What Are You Shooting For?

Coming from a professional photographer, this title has a double meaning…  But it was a specific photographic situation that led to a much larger learning about expectations I wanted to share.

Let me explain.

A couple weeks ago, I was at a competition with my partner, Trish.  She’s an equestrian coach, training riders and horses.  That particular week she was competing a client’s young horse in low-level dressage which, to the untrained eye, generally looks like a horse walking in circles for 12 minutes.

Having a professional photographer as a boyfriend is a cool bonus because she can add MASSIVE value to her clients and all it costs me is a few hours in the sunshine and fresh air.  I usually even get lunch out of it!

So I tagged along this particular week as I had in the past.  My camera was ready as Trish rode into the arena to begin the dressage test.  I had positioned myself in the ideal spot to get the best lighting on the horse and rider.  During those 12 minutes I waited until the firth or sixth time the pair were facing perfectly into the light to shoot at just the right pace and timing; in order to capture the horse in the most dramatic and elegant posture.

Even at it’s most boring, dressage can be quite photogenic.  I mean, they’re horses and they look freaking cool.

Finally, they walked to the centre of the arena, stopped, bowed to the judge (signifying the end of the test) and walked out of the arena.  I knew I had, of course, nailed it.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself… then Trish’s client slapped me on the arm and said ”Ooooh, you missed the best shot!”

WHAT?!?!

I just made her horse look better than it ever had and maybe ever will.  Granted, she hadn’t seen any of those images yet, so I reassured her that I just caught some stellar images and that she’d be very happy.

After Trish had dismounted and passed the horse off to cool down with the owners, I mentioned her client’s reaction with a presumptive sneer in my voice.  You know… As if!  Am I right?!

Trish said “Oh yeah, well she’s always very tense during the test and her favourite part is when we walk out of the arena.  She relaxes and that’s her ‘moment’.

And that is when it all hit home.

I had never thought to ask the client what her favourite moment of the competition might be.  Granted, this was a friendly freebie so I didn’t feel too bad.  But it made me wonder how many times I had gone into a gig with all the skills and experience and visual excellence; but forgot to ask the simple question – “What’s your favourite part?”.  Or the most ‘important’…  Basically, what is the one thing that matters to you (the client) most?

How many times have I assumed that my goal and the client’s were the same?  The most compelling imagery.  The most perfectly executed gesture…  The most dramatic and well lit…  The key moments or the most telling part of the story.

Because for her the most important part is walking comfortably and relaxed out of the arena.  The moment she remembers to breathe and smile and enjoy it all again.   Never mind the fact that the light was crap and the horse and rider looked their least compelling.

That was the most important part to her. And as far as she was concerned, I missed it.

And the real kicker is… all I had to do was ask.

So next time you’re wrapping a deep dive consultation or delivering your amazing product, pause.  Maybe you’ve hit every single detail from your side perfectly.  And maybe you’ve drawn out some incredible, in-depth insights from the client, putting them on a sure fire track to success using your process.

But take that one last second and ask…  What’s their favourite part?  What does success look like or feel like or sound like to the client?  Take a moment to figure out what you’re really shooting for.

What’s the one part of their process that they love the most and where they can remember to breathe?  Because if you can deliver even the tiniest bit of value in conjunction with THAT bit right there, you’re both winning.