iLOVE: telling it like it is

This past weekend was spent on is the 2nd of what what I think will be many annual fall photography retreats. This year, we went a little urban, staying in a bungalow in West Edmonton that you can rent like a hotel.  (Weird, but it worked.)  While there was much fun had, including the I'm-a-magician-not-a-JW-stripper to whom our dear friend Christine gave the best awkward hug ever, a frustrated chihuahua puppy who couldn't get a 4-month old baby to play with her, and a challenge for 7 photographers to create one complete newborn album without duplicating any of each other's shots, we also had an opportunity to discuss some of the awkward and challenging situations that we as photographers face when dealing with our clients.  So, when given a parting challenge to say something, "unspoken," in the spirit of sharing some bits of ourselves, I thought I would say to you, my clients, some of the things I don't really get a chance to say, hopefully things that will make YOU love your pictures more.  So, I'm going to tell it like it is, for me.  If you're a client, I appreciate you taking the time to hear my side.  If you're a photographer, I imagine you can appreciate some or all of this - feel free to share a link, but remember this is a COPYRIGHTED article and you must provide a link back to the original post!

ELEMENTARY: "If you don't do what the photographer tells you, no treats!  Sit still or you're going to be on a time-out!  If you sit still, I have a special surprise!"  Bribes and/or threats make my job very difficult.  It puts unnecessary stress and frustration onto both your children and me because I am made out to be a puppetmaster, the thing upon which their imminent reward or punishment depends.  Suddenly, I'm this evil threatening person who has the ability to dictate their happiness in the near and immediate future.  I know *my* response when someone threatens me, and it's pretty congruent with how your children react to me.  And if you are foolish enough to dole out a treat or two as a teaser, then your kids are likely to behave like trained mice, who figure out very quickly that your triggered response to their growing restlessness is to dispense a goody.  The quicker their behaviour deteriorates, the quicker you dole out the goodies, the sooner you run out of goodies and they run out of the ability to be bribed.

SOLUTION: Parents, I promise that your kids are going to behave for me 100% better when you just let me do my job, which usually involves me making such a complete ass of myself that your kids (and you) are laughing at me anyway.  Threatening (or belittling or yelling at or spanking) your child during a session is sure to get you nothing more than those red-rimmed tear-filled eyes because it's awkward for both your children and for me.  I can stick things up my nose, make weird noises, balance things on my head, sneeze, roll in the dirt, play peek-a-boo... and even the toughest kid usually gives a great response, even if that response is to cross their arms, roll their eyes, or even turn their back to the camera.  It's part of the adventure, and while you may hang on your wall that one single perfectly posed smiling image we finally get after 2 hours of farting, burping, and doing cartwheels, chances are good you will spend far more time telling the stories and sharing the "blooper" pictures of your children being themselves.  If you want to reward your children, do it as a surprise afterwards - but don't mention it beforehand as it makes your kids want to rush through the session to get to the other side.

TODDLER: "Cheese!"  Okay, so this problem begins in early childhood.  Thinking we are encouraging our children to smile, we teach our children to say "cheese" or ask them to show us their teeth from the moment they can understand, then wonder why we get nothing but that same squinty-eyed strained-mouth, head-back pose every time a camera comes near, including the professional (me) you just hired.   You may start moving your child into the aforementioned bribes and threats category, which is all bad...

SOLUTION: In order to fix this problem, we have to abolish the phrase, "Say cheese!" entirely.  Since that's not likely going to happen anytime soon, the good news is, if you remember back to a time before your child was smart enough to know what cheese was let alone how to say it, chances are you were pretty creative at figuring out ways to get them to smile.  You probably stuck things up your nose, made weird noises, balanced things on your head, sneezed, rolled in the dirt, and played peek-a-boo.  Fortunately, as I mentioned already, I'm still pretty good at those things.  Given the time and space required, chances are good we're going to get a great photo in spite of this nasty habit.  While often the instinct is to be mad or frustrated that all your kids' pictures have that same weird face, there are two things you need to remember.  #1) It's your fault (~smirk~) and #2) when your kids are older, you will tell the story of how they used to always make the same cheesy face every time they saw a camera coming.  You'll probably even use them in their wedding slideshows.  So... relax and embrace it - before you know it they will be scowling at the camera and listening to weird music and wearing clothes you personally wouldn't be caught dead in.

NEWBORN: "But I want those precious sleeping pictures, and maybe a smile..."  Your job, as a parent of a newborn child, regardless of whether it's your first or fifth or fifteenth is to feed, burp, change, and cuddle your baby.  My job, as a photographer, is to document your baby (and you, if you feel like being in the pictures) at this age.  Often (read: almost always) babies do not cooperate.  It's very rare to have a newborn session done in under an hour because they are so unpredictable.  They sleep and wake when they want, they get hungry and poop on their own schedule, and are more or less comfortable with being clothed or naked based on their own personal preferences.  There is no way to force, bribe, threaten, or even illicit a response from them because they are lumps who only know that they are hungry, gassy, cold, poopy, tired, or lonely.

SOLUTION: There are 2 solutions here.  #1.) Let your photographer come within the first 5 days after your baby is born.  Even if you had a traumatic birth and don't want to be in any pictures, you don't need to look like a supermodel - your hands and maybe a shoulder are all I need to include if you're not feeling up to much.  These pictures are about your newborn, not you, and generally your newborn is most sleepy, cooperative, non-preferential, and, as an added bonus, mostly acne and skin flake free if we are able to come within the first 5 days.  #2.)  Do your job.  If you have a colicky, hungry, cold, tired, lonesome, or active baby, no amount of magic in the world will assist me in obtaining one of those perfect sleeping pictures more than you doing your job of feeding, burping, changing, and cuddling your baby.  And babies that young rarely smile, so on the off-chance we are going to have any luck with that, our luck will be greatly increased if you are feeding, cuddling, cooing, changing, warming, and doting over your baby.

TIME: There are few things more frustrating than not having enough time to get your photos done. Even a seasoned veteran like me, working with loyal clients I've met several times, it's going to take us some time to warm up and get into the groove.  For a family with teenagers, chances are pretty good it's going to take less time than a family with toddlers.  A newborn session can take up to 3 hours if baby is particularly fussy, active, or uncooperative.  Wedding formals take at least an hour for the group and an hour for the couple, not including travel time, so it's unrealistic to expect us to get pictures of the extended family if you've only left 2 hours between the ceremony and your reception.

SOLUTION: Simple: make sure you leave enough time.  We can't rush things - if you limit our time, you limit the number of images we have to offer you.  Whether it's a wedding, newborn, children, family, or boudoir session, photographers tend to know and will ask that you set enough enough time to get the job done.  Try and avoid scheduling something for immediately after your session just in case we need a little extra time, and help me out by suggesting times of the day when your toddler is in a good mood.  If you don't leave us with enough time, please ensure you keep your expectations realistic.

WEATHER: We have no control over what the weather is going to do on your photo day.  We don't have spaces in our schedule to keep rescheduling.  We can't find a beautiful free indoor venue to accommodate your wedding party of 18 on Friday at 10:30 p.m.  We don't have time to sit beside the phone and wait for the sun to come out or the leaves to be just the correct shade of orange.  We don't have unlimited numbers of extra mitts, jackets, scarves, and umbrellas in our car in case you forget or neglect to consider bringing your own.  We probably won't blow dry the snow off your lawn and glue greenery onto trees because spring is taking too long to arrive, even if you ask us nicely.

SOLUTION: Have realistic expectations and decide to change your mind.  The weather is unpredictable, so I come prepared to shoot, rain or shine or snow.  I check the weather the day of your session and ensure that I will have sweaters, mitts, rubber boots, an umbrella, snow pants, sunscreen, water bottles, a hat, and even extra batteries for myself in case the cold weather drains them too fast.  I treat every session with the same sense of urgency as getting the job done on a wedding day insofar as I expect every session to be a "go" regardless of what the skies decide to unleash on us.  If you come dressed for a summer session and your children begin to cry because their fingers are frozen, or if the leaves get blown off the trees because you rescheduled 3 times, or if you didn't bring coordinating umbrellas for your bridal party, you will likely not like the images I am able to get.  If you come prepared, while the images may not be quite what you envisioned, when everyone is dressed to be comfortable and you decide to just have fun with whatever weather you are faced with, you can still expect wonderful pictures.

WRONG PHOTOGRAPHER: So, you love the style of so-and-so, the packages and pricing offered by so-and-so can't be beat, and the pictures your friend had done by so-and-so are perfect... You want so-and-so's pictures, and you ought to hire so-and-so, but you hire me instead. When you get your pictures back you ship me off an email that tells me in great detail how disappointed you are that you don't have an identical album - the lighting is different, your kids aren't smiling the same, there's boogers coming out your kids nose, you think you look fat and old...  There are a number of factors that play into this, but namely, if you read my website, reviewed my portfolio, and hired me, you are getting exactly what I promise: pictures of YOU, taken by ME.

SOLUTION: Get to know your photographer and see your family through their eyes.  Review their work, read their bio and their blog, talk to former clients. You may love me and hate the pictures I take.  You may love the pictures I take but hate me.  You may like my prices but not realize that this is in large part due to the fact I don't use a studio or spend hours photoshopping your family to look like plastic dolls.  I mix it up at every session so my clients don't have the exact same poses and props as everyone else.  As previously mentioned, I don't control the weather and can't make you or your children look or behave like anyone else but themselves.  It's also worth mentioning that if you read the text on my blog and website instead of just looking at the pretty pictures, you'll see that I am warm, weird, passionate, outspoken, verbose, and have a shoe fetish.  I know I am not the photographer everyone wants, and the great thing about that is, there are lots of us out here with very different visions and approaches, so do a little research to find a good match.  Your best bet if you want pictures exactly like your friends is to ask for a copy to hang on your wall instead of your own unique, interesting, and special family.  Otherwise, I will disappoint you, each and every time, with plain old pictures of YOU, taken by ME.

WRONG PRICE: Despite the fact we are pretty clear on how our pricing works, regardless of our level of experience or education, we photographers get haggled on our prices on a daily basis.  Rather than go through the typical list of ways we are asked to lower our prices, give away extras, perform miracles, or work for free, I'm just going to skip to the solution and let you fill in the blanks.

SOLUTION: You understand why it takes longer and why a hairdresser charges more to cut, colour and style long hair.  If you don't eat the free breadsticks that come on the table before your meal, you don't ask for potatoes instead, or a discount off your bill.  You know that you are getting a gas station coffee when you stop at a gas station, and when you do go to Starbucks, you don't ask for gas station pricing and happily pay for extra the flavour shot in your whipped white chocolate mocha latte.  You shouldn't expect a mint on your pillow at a by-the-hour motel.  Your mechanic doesn't give you a discount because you were in cadets with his second cousin's ex-wife. You pay for each animal's vet check every time you take them in, even after going to the same vet for 5 years.  You don't try on and buy clothes that are too small then take them back to the store for a refund because they make you look fat.  You know what your age, weight, and bra size are, and you know that cosmetic surgery and personal trainers are expensive because it takes time and expertise.  You don't ask the salesperson at Old Navy for last year's pricing on this year's line of winter coats.  Lastly, when you get up and go to work every day, you expect to get paid, and if the person paying you asked you to work for a lower wage or for free, what would YOU say?  That is all.

IMPATIENCE: You know how when your kids are in the back of the car and they keep asking, "Are we there yet?  Now?  Now?  Are we there now?  Yet?" and what you really wish for is a one of those soundproof glass windows they have in limos?  Or you're baking a cake and you take it out too soon and isn't cooked and falls?

SOLUTION: Again, pretty easy: it's going to take time to get your pictures ready for you to view, so chill out, relax, and be patient  - I am giving your album the same time and attention as I give everyone's, and I imagine you wouldn't want me to blast past yours to speed the process up any more than someone else would.

TIMING: Different than TIME issues.  This one is a touchy subject.  You know, we always make excuses for why we don't have time, or the time isn't right, to get pictures done.  But life is uncertain.  Do I really believe my kids are going to care if I hadn't lost that last 10lbs or if I grew a pimple on picture day?  If your child is cranky or sported a black eye on picture day, do you love them any less?  Is putting it off for another month or two really worth it?

SOLUTION:  I'm going to be brutally honest.  I have a client whose fiance was killed in a fluke accident literally the day before their wedding, and one who died just a few months after their family session.  I've done sessions for NILMDTS, where there is no other opportunity to have pictures done but in the hospital because they don't have the luxury of taking their baby home.  What you look like today, is what people will love you as, just the same as yesterday and tomorrow.  NOW is the time.  Embrace each moment of each day because life is too uncertain to wait for some preconceived notion of a perfect day.  Today IS a perfect day.  You love, and are loved - what could possibly make it more perfect?



Unless otherwise noted, writing and watermarked images on this blog are copyrighted to Hope Walls.