Question: I know you have to be talented, but personality is extremely important as well. What is the balance between being cool and still having your standards, whether you’re meeting with a potential client or working on set?
Personality is important no matter your career, but as a photographer it can be the difference between success and failure. It is important to remember we are in the people business. Yes, our clients purchase our time, our expertise and our work, but it’s our ability to engage the client that makes for a successful relationship.
I believe the most important advice about "being cool" when meeting potential clients is to be yourself, be genuine and look for opportunities to relate on a real and honest level. Most clients are looking for a solution to a problem and your work is your solution, but your personality and passion is what will help them pick you over another photographer with equal or even greater skill.
The stereotype of a talented but egotistical prima donna might work in the movies, but I doubt many of those have survived in this industry. We all want to enjoy our work and enjoy working with others who make our job easier. Our clients have it harder than ever, with small budgets and large workloads, so we can provide a valuable service by helping them enjoy the experience of working with us. It’s definitely an advantage.
The best client relationships are when you’re both working towards to the same goal. When I put myself in their shoes, I do everything I can to help provide a solution to their problem. This means focusing on them and putting my ego aside.
On set, this can be a balancing act, because as a photographer or director you need to be in charge. People are looking to you to make the shoot go smoothly and to get the required images. Yes, you need to have your standards, but this doesn't mean being difficult to work with. Bring your passion and standards to the set, but also bring your personality and humor. You can set the tone of the entire shoot by keeping cool and calm and focusing on solving problems – not on creative differences or battles of will.
Pick Your Battles
Focusing on your clients doesn’t mean giving up and rolling over. We have all had differences of opinions with our clients; finding creative ways to explain your views is part of our job. Ultimately, the client has the final say, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to express an opinion. And of course, you always have the option of walking away, if you honestly feel the work would damage your career.
When deciding on your "standards," be sure what you’re calling “standards” are not actually code for “ego.” I can't tell you how many times I’ve provided a client with a set of selects only for them to pick my least-favorite image. Does this mean my standards are higher than theirs? No. Just different.
As a photographer or illustrator, when we take on a new client, most of us are looking for a great company, a terrific concept to convey and wonderful people to work with. Our clients are no different. Ideally, they would like hire someone with creativity, talent, passion and an easygoing manner. A great personality, a pleasant manner and a little fun can make their job easier – and put you ahead of someone with a fantastic portfolio and all the charisma of dry toast.