by Skip Cohen
Sometimes writing a blog is like being with a bunch of friends when somebody tells the first joke. That joke sparks another from somebody else and before you know it you've got a front row seat to a joke-a-thon. I've written a few blog posts referencing building trust with your clients. Matthew Jordan Smith talked about in a recent podcast as well. Great images and natural expressions are all about the relationship you have with your subjects. They're about building a level of trust and nothing does a better job of starting the process than a good engagement shoot.
If you're not offering and encouraging an engagement shoot with every wedding package, you're missing a multitude of opportunities.
You've heard it over and over again, "A wedding is not a time when logic reigns as king!" If you've only photographed one wedding in your life, you know how true that statement really is. Nothing is logical and the most insignificant issues can snow ball and wind up requiring a level of diplomacy that would stagger a UN diplomat! The photographer, who's built a relationship with the client, can easily become the neutral party and bring peace and logic to the stress and tension of these situations just by being there.
The engagement session is your opportunity to start building that trust. To begin with, you're essentially shooting for the fun of it. You're interacting with the couple and getting to know them and they you. Make it a point to ask questions that bring out their personalities. "So how did you two meet?" or "What's the silliest thing she's ever done?" The stories you'll hear will get them to relax. As they get more comfortable, you'll get more natural expressions. As the session continues you'll see the start of a growing comfort level between your client and you.
If building trust is the first step, then capturing emotion is second. Capturing emotion has become a signature of Joe Buissink's work.
"Bring memories to the surface. If you can do that, you'll get nothing but emotion. Ask, "What did he say to you that first time?" and within seconds, the bride might start crying."
The other purpose to the engagement shoot is to learn how your clients see the world. Pay attention to how they position themselves and the personalities of the couple. This is also an ideal time to photograph each of them individually. Everybody always talks about bridals, but so often they forget the "groomals". The engagement session, in a relaxed environment for the day, can warm up the most serious of grooms. And don't forget, grooms have family too. There isn't a mom on the planet who doesn't complain about not having any pictures of her son!
Because of the time you've spent in advance with the bride and groom, when the wedding finally does come around you're going to be perceived as a member of the family, even a trusted friend. All the barriers, most photographers have to deal with when working with a client for the first time, disappeared months earlier at the engagement session.
"I recently shot the wedding of a bride I had also photographed seven years earlier. This was her second wedding and when the bride saw me, she was so happy that she gave me a big hug. She and her father reminded me that I needed to be there for the next wedding in the family - that of the bride's sister." Joe Buissink from Wedding Photography From The Heart.
Last but not least, are all the applications for the use of engagement images. Most often the purpose is strictly an engagement announcement, but I've seen them used for stationery, thank you notes and family gifts, just to name a few. Individual images, especially with the groom, who often never thought he would even like any of the photographs, become cherished photographs for his family as well as himself.
The engagement session could well be the very most important step in establishing a relationship with a wedding client. In order to get the most out of it, you've got to be willing to put in the time, but more importantly your personality. Being a successful professional photographer, in any genre, is all about exceeding client expectations and making yourself habit-forming! Do it right and the amount of repeat business you could potentially get is astounding - do it wrong and you'll need to leave town!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.