A Cautionary Tale: How a Lack of a Contract Led One Photographer Into a Lawsuit

Wedding photography, like any business, is bound to have its bumps in the road, and it's always unpleasant when we have to deal with them. This cautionary tale will remind you why it's important to have the proper safeguards in place no matter what genre of photography you work in.

Coming to you from Jessica Kobeissi, this video tells the story of how her first wedding eventually turned into a lawsuit and an important lesson in the importance of proper contracts and business practices. I definitely sympathized with Kobeissi's story throughout the video, as I've certainly been in similar situations both in and out of photography before, where something that started as a favor for a friend slowly snowballed out of control until I suddenly realized I'd been taken completely advantage of and was left wondering how I let it get to that point. It just underscores how important it is to have clear contracts and expectations with any client you work with, even family or friends (or perhaps, particularly with family and friends). Make sure you take the time to ensure that you're protecting both yourself and your personal relationships.

Lead image by Blake Newman, used under Creative Commons.

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7 Comments

Learned it to.. Had a wedding this summer, really nice couple so i didnt get a contrast, but after she was so devastafed because she had seen my previous work and didnt feel like as beatiful as the brides in those photos... She was disapoinred because she tought she looks so fat (the other brides where normal weight and dit). I did everyting right, no wideangles, no photos from power angles etc. She said it was my job to make her look up with the chin, with i did, but i tried to tell them i cant make her look so much up. I probably wont see the rest or the money but the worst part is that im geting the Blame for something that was up to her not me

Lee Christiansen's picture

Have a court agree that your work was fine. Collect the money.

This is something im terrified of experiencing. How can I legally protect myself from this?

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

insurance, a comprehensive contract, be prepared by having the gear and personnel necessary for the services you offer (like lighting, an assistant or a second shooter), do recon and have a plan, have a thorough interview process, provide prospective clients with a thorough and complete catalog of relevant prior work, don't offer services you're unable to provide for any reason, don't be afraid to turn down a client if an interview goes poorly, be able to temper unrealistic expectations, maintain constant communication with the client, don't misrepresent yourself or your capabilities, document everything, and most importantly, be honest.

if you can't do one or more of these things yet insist on moving forward, have a lawyer on retainer.

Thanks for the tips, ill most certainly keep this in mind. I was kind of wondering specifically about a bride who thinks I made her look unattractive, what can a photographer do about this? Do I owe her anything?

One of my friend photog also experienced this, though he had a contract. Client never payed. He didn't started a lawsuit, because that costs more money then the actual wedding, so he decided to let it go (of course, this is more painful if this is your first gig). Situation like this can happen in any type of work, one AC installer company didn't got payed for an entire block of house! Meanwhile the builder company also disappeared. This can happen, welcome to entrepreneurship!

You photograph a wedding without getting paid - you deserve to get stiffed.
It is a business.
If it is friends, shoot and give it all to them as a gift or keep quiet.