This week I had an experiance that was very disheartening. After conducting a rustic themed wedding - a fulll day of photography and hundreds of hours editing I received my first ever photography complaint.
It was difficult to hear that someone was so unhappy with my work and so critical of our capture that after days of reflecting on it, it became apparent that there where a few things about my process that I needed to change in order to avoid leaving myself open for such an experiance in the future.
Whilst I stand by the quality of my work, and consider the wedding produced to match those I have done in the past (where Brides have been overjoyed with their photos) I just cant help finding it difficult to understand where the expectations set differed from reality.
But I did learn a few things and this blog is dedicated to photographers who may have been in the same position as me, and left wondering what you could have done different.
The first thing I realised was I needed a style guide for my work, putting up images of previous work just wasn't going to cut it as it became apparent that this bride had not reviewed my previous wedding work and so in essence not reviewed my style of photography and was resolved to blame me for not taking photos in a style that she had not expressed, I needed to have a section on my site that showed the day, section by section with examples of what the bride could expect for each section.
That is not to say that I didn't have my work up, but the gallery I provided showed a sequence of Images not broken down by sections. So I put up a case study and a wedding example that showed the way I captured the bride and groom, bridal party and key elements in previous weddings and so on.
Whilst within the industry, photographers know that each of us has a very distinct style and that portrait photography and event photography are two very different things, consumers may not and whilst it might be considered the brides responsibility to choose a photographer that matches their desired style, it's not guarenteed to happen. This I implimented in days.
Shoot List & Family Helper
Off the back of this wedding, I have now also made a shootlist mandatory. My experiance or working with brides up until now has been wonderful, and all of them have provided me with a list of essential shots and so I was able to ensure that anything that was not to be missed, wasnt.
In this case no list was provided even with some persistant follow up and after delivering the images I was held to account for a laundry list of wanted photos (some quiet ambigious) that I was not aware were essential, or for using the 'wrong angles' for the shots I did take.
In future, all brides will be asked to provide a me with a list and I will need a helper for family portraits who knows everyone and can collect people for those shots. This has also been something I always asked for, but in this case wasnt provided.
Further a clause has been added to my contract explaining that whilst we attempt to ensure every item is captured, that we dont promise it for a number of reasons including time, location, , they way you set up your wedding, the weather and more, and further that if you have a very specific way you wanted a photo captured, this needs to be specified on that list.
This is also why I developed the SnapPal App (more on this later).
I had shot weddings in the rain before with beautiful results as brides had been prepared and allowed a space to work with if the weather turned, but in this instance I realised also that I needed a clause about rain in my contract. It rained during what would usually be the family portraits section of the day and we where forced to take photos inside a dimly lit garage in around 4mtr square of space (which obviously dont compete with image taken in the garden earlier that day). The clause needed to set expectations about photos taken outside of the planned location and what you could expect / what you needed to plan for to ensure you still had great portraits. This was added to my contract within days.
Mates Rates and additional photos
Up until now I have always delivered around double the photos I promised. I have found that brides like both the top end set and the second not so great but still important to them set. They have all been excited to have so many more images to look through and reflect on than what most photographers deliver.
Until this wedding, it was a specific request to have these extras but the expectation was that they where to the standard of the first set not that they where second tier edited and included at no charge. From now on I have decided to include the second tier but in a seperate albumn called 'Tier 2 Quality Keepsakes' and have a clause in my contract that states they are teir 2 and what that means. This has been updated in my contract.
I have also resolved to keep my fees at their set rate and no longer cover travel myself, or offer discounts for people with a connection. It has been my experiance in this case that when you heavily discount something, less appriciation is given to whats involved. I have also learned that it makes it more affordable for someone who might not otherwise be able to afford your services and as such you become a luxuary to them and unreal expectations are applied to you when in fact you are working for half your normal rate.
Of all the weddings I have done, I have never had a bride question the time I worked for them on. This is because they had always booked sufficiant time in order to capture what they had listed as essential for me, they have always been greatful for the flexibility shown,
This was the first event where I needed a way to record my movements and timing and be able to proove it, that caught me by surprise, One of the complaints the Bride had was around my availability and location. Now whilst I delivered more hours than she paid for, In order to show that I needed to go back through photos to find date and time stamps along with those from text messages. This took some time, it would have been helpful to have a way of quickly showing where I was and when without having to piece it together. This is why I added the geofilter into the SnapPal App to allow it to track my geographic location and produce a report for me at the end of the wedding (more on that later).
I also showed a huge amount of flexibility in timing and trying to strech the limited hours booked to capture some of everything, stretching 7 hours out to 15 of capture was never going to happen and so I captured what I could at each location given the time and weather. Unfortunatley though my presence no matter how short, meant that I should have captured every detail at every location., I had to learn the lesson that it was imperative that brides understand timing and allow enough time to capture what is important and if that means extra hours that is what would need to be booked and paid for.
Enter the SnapPal App!
So after this collective experiance I was determined to never have this experiance again, having never had it before it's introduction for me was a blow to my confidence as an artist and also made me doubt my career choice, I didnt want to photograph another wedding after the cruel inferance that my photos reflected the quality of an iPhone.
But it was important to shake off one bad client and remember the hundreds of good ones, I made the changes to my process and my contract, and I had 3 of my photographer associates review my work and (what was provided to the bride not only the killer shots) - they all had the same critique (it was constant with my work/portfolio and website, that I had captured beautiful work and I had provided tripple what they would have for the same price).
After resolving myself to the fact that you cant go back and say no to booking, I decided to create a simple app that could capture much of the information a new photographer might need to cover them off before learning the lesson I did that day.
Enter the SnapPal App, this app was created to allow you to create a list of essential shots with your brides in advance to help you plot out the time you need them to put aside to capture them. It also came preset with my standard list of shots for a full day affair. THe idea is you sit with your couple and use it to plot out the shots your want and create a plan you can both sign and export together.
I included the ability to use a geo filter so that it was timestamped each time you ticked a box for those photographers who wanted to use it on the job. My plan is to add my contractual agreement into the app to allow you to have your bride sign off to say that discussion happened and to basically make the whole process of expectation setting an easier conversation.
So check out version 1 on the app store shortly, its presently in testing and I look forward to its release early 2019!