The holidays had just begun and the holiday jingles were going full throttle as my team and I took on the biggest photo session rush of the year. With our two camera room set-up, a small handful of photographers and what felt like the entire city's worth of clients waiting for their annual holiday portraits to be taken.
This was my life as a commercial portrait studio photographer about 9 years ago...
It’s a little known fact that a lot of commercial studio photographers don’t get enough recognition with all the work they have to do in such a short period of time (especially during a crazy photography season). It’s more than just snapping a family portrait and calling it a day, at least for me and some of my then-teammates it wasn’t.
While I only worked as a commercial studio portrait photography studio for about a year and some, it taught me a lot about people’s behaviors while getting their photos taken and how it affects the way I work with them as their photographer. So I thought it’d be interesting to lay out some key factors I took away and have embraced into my own photography business.
Communication + Teamwork
When working in a team, communication is always a key factor. While in this particular experience, working with other photographers and multiple clients at the same times was a bit of a challenge. But as always, it’s always best to over-communicate than under-communicate.
Voice + Tone
In any work setting, your voice and the way you use your voice is important. The tone you use is crucial when working with clients (or other vendors). Especially if your clients are young children and their parents are standing right next to them. You always want to check your tone and how you are addressing people. It could be a make or break situation, but if you speak to them firmly but in a sweet tone you might just get what you need from them in order to get the shot.
Patience + Understanding
There were times when not everyone in the group I was photographing spoke English (or any other language I could speak). There were times that there were 20 people trying to get into one single shot for grandma’s 90th birthday. There were times new parents brought in their 3 week old baby for portraits but were overwhelmed while baby was crying because they had a wet diaper or was hungry. A whole lot of patience and understanding goes into sessions like these.
Learning to pivot a situation to benefit everyone is a learned skill. Master this and everything else can fall into a new place much easier.
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Most people in the world are not trained models. And with that comes awkwardness in front of any camera. The best thing to do in these scenarios is learn to be playful with your subjects. Let’s say you have a dad who is just always a serious business type who doesn’t have time for jokes and big cheesy smiles, but his daughters really want a photo all together as a gift for mother’s day. This is when you (as the photographer) should be sharpening your stand-up comedy one-liners to get dad to crack a smile. Trust me when I say, it’s super silly and sometimes straight-up awkward, but at the end o the day it’s worked with me and my clients.
Or let’s say there are kids involved, get down to their level (literally, lay on the ground and play with them). Ask them questions about their favorite superhero or their favorite Disney movie (they will almost always give in). When that doesn’t work, get a little help from one of their family members to stand right behind you to help get those beautiful smiles that makes everyone gush over.
*If you want to read more tips about photographing kids, I’ve written 8 Tips on Photographing Kids right here.*
Creativity vs. Traditional
As a creative, I will always go the creative side of things. But when you’re photographing anything for any client it’s about them not you (sorry to break it to you).
I learned this while photographing hundreds of people while at the studio. While there are more creative ways to photograph someone, get the traditional photo for grandma to hang on the wall and then you can get creative with your portraits.
Urgency, Speed and Building Trust
As a commercial portrait studio photographer, you don’t always have the grace of time as portrait photographers do while in a flower field somewhere (that’s me now, by the way, haha).
While I worked as studio portrait photographer, we literally were trained to have about 10 minutes to photograph a variety of shots of our subjects. This meant to the speed of getting to know your clients, getting them to open up to you and not be awkward in front of the camera and getting good shots was tough in a short amount of time like that. (I don’t even open up that quickly to my hostess at a restaurant).
So learning this skill really has helped me find commonality with my subjects super quick to make a lasting impact while getting their photos taken all while being more comfortable and making them feel like I was just a friend just hanging out.
And when people are in a rush to get in and out, learning to speed it up and have urgency is always a great skill to acquire.
Oh, boy, oh boy! This one is a big one!
They say you need to gain experience to gain confidence, you have to start off by just believing in yourself. Then when the more experience you gain, confidence will follow.
I started as an everything photographer. Meaning, I shot anything and everything under the sun. Jumped into live rock band and event photography, got into portraits, and then to wedding photography. It doesn’t just happen.
Experience happened. Then confidence followed.
If you found this post useful or interesting, I’d love for you to let me know in the comments or swing by on Instagram @katiechavarinphotography where I’m always hanging out in my InstaStories. Come by and say hello!