The Power of Emotion with Casey Dittmer

Creating emotion-driven experiences builds lifelong clients, passionate testimonies, and higher sales. Some of us have been fortunate enough to go through this with our clients by happy accident, but there are steps that you can take that will help foster and generate the emotional client experience in a natural and consistent way.

First, make sure you prepare yourself and the client. The groundwork you lay before your session is critical. It truly will determine what kind of overall experience your clients have. Working closely to help ease apprehension in clothing choices, accessories and location will allow the client to relax and enjoy the process more. Stress should not be the overwhelming emotion.

During session prep, I know we get excited talking with clients and building a plan. We start talking about ideas or locations, and then it snowballs from there. We dominate the conversation. But what we need to do is slow down. Stop. Listen. Ask questions, and then let them talk. Key in on little things that will give you a creative edge and an emotional foundation. A lot of times, it’s the things that are not being said, or the ones that are said in passing, that will give you the most information. For the session I feature in this article, the clients came to us for newborn pictures. All communication prior to the session was done through email. Once their session fee was paid, we began the conversation asking about colors, props, and if they had any specific ideas. Mom’s response was what we usually get—she wanted neutral tones and shots taken with her son, but overall didn’t have anything specific in mind. Months went by, and once baby arrived and we went to schedule the session, Mom made a comment…“Dad is a firefighter, so I just need to make sure it works for his schedule.” DING DING DING! There it was. My thread I could pull. I followed that lead and talked to her about Dad bringing his gear, because I loved how dynamic firefighter and baby images are. I told her that Dad would LOVE creating these and that it would be a great way to have him invest in the process (she was worried about how much he would want to be in the pictures). The more we spoke about details and shot ideas, the more excited she got! She already knew that this session was going to be personal and unique to them. And then she dropped the golden nugget: “Oh, I am also a firefighter, should I bring my gear as well?” Uh…Yes please!!! TWO firefighters. In the same family! I was stoked. I knew that, based on the conversation I had with Mom, she was already sold on the idea of creating a special set of images that featured her growing family and the couple’s passion for their profession. We had started the process of an emotional experience for this family.

When the clients arrive, you want to immediately set the tone for what is to come. Welcome them, help them carry things, show them where the bathrooms are, and offer them water. I know this all sounds elementary, but because it’s basic, it can easily get skipped. Let them relax and get comfortable. We have a separate playroom for kids. It’s great because it immediately alleviates the parent’s worry about them touching things or getting bored. Kids are happy. Parents are happy. I always have families get comfortable, and we casually talk about what they have brought for their session and any ideas or specific needs they have. Some of this has already been discussed, but by asking again and listening to them, I am reminding them that I am here for them. I want to create something special for them. They let their guard down and stop worrying about all the little things. Especially for mom, the getting-ready process can be stressful. Allowing her the time to breathe, decompress and then reignite her excitement is key to great expressions and calmer energy overall.

The actual session is where you really work your magic. Have a game plan. Understand that things may occur, especially with younger children, that may detour your plan, but at least you have a great outline for creating connective images. You want a calm and welcoming feeling for your clients, but do not mistake that for not being in charge. They came to you for a reason. My clients love that I take charge. I dig through their stuff and make a plan, and off we go. If you throw it to them to make the creative plan, they will feel overwhelmed and less confident in your ability to lead them to greatness. When shooting, you want to keep things simple. Focus on the faces and the bond between subjects. Too many props, too busy of a set or background, will detract from pure connective posing. I always suggest they wear neutral tones and longer-sleeve shirts. This will help keep the focus on the faces. For posing, think of it as planned snuggling. Encourage kisses, funny faces, hugs, and other expressions of love. If you have close head positions, subjects not always looking at the camera but instead sometimes interacting with each other will lead to stronger emotional images. Make sure while you are setting up different shots and poses you watch for natural moments to occur. Little candid snippets between the siblings, glances between Mom and Dad…all those things are easy to miss if you are too focused on posing things just right or checking the back of the camera.

For this family’s session, Mom and I had built up all this excitement for Dad in his fire gear with the baby. And even though we really didn’t talk about it much beforehand, I knew that it would also be great to shoot Mom in HER fire gear with the baby to create a match set. We shot various poses and expressions with each parent and the baby, but I was most excited about getting both parents in gear with the baby. It’s rare to see both Mom and Dad as firefighters, and I had to make the most of it. While shooting this grouping of three, the couple’s little boy ran up to snuggle on Mom, and he looked up at her for a split second. It was magic. It wasn’t planned, but it was powerful. So I simply grabbed a stool, stood him by Mom again and let them love, look at, and enjoy each other. While I was shooting, I kept verbalizing how amazing they were. Beautiful. Exciting. And they fed off of it. The emotional reaction to that moment grew because I verbalized my excitement and how it affected me, and then I took the time to show them the back of the camera immediately. Mom cried. The rest of the session we kept letting people drift in and out of shots organically. Watching brother interact with baby, observing the bond between Mom and Dad. It was my job to document their love. It was my job to create something as powerful as their love. I knew that the set of images I had created using simple, small prompts were cohesive and purposeful.

By the time this family came into their viewing they could hardly contain themselves. They had seen the back of the camera that day and remembered all the amazing things we did. The final step is to present the images in a way that continues to showcase the strength and power of the session as a set. You have to make it a complete story, to strike that emotional cord. Slide shows are great for this. Funny how a little music and crossfades can sway the heart. We helped them cull through; it was hard, because the loved them all. Dad immediately asked for our Black Label Package, because how could he not “want a book, and wall art? And the family will all want some. It just makes sense.”

I didn’t even have to try. But I knew this couple was fully emotionally invested. I pulled up my favorite family image, the one of all four in black and white, and said, “You know…I think I am going to print this for my gallery. It’s so powerful. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot for me. I think I am going to print it the size on that wall. (I gestured to a 30×40 hanging in the gallery hallway.) Dad got up, walked into the hallway, came back, and said, “I want the same for the house.” And he added it ON TOP of the package they had already decided on. He knew it was powerful. He didn’t want someone else to have a better art piece of that image than he did. When it was all said and done, their order was over $4,000. They thanked me over and over. They commented on how happy they were that they’d taken the time to make this happen. They loved how easy the process was. Painless, and guided but friendly. The images and products we made for them were more valuable than anything else, because now, they had a powerful memory that was attached to them.

When Mom came to pick up the order, she cried with each canvas I showed her. She hugged the book and said it was hers. Grandma would have to be watched. She was giddy to get these home and show her husband, who anxiously called her while she was there to see if she had them yet. She joked that she was going to have to pull over at least twice on her one-and-a-half-hour drive home so she could look at them again.

We hadn’t just taken their pictures. We had walked them through a celebration of bringing a new baby into the family. We had honored the work that they do. We had provided a fun and safe place for big brother to be. We had created an event in their life that was forever marked by the true art that hangs in their home. It will be one I always remember as well. See, the power affects both you and your client—making you better, making your passion burn a little brighter. All of this will lead to those happy client referrals and effortless higher sales. Go make some connections.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the June 2019 magazine.

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