As with any other kind of business, I receive inquiries about my services, and most of those inquiries begin with price. They say, “We want family pictures and how much are your packages?” Many inquiries start this way because people don’t know what else to ask—they don’t know enough about how portraits are created to ask questions that would assess the quality of my photography. Other inquiries come about because, like all photographers on the higher end of the quality scale, I don’t publish my prices on this web site, and so potential clients want to know before they commit. And yet other inquiries come about because a person has a predetermined idea of what they want and what they will pay, and they want to know if I fit within their expectations. To be honest, all of these inquiries create challenges for photographers in how they will respond. At the risk of letting out a trade secret, photographers like myself even go to seminars to learn how to respond in a way that will overcome resistance and lead to a portrait booking! But actually, none of the techniques that are taught work. Try to inform a potential client about the complexity and difficulty of portrait photography? Then you come across as defensive or, even worse, patronizing. Try to deflect the issue of price and entice them to book before they know fully what they’re getting into? Then you appear deceitful or manipulative. Try to enlarge the scope of their expectations, to consider large wall portraits for their decor and a corresponding larger investment? Then you come across as telling them not only how to decorate their homes but how to live their lives.
I recently exchanged extensive emails with a potential client who, at least from outward appearances, seemed to have all of the resources necessary for beautiful portraiture. But they wanted only a single image—of course a digital image!—that they would print themselves. They were convinced they simply could not do any more than that. Here is one of my replies:
It sometimes is the case, when a person approaches me for photography, that they have such specific focus on one particular product or outcome, that what I offer ends up not being a match for what they are looking for. My portraiture is designed for a beautiful and creative and extensive photographic experience that generates heirloom quality portraits that people will gladly display in their home with pride, not just now, but for decades to come. It is just this experience that I would most deeply like to persuade you of its value, and that your resources are well served being placed towards such a purpose. It is also sometimes the case that, when a potential client is very much intent upon discovering the bottom line of how much the portraiture will cost, that they get skittish and shy away. I’ve become convinced that this is because, even though they look at the quality of the portraits on my web site, they still cannot imagine their joy when they see their family looking as they had always hoped they would look. The portraiture I create is all about grace, and, of course, with grace comes risk, in trusting yourself to a process whose final outcome you cannot yet see.
As it turns out, this client could not let go of their initial expectations and open themselves to something greater. So, that is why there is no portrait attached to this post—none was created! This saddened me, but not for the reason that might occur to you—it had nothing to do with however much I would have earned from creating their portraits. My photography business has grown over the years and, while I devote myself totally, I am amply rewarded. So, no, it didn’t have anything to do with income. Instead, my disappointment had to do with the lost opportunity—for that family to experience portraits that would literally change the way they see themselves now, and how they would remember themselves in the future. Portraiture is all about grace, and, as I said in the email quoted above, with grace comes risk.
Tom Launius, CPP