Every once in a while, as a headshot photographer, you're going to run into a client who doesn't like the results of the session. There are number of ways to deal with a client such as this, and it all starts with recognizing and accepting whether the mistake was yours or not.
The most important part to dealing with the problem is truly finding out why the client is angry. You have to understand that although you may think that the client's claims are ridiculous, in the client's mind their claims are absolutely not ridiculous. If they were ridiculous in the client's minds the client wouldn't be making them. Therefore you have to get to the bottom of the primary issue.
Whether the conversation takes place over the phone or in person be sure to clearly asked the client what the problem was with the headshot session. Make sure to ask that if they didn't like the photographs, what the specific part of the photographs was that they didn't like. Any client can come up to you and tell you "I didn't like the pictures." But the problem is that you won't understand what you did wrong or whether the problem can be salvaged until you know specifically what the problem is.
Recently I had to deal with a client who was unhappy with the way her pictures turned out. She told me that she showed the photos to her acting teacher, and her acting teacher said that all the photos were unusable. Of course as soon as a photographer hears something like that one of many emotions may go through their head. They may get angry that the client is insulting their work, they may get offended that the client is insulting their work, or they may get extremely worried that they are not as good of a photographer as they thought they were. Therefore it is imperative that you asked the client specifically what it was that they did not like about the photographs.
In my recent case, the client said that her acting teacher told her that I didn't do a good job of bringing out her true personality in the head shots. On top of that, the client started giving me all kinds of reasons that the head shots were bad. She mentioned that the lighting wasn't good, that her poses felt unnatural, that the head shots appeared washed out, and that her hair was very frizzy and sweaty in the photos. Immediately in my mind I suddenly felt as though I had failed. I felt horrible that I let a client down and didn't do as good of a job as I typically do. Of course, every photographer is going to get a client every once in a while who has a problem with the photos. Throughout my years of doing headshot and other photography work I've only had 2 clients who've ever come back to me with complaints, and both of the clients had been shot on rainy days outdoors.
The most important thing that you can do as a photographer is not to dismiss the client's claims and not to accept them as true, without verifying them and thinking about all of the other things that could disprove their claims. However the objective is not to say I'm wrong you're right, But rather to determine whether the mistakes were actually yours and whether you can either learn from them or actually fix them.
In my case, I immediately looked at every single note that the client had made. Follow me along these steps:
1. Bad lighting
2. Unnatural poses
3. Washed out images
4. Sweaty and frizzy hair
5. Not capturing the client's personality
When looking at each of these, I began to group which ones together were related. Numbers 1 and 2 I can get rid of right away, because the lighting actually was not bad and the poses were actually not unnatural. Additionally, I made sure to mention to the actor during the session that if she ever felt uncomfortable or unnatural and oppose that I positioned her in to be sure to tell me. Whenever a client questions me on something of the image that I'm not particularly sure on I will be sure to ask either ex-clients or friends to judge the photo as a third-party. In this client's case, the bad lighting and the unnatural poses were not as bad as she thought that they were.
Number 3 could also be removed automatically because the reason that I shoot images with the washed out look is so that I have the maximum opportunity for tweaking them later on in Photoshop. If I were to shoot head shots with great contrast before editing them in Photoshop, I would lose all that detail and not be able to get it back.
Number 4 was unfortunately something that we could not control due to the circumstances. Because of the rainy day/extreme humidity, both the client and myself were sweating while we were outdoors. In our phone call prior to the headshot session, I recommended that the client shoot a different day if we were to shoot outdoors because I new that there was rain scheduled for that day. since she needed the head shots right away and had scheduled them for the very last minute, she was unfortunately unable to move the session. Therefore we had to deal with the terrible weather while shooting outside.
the 5th thing from the list above was the only thing that I can actually understand that I was wrong in. Unfortunately I never took the time to speak very much so the client and really try to understand what her personality was. Instead, I simply asked her what type of shot she was going for and what type of look she wanted. She told me, but not knowing the true details of the client's personality is not going to make the head shots come out very well. We got the looks that she asked me for but never got any looks there were true to her personality. Later, when showing the images to her professor, she was told that she should've gotten shots that showed her true personality. And then she came back and blamed me for that. I will take responsibility however because it is a headshot photographer's job to make sure to capture at least a few images with the clients true personality just in case they are needed.
Unfortunately this headshot session was not a success. However every time that you as a headshot photographer have to deal with an unhappy client, you should make sure to take notes of what things you can improve your work on. Remember that every failure will equal a greater success in the future. You learn more from failures than you do from successes, therefore every single time that you fail, you should be open to receiving the criticism so that you can be sure to learn quicker. I gave the client a partial refund on the session and offered to do a free reshoot to which she declined. I don't know which had shut photographer she will go to in the future, to get her next headshot session, but I do know one thing: she will find herself paying way more than $400.
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