If you are a new professional photographer or new to a different photographic genre, you most likely have some doubts about your ability. It’s not only a common feeling, but quite worthwhile in personal development.
As you read about other photographers on the Internet, each one invariably sounds confident and quite assured. It’s difficult for most of us to undress our emotions in public view, so you won’t often come across others expressing their fear, confusion and doubt in online venues. But these feelings exist nonetheless.
And even when you think you have worked your way through your insecurities internally, speaking to prospects, clients and your peers can quickly bring them back to the surface.
The Birthday Party
Many years ago, when film was king and I was just starting out, I photographed weddings and events. On one such occasion, I acquired a new client wanting pictures of her daughter’s 13th birthday party. Mrs. Customer’s husband was a major real estate developer in Florida, and when I visited her home to sign the contract, I stepped into a palatial house and met the “queen.”
We seemed to hit it off fairly well, and she liked my wedding portfolio. By this time in my career, I had about 20 weddings under my belt, mostly middle income, small events. Mrs. Customer’s party was going to be the largest I had ever done.
A week after the event, I met with Mrs. Customer and showed her the proofs, so she could pick her album images and additional enlargements. Up to this point, everything had gone well.
She examined the proofs. Then, she looked me right in the eye and said they were unacceptable and she wasn’t going to pay for anything further.
“In fact,” she said, “I’m considering asking for the money I’ve already paid you.”
I must admit, at that time in my life, I wasn’t doing well financially. Sitting in front of Mrs. Customer at that moment, my first thoughts were of making the rent and paying my bills.
I also felt some doubt about the quality of the images. I was paralyzed as to what to say or do.
When you’re young and starting out, a little doubt, as I said, can be helpful in examining your images and furthering your craft. However, once you’ve gained some experience — even if you are switching to a new genre, such as from sports to portraits — you should have a basic confidence in your ability to get the shot. Self-doubt remains a natural response to new challenges, but usually only until you’ve planned the project and created shot lists.
Of course, at any point in your career, there is no better litmus test of your self-confidence than in how you deal with recalcitrant customers.
Turning the Tables
Sitting across from Mrs. Customer, in her palace, I thought I was at a disadvantage. I needed the money, and somehow I had to salvage the situation. My mind quick-fired thoughts, while my hands sweated and, for a minute or two, I didn’t say anything — because I couldn’t think of anything.
Mrs. Customer sat back in her chair — we were sitting at her kitchen table — and stared at me.
What I hadn’t considered, until that second, was how well my previous work had been accepted by others, and the praise I’d received from clients and friends. That one thought gave me the direction I needed.
Silently, I gathered the proofs together, put them into their envelope, slid the envelope into my briefcase and got to my feet. With a firm voice, I thanked Mrs. Customer for her candor and turned to leave.
Before I got to the front door, she asked me what I was going to do with the proofs.
I turned in her direction and, in a non-threatening manner, I told her I was sorry she didn’t like them and that I was taking them back to my office. If I didn’t hear from her within 10 days, I would destroy them.
I had remembered my father telling me, many years ago, to always negotiate as if your wallet were full. Mrs. Customer was attempting to get a substantial discount by denigrating my work, even though she had contracted to pay for everything. When I realized all my other clients had been satisfied with my photography, I knew at that second that Mrs. Customer was trying to “play” me.
Although she and I had some further discussion along the lines of her offering me a low-ball figure, I was in the moment, not worrying about my financial situation or the future. I had negotiated at the beginning and Mrs. Customer had accepted.
Realizing the current discussion wasn’t productive, I thanked her for her time and left.
A day later, Mr. Customer called me, and we were able to resolve the situation. I met with him and his wife at a local restaurant to select the images we needed to finish. There were no discounts, and Mrs. Customer was quite nice (she even offered to pick up the check for dinner).
Inside all of us are dynamic thoughts and emotional processes, including those attempting to cast doubts. If you are aware of your work and know that it is good, that should be your guide. The tides of human emotion always change, but your body of work should sustain perspective.