The photo above is one of my favorite street photos from my time in Tokyo. We spent an hour walking through Harajuku along Takeshita Dori street, window shopping, people watching, and sharing multiple decadent treats from Marion Crêpes. As I lifted my camera to my eye to photograph a quiet scene up a small flight of stairs, this spirited young woman jumped in front of the frame. I didn’t notice it until later, but the message on her rain poncho stood out and made me think. It reads “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” From what I could find, it’s originally a Bob Marley quote. Of course, it’s about perspective and optimism.

This reminded me of a similar quote by Helen Keller that I’ve recited in the past when it comes to creating portrait art for clients : “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

Clients come to us because they see that we have vision, perspective, and a creative eye. They sometimes have only a vague sense of what they want from us and a desire to have something beautiful, but can’t always articulate it in words exactly what that is. That’s fine. That’s called trust. And the creative trust clients place in you is essential and can carry you most of the way.

However, it’s also important to help clients “see” what you envision as they may not be able to cross the mental chasm themselves. This helps both in booking and in the final sale.

Specifically, clients worry about extra weight, ill-fitting clothing, bad skin, and anything else they perceive as a detraction from how they want to see themselves. As photographers, we often hear people say, “I’ll book a session as soon as I lose the weight.”

The way I overcome clients’ fears and objections is by sharing my vision with them up front. First, at the initial consultation, I allay their fears by saying, “When you come back to select your images, they aren’t going to be edited yet but don’t worry, let me show you how we get from here to there.” I then open a folder called “Transformations.” In it, I have several “before and after” images that outline the kinds of changes I’ll make to the final work. I’ll explain, “Don’t worry if something’s not perfect. We can change anything. Let me show you how I transform even a beautiful young girl with perfect skin and no weight to lose.”

Then I show them this :

I proceed by explaining that the image on the left is as shot (SOOC, or straight out of camera) and the image on the right is post-edit. Beyond the technical editing (typically, exposure, white balance, cropping, etc.), I show them all of the fine-tune changes I made to enhance the image :

  1. tapered the armhole on the dress (the dress was too big – I ofen A-clamp or binder clamp dresses while we shoot)
  2. minimized fine hairs at the hairline on her forehead
  3. smoothed wrinkles on the front of the dress
  4. slimmed her at her stomach
  5. smoothed the skin and reduced shadowing on her cheek
  6. lifted and volumized her hair
  7. reduced shadows under her eye and at her elbow
  8. brightened her face

I explain to clients that taken individually, each change are subtle and almost goes unnoticed. When taken together, however, the impact on the final image is profound.

Here are few more examples. Take a close look and see if you can spot the changes I made :

The second step to putting clients at ease is to revisit this again when they return to view and select their portraits — sometimes many months after the first conversation and weeks following the shoot. Now, once the images have been photographed, they remember all the little things that went wrong, they question the outfit they wore, and now real money is on the line.

I remind them that no images are edited before they purchase them, but that anything can be changed. I know what you might be thinking here . . . “What if they want to make crazy edits that I don’t want to do . . . object removal, head swaps, major skin retouching? That’s a lot of work.” Yes, it sure is. To this, I say, you can decide where to draw the line as part of your “included” edit, but consider that clients are trusting and paying you to achieve a result. When you charge significantly for your work up front — and I hope that you do — you’re building in enough to take the extra time. And I believe it’s in poor taste to nickel and dime.

Also, as a gentle reminder, you are in business to sell artwork, not pictures by the pound. Often, my sales include a total of five to 10 finished images. I’ve made five-figure sales on a total of six custom-framed, finished portraits. Almost never am I performing detailed edits on 30, 40, or 50 images. If I did, I’d be making more than enough money to make it worth my time. As a business owner, I’m much more interested in making the client 100% happy and building trust and referrals than rushing and skimping on time spent.

When we look through to select images, I remind them not to look at the messy hair or the ill-fitted dress. I encourage them to focus on how the image makes them FEEL.

Once we’ve selected the final collection of portraits, I ask clients to step through every single purchased image one last time and point out anything they’d like me to fix. I tell them, “I’m a pretty good photographer, but a horrible mind reader.” Once in a while, a client will say, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll catch everything.” I tell them don’t bet on it. Yes, I’ll always smooth skin, remove flyaway hairs, and do the things I always do in the course of an edit, but very often, they see things I don’t.

Now, I try not to suggest elements for editing during this process. Even if I see something minor, I don’t mention it. Not because I won’t fix it. I will. I hold back because calling the “minutiae” can sometimes throw clients down the rabbit hole with a magnifying glass looking for things to fix. That is not creating art. So, I hold back in most cases, though I do point out major elements that are obvious to us both.

Finally, I make written note of every single edit the client requests in the notes section of their invoice. Once the invoice is paid-in-full (I always request full payment at the design consultation), I print it out with the notes and both the client and I sign and date. I make a copy for them to take home. This not only reminds me of what I need to do later on, it provides us both with a record of what we discussed. Everyone stays on the same page.

In short, help your clients help you. Let them in on the secret. Let them into your mind. Portraiture, as with any artistic endeavor, is cooperative and collaborative. Only when all stakeholders feel like they’ve contributed and shared in the final product is the product is a true masterpiece. It also creates true connection with your client and the experience is a shared memory.

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