Has it ever happened that after you’ve finished a photographic work some delightful detail revealed itself that you hadn’t even known was there? Like a deeply submerged thought you hadn’t yet given voice to, some aspect needed to bubble to the surface. So it is with the written word, I find. With nearly every issue of the magazine, there comes a time in our production cycle where I’m excited and slightly surprised to see a theme arise that had somehow escaped my attention during the previous weeks of editing and proofing.
It wasn’t until I was taking a final read of this issue that I saw threads throughout it highlighting the idea of the photographer positioning themself as expert. There’s a distinction between being an expert and positioning yourself as an expert. A photographer can be exceptionally proficient at image making, but if consumers aren’t aware of that competence, the photographer may be left to wonder why they’re not earning the same acclaim as their peers.
Positioning yourself as an expert is not about bragging. It’s about your body language, the confidence you project, the words you use. It’s not, “I’m the best portrait photographer in town.” It’s greeting potential clients with a smile and eye contact, actively listening to them, detailing what you offer and how your sessions and sales process work, explaining your pricing, and suggesting ways you can meet their needs. It’s recognizing that many consumers don’t come to a photographer with an understanding of what constitutes a great portrait versus an average one. That’s an opportunity to shine as an expert by showing portraits that demonstrate flattering posing, great lighting, and enhanced composition, pointing out how each of these traits specifically contributes to the portrait as a whole.
“Help your clients understand that they are dealing with an expert, not just an artist,” says strategist Crystal Washington. Wedding photographer Charmi Patel Peña purposefully presents herself as the on-site expert when she’s working with clients on their big day. It puts them at ease to know she’s focused on doing what needs to be done so they don’t have to account for the details of who needs to be gathered up when and where for post-ceremony photos. Baby and maternity photographer Karen Marie Hourscht understands that clients who have a bad session experience won’t love their images, so she ensures positive feelings throughout their portrait experience. “If you are going to call yourself a professional, be a professional in all aspects,” she says.
Your role as expert is in you. You just have to reach down, pull it out, and shine a light on it for the world to appreciate.
Jane Gaboury is the director of publications at Professional Photographers of America.