Lessons From a Family Portrait Session


On December 21, I got a call from a gentleman who referred to himself as PA (initials for his name). We were recommended by his colleague at his workplace, Mobil Producing Nigeria. We covered the wedding of the daughter of his colleague last Christmas (i.e. 2010) and he loved the pictures enough to refer us. Majority of our clients call us because their family, friends (or enemies) recommended us.

“Do you do home service”, PA asked. My response? “You just spoke my language.” We scheduled the shoot for Dec 28 & I explained to him right there on the phone what my minimum charge for home sessions was ($300 as of the time of the telephone conversation…..& could have gone up as at the time you’re reading this :>). I didn’t want to drive for almost 2 hours to get to his house only for him to tell me that was beyond his budget. He was ok with the bill. I was happy that he was ok with the bill.

I took a sample size of one of the 13″ by 19″ frames I’ll be delivering because he wasn’t familiar with sizes & dimensions of frames. He would eventually choose the type of “standard” frame that will go with the 2 pictures he wanted. I packed my camera bag about 3 hours before we set out. Under normal circumstances, this was too late. I teach my students to always have their camera bag & equipment ready at least 12-24 hours before a location shoot. Thankfully I did not forget anything.

I made sure I ate breakfast before leaving for what usually ends up being a 6 hour-minimum ordeal (3 hours roundtrip for transport & 3 hours for the session). I never eat at a client’s house before a shoot, even if the client insists. I’m usually very anxious to get the main job out-of-the-way & receive a cheque than to sit down and be “making myself at home.” Sometimes I wonder if clients really mean it when they tell you to “make yourself at home.” I’m sure they wouldn’t have been happy had I ordered chinese food or pounded yam in an attempt to be free in their home. Anyway, I told him that a glass of water would be ok by me and my two assistants nodded in agreement to my requisition. Most clients that we do home sessions for are usually nice enough to offer food & drinks. In fact there is usually a 98% chance that I would end up enjoying a session with a client that offers food & drinks: they’re usually pleasant to work with.

It was interesting that though he was living in such a beautiful house with his wife & 2 children (maybe the family just moved in), there wasn’t a beautiful family portrait in view. Maybe it was in the master bedroom upstairs. All I know was that I was about to make their “living room” come alive with beautiful portraits. And, boy, did we get beautiful portraits. Like most of our family portrait clients, they wanted a high level of privacy with regard to their pictures; hence the reason you’ll see none of it on the internet except you’re a friend of the family and they give you the password to their viewing folder on our clients website (www.eloclients.com).

Before we started the shoot, I explained to him once again how the whole process works. The family changes into 2 or 3 attires (preferably matching in colors), we take as much pictures as their energy will permit, we upload the low resolution pictures on a passworded folder at http://www.eloclients.com & they choose the ones they’ll want us to frame or print for album(s).

With a glass of cold water quietly going down my throat, we began setting up our Bowens lighting equipment while they changed into their first attire. I always choose a spot or corner to put our bags or other small gadgets. It helps us easily account for anything we might have taken to the location.

Usually the first 20 minutes of the session usually doesn’t result in any “framable” image because the family is still trying to adopt to this stranger that calls himself a photographer.

I don’t just tell them to pose this way or that way; I engage them in conversations that will bring out the expressions that I want. To the 10 yr old boy, I would ask him how many games he has on his Playstation or what he thinks of the cartoon characters “Pinky & the Brain.” To the teenage girl, I would ask who her favorite R&B or pop artist is: Beyunce or Rihanna. And before you know it, you can hear the humming lyrics or Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” To the father, I would talk about how lucky he was to have gotten a lady as beautiful as his wife. I would tell him how beautiful his house is & how I would one day love to be able to afford the BMW 750i that was sitting in the garage. To the mum, wife & mother I would start by complimenting her on her looks or whatever she’s wearing (shoes, perfume, jewelry, etc). I would tell her how lucky she is to have a wonderful husband like hers. Usually & in most cases, all parties end up giving me the facial & emotional responses that translate into great & framable pictures.

I enjoyed the session and once again had to respond to their offer of hospitality: “What will you eat or drink?” “Malt will be ok,” I responded and my assisstants nodded in agreement.

I don’t know why but at the end of most of our sessions, I would not get a cheque unless I ask the client for it. Either they forget (yeah, right) or like the conductor in the average Lagos “Danfo”, they want me to forget. HOW CAN I FORGET. I asked for the “small rectangular” piece of paper and he gladly gave it to me. He ordered for an extra frame and I was glad I was about to start the new year on a really high note.

I was so happy with working with him that I offered to give him three 5″ by 7″ complimentary frames for his office. He was happy. My assistants were so happy with the level of hospitality received that they forgot the sample albums we took there. Now that made me unhappy because it will cost me un-budgeted funds for transportation for something that could have been avoided. I guess they learnt their lesson: never leave a client’s house without everything that belongs to you…..including the cheque. NEVER

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One comment

  1. Linda Adigun · January 13, 2012

    Funny, how your assistants keep nodding in agreement. Do they choreograph all their responses? How about an “oga, na small stout i want o!” Do you also allow your interns follow you for photo shoots? I’m still contemplating doing an internship at Elophotos.

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