Zen and the Photography Client Experience

(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)

A lot goes into that first call. Not the call you make, but the call you earn. Before your phone rang, lots of things had to happen: The client had to decide they needed a photographer, and where there’s an ad agency, PR firm, or design firm involved, they had to convince their client they needed photography. Then, they had to decide on candidates for the assignment. And that’s where you come in.

There are five Zen-like stages that your clients go through during the entire process:

1. Anticipation
2. Trepidation
3. Inspection
4. Fulfillment
5. Evaluation

Let’s look at those closer.


A prospective client is anticipating that you can deliver, based upon your marketing materials—portfolio, Web site, business card, presentation in person, phone skills, and the appearance of your contract. Based upon this, they book you.


Depending upon how you did in the anticipation phase, the degree of trepidation can vary. Were you a Yellow Pages or search engine find or a referral from a trusted source, or had they used you in the past? Even so, there is a period where the client is worried about the quality of the end result, even when you are a repeat vendor for them.


During the shoot and afterwards, they look through your results, contemplating the circumstances that went into the shoot and thus, the results. Was it a rainy day when the shoot called for blue skies, but you had to shoot anyway? Was the model late? Were the VIPs
that were the cornerstone of the event absent, and so the client-handshaking with a VIP is missing from the event images? Or, did everything go smoothly, and the client has the highest of expectations after the fact relative to their expectations beforehand?


Did you deliver as promised? Are they satisfied with the results? Is their client satisfied with the results? Did what you do meet—or better yet, exceed—expectations? You should always strive for a “That photographer sure exceeded my expectations” response. You need to win over even the most critical of clients, so they may become your staunchest advocates.


Would they hire you again? Would they casually recommend you to a colleague? Would they enthusiastically recommend you to a colleague? Or, in the best of scenarios, without provocation, would they go onto their listserv and shout your name from the treetops: “Boy, I just finished this shoot with John Harrington, and if you ever need a photographer, he should be on the top of your list of people to call!” Wouldn’t it be great to have an evangelist like that? They do exist. Have you experienced it yet?

Take a piece of paper, print out those five words, and place them in a prominent place near your desk. By understanding the phases of a client experience, you can ensure that you are firing on all cylinders and meeting and exceeding expectations in each phase.

One Response to “Zen and the Photography Client Experience”

  1. This is an exemplary explanation of the components of client relations. I'm not sure how Zen it is. The "Four Noble Truths" or "Eightfold Path" may have been a better way to connect it. 🙂

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