8 Clarifying Questions to Ask Your Client (and save yourself grief)

They say that experience is the best teacher, don’t they?
“They” being the powers that be… or the adults in the scenario. Either one.
(We’ll never classify ourselves as true adults, no matter our age. Carry on.)
When it comes to working with clients as a creative, experience can be the best teacher, and the most necessary medicine.
There have been so many things we’ve learned as a team that later became best practices, solely through experience… however good or bad.
Many times, as a creator or photographer, you’ll receive feedback that you wouldn’t have expected or planned for, and couldn’t have, not without hearing it from the client first. You know, in the creative world, we try to think ahead and overcome objections or obstacles before they take place – but sometimes, that’s just not possible.
Well, we’ve learned quite a bit about our clients’ thought processes through our work and experience. After months and years of refinement, we’ve implemented 8 questions in our photography intake process that have completely changed our creative game.
Naturally, we want to help you save yourself the time and energy that we spent learning why these questions are important. So, we’re giving you this list of questions, with a bit of context. Because really – we could give you the tools, but what are tools without instructions?
Sorry, back to the subject at hand. Sometimes (many times), clients need to be asked specific questions, in order to spark discussions, thoughts, need-to-knows and must-dos that they didn’t even know they had in the back of their minds. By using these questions to jostle and jog their creative process, you’ll be able to mitigate unexpected feedback and obstacles, one project at a time.
Are you ready? Even if you think you aren’t, we know you are.

Here are 8 clarifying questions to ask before booking a photography client👇

Could you explain your product/line of products to me?

In order to do your best work, you’ll need to know these products like the back of your hand.

If you’re a photographer, you’ll need to understand the product, its packaging and ingredients to capture it in its best light. Additionally, you’ll want to learn more about the client’s creative vision, core values, and the product’s best selling points.
When it comes to creative content for products, you’re essentially creating imagery that helps them sell – so a great way to spot check yourself? Practice pitching the specific product to a friend. If you’re comfortable enough to talk about the product at length, you’ll be even more comfortable creating content, imagery or illustrations that speak to that product as well.
Make sure you understand the flavours, names and ingredients of the product. Learn more about your client’s brand messaging, how they even made their product, who they’re trying to reach and sell to, and what the narrative is that they’d like to portray.
All creative work includes a narrative – by making sure you’re totally on board with the one your client would like to spin, you’re able to lessen the likelihood of unexpected revisions down the road.

What are your brand guidelines?

A brand is a visual entity, composed of colours, fonts, scenes, patterns, tone of voice and visual personality. If you were to create imagery that didn’t align with your client’s brand guidelines, the final outcome would be confusing both for your client, and their audience.
So, make sure you understand and fully grasp your client’s brand!
Some clients will be flexible and tell you to create whatever you’d like, which is a dream! That said, still stay within the boundaries of the brand’s guidelines, so as to best serve the audience and business at hand.
As an example, if a business sells baby products for girls, you’d likely not want to use hot pink layered with black and white checkered backdrops. Instead, you’d lean into soft lighting, colours and blurred backgrounds, because babies are soft, innocent and fragile beings.
Colour and tone can communicate wildly different messages, so the best and simplest way to make sure you have a happy client is to ask for those brand guidelines.

Do you have a specific colour scheme in mind?

If your client asks for flowers or patterns, go above and beyond to make sure you ask what colour they prefer. Colours symbolise emotions, moods, vibe and brand expression, so it’s important that your client feels involved in the process behind choosing the colour scheme.

How many pieces of content will you need?

As we’ve all learned the hard way, there’s quite a difference in time spent creating 1 styled image, and 20 minimalistic pictures. When it comes to pricing, it’s important to understand how much time you’ll be putting into pre-production, the actual shoot, and editing – and this process can change dramatically depending on how many images or pieces of content you’ll be creating. If you have a client who wants 20 images produced of a forest scene with an abundance of flowers, that project alone can take at least 1-2 days to source, and 3-4 days of back to back styling and shooting on set. In comparison, if you have a client who wants 20 images of one scene on a basic backdrop, that might only take one day to shoot. Additionally, that work and setup might utilise the tools you already have available!
To ensure you’re paid your worth, make sure to always take into consideration how many pieces of content your client will need.
What kinds of content would you like to create? Do they want creative photography? Stop motions for Ecommerce? GIFs for social media?
As important as it is to factor in quantity when creating pricing for your clients, make sure to understand their expectations in terms of type, too.
A shoot of 20 still images will look vastly different than a project including videography, photography and stop motions

Where will the content be used?

Will they need content for their website and socials? Or paid advertisement?
Knowing where content will be used and for how long can aid in deciding its value and necessary licensing. As an example, we provide a two year organic social media and website license – with anything beyond that being considered “commercial.” If a client wants to go the commercial route, this means that their content will have more eyes, value and revenue, which will dramatically change how we price their project.
You’ll also want to ask about compositions and file sizing. Will they need website banners (shot in landscape), and some content with space to add text? Help your client navigate through their content creation process so that you get the project right the first time.

What are your concept ideas?

We’d argue that 9 out of 10 clients come to a discovery call with a few (or several) concepts in mind. Some come prepared with an entire list of concepts and clear descriptions on how they’d like their product to be incorporated. Before you launch yourself into the project, you need to take time to hone in on the “why” behind it all. Why would a specific product be in that scene, and what is its main purpose? Is the photo for a campaign or a sale? A specific time of year? Is this product going to be a brand new launch? Will this piece of content go on a website or in a website banner? What is the photo going to achieve?
Let’s say your client has a product called “Hydration Serum.” When hearing those two words, you instantly have ideas to play off of:
Hydration = Water = An opportunity for a water scene.
Serum = Beauty, health, skincare – all of which would be visually associated with bathrooms, tiles, spa-like fabrics and textiles, product textures and more (These tools can be used to communicate lifestyle and consumer usage).
Now, let’s pretend that this product is new, and about to launch. A few more ideas:
Launch scene – A fun celebration
Product photo – Ecommerce for the client’s website. This could be imagery showcasing the product’s packaging and the product’s function. If it’s a skincare product, show the product. If it’s a drink, show its colour and texture. Your customers want to see what they’re purchasing!
Hero Banner – This could be used for a website to ensure it is captivating the audience, while showcasing the product in its best light.
Phew! Quite a list, we know.
Please note that there will be times where people will come to you for your own ideas and advice in regards to creative concepts. If this is the case, you can charge a prep fee for art direction! Just make sure to never do any concept design until the project officially starts (and your contract is signed).

What are your specific style preferences?

Whether it’s in regards to lighting, editing style, the overall mood or narrative, your client will likely have a style preference. So make sure you ask!
Better yet, you’ll want to ask for insight on the three main pillars of style preference:
Editing: Preferences could come down to colour schemes, retouching, product specifications, positioning, special effects, composites or specific colour grade.
Dos and Don’ts: Learning what your client’s dos and don’ts are is a MUST to avoid revisions later on. Get to the nitty gritty – what does your client really want? How do they see their product placement, and are there things you shouldn’t do?
Inspiration: Visually, it’s helpful to have examples of the style that your client would like to utilise. Make sure to tell your client that while these visual inspirations are never used to copy, they do help to provide another level of stylistic clarification.
We know, we know – this list can look a bit lengthy, but you’ll thank us when your inbox is *finally* revision request free.