One of the most important characteristics of an outstanding wedding photographer is communication - listening to what your clients want and applying this in the way you capture their special day.
A couple has probably selected you because they love your work, but it takes more than just showing up on their wedding day to leave a lasting impression that will see them referring you to all their family and friends.
From the very first moment they send you an inquiry, are you really listening to what they envision for their dream wedding and the individual elements that are important to them? Are there particular concerns they have about photography? Did one of their friends have a bad experience that has left doubts in their mind?
In this episode, we'll chat about why you should be listening to your clients and how this information can be applied to capture gorgeous photos. Perhaps there’s a family heirloom they are incorporating into their wedding that is particularly sentimental or they have a special relationship with one of their family members that they want to be documented.
By delving a little deeper to know what is meaningful to them, you’ll be able to craft stunning photos that will exceed their expectations.
When it comes to listening to what your brides and grooms want, this should be instilled within us from the very moment we start doing wedding photography. It shouldn’t be something that takes years of training and preparation. This should just be something we genuinely want to do and it’s a great way for you to stand out from your competitors.
When you’re starting out in wedding photography, you’re not going to have a lot of images, experience, and reputation. So when you do get inquiries and hopefully a meeting, listening can go a long way in helping you stand out.
If you’ve been doing wedding photography for many years, you might think, I don’t really need to “listen” to my couples. They hired me for a reason - they love my work, my style of photography. They trust me. They know my reputation. I’m just going to be able to show up, turn on the camera and do what I’m great at.
Don’t assume that just because they chose you, that they want everything you do and nothing else. Let’s not forget to ask questions and ensure we’re on the same page as our couples.
This is something that I feel for me is an “unfair advantage” that I talked about a couple of episodes ago. I’m not saying that other photographers don’t listen but I really try to not only listen but ask questions and remember what my couples have told me.
Not just when it comes to photography but their story, how they met, what they like to do together, how they got engaged. And of course, when it comes to the wedding day, what are their plans? What’s really important to them? What isn’t as important to them? What do they want to remember and what do the photos really mean to them?
When I focus on a bride and groom, I’m giving them my undivided attention. When I have a meeting with them, it’s not just for the sake of having a meeting. When I want to show up a little bit earlier before we start their engagement session and get to know them, it’s not because that’s what I’m supposed to do. No, I genuinely want to do that.
Getting to know them, their story, having them feel comfortable around me and the camera....that’s the level of trust and confidence that I want to build. Not just for myself, but also for the bride and groom so they feel like they made the right choice in their photography. That’s been one of the most humbling feelings in my wedding photography career.
I often talk about the “Three Ps” of running a wedding photography business. Photography. Pricing and Personality. When we’re starting out or looking for something to make us stand out, taking the time to give quality customer service and listening to what prospective couples want is going to help.
Personality. They’ve got to be comfortable with you. But part of that personality is how you engage with your engaged couples. You don’t need to be in a fancy retail space or studio or even be a well-known and reputable wedding photographer that’s been doing this for many years. You could be somebody starting out, that’s trying to make a name for themselves.
Paying close attention to what your couples are saying and what they want is something that you could really use to showcase what a great photographer and individual you are, helping you to gain that trust and confidence of a prospective couple.
Always make sure you include both parties, as in both the bride and the groom (or if there’s two grooms or two brides). You don’t want to leave one person out, even if they prefer to not be part of the meetings. I want to let them know that even if that’s the case, I still want the other person to feel involved.
So maybe I do have a meeting where it’s just one of the two people in the couple and that’s just how it is. I will try to get the other person involved or let them know what we talked about.
I want them to feel involved and like they have a say in the decision. I want to make sure that they did take the time to look at my work, the packages, the pricing and it’s not just the decision of the other person.
You want to treat current or past couples with the same level of importance, sense of urgency, and attention you would a prospective couple. There should never be a change in the level of customer service and your care in couples, whether it’s a prospective, upcoming or past one.
When it comes to listening and understanding what a client wants, it shouldn’t matter where they are in the client experience.
So what exactly are we listening to when it comes to their wedding day? Maybe there are certain items, memorabilia, trinkets or DIY details that are really important to the couple and they want to make sure are captured.
Or it might be a certain part of the day, a moment or person that they want to make sure is captured. Or maybe they saw a few inspirational photos on Pinterest and would like to have something similar.
You want to not only say “Okay, we’re going to do it”. But take a note, write it down on a piece of paper, just to ensure you remember and it also shows to the couple that you’re going to make sure you capture that. Whatever it might be - people, things, moments, certain parts of the day they specifically mention that are important to them.
On one hand, I understand that you might feel like: didn’t they hire us because they trust us and they should be confident enough that we’ll capture their day thoroughly, beautifully and in the style of photography that we shoot?
But on the other hand, remember that this is a once in a lifetime event. It’s much better they communicate what’s really important to them and what they definitely want to be captured than assume you will get everything they want.
So in addition to the actual items, moments and people that our couples want us to capture, it might be the experience on the day itself. Maybe they want to enjoy their cocktail hour to catch up with friends coming in from out of town and they don’t want to be spending all that time taking portraits. That’s where listening is extra important.
It might mean we need to have the first look at this time or make sure that family members are ready for the formals by this time. We need to finish hair and makeup by this time.
Perhaps you can suggest they allow you 20 minutes for portraits at the start of the cocktail hour or ask that they ensure that their immediate/extended family are ready for portraits as soon as the ceremony ends.
That’s the level of communication and listening that I like to do with my couples. I ask them what’s important to them and then I present some solutions, some scenarios and see what works best for them. If I feel like things might be a little unrealistic, I’ll let them know as well.
Couples might also say that they want our photos to be natural. "We don’t want super-posed, stiff portraits or ones that look like they are from 20 years ago." Even if they don’t ask this, I will bring it up during the meeting and let them know that.
That’s something that I think a lot of our couples are thinking. They just want to make sure and maybe they don’t want to offend us.
Sometimes, it’s good that not only do we listen, but bring things up. Ask the question, mention it, and I think that they’ll very much appreciate that.
Other couples don’t want to turn the whole day into a photo shoot. They want to enjoy their time with their family and friends and that’s something that I’ll also mention. I understand this is their wedding day and they have loved ones coming from all parts of the country to celebrate. I want to make sure that they really get to enjoy the whole day and that we get the photos done as efficiently as possible.
I do need some time and I’ll let them know what that time is, especially given their itinerary and logistics. But in addition, I let them know it’s going to be very efficient and I’m going to go pretty quickly without sacrificing anything. That helps to gain their trust and gives them more reasons to hopefully hire me as their photographer.
During the initial consultation, you should try to get to know a little bit more about your couples. It could be how they met, what was it about each other that got them really excited to be dating one another, and how they build their relationship. How did they get engaged?
Also, little things like who’s in their immediate family and bridal party (if there’s one). What are some elements of their day that are extra important to them? Or what do they want their guests to be saying once their wedding is over?
That’s where listening to their responses is really important. I’m not talking about necessarily taking notes. You can do that but I also want to make sure I’m genuinely engaging with them, eye-to-eye contact, and acknowledging what they’re saying. You’re going to remember because you genuinely care and it’s of interest to you.
That’s the level of care I try to give to my clients, which isn't going to be easy all the time. It’s something you’ve really got to focus on and you can’t just casually pass over.
But that’s part of the client experience that I try to provide. It’s not because I have to or it’s the right thing to do. But because I generally enjoy doing that.
It helps me be a better photographer and connect better with my clients. We’re going to be around them more than anyone else on their wedding day so I want to make sure they feel comfortable.
Almost like having a friend photographing their wedding and not just a complete stranger. That’s going to allow me to get the best possible photos and provide a rewarding experience.
I want to dive a little bit deeper into the client experience, which begins when a couple first inquires. And I say there’s never really an end. Sure, you deliver the goods, albums, prints, and online gallery.
But I always like to think that the client experience technically never ends. Especially if they contact you in a year or two and maybe they want some family portrait sessions or another album.
The first time that it comes to really listening to what a couple wants is that initial inquiry and for me, that always ends up at my contact form. On that form is some very basic information - their names, wedding date, venue, and maybe a rough budget for photography and how they found me. In addition, I put my starting out price on that website to give a rough ballpark of what they can expect.
So that’s the initial contact and the communication. You’re probably going to have a few emails back and forth so make sure you answer all their questions. Then perhaps they’ll end up booking you at the end of a client meeting.
If they are interested in having a meeting, whether virtually or in-person, I actually send them a second contact form. This is what I like to call the meeting form and where I like to get a bit more information about them.
How they met, their story, relationship, how they got engaged, and initial wedding plans. I also let them know they don’t need to share everything. I don’t need to know all the details, mainly whatever they feel comfortable sharing with me.
These questions are really important so it’s not like a “blind date” and when I do sit down with them or over the phone. We can continue the conversation instead of starting from scratch. That not only saves a lot of time for both of us but it really gets us talking on a deeper level.
And when it comes to their engagement session, I can reference that email. I can use a few little details like “Okay guys, let’s go back to your first date at..." or “Remember when you got engaged here?” Or "Are you excited about...” Listening, remembering, asking questions that are relevant to their story and their wedding plans.
This touching base email includes a link to a Google form. I send this email about 2 to 2 1/2 months before their wedding. It also has a link to my wedding day PDF tips and some wedding day tips articles I put on my website. So not only am I listening to what my couples want from the very beginning, but I’m making sure they’re heading in the right direction.
On the day itself, we want to be listening to any requests and any suggestions from your couples. There shouldn’t really be any surprises. It’s more so you know what’s going to be happening and you have a game plan.
All you really have to do is go off the plan of attack you had. Yes, you’re going to have to improvise and be flexible but just be prepared and take the lead.
Normally, the bride and groom rarely ask me anything on the wedding day itself and I certainly don’t bug them anything. It’s all planned ahead of time. But be ready to listen when required and engage fully with your couples throughout the entire client experience process.
As I mentioned earlier, we should place an equal amount of priority on all aspects of the client experience, not just at the beginning or at the end. You’re going to get the album to them within the timeframe you said. You need to honor that and keep your word.
It’s not just hearing them and (at worst) forgetting them and not caring about it. Remember, they might refer you to their friends and family down the line, so offering the best client experience possible, listening and engaging is in your best interests.
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