When Is The Client Right, And When Do You Stand Your Ground?

Sandra Coan, Is the Customer Always Right? Little Bellows

I’ve been shooting professionally for a long time.  

When I’m in the studio, I’m like a well oiled machine.  

I  know exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it.  And even when things are not perfect (and they rarely are) I don’t really worry about anything, because honestly, I’ve already dealt with every situation, good or bad,  that could possibly come up during a session.  Most days run pretty smoothly.

Then this Saturday happened.

I was expecting three newborn clients on Saturday, and so I’d come into the studio early to do a little prep.  I put film in my cameras. Turned up the heat.  Put on the white noise.  And turned on my strobes.  I even shared my set up on Periscope. I was ready to go and excited for the day.

Newborns on film are my favorite!!

In walked my first client of the day with a beautiful little baby.  

Most of the babies I work with are asleep during their shoots.  But this little guy was wide awake and content.   

I was so excited to get some photos of his big beautiful brown eyes.  I was shooting Fuji 400h, but was planning on switching to Acros 100 for my next roll… he was going to be gorgeous on Black and White!

As soon as I started shooting however,  I knew something was wrong.  

His mom had become very anxious.  Her energy had changed and I could tell something was bothering her, but I had no idea what it could be.  The baby was happy and the shoot was going really well!  So I continued.  But the more I shot, the more I could feel her energy.  

So, after one roll, I put down my camera and asked if she was ok.

“You have to stop” she said.  “It’s too much, your lights are too bright, they are going to hurt his eyes.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say.

Would the strobes harm the baby?  No.  Of course not.  

Did that matter?  No.  

What mattered was this mother, and making her feel like her baby was safe and being taking care of.

So what did I do?  

I turned off the strobes, grabbed my digital camera, and shot the rest of the session at ISO 3200 (it was a dark day)

Sandra Coan, newborns on film, Little Bellows

So why am I telling you this story?

Because this incident really got me thinking.  

When do you push back as an artist and say no, this is what I do, and this is how I do it.  And when do you listen to your client, and do what will make them happy, even though you know the end product won’t be what you want.

I only had about 10 seconds on Saturday to make that call.  And believe me, the desire to argue with her was strong.

I personally don’t believe that the customer is always right.  Sometimes, they’re just not.

But I’m also a mother, and know that there is no amount of talk that can change a mother’s mind when she thinks her child is at risk.

She wasn’t rude or disrespectful.  She was scared.  And at the end of the day, making her feel comfortable and safe was more important than shooting that session on film with strobes.

So what do you think?  When do you hold your ground, and when do you capitulate?  

I’d love to hear your thoughts.