5 ways to deal with negative feedback as a photographer

Negative feedback.

It happens; No matter how good a photographer you are, it’s bound to happen at some point or the other. It could happen in the most innocuous of ways, like a random follower posting criticism on something you’ve just uploaded on your Facebook page – or in the most serious of ways – which is an unhappy client.

As a photographer, I put in my heart and soul into what I do. Being a commercial photographer, I get paid to take photos. It could be photos of weddings, of food, of a product or anything else a client needs shot. Whatever be the subject matter, I’m obsessed with making that image as perfect as it can be at that point in space and time. It’s just how we do it – unless you love taking pictures, it’s just not going to be fulfilling. Once I’ve made a picture – I’m proud of it. And that’s where it starts getting tricky: most of the work I do is commissioned work. Though I’m getting paid; it’s not the cheque in the bank that results in creative fulfilment. It’s a happy client. A client who takes one look at the final image and is blown away is worth more than a client who pays me triple my fees but makes no comment on the final product. It’s just how it is; appreciation drives satisfaction.

This cycle works well most of the time, until the day it happens: an unhappy client. This always makes my world come crashing down: it preys on mind, gives rise to all sorts of dark and unhappy thoughts. Every fibre in my body wants to blame the client for not being “educated” enough; or “sophisticated” enough to appreciate good art when they see it. Very quickly I go from angry to depressed; and start questioning my own skill – and whether I’m actually good enough to go around handing someone an invoice for work that I do.

When this happens, it’s important to shake it off – and remember that this is a professional transaction. I started my career as an advertising professional, and heart of hearts I think I’ve always been a client servicing person. A satisfied client is important to me. In my agency days, I had to sell the art director’s work. Today, as a photographer – it’s my own work (and that much more personal).

So, if you’re a photographer – or any sort of service provider, here are five things you need to examine if you find yourself with an unhappy client:

1. Take a step back, and assess WHAT the problem is

Many times, I’ve found that clients have trouble articulating exactly what it is that they feel. Maybe they’ve never really been exposed to the creative industry, and find it hard to sum up their feelings into constructive and bullet-point based critique. Shrug off your disappointment, and find out what the problem is? Many times I’ve found that when I actually start to listen, I find that the problem could be something very minor; and in some cases, something that I wasn’t responsible for at all!

2. Is it justified?

Hard as it may be, once you understand the problem – there are times when you realise that the client is right. You could interpreted the brief completely wrong. If your client is a bride, you could have given her what you thought were ten stunning portrait photos. However, every bride views herself differently – and she may not be fully satisfied with them. Work with her to find pictures that SHE loves, and and you can shake hands and have a fully satisfied customer on your hands. If your client is a brand manager, you may have photographed the product against it’s core brand messaging – even though your photograph is technically brilliant. Once you’ve understood what and where the problem is, you can then start to move forward to address it. Speaking of which…

A happy bride will love you for going the extra mile.

A happy bride will love you for going the extra mile.

3. Is it fixable?

Now comes the tricky part. Once you’ve understood what the problem is, you can decide what course of action you want to take. One of BIGGEST problems I always face is clients who view the images on a PC (or non calibrated monitor) and see all sorts of weird colours – and naturally freak out. The dissatisfaction usually is articulated as “the photos don’t look good” instead of “the magentas look green!”. Once I understand that they’re looking at the images all wrong, I quickly send them a proof print (or invite them over to have a look at the images on my screen) – and bingo! Unhappy client to sheepish client just like that!

Sometimes though, the problem goes deeper than that. When you’re shooting a wedding, if the couple don’t instantly fall in love with the body of work, things can start snowballing from there. One problem can turn into ten, and suddenly you’ll find yourself firefighting on multiple fronts.

4. Talk it out – and try and find a solution

If the problem wasn’t instantly fixable, and you’ve reached this stage – then you’re in a serious situation. The client isn’t happy, and there seems to be fundamental problems with the assignment. At this point, it’s important to put on your best professional face, be friendly and proactive, and offer the BEST form of after-sales service possible. This can help keeping the situation in hand, and making sure the client feels that you’re taking them seriously and are not fighting them on it. Possible solutions could involve reshooting the work, doing it in a completely different manner or working with different partners or assistants who may be key in the shoot.

This can get particularly tricky if you’ve shot a wedding; because there can be absolutely no scope of “shooting” it again. From experience, it can help to go back to all the original RAW files – and work with the bride with those. Surprisingly, in some cases – images that you may have originally rejected could work wonders with the bride, and could be just what she wanted!

Many times, what seemed like a huge issue could boil down to simple colour correction!

Many times, what seemed like a huge issue could boil down to simple colour correction!

5. Dealing with an unreasonable client, and learning where to draw the line 

This is where things start getting ugly. If you’ve done everything in your power (and gone beyond the call of duty) to ensure customer satisfaction – but are still left with a disgruntled client, it’s time to start planning where you want to draw the line. It’s very rare, but sometimes a person who seemed perfectly reasonable before the assignment turns into a whole different person altogether right after; and will refuse to be pacified, come what may. Again very rarely, dissatisfaction may be a front to avoid paying the bill; or it may be from lack of expertise in evaluating creative work; sometimes there maybe too many people involved in the approval process, and that too many contradicting voices screw up the entire job.

There is no real rulebook on what you should do at this point. It’s important to document for your records what all has happened so far – type up an e-mail that lists out all the various edits / work / reshoots that you’ve done to try and complete the job. Be clear that there will not be any further changes or edits unless you’re commissioned to do it again.

Whatever happens, remember: all of this is PRIVATE! It’s between you and the client. Under no circumstances post about this on social media, and expect your followers to sympathise with you. If the customer posts about it on either their or your social media channels, refrain from getting into a long drawn out passionate war of words. Be polite, offer all possible assistance – and request that it be discussed face to face instead of in public. Take my word for it; leave ego out in the parking lot. There is nothing to be gained by arguing or debating in public. You’re hurting your own brand value; potential clients WILL notice, and regardless of how justified you were, or how right you were – they will think twice before becoming associated with you.

Well, that’s about it! I do hope that none of you ever have to go through all of this. If you do find yourself stuck with a dissatisfied client, take my advice – be professional, and hope for the best!

Let me know how it went using the comments below.

(Attribution: Blog cover photo (c) theodore99)

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