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Photographers: The Customer ISN’T Always Right

If it’s one thing that I’ve learned running a photography studio, it’s that the customer isn’t always right. The average person who needs photography done doesn’t know anything about what makes a great photograph, but they see that moment when you show them photos as an opportunity to feel creative, and they’ll start critiquing your work. Rarely will you come across a person who admits they aren’t creative. Everyone wants to be validated through their opinions when it comes to the arts. This can make for some pretty interesting conversations and situations that range from someone loving your work to downright hating it. Also, because of the recession and camera gear availability, the majority of people have done their best to turn being a photographer into a minimum wage job.  Most of the unhappy people we come across don’t realize that it isn’t the photographers work they don’t like, they just don’t like photos of themselves. We hear “Oh, is that all the retouching you’re going to do? Well, what about those little wrinkles right there, are you just going to leave those their?” on a weekly basis. And yes, we’re leaving them there. Nobody wants to look at yo’ blurry, smudged out face.

Some customers have a mission in life: to break you. They will pull out every trick in the book to get everything they can from you for nothing. If you’re a photographer who’s interested in doing a high volume of photo work, you’d better armor up and get ready for battle. Last week a grandmother came into our studio with her daughter. The daughter was pushing a stroller, and they were chatting as they came in, looking at the photos on the walls. The grandmother then broke away from her daughter, walked across the studio and approached Rich, the other owner and photographer here. She asked him how much it was for a portrait session, and Rich told her our studio portrait sessions are an hour long and cost $180. Before the grandmother could even respond, the daughter, who was still across the studio screamed, “OK. I GUESS I’LL JUST GET MY PHONE, DRAG EVERYONE OUT TO A FIELD, AND DO IT MYSELF. $180??!! YOU’VE GOT TO BE JOKING! LEEEETS GO!”

This kind of thing happens all the time. Every week someone comes in and scoffs at what we do, talks about how easy it is for anyone to take photos, or diminishes what we do in one way or another. And know what? They’re wrong. Anyone who belittles professional photography is just flat out uninformed. I know a lot of photographers who let these people get them down, or change their pricing and work style to make them happy. Well, they shouldn’t. Those people don’t understand what it takes to be a professional photographer. They don’t understand that it takes a lifetime of studying framing, color theory, styles, trends, light, and more to be truly great and make money. Rich and I have spent 12 years now doing nothing but studying imagery in every way, shape, and form, and we still haven’t even begun. So when a customer tries to cheapen what we do, or tries to get a piece of that experience for nothing, we don’t allow it. We politely say no, and try to educate them on why photographers are more than just con-men with glorified phone cameras.  If you have a customer who’s tearing you down unfairly, don’t stand for it. Professionals in creative fields have a tendency to bow down to people’s opinions and demands because they think they need the money. However, it’s better to be a poor, broke, out-of-work photographer with no stress that owes the world nothing than it is to be a tired, overworked, underpaid minion with a couple of pennies to rub together.

“The Customer Is Always Right” is a term that was first used in a department store in London, and it worked great. Since then it has been adopted by a massive percentage of businesses around the world, but there’s a few things that make it not apply to photographers, or any service based industry that doesn’t sell a physical product:

1. Bad Customers Are Bad for Business

Bad customers, ones that make it a point to be awful just to get what they want, aren’t good for a photographers business. They’re never happy, and at the very best will run around town telling everyone how cheap you are, which just brings you down to their level.

2. Customers Can Be Insane

One time a lady gave us measurements for the canvas she wanted for her wall. We printed and delivered it, and she brought it back the next day saying it was the wrong size for her wall, so she wanted her money back and a new one for free with the right measurements. “Well, I gave you the wrong measurements, so it doesn’t fit. What am I going to do with a canvas that doesn’t fit my wall. I shouldn’t have to pay for this one and you should fix the problem for free.” This was real life. If you go around doing everything customers want you to do for free, you won’t have a business for long.

3. You and Your Employees Will Suffer

Nobody likes doing things they know for a fact don’t make sense, and it wears on people. If you allow everyone in your business to be bullied by customers, which is what you’ll be doing if you adopt that motto, slowly but surely your morale will decline.

I could go on and on about this, but I think I’ve done that enough. Basically, my point is that photographers need to spend more time focusing on their goods customers instead of wasting time trying to make impossible people happy. Life (and work) is so much better that way.