How to Manage Client Expectations When You’re a Pet Photographer

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by Margaret Bryant
Texas School Instructor

Managing client expectations is always important when you are a business person. It is never more important than when you are a pet photographer. You know the pet owner who thinks their adorable little fluff ball will always behave and whose dog does the cutest trick that you are supposed to capture on “film.”  Yeah, right.

I start with managing the expectations of how the process will work. When a potential client contacts me I will make sure they know my whole process. It is a time commitment and I want them to know that. If they are not willing to commit the time, they are likely not committing much money, and are not my ideal client.  I require an in person consultation. (more on that later.) Sometime after the consultation is the actual photo session, and a few days after that is an in person sales session. Each time I meet with them, I remind them of the remaining steps and what will be happening at each step. They know exactly how it will work and I rarely have problems as a result.

The consultation is the most important time to manage client expectations in regards to their animal. Their cat or dog is brought to my studio for the consultation. This is VERY important. While we are talking, the dog or cat is exploring my studio. I make sure there are no hazards for the animal exploring.  Yes, I am talking with the client about products, session planning, and what comes next, but most importantly I am talking about their dog (or cat). I want to know the animal’s personality, what day to day life is like, where they got the animal, why they got the animal, favorite toys, and things the animal does. I am watching the dog (we’ll stick with dogs for now) and talking with the client. I want to know if the dog is likely to be shy around strangers, shy in new locations, likely afraid of the flash, knows any obedience, has any unusual behaviors and so on. Some of this I will determine from observation and other things I determine from talking with the owner. I ask how the dog reacts to thunder and lightning storms. If they are afraid, this tells me they might be afraid of the studio flash. If I notice the dog is skittish during the consultation, it is also an indication of potential problems. If the dog won’t do their cute trick for me for the consultation, they probably won’t do it during the session either.

I make sure the owner knows that any dog will behave differently around new people and new locations. The dog may not do their cute trick around new people and a new location. I want to set their mind at ease that their dog is not misbehaving or being trouble.  I tell them that my assistant is a dog trainer and the two of us know how to read dog body language. If necessary, I will talk with the owner about what steps we will take if the dog is too shy or is afraid of the flash. The idea is to let the owner know that the dog is in good hands. But I don’t hesitate to tell the owner if I think there will be problems. Of course I don’t call them that, but I want the owner to have a realistic expectation and then be thrilled if we got the dog to cooperate. We usually do, but I would never guarantee that!

I present all of this material with an air of authority; that I am the expert. They know of my long years of experience with photographing dogs and dog handling. Add to that my dog trainer handler and we have hopefully created the best of all possible situations to let the dog be comfortable and work with us.

I let the owners watch the photo session if the dog is okay with that. Some dogs do better when the owner is out of sight. I tell the owner when they are watching the session to not talk to the dog and to let us do what we do. If they have any suggestions about their dog, they should tell me in advance because, when they get frustrated, their dog will sense that. It is important they stay calm. I also tell them that they will run out of patience long before my handler and I do. Indirectly I have given them permission to become impatient, but advised them to not show it to their dog. Invariably after a session, I have owners agree with me that we have an amazing amount of patience!

If we can have the owners observing during the session, I prefer this. If they are expecting their dog to be perfectly behaved, and the dog is not perfectly behaved, or if they want the dog to do a particular trick and the dog won’t do it, they see us work through it without stressing the dog. Remember, I have prepared them earlier that their dog may not behave during the session. The owner may end up being a little disappointed, but they know we have done all we can to get the shot. (And frankly with Photoshop I can still make some “miracles” happen!)

Taking the time to prepare the owner/client to have realistic expectations about their animals makes all the difference in having a photo session go as well as possible.

Margaret Bryant is an award-winning photographer who specializes in photographing dogs and their people. Her style is simple, original and authentic and often shows the humor and whimsy of dogs. Starting her business in 1998, Margaret has specialized in dogs and their humans from the very start. Margaret gives back to the animal community by raising cash for rescue groups and local spay neuter clinics with her Bow WOW Sessions. She will be teaching a class on “Dog and Pet Photography: Sit, Stay, Learn,” at Texas School 2020. Learn more about Margaret at www.bryantdogphotography.com or her class at www.TexasSchool.org.