Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Way Up North wedding photography conference in Stockholm where I was fortunate to be able to listen to master photographer Andria Lindquist give a tremendous presentation. In fact, she was even kind enough to give me her time after her talk and allow me to ask her a few more questions one-on-one.
In both instances her message was clear: the experience you provide your client is as important as the pictures themselves.
For Andria, the experience your clients have on the shoot is as important as the photos themselves. Good, meaningful, fun shoots later mean better pictures.
Of course, she recognizes you need to have quality pictures to give to your clients, but she went so far as to argue (very convincingly) that the experience you provide your clients during their shoot will shape their subsequent feelings about the photos you provide them – whether good or bad.
“Experience Impacts Imagery”
Conventional wisdom and logic lead one to believe that as long as a client is leaving with stunning photos, they’ll be happy; remember the name; and come back. The photos are the product they’re paying for, after all, right?
Andria thinks differently.
Instead, she asserts that the experience of the shoot should take the edge over the image itself as it’s the experience that ultimately shapes the photo. “In my experience," she explains, "the experience that you have on the shoot with your photographer throughout the whole process impacts how you feel about those images….look back at that photo and remember it.
"That’s why I like to focus on the experience.”
Yet, Andria believes it can work in a bad way too. When an experience is forgettable, “I feel like it can cheapen the photo. [It can cheapen the photo] when you’re like, ‘yeah, I took that – it’s a beautiful photo,’ but the person on that shoot remembers what it’s like and the fact that, like, ‘it’s a beautiful photo, but we felt really awkward in the pose, and she wasn’t talking to us, and she wasn’t telling us what to do. We got a beautiful image out of it, and now it’s on our Christmas card, but I don’t really have a feeling towards that photo.’”
Leaving your clients looking like this at their shoot will not only assure they won't return but will also leave them looking at their pictures with disdain and dissatisfaction no matter how good they actually were, Andria states.
Certainly, capturing that desired feeling in a photo and consistently invoking it every time the client looks at it is what it’s all about as a photographer. Without eliciting feelings, a picture is simply an arrangement of still objects.
But, as Andria states, it goes beyond just the photo and even extends to the photographer too. A photographer without a desirable experience is just any one of the many with a professional camera and Photoshop.
Think of it like a restaurant (and in fact, Andria made her own restaurant metaphor in emphasizing the experience during her presentation). There are some with good food but nothing else that is so special. In this way, they are forgettable; there are a lot of places with good food, after all.
Yet, then there are restaurants where you walk in and the staff greats you by name. They escort you to your table by the window, prepared comfortably for the amount in your party. The lights are dim but bright enough to read the menu—the soft glow of flickering candles dances around the room. Relaxing music wafts through the air from the band in the corner; every so often, it softly nestles in your ear over the friendly and lively chatter that hangs in the hall. Your company lets out a joyous laugh, and just as the thought enters your mind, the staff addresses you and rests a drink at your setting.
Notice, a welcoming scene- a place-to-be for many; a restaurant worth visiting, yet I haven’t even mentioned the food! It could be decent. It could be world-class; by this point, it's simply another bonus to an altogether incredible experience.
Like fine restaurants despite cheap alternatives, or concerts though we have MP3s - some things, you have to just "be there" to experience. Make your shoots that "I-need-to-be-there" experience.
Create an atmosphere, and experience around yourself, your name, and your brand. We often forget about this part of the process, but it makes a difference. It sets you apart and establishes you as unique. It’s the difference between being remembered and forgotten as just another.
Andria makes a great point to be sure to do your part - as a person behind the camera - to inject your own personality, to interact and create a mood, and to help shape the lasting impression your work will leave. After all, as she likes to remind, clients want to feel special, and as she succinctly concludes, “you want [to deliver] the final result, but you also want [to deliver] the experience that comes with the name.”
How to Give That Experience
Mrs. Lindquist has made a sound and compelling case for establishing an experience and a brand name for yourself. Yet, how do we do it?
As a highly successful photographer herself, Andria is the perfect person to heed advice from, and for her, there are four important components to providing that wonderful experience. Make sure to give your clients something professional, educational, personal, and fun.
Being professional doesn't have to be stuffy, boring, or expensive. Andria states that being professional is mandatory for a good brand, but even telling a client you appreciate them is a giant step in the right direction.
As professional photographers, there’s “a bare minimum to show up, shoot the shot, and deliver it...But we are called to be doing so much more than that,” she informs.
Being professional is “taking every opportunity, from the very beginning of your interaction with your client, to really start off with an experience from the beginning. [Even] down to the littlest things of letting them know that you care and you value who they are and the fact that they are taking time to inquire with you by respecting their time and writing them back.”
Andria continues that it’s imperative to “create an experience, from the very beginning, that is professional; that has a process….” In her presentation, when going through this, she put up a slide of many things to go through when dealing with a client. She iterated, though, that this process is something each photographer can create to suit their needs. However, one component of her process brings us right to the second pillar of building a wonderful experience: educating.
A major component of building the experience is to educate them.
As Andria stresses, “We should be educating [our clients], not waiting for their questions.” To address this herself, Andria has created, what she calls, her Wedding Bible that she sends to her clients. In it, she puts all the information her client could possibly need clearly and conveniently so that everyone will be sure to be on the same page every step in the process. Another great idea that you can tweak to meet your style and image and leave that professional impression.
Andria insists photographers need to keep their clients educated and informed of everything they'll need to know. This only adds to the great experience.
Yet, while we’re all able to borrow from one another, do not forget to make your experience unique and personal to you.
Not only does no one want to work with a fake, but by getting away from yourself, you’re also likely to be just like someone else. Andria warns of this, saying, “the more that we try and do what everyone’s doing, or blend in, or do what the popular thing is -the more that you’re gonna kinda just roll in to what everyone else is doing.”
To ensure that uniqueness and attractiveness, it’s imperative to “really [stay] true to how you want to present yourself as your brand.”
Lastly, Andria highly recommends having fun with your client at their shoot. We all have our own versions of “fun” and what we feel comfortable doing, but get your clients involved, make it interactive – who doesn’t like a little fun?- and with it your shoots will become a more easily and fondly remembered experience. Just because you’re a professional doesn’t mean you can't have fun on the job. It is certainly possible to achieve both.
Is the Time, Money, and Effort Worth the “Experience”?
OK, well, let’s be real; no doubt creating a unique and valuable experience can take time, a lot of effort, and sometimes even a lot of money. So is it really all so worth it in the end? As Andria puts it: “Yeah! Totally!”
First, as she’s quick to point out, it doesn’t have to start with a bang and a dump truck full of money. Instead, “you can scale it,” start small and work up from there. She even admits that “In the very beginning, I wasn’t mailing my Wedding Bible, physically, I created a PDF and sent it over the internet...and so that’s free.”
Nonetheless, it was something. It still gave an impression and still served its purpose of showing her clients she was professional by giving them all the information, showing them what to expect, and giving them insight into the process.
Andria reassures building your experience, and brand doesn't have to come all at once. You can take it in steps to make it manageable for you and your circumstances.
Of course, she is now in a position where she can, and does, send her clients her Wedding Bible physically in the mail. Of course, this costs Andria substantially more than when she had sent it as PDF via email. So why does she bother?
For the same reason, it makes more sense to give your clients a printed product instead of – or at least in addition to – a digital product, “it’s...going to impact them in a different way when they get something in their hands.”
Andria so much as challenges other photographers; “Be creative – we are creatives,” she reminds.
So don’t fear. Go all-in in creating and establishing your own experience. Complacency is not an excuse, “you can always be doing something, no matter where you’re at on the scale,” she reassures. Importantly, though, don’t forget to “have it reflect where you’re at in your brand.”
Having something for people to hold in their hands leaves a powerful impression on them and greatly increases the chances that they'll remember you and remember you fondly.
In the end, the time and the effort put forth are “totally” worth it, and it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. In fact, Andria concludes that “It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but being creative and working out-of-the-box can really go a long way to your clients.”
Last Bit of Advice
At the conclusion of our one-on-one time, I asked Andria what her most important message would be to pass on to other photographers. Her response: “Trusting your gut and staying true to yourself.” Do this, and all the rest will fall in place.
For those who are just getting started and don’t seem to have that confidence or boldness just yet, Andria understands that, as she was there once too. However, she implores that even if you are figuring things out, “don’t let your clients feel that.” Yet, “It’s not about being dishonest,” she continues. Rather, “It’s about allowing them to feel safe and confident that you’re the photographer.”
“You gotta find your own little ways of what works for you and your personality to be able to take that into a shoot and say ‘OK, this is how I am going to break through the barrier of I’m-stuck-I-don’t-know-what-to-do-I-don’t-know-where-to-go-from-here.’”
For Andria, as she informed during her presentation, she is always ready with a task to give to clients or to get them involved by encouraging them to create a story. Again, find something that suits you best.
When it comes to creating your experience, the most important thing is to be true to yourself and go your own way. This will lead to confidence, originality, and a great experience for your clients—all key factors in separating professionals from amateurs.
That is the core message: stay true to yourself.
By being yourself, you will, almost by default, create a unique brand. With only a little work, you can create a fitting experience for your brand that will keep clients yearning for more and later enjoying their pictures through a happy and satisfied lens.
Or, as better put by Andria, the greater success is dependent on “, The more you can stay true to yourself….The more successful that you are, I think, comes from, really – it’s such a literal thing – of making yourself the brand and putting out there ‘These are my strengths; this is my personality; this is what working with me is going to be like. And, someone will want that and gravitate toward it.”
It certainly worked. After her talk, I knew I had to catch her to have a few more minutes to find out more. That’s how powerful a brand an experience can be.
A photograph is your product, but an experience is your brand, and it’s actually your brand that attracts clients and keeps them coming back. Your brand starts and ends with you, not your photos.
Thank you, Andria Lindquist, for reminding us all of this important truth.
To find out more about Andria Lindquist: