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How NOT to be the One What Did It, the One What Made Your Clients Sad - PPA Today

How NOT to be the One What Did It, the One What Made Your Clients Sad

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By Mariah Ashley

When my daughter was two and having a bad day because she was asked to eat her

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 vegetables, told it was time to go to bed or scolded for coloring on the kitchen wall, she didn't get sad and cry. Instead she got mad. She'd clench her fists and grit her little Chiclet teeth. Looking up at from me from behind her bowl cut she'd snarl, "You're the one what did it! You're the one what made me sad!" It was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time. She's twelve now. We're still working on it. But that's another story.

The story I want to tell today is a cautionary tale of how NOT to be The One What Did It, The One What Made Your Clients Sad, because it's always a good day when you aren't ruining your clients wedding. I've had cause to ponder this question lately as I've helplessly watched a few fellow wedding vendors wreaking havoc on my clients.

Take the case of the overly dramatic/distracted justice of the peace. I've been working with Fred the JP for years and without fail, I hear him before I see him. Fred shouts my name when he sees me regardless of the distance between us, the setting we are in, or the inappropriateness of shouting at a wedding. Fred also stands right behind me and breathes what's left of his lunch at the back of my neck. He likes to make small talk during the ceremony processional, which is of course a causal moment where we both have free time and no job to do. I awkwardly bob my head to avoid being rude to Fred while trying to nail my shot of the bride and her father coming down the aisle toward their bobble-headed photographer.

A few weeks ago I worked with Fred again. It was status quo; shouting across the lawn, small talk and bobble-heading. But wait, this day had a twist! Moments before the ceremony, Fred beckoned me to photograph the signing of the marriage license. The mother of the groom was about to sign as the first witness. Fred as chatty as ever, hurriedly explained to her to "sign here" and "print here" and then waived his finger over the area for her signature. He turned to me and continued his blah-blah-ing, leaving her to her own devices. You can see where this is going. Yes, she signed in the wrong spot.

"Oh no! Oh my! I've signed in the wrong spot!" she gasped, squinting at the document.

"What?!" he shouted, jerking his attention from me back to her.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

"Nothing, now! It's not like I have another copy!"

That's when the groom walked over.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Well your mother has just ruined this legal document by signing on the wrong line. It's invalid and you can't be legally married without it."

The groom's face drained of all color. The groom's mother started ringing her hands and apologizing.

"I love you mom but I can't look at you or talk to you right now." said the dismayed groom.

The wedding planner was the next on the scene of the disaster.

"What's going on?" she asked. "I heard raised voices."

"I'll tell you what's going on, this is all garbage," announced Fred brandishing the ruined document and waiving his hand over the lawn indicating that the $100K wedding was now trash.

"Don't say that!" said the horrified wedding planner coming to the defense of the stricken groom. "You cannot tell my clients that their beautiful wedding is garbage!"

"Can you believe these people Mariah?!" asked Fred a few moments later behind the backs of the wedding planner and the nauseous groom. I just bobbled my head and walked away but what I wanted to do was clench my fists and grit my Chiclets and snarl. "Fred! You're the one what did it! You're the one what made them sad!"

As my second example of major mishaps I present the Unsolved Cake Cold File Case. The events of the construction, leading to the destruction and ultimate unfortunate exhibition of this "wedding cake" are still a mystery to all those involved. It's hard to say where things went wrong with the cake. Did the events take a turn for the worse during baking? Decorating? Transporting? Delivery? All I can tell you is that for the majority of the wedding the cake remained inside a cardboard box marked "cake" and it's a good thing that box was marked. Had it not been, we might have never known that the monstrosity lurking inside was actually intended as dessert.


After much debate and investigation, had we been able to identify the misshapen lump as cake, we would have had to assume that the cake did not ride safely in the back of a van to the wedding but was actually dragged along the highway behind the van and had absorbed all the leaves and twigs in its path along the way. That's right; the cake was the one what did it, the one what ruined the otherwise lovely wedding.


As a final testament, I will divulge that I am currently cleaning up the mess of a florist who was the one what did it. Our bride has called and emailed us no less than a dozen times in the days following her wedding to describe her displeasure over the floras she received as opposed to the floras she envisioned and paid for.


On her wedding day, the florist was an hour late delivering the bouquets and only put the finishing touches on the ballroom as the wedding party was being announced in. On top of stressing everyone out on the wedding day with her lack of punctuality, she also didn't deliver what she had promised. I am now tasked with the unfortunate job of Photoshopping a brown bouquet, filling in flowers where there are gaps between layers of a towering 7 foot cake, and hiding sandbags that were used to weigh down a flimsy chuppa. Good times. Now this florist is the one what made ME sad!


I'm not saying that anyone is perfect. The snap girls certainly aren't. But we have come up with a few ways we avoid being the ones what did it:


1. We make a plan. Long before we arrive at an event we have a clear plan that includes the itinerary, photo locations, list of family members and bridal party, and agreed-upon shot list of formal photographs to be taken. Trish works on this photo plan with the bride in the months leading up to the wedding before she contracts "bridal brain". The photo plan insures that we do not miss photographing any important people and that the key players know what is expected of them on the wedding day including; what time to be ready and where to be for photos. Having a pre-made plan also means we don't have to pester the bride with questions on the wedding day itself.


2. We stick to the plan. Trish is sure to cross all of the agreed upon photos of the list or we don't get to leave the wedding! If we are having trouble making a photo happen, our rule of thumb is to ask the bride and the groom three times to do it. Of course if they say forget it, they've had enough of photos, we just go ahead and cross it off.


3. We are on time. Being on time means being at least 30 minutes early. Planning an extra half an hour of time allows for traffic and parking. (It goes without saying that a smart phone with navigation is a non-negotiable piece of equipment.) Thirty extra minutes also allows you time to breath and scope out your area for good photo spots, or coordinate with the other vendors. Oh and then there's always snacks and bathroom breaks, also very important.


4. We spend a lot of money on memory cards. First of all, we have a secret stash of memory cards tucked in our bag that we never remove just in case we forget to pack them. (Been there before). Secondly, we shoot a CF card in RAW and an SD card in JPEG simultaneously. We have found that this is our most reliable and easiest form of backing up the files on the wedding day. At the end of the evening Trish leaves with the SD JPEGS in a sealed envelope, and I leave with the CF RAW cards. If either of us are abducted by aliens on the way home, the wedding photos are not lost. Trish keeps the SD cards at an undisclosed location and those cards are never reformatted until the finished photos are online and released to the client and they have been backed up in triplicate at the office. A few days ago while saying goodbye to a bride at the end of the night she asked, "My photos are going to be safe right?" I could confidently answer, "YES!"


5. Speaking of insurance, get some! Liability, disability, culpability... anything with an "ility" in it is good.


6. We make some photographer friends. Trish and I are lucky in that we have each other. If either of us was unable to shoot an event, the other could go on and suffer through the shoot alone. Even so, when I come across a photographer whose work is similar in style to ours I reach out and try to make friends. If I ever have to call on someone to fill in for us at one of our weddings I want that person to deliver a product that is similar to ours. It's not enough to just find a good replacement photographer; you owe it to your clients to find a similar one.


7. We (try to) never let them see us sweating! When things are going wrong, keep your emotions in check. It's like being a passenger on a plane. No one wants to see a flight attendant freaking out, that's a sure sign that everyone is going to die. A bride is the same way on her wedding day. If she sees you losing your $#!% or struggling with your equipment she's going to panic and question everything you do. Gaining back her confidence once you've lost it is next to impossible. Trust me, we just broke this rule because we broke rule #8 (see below).


8. We don't experiment on our clients (anymore). You are not Dr. Frankenstein. So don't experiment on your clients. Don't experiment with lighting or new equipment or technique--at least not during pivotal moments. (Like the formal photos which we chose to try a new off-camera lighting trick... unsuccessfully.) We didn't ruin anything, and quickly reverted back to our tried and true way of shooting, but it was too late. We had already shaken the confidence of the bride who was sure none of her photos would come out.


9. We under promise and over deliver. This is the oldest rule for keeping your clients happy for a reason. We recently ran into a fellow photographer who was telling us about her friend, another photographer in our area. She said, "Ralph shoots all season but doesn't edit or deliver the images until after the New Year! He tells his brides, that if they want to see their photos before January they can pay him extra because he's too busy to deal with editing until after Christmas."


After I collected my jaw from the floor and thought, That's the worst policy I've ever heard of! She enthusiastically added, "Now that's smart!"


Yes, smart if you want to disappoint, annoy and piss of your clients. Smart if extortion is your racket. Smart if you want your clients telling everyone that their photographer is literally holding their photos for ransom. I have a hard time believing that there is a bride on the planet who would be happy waiting 6+ months for her wedding photos. Show me one and I will eat my flash.


10. If you screw up royally, we admit it. Apologize. Beg forgiveness and ask what you can do to alleviate the pain and suffering you have caused. Admitting your wrongdoing immediately diffuses the situation and puts you back in control of making it right.


Even with these guidelines in place, you can still end up being the one what did it. We've all been there. As a matter a fact, I was there last weekend. It's the end of the season. It was wedding number 34. As I pulled into the church I had a horrible nagging feeling that I had forgotten something. I turned around to survey my equipment in the backseat and to my horror realized I had forgotten the entire lighting bag. It was an hour before sunset and I had no flashes, no batteries, no video light. I called home and my husband, suffering from a severe head cold answered weakly.


"Go into my office! Do you see a big black backpack?" I blurted.


"Um, yeth, I thee it," he croaked out between sniffles.


"I need it! I can't finish this wedding without it! You have to drive it to me right now!" I panicked rattling off the address.


"But aren't you an hour away? I don't know how to get there!" he stammered (he's not a follower guideline number 3, he insists on keeping his flip phone).


"Well take Jacques (my son), he'll help you!" I demanded as I hung up and ran into the church.


Unfortunately sometimes, even with the best intentions the line between being the one what did it, the one what made them sad is as thin as relying on a technology challenged, health-impaired husband and a terminally lazy teenage son who reluctantly rides shotgun with his smart phone to save your ass. And that's fortunate for me.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for winter.jpgAbout the author:
Mariah Ashley is co-owner of Snap! Photography in Rhode Island. She is blonde, loves to bake fruit pies, wears flip flops way past the summer season, should have been born in the 50s, paints and writes when the mood strikes her, is mother to Jacques and Vianne, vacations on Block Island, is vegan, never has proper or stylish outerwear, fears frogs and toads but loves turtles, has really skinny legs, personal Style- Bohemian Chic, wants to own a VW van, grew up on a cranberry farm and is happiest when snorkeling is happiest when sipping a rum punch under a palm tree.



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This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on September 30, 2014 8:58 PM.

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