Hey guys, Andy here. I’m back from spending the weekend with my parents in the south English countryside. I have never seen my parents less than during COVID; even while at boarding school or during my service, which included regular operational deployments, I saw them more frequently. As a result our efforts to meet regularly have been renewed with this last weekend including a restaurant lunch. The meal is something we will not forget anytime soon and has parallels with photography and how an image is perceived depending on the portrait experience and how good or bad the session was.
With my wife in the driving seat, the family set off mid Saturday morning to the seafront restaurant located an hour away. Navigation and the inevitable squabbles over route notwithstanding with journey was uneventful, so much so that we arrived early for our booking and were the first guests at the restaurant. The view, which my father had extolled, was lovely with a magnificent vista over the English Channel. The elevated point of view watching the waves roll in was the high point of the meal and while the food was good it was the service, or rather the lack of it, that will remain engraved on our memories. In short it was non existent. Had the restaurant been full or been short staffed with waiters and waitresses bustling and jostling, then all would have been forgiven, but it was not and they were not. In a near empty restaurant from being seated to being served our main courses took close to two hours including a one hour gap between starters and mains. In comparison the adjacent table arrived 20 minutes after and left before us, completing three courses in that time frame.
Herein is the nub; despite the glorious view enhanced by the sun shining and the quality of the food, what we are all going to remember is the quality of the service. When I talk to potential clients who inquire after a new portrait I ask both to see examples of images and also to talk about their previous sessions and the portrait experience. What I have noticed is there is a correlation between the portrait experience and how the final product is perceived. If the session left a negative impression, the portrait is perceived negatively and vice versa; the quality and standard of the portrait is barely mentioned. Much like smell and taste can help recall memories, when someone looks at an image they recall the place and time it was taken and it is the experience that drives the quality of the portrait.
Of course there are exceptions. Photographers may shock or manipulate those in front of their camera for a reaction; the portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor by Richard Avedon springs to mind. Avedon caught the dog loving couple as they flinched upon being told that the photographer’s taxi had accidentally run over and killed a dog on his way to photo them. However in such cases being photographed by a famous photographer is often more important then the photograph they take.
Word of mouth as the best form of advertising is someone I often hear from my marketeer wife. You can not achieve this if someone leaves dissatisfied. Part of this is expectation; when explaining my portrait sessions I lay out how I run them so that the person buys into the session and trust is established in order to take the most meaningful portrait I can … unlike the restaurant where my wife ordered X, it was described as Y by the waiter with Z being delivered to the table. I go to great efforts to ensure the best quality portrait possible. If I offer service or a negative experience, that would immediately be apparent on the faces of those who I photograph; for me service and quality are inseparable.