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Quitting Your Day Job Part 7: Managing Client Expectations

By Chris Nachtwey on August 13th 2014

Quitting Your Day Job

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well.

Part 7: Managing Wedding Photography Client Expectations

Clients are great. I honestly love them and I’m not just talking about the fact that they pay me for my photography. I honestly love meeting new people. When I get a new client inquiry, I get excited because I have the opportunity meet some new people and yes, I hopefully will book their wedding to keep my business going. With that said, clients can have expectations for you and the final product you’re going to deliver that may not be realistic.


Four Tips For Managing Client Expectations

1. Only Display Work You Can Create Again

We all have those images that are amazing and grab the eyes of potential clients time and time again, but can you recreate that image or images? It’s honestly not fair to your clients to display work that you cannot create time and time again. In wedding photography, this is a key point to managing client expectations. Weddings are long days, full of surprises, and you’re short on time. I suggest not displaying images in your wedding portfolio that you cannot nail in a minute or less on the wedding day. My general rule is, if I cannot set up a shot in a minute or less, it does not go into my wedding photography routine on a wedding day.

That might sound like a crazy idea to some of you, but if your wedding portfolio is full of images that you cannot recreate for the next client, you are setting the expectations way to high, and that’s not fair to a client and yourself for that matter.


2. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

I know, I know, you really want to book this couple’s wedding. It sounds amazing, it’s at a dream venue, and the couple looks like they are straight out of a fashion magazine. Shooting their wedding could give your portfolio the edge it so desperately needs. But, wait a minute, if they are asking for things that you’re not comfortable with, do not just promise that you can meet their expectations, if in your heart, you know it’s unrealistic.

For example: Maybe your style is photojournalistic, and you have a couple who wants you to do more posed and fashion-based images. Do not say you can do that for them. It will just create issues on the wedding day and after the fact. You might lose a potential client by being honest and stating that is not your style, but trust me, you will be avoiding a headache down the road.

3. Be Careful With Pinterest

Pinterest, oh it’s a wonderful source of inspiration for not just couples, but also photographers. Let’s be real for a second though, can you honestly recreate the images a potential client is showing you on their Pinterest board?

First of all, what a bride or couple pins to their Pinterest board is not your work, it’s another photographer’s creative eye. Secondly, do you want clients who tell you how to be an artist, or clients who love your style? My guess is you want clients who love your style. Luckily, all the clients who have sent me Pinterest boards have pinned images that are very much my style and I personally enjoy. If you do receive a Pinterest board that is not like your style, you might want to try this simple response below:

Dear (Client Name),

I had a look at your Pinterest board with photography ideas. The images were very nice and have given me an idea about the style of photography that you like. If you would like me to create images like those on your Pinterest board, on your wedding day I will focus on those types of images vs. creating images in my signature style. I would prefer to create images in my signature style vs. recreating images from another photographer that are pinned on your Pinterst board.

Please let me know what style images you would like me to focus on making during your wedding day.

That might be blunt, but this is about managing expectations. If you lose a client because you do not want to recreate the images you see on their Pinterest board, they are not your type of client. You want clients that love you and your style, not ones who expect you to recreate someone else’s work.

Bonus Tip: Here is a great tip I picked up from the SLR Lounge Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop. Create your own Pinterest boards with your images. Send clients your Pinterest boards and ask them to pin the images they love to their photography board. Tell them you will focus on making those types of images on the wedding day. This gives the client some control over the type of images they will receive, and gives you an idea of what to focus on during the wedding day.


4. Communication is Key

I feel like a broken record here, but all throughout my Quitting Your Day Job series, you will see me mention communication with your clients. Communication is a big part of managing expectations. You need to meet and speak with your couple on a regular basis leading up to the wedding day. These meetings, phone calls, and emails are key to making sure all of you are on the same page, so when the wedding day rolls around, the couple knows exactly what to expect from you.

I have heard horror stories about photographers who, once they book the couple, seem to cut off all communication with the couple. They just show up on the wedding day with no idea about how the day’s going to flow, and what their clients expectations are. Don’t be that photographer!



Wedding photography is all about client relations. If you’re not willing to put in the work to make your clients happy, then just leave the business right now. You will fail; no one will refer work to you. Wedding photography is about great images, but how you make people feel is even more important. If you put all you have into working with a couple to meet and manage their expectations, chances are they will sing your praises.

Finally, if a client is asking for the world, and you know you cannot deliver, be honest with them and say that you don’t think you can meet their expectations. You will lose the client, but losing a client because they want too much from you will save you headaches down the road.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!


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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Scott Eisenbeisz

    I really like the idea of a mood board. I think it is a great way to help the clients show what they like, rather than trying to explain!

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  2. Mi Guel

    Very insightful article..A must share to clients :)

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  3. Brandon Dewey

    Great tips! Communication I think is the most important tip on this list.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Yes, communication with wedding clients or any client for that matter is what can help you stand out and gain the trust of your clients. They will refer you if your images are stellar and your great to work with. No doubt!

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  4. Austin Swenson

    I love this whole series of articles. Making sure that people know what they want, making sure you can shoot it, and also showing what you can do are really the core communication that can either get you success or put you in hot water if you don’t do them.

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  5. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks again for sharing the business side of wedding photography. The relationship makes all the process become more fun with bigger value added to it.

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  6. Jim Johnson

    “Only Display Work You Can Create Again”

    I would like to add to this: This includes using models instead of clients.

    The results you are going to get from models is going to be completely different from those you will get from a real couple on a real wedding day. Not to mention, as the point was made above, a photoshoot is a completely different beast from a wedding day and you won’t be able to even recreate the aesthetic.

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    • Chris Nachtwey

      Great point Jim. It’s very true, your wedding portfolio really should have real couples doing the poses you do vs. models who can nail poses with little direction.

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    • Jim Johnson

      Yeah, I’ve been looking at wedding photographers for myself recently, and I have to say it is a huge turnoff when I see a portfolio full of models.

      I just feel sorry for clients who aren’t photographers and aren’t able to recognize a model at a fashion shoot rather than a real wedding. It’s so disingenuous.

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