How to Spot a Nightmare Photo or Video Client

How to Spot a Nightmare Photo or Video Client

At some point in our career, we all have to deal with a nightmare client. Here are a few tips to help spot them and then avoid them.

Promise of Future Work

“If you do this job, there is a lot more coming your way.” We have all heard these words slipping out of the mouth of a client. This is often either used to barter with your day rate or to pressure you to pull your prices down in the hope of getting more work. I fell victim to this in the early days with local publications and small companies. In case you were wondering, the “more work” is more underpaid work and favors. A good client would say: “We have this project. It is part of a series of work and we need the project completed by XYZ. Would this be something you would be interested on working on with us?”

Avoiding Written Contact

If everything is via the phone and verbal agreements, it’s probably not going to end well. Those 10 flatlays become 30 on the day, the deliverables change, the time frame changes, and the payment terms get lost and you end up chasing for money. If the client isn’t willing to agree in writing, don’t work with them. 

Have You Seen My Portfolio?

This might be specific to me, but I get around 10 to 15 phone calls a day from people wanting portrait, food, or product photography carried out. I usually start by asking if they have seen my portfolio, which they often haven't. If they haven’t, I point them in the direction of my website and ask them to call back once they have had a look. The chances that you are the right photographer for these people is very slim. The chance that you were the first phone number in your area on Google is very high. I don’t think I have ever had anyone phone my number having not seen my portfolio who is then willing to pay my fee. Good clients research their photographer first.

Wanting a Meeting Before Having Any Shoot Details

Unless they are a major advertisement agency, if they want to meet you before even letting you know what the job is, it’s probably going to be a nightmare. This means the client is either gunning for a super cheap job that they hope to pressure you into in person or they view all photographers as people who own cameras. Until I know what the job is, I have no idea if I can either do it or if I want to do it. I wont ever meet a client until I know what they want me to do. I could easily waste a day a week meeting people who want a photographer, to only find out that our budgets don't align, that I hate that genre of photography, that I don’t do that sort of work, or that I don’t have the capacity to finish their project before the deadline.

Do What You Think Looks Best

Clients who actually want you to create your own vision for a project are very rare gems. If someone says, “Do what you think looks best,” and you are not a famous hot shot photographer, brace yourself for a bumpy ride. Remember that most people don’t know that much about photographs. They see good and bad. Not style X and style Y. I will always submit a mood board to a client who asks me to run free with my creative juices. 

We Are Looking for a New Photographer

“We just didn’t get on with our last photographer” isn’t as good of a starting line as you might think. If a company is going through several photographers a year, it might be worth speaking to some of their previous photographers. Chances are the client is the problem, not the photographer. These clients also seem to come in waves. You won’t hear from them for months, then 4 or 5 will come along at the same time once they have exhausted their current crop of photographers. I have often spoken to the previous photographer to find out what the client was like. Often they are a nightmare on shoots or poor payers. Always research your clients. 

What are your key markers?

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Kang Lee's picture

Any emails starting with: We are a new growing company.

Usually followed by: We will not pay for this one.

Deleted Account's picture

good advice.

Mark Davidson's picture

"We need catalog shots of about 40 items. What do you charge?"
No explanation, no mention of how they found us, did not look at our website.
Easily translated to "We are wankers with no business experience but we hot glued a bunch of beads together and want you to make us look like high end jewelers. We plan on selling a ton at really low prices on the web and we need really good photos for our GoDaddy site."

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Hm... It seems they need photos of 40 items, and not sure how to help you in your marketing - understanding of your sources of clients acquisition.

oeyvind toft's picture

Being a photographer would be a wonderful job if it wasn`t for the customers.

Andy Barnham's picture

Add constantly changing brief, use or shot list to this, which shows the client doesn't actually know what they want. And the more it changes, the harder it can be to track changes if anything goes wrong and you end up talking to a lawyer.

Jeff Delacruz's picture

All that and they want a work for hire agreement..