. The client has sent you ideas and as long as you offer up concrete examples and setups that are based on what has already been sent, you should be totally fine. My goal at this stage is to present 5 setups that I think work best with my experience and expertise, but that also flow together in an achievable way within the deadline of a single day.
For example; see that top right hand image of Cara lying in the water from the initial mood board? That is undoubtably a beautiful image, but is it practical for our shoot? I don’t tell the client they can’t have or do anything, but I do explain the limitations and the potential sacrifices we would have to make in other areas to deliver it.
“We would need to get a paddling pool, fill it with warm water, lie you down, shoot it, then you’ll have to undress, likely shower, dry yourself, go back into hair and makeup and then begin the next setup.”
You’re not saying no, but you’re clearly outlining the setup will be a pain in the ass to do, and that will severely limit what else we can do that day. Don’t get me wrong, if they really want that shot, then great, but we may need to book an additional day or half day to cover everything else.
As the call went on, I suggested 5 setups that I thought would work well together, would work well with the client and what was achievable in a single day.
Understanding the Brand – Big Data
This next section is a little more optional, but I do always try to understand the brand I’m shooting for. Who is that brands customer? How old are they? What sex are they? What is their demographic? What other brands does this brand align itself with?
As a result of me asking some of these questions, Benny sent me an extensive outline of his brand and its potential customers. This outline was provided to him from an ad agency and they have access to market data to be able to create it. I don’t feel comfortable sharing it in its entirety here, because you know, the internet…. But this 300 word brand outline covered everything including exercise routines of desired clients, social status, client aspirations, yearly incomes and much, much more (to be clear, this is ‘potential’ client data, not actual client info).
I realise this info may seem excessive, intrusive or even bizarre to many of you, but this is simply ‘big data’ and many companies can get this data for their brands based on what they want to achieve and it‘s far from uncommon. Whether you agree with it or not, this info is extremely useful to me for a client job as it gives me a broad picture of what we’re tying to achieve. Do we need to be sexy, gritty, luxurious, relatable, aspirational and so on. This all helps to understand the brand and provide imagery that speaks to their customers.
The Final Brief
So we’re finally ready to go. We’ve discussed ideas, got specific with setups and looks and it’s now time to get the final go-ahead via written confirmation from the client. Here is what I ultimately sent back to Benny after our second call.
It is IMPERATIVE that you get this ‘signed off’ or agreed in writing that the client is happy with this. Of course it is vital that what you sent is also extremely clear and not open to interpretation. What I sent back may look simple, but it is by design to avoid confusion. I’ve clearly outlined 5 setups and within those I’ve outlined some key points we need to bear in mind or include during those setups. These one-word notes can be colours, themes, orientations, key features and more, but I am trying to make them as specific as possible.
This is your ‘shoot-bible’ and from here on out you do NOT reference or use any other images prior to or during the shoot. I have this exact sheet open on my devices and the client sees me clearly working from this very page throughout the shoot. My point here is; don’t send this to the client, and then work off something else or an older/newer version. If the client sees that on the day, the seed of doubt is sown and it will invariably sprout at some point in the future.
The Day of the Shoot
Ironically, this is actually the easiest part. All the hard work has been done up until this point and you can just get on with doing what you do best, actually finally taking some damn photos!!!!
The Final Shots
The final shots aren’t particularly relevant for this article as I wanted to focus on everything leading up to the shoot rather than the shoot itself, but it’s good to see how the final images turned out compared to the mood boards and pre-shoot ideas. Below is just some of the shots the client ultimately purchased.
Ultimately this was a very successful job. The client was happy and I loved how the shots turned out too.
I’ll just remind you again of what I was asked for by the client. Benny wanted 5 images from this job. Benny ended up purchasing 17 images!
I’ll say it again, as so many overlook this aspect of pricing, but ALWAYS include a cost for additional shots in your invoice and even if you’re going to include some shots in your initial quote, breakdown and outline the cost of the shots separately in the invoice. By doing this, you’re being open with your pricing and you’re not being seen as holding photos ransom now that you know the client wants more.
This final invoice ended up being far greater than the initial budget and this is money that you could be missing out on.
Secure the job, then blow them away with your imagery for free money afterwards!
About the Author
Jake Hicks is an editorial and fashion photographer who specializes in keeping the skill in the camera, not just on the screen. For more of his work and tutorials, check out his website. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page and follow him on Instagram, too. You can also sign up for the Jake Hicks Photography newsletter to receive Jake’s free Top Ten Studio Lighting Tips and Techniques PDF and be sure to download his brand new, free 50-page studio lighting book. This article was also published here and shared with permission.