Yesterday, I went to see the Dalai Lama speak in Los Angeles. He gave a public talk on compassion, held at the Gibson Amphitheater. It was great. While his English is halting (he has his translator sit with him for when he gets stuck), he still manages to express serious and important concepts. He also makes great jokes.
“What does this have to do with photography?” you’re probably asking.
First off, it was an experience that not everyone will ever have and for most of us there, it was really special. For a lot of your clients (and subjects) a photoshoot is something they think is very special. For some it’s special on the “I have to get the right shot because we’re spending millions on marketing and I may lose my job if I screw this up” level, but for an awful lot of others, it’s just a really cool thing they never (or rarely) get to experience. We in the industry get jaded about the production side of the work because we’re in it all the time, but for someone unfamiliar with professional/commercial photography, a day shooting with you will be the stuff of stories to their friends and families! If you can give those clients a great experience, they will remember and come back. If you can make them really feel a part of it and share their enthusiasm (even when they’re trying to hide it to appear not-too-eager or cool)–bingo, repeat client.
Secondly, the event in LA serves as a great example of how the experience is more than just the event itself, and a bit of attention to the surroundings can make a huge difference. In the case of the talk, the Gibson Amphitheater is located inside the Universal Studios theme park and commercial area they call City Walk. Turn the corner at the Jurassic Park ride and there we were at the entrance to the amphitheater. If that’s not strange enough (in this context), when we exited the place, we were in the middle of the City Walk, which is this out-of-proportion series of confusing “streets” lined with stores and restaurants and blasting music. A more annoying, over-the-top, buy-buy-buy environment, I have never been in. The shock to the system, after 90 minutes of hearing words like “compassion” and “calmness” coming from a man with a soft (but strong) voice and a kind smile like a grandfather, was jarring. Painfully jarring.
Now, the theatre itself, inside, was great, and maybe the space was donated (I don’t know), but the organizers would have served us better if they had chosen someplace else to have the event– someplace less insanely commercial, environmentally-speaking. Yes, it would have been a bother for them to look some more, but the payoff would have been worth it.
When you put together a shoot, location or in the studio, remember that the event is only a part of the experience. You want to give your clients (and the end-clients) a great experience from the moment they park their car (in spaces you provide for them) all the way to after they get the finals (that is, when you send a thank you note). Paying attention to details like having an extra assistant to be a “go-fer” for them (get drinks, etc.) or valeting their cars can make all the difference between a good shoot and a great experience. Give ‘em a great experience.