Storytelling Documentary Photo Sessions: Beat Client Doubt in 3 Steps

You are contacted by a potential client and they tell you they love your storytelling, candid, unposed style. “Great!” you think, “Finally a documentary client.” They book their photo session with you and the planning begins with their questionnaire + brainstorm session. Suddenly, client doubt sets in about doing a documentary session. Suddenly, they aren’t sure about shooting in-home or the story you are trying to preserve doesn’t seem good enough. Let’s talk about how to keep them on track and excited about their session!

When the Client Doubt Begins to Set In

Your questionnaire gives you an brief insight to their lives with a few shooting ideas. They like to spend their Friday nights watching movies or go for walks with the kids to the super cool, wooden playground at the park. You suggest one of these ideas as sessions and their faces go blank.

It just got real! It’s like you’ve hit a dead end.

Suddenly, the ideas they’ve written on their questionnaire don’t seem good enough to them. Maybe it’s too cold to do some of the outdoor things they had listed. Maybe they are only available during a time when that location will be overly busy with other people. They are beating themselves up about how messy their home is. Maybe, they just don’t think photos of a particular idea are worth the money they’re spending. Maybe they feel like they’ll be missing out on something, but can’t quite put their finger on it. It feels like they are putting on the brakes.

You start wondering if you should go in a different direction with the session, because you just want to make sure they are going to be happy. You know of a great location, full of beauty, and tell them to just show up. Now, your documentary photo business just turned into family portraits… again. You start directing them into laughter, tickling, hugging, all of it to get those candid photos. Before you know it, your session is anything but the photojournalist approach you have been striving for.

 

To keep these suggestions in easy reach, pin this image to your favorite photography board:

documentary storytelling photography: client doubt

 

To get over that hump of client doubt in your consultations, do these 3 things:

1. The ability to have a conversation to get know your client deeper and recognize what makes them truly tick.

A wonderful starting point would be to incorporate some strong, emotional questions within your client questionnaire. Questionnaires are my lifeline in getting to know my clients before meeting in person. Their responses help me to spark conversation topics with them. I prefer my clients answer the questions together (as a family or couple) in writing. I review them and then conduct a brainstorm session. If the answers provoke more questions or come back bit vague, I’ll re-ask in casual conversation. I’ll go deeper with things like, “Tell me more” or “how did that feel?”

Example: You ask a client what their perfect day is like. Say she responds with, “I love waking up and being able to be in that cuddle-nook in bed with my husband before emerging for coffee. Maybe going for a run before starting the day. I love an afternoon with a good book and Scrabble with John. And for the evening, maybe entertaining some friends.”

Respond with how you can relate first. This will build rapport and you will begin to become {Your Name} rather than {Your Name} “the photographer.” Something like, “I am a runner also.” or “OMG my husband and I love Scrabble too! We also love the game Sequence.”

Then, pivot into more questions. Use their responses to generate your next questions. You want them to paint a clear picture of their life for you. When they emerge from the bedroom, do they have a signature robe or pair of slippers they put on? Who makes and pours the coffee? Ask her then if they run together or if she does this in her own solitude? Who is the unanimous Scrabble champ?

The reason going deeper is vital is because these details a) give you more shooting ammo b) you can communicate with your clients on an emotional level. I talk about this much more in-depth in my program Mastery Moment-Seekers. Lets put it this way, say you left it at her initial response. You say, “Ok, let’s photograph a day at home and you guys can play Scrabble together.” Your clients aren’t always going to be able to pair that plan with their emotions. However, if you repeat their details and emotions back to them, then you are selling them on the full experience. Make sense?

 

2. Teach your new clients that they can trust you.

Building trust from the beginning is key. If at any time during your conversation, there is something that pops up that reminds you of a past session you’ve done, bring it up! This will remind clients that this isn’t your first rodeo. You’ve worked with clients before. People want to feel like they are doing what everyone else is doing, so give them that comfort. It’s like when you’re on Amazon and you look to see the ‘People The Purchased This Also Purchased…’ section or the # of stars an item got.

For example, back to the Scrabble example. If such a topic comes up and you’ve done a game night before, then say to them, “I have done a game night session before and this is what we did… (get descriptive and get excited about how awesome it was).”

Also, when you are getting to know them, be honest, and tell them when something triggers excitement within you. You will shoot your best when you are excited. Once, I did an engagement session on a boat. The couple are weekend boaters and the session totally fit who they are. I was ecstatic they chose such a personal session and was on fire behind the camera. I remember when they brought the idea up, I was mentally getting all of these photo ideas (angles, light, etc.). I described what I imagined to them which gave them momentum to say yes to the session. My excitement pushed the clients excitement to another level. It was then that I felt they trusted me!

 

3. Have an arsenal of documentary style photo session ideas at your fingertips.

You will have clients that seem to have an excuse why they shouldn’t do session ideas that they’ve written on their questionnaire. IT JUST WILL HAPPEN.  Sitting there in the coffee shop with your clients in front of you, it can be easy to draw a blank when you are trying to come up with ideas. Great ideas take time and thought.

Imagine having a go-to resource full of photo session ideas at your fingertips for when your clients are feeling like their ideas aren’t “good enough” and nothing you say seems to help. Session Sparks is one of our tools to get your clients’ mindset thinking positive about documentary photography. Bring the ebook along with you to your consultations and use it when clients start pull away from their initial excitement.

Session Sparks is much more than a list of photo session ideas. Each idea provides details to help envision the session. Each chapter has several detail photo ideas to help you give your clients more bang for their buck in their gallery of photos. There are over 160 photo session ideas in this one book alone! You should also be sharing these ideas inside of your client guide (paired with photos from a session) to help trigger ideas from before they even inquire with you (this can nip client doubt in the bud right there as they come to you already emotionally attached to a story worth preserving). You can grab our Client Guide Template for Documentary Photographers + Session Sparks for a bundle here.

Topics covered in Session Sparks are: maternity photography ideas, newborn photography, baby photography, toddler photography, children photography, older children and teen photography, adult photography, connection, personality, celebrations to photograph, family photography, ideas based on location (indoor, outdoor, and within the community), ideas based on the season, and holiday photo session inspiration also.

 

Bonus Tip: Draw the emotional ties to the session ideas out of clients. Remind them of these emotional ties when they are stalling.

For example, reasons of ‘they will grow up’, life changes, true happiness, or loss are often the underlying emotional ties to a photo session idea. Say your client is a mother that loves to write poetry and keeps her poems in a journal. How amazing would it be to document that in photos? Document her writing, in her favorite place to write, document what that journal looked like, her handwriting, and more.

She may think it’s a silly idea. Ask her how she would have felt to have something like that of her own mother (hopefully, she had a good relationship with her mom, ha!, but you get the point). Remind her that only one child will end up with the actual journal in their hands and that the photos you create are a fabulous way to give the gift of her memory, which reveals her honest-self, to her other children. If you have a client testimony about photos other clients have loved of their mothers, something like that would be a perfect cherry on top to add to the conversation – this way they hear from someone other than you.

Bonus Tip #2: Understand you’ll win some and you’ll lose some. No one books 100% of the client they speak to.

Sometimes when it feels like no one wants to book a session, the truth is that you’re not connecting with enough people to begin with. To help with that, I’ve put together a little freebie called 5 Easy Ways to Increase Client Demand. Grab it here:

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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