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)


Why become a wedding photographer?

This morning, Sunday the 4th of May, the ever factual and in-depth Economic Times ran an article on Wedding Photography in India. The reporter had called me a week or so ago to record a few facts, and we had an interesting fifteen minute conversation where I told him all I knew about the industry – as it existed in India. He must have checked his facts, because as I read the article today – I noted that he had also quoted a couple of other wedding photographers in India – most of whom I either know personally – or whom I know by their work.

The article was titled “Candid wedding photography proves lucrative and creatively fulfilling for lensmen“. This headline was supported by a slew of facts and numbers – all of which make wedding photography seem very, very (VERY!) attractive indeed as an industry to be in. As i was going through it, I couldn’t help but imagine how many people in India today would have been inspired to leave their regular nine-to-five desk jobs and take up wedding photography as a profession. After all, it seems easy. Buy a camera – shoot a couple of friends or family weddings – and hey presto, you’re earning in lakhs. You’re travelling to fantastic destinations. You’re partying with the stars!  

To support all of this, some of the photographers interviewed have a classic “left well paying jobs, took up their passion” ring to it. Hey, I’m guilty too! I left my well paying (and well fought for) job with IBM to do full time wedding photography. So if I can do it – and a lot of other people seem to be doing it – why can’t you? 

So, should you leave your regular / full time job to take up wedding photography?

You certainly should. But before you do, you owe it to yourself to think it through. Here are a couple of tips I’ll leave you with if you want to switch careers and take up full time wedding photography.

1. Do it for the right reasons:

If you’ve spent your whole life in IT, or banking…or any other sector like that, you’ve probably put in years of hard work reaching where you are. By switching careers, you’re losing ALL of that. You’re literally going all the way down the ladder and starting anew. Do you really want to sacrifice all the work you’ve put in to build your corporate career? You may have had a bad day, a bad week…or even a bad year, but you owe it to yourself to stick it out, and not jump ship without thinking it through.

2. Where is the the money really?

Today’s article in the Economic Times paints a very rosy picture about how much it’s potentially possible to earn via wedding photography. Remember – these numbers represent the very tip of the iceberg. While wedding photography can offer attractive renumeration, there are hundreds of costs that are hidden behind the scenes that nobody will tell you about. In addition, because of the perceived earning potential, there are now thousands of photographers who’ve decided that they want in. If you’ve just started out, you’re going to be competing at the bottom of the pyramid, which can be a very hard field to play in. 

3. And, it’s NOT about the money:

I was teaching a class on wedding photography recently, and the first question I asked the group of 15-odd students was WHY they wanted to become wedding photographers. Predictably, more than half answered that it was because they wanted to earn lots of money. Wow. Wrong answer. Wedding photography is a calling. You should WANT to make beautiful images. Want to be a part of a very special day, every other day of your life! Want to be a part of something special. Something magical. And shoot it. And if you happen to make some money along the way, well…then you’re goddamn lucky. Becoming a wedding photography for the money is the worst reason of it all. 

4. It’s not all glamour: 

I recently saw this meme on wedding photography. I think this really sums it up:


5. It’s MUCH more work that you can imagine:

Weddings, especially in India – can be very VERY taxing. Imagine a day where you report for work at 7 in the morning to be in time for a morning pooja – and are on call, and working, till 5 in the morning – which is when the pandit finally announces it’s time to go home. Sound like fun? It is! But when you’re doing it every other day, there are times you can want to throw everything to the wind, go home – and go to sleep. 

There are many reasons why you should become a wedding photography. The most important one should always be that you WANT to. Not for the money. Not for the killing schedule. Not for the travel and the glamour. But for the fact that you want to make beautiful images, and you want to make two people feel very special indeed. 

Don’t become a wedding photographer for the wrong reasons. Questions? Ask away below! 


5 Tips for Indian Wedding Photographers: How to ace a couple shoot!

Those of you who follow my posts know that I’m constantly fascinated by how Indian Wedding Photography has really come of age. One of my favourite people to have long animated conversations about the photography business in India is the owner of my small hole-in-the-wall camera shop. That particular gentleman has been in the photography business for donkeys years, and his network of photographers and knowledge of cameras and equipment makes for long conversations. This time, he was decidedly curious about how the wedding business is going on and what I had been up to. I summed it up and told him what I knew. During the conversation he told me that his sales to non-mainstream photographers had decidedly increased, and how he know of many fashion and advertising photographers who are now ALSO shooting weddings!

With so much new talent now trying their hands at wedding photography, it’s important to become really good at the fundamentals. One trend in wedding photography here in India that is now increasingly becoming popular is the “pre-wedding” shoot. Also known as a couple shoot or an engagement shoot. Some variations of this also include a “save-the-date” shoot – where a couple meets the photographer in advance and does a sitting wherein the output will be something that they can share with friends and family the date!

So if you’re a wedding photographer or even a couple about to get a shoot done – here are some quick tips that will help you ace your pre-wedding shoot:

TIP # 1:  Find a story

This is the number one piece of advice I can give you. A mistake a lot of new wedding photographers make is assuming that the pre-wedding shoot is just an opportunity to take the couple to an interesting location, come up with a bunch of poses and hey-presto, you’re done. Chances are that you’ll come up with with a bunch of nice pictures…but to truly make the difference between a photo that is 95% there, and a photo that is a 100% – is to give it soul. And the way to give it soul is to find a story – or a connection – that the couple will identify with.

This connection may be something that only you and the couple know of – but it’s your duty as the chosen photographer to find it. Once you do, you’ll be able to create a series of photos that build on memories that are special to the couple – and that’s what will make that photo special to them.

Anubha + Saahil. During their long courtship, they used to visit India Gate and go for long walks around Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi. I wanted to recreate some of the magic they found there.

Anubha + Saahil. During their long courtship, they used to visit India Gate and go for long walks around Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhawan in Delhi. I wanted to recreate some of the magic they found there.

TIP # 2:  Take your time

One of the mistakes a lot of photographers who are used to working with models make when they first start shooting weddings is expecting the couple to emote they way he or she wants right from the start. Remember – regular people getting married are probably as conscious of getting their picture taken as the next person. This consciousness can manifest itself in various forms – nervousness, hesitation and awkward poses. I should know – I hate getting my picture taken! One of the reasons I chose to become a photographer was so that I would be safe behind the camera instead of being in front of it! I’ve grown to realise that the first fifteen minutes on average of any session I conduct goes purely in making my subjects comfortable in front of the camera. I try and shorten this period by getting to know them better, having informal conversations about ANYTHING but the camera, but still shooting all the time as they talk. This makes them gradually more and more comfortable, until you reach a point where you can actually start getting your moneyshots.

Being a photographer is a little like being a doctor — you need to have a real good bedside manner! I’ve found that being friendly, casual and totally non-demanding works fairly well, and couples ease into the flow of things.

Sometimes it's easy to start off with simple things like having fun on a swing!

Sometimes it’s easy to start off with simple things like having fun on a swing!

Tip # 3: Plan, plan and plan some more!

A lot of new Indian Wedding Photographers walk into a couple shoot thinking that they’ve picked the perfect location – and the rest will take care of itself. While this can be true if you’re lucky – it’s nice to have thought up of a few concepts before you show up. Most of the time, I’ve already formed a vivid idea of the kind of picture I’m looking for…and I’ve already arranged for the props that I would need to make that shot possible. Some props need careful planning…especially if it’s something that you need to create your story. Props can add a lot of fun and life to your photos – and it’s something that gives your couple something to do while they’re in your session.

Some props could be spur of the moment ideas. In today's day of Facetime dates, who doesn't have an iPhone as part of their story?

Some props could be spur of the moment ideas. In today’s day of Facetime dates, who doesn’t have an iPhone as part of their story?

Tip # 4: Choose your venue carefully

This is a bit of a sensitive topic…but I try and avoid areas which have access to the general public for couple wedding photography. In most major cities in India (with probably the exception of Mumbai) any activity that involves a camera and some sort of shoot attracts a lot of unwanted attention. In many cases, the locals start asking questions and (in rare cases) start providing opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done. While this doesn’t matter much to you as a photographer, it can start putting a little stress on the couple – and they probably wouldn’t be as natural as they would’ve been had there been nobody around. For this reason, I try and find spaces which are private or semi-private – or if the story calls for it, spaces that are more upmarket than not. This is purely cautionary – chances are that you may be able to pull off the shoot in the middle of a crowded baazar if need be without any untoward incidents, but it’s a risk you’ll have to take.

Shooting in a baazar can be fun too!

Shooting in a baazar can be fun too!

Tip # 5: Be aware of body language, and know some basic poses and how to direct the shot

You may have found the perfect story, the perfect location and the perfect time of the day. Remember – people on average have been conditioned through years and years of routine to look directly at, and then smile at the camera while someone yells CHEESE. I’m fairly confident that as a “candid wedding photographer” – you don’t want that. This calls for a certain amount of direction – and while you want your shots to look natural, people need to be given a certain script to act out. Think of a play – the director gives his actors various cues on which they need to emote. Arranging a couple shoot is something like that – be decisive about what you want, and be willing to demonstrate how you want it done.

Additional tip: Be acutely aware of the comfort levels of your couple. Some are quite happy being affectionate in public, and some may not. You don’t want to force them to do something that they normally wouldn’t do – that just wouldn’t be natural, and it wouldn’t be a memory they want – regardless of how good the photo looks. Make sure they’re always in their comfort zone – that makes the best photos!


You don’t want your couple to “pose”. EVER. But you do want do give them a starting point!

And that’s it! Five simple tips — but follow them, and you’ll soon be acing your couple wedding photography and generating some very happy customers indeed!

Questions? Have a tip of your own? Leave it in the comments below or get in touch!