Seven Annoying Things That Clients Do to Harm Photographers

Seven Annoying Things That Clients Do to Harm Photographers

The moment you start working as a photographer for money everything changes. While there are many positives when it comes to being paid to shoot, there are lots of headaches along the way too. Here are seven annoying things that clients will try to do to you, and how best to keep the upper hand in those situations.

If you already deal with clients or customers as a photographer then I'm sure you will know how frustrating a percentage of them can be. Some, quite literally take the adage of "the customer is always right" to heart even when they know they are most definitely wrong. The real problem with bad clients is that they ultimately cost you time, money, and energy. Commodities that you really could do with trying to minimize if you want to stay in business.

1. Asking for Freebies

Who doesn't love a freebie? Clients especially love to ask photographers to work for free so this is something you better get used to being asked for. Some will offer exposure, a glowing reference, or if you're really lucky, paid work in the future. Doing freebies is a hot topic for photographers and many people have polarizing opinions on whether we should do free work or not. My take on it is that the majority of the time you shouldn't work for free as the future money or opportunities rarely come. You'd never ask a mechanic to work for free so photographers shouldn't be expected to either.

How to Deal With This Issue

Both photographers and clients can be equally bad at beating around the bush when it comes to talking about money. I find the best thing to do before money (or lack of it) is mentioned is to get in there first and tell them that you can work out an estimate once they have some detailed job specifics sent over in an email. By diverting them to email you open up a paper trail that can be referred back to if the client tries to move the goalposts later.

The main point here is the mentioning of an estimate. By using that one word you're making it very clear that money will be exchanging hands. If at this point they go quiet or mention freebies you will know what type of job you'd be signing up to. If you don't want to work for free, this is the point when you can politely tell them so. There are many angles you can use when saying no to free work, the one I like to use is to talk about the high running costs I have when it comes to operating as a professional photographer which means working for free just isn't a viable option. You could also talk about it not being fair to your paying clients or how you can't pay your bills or feed your kids with "exposure" but I find these other kinds of explanations tend to rub clients up the wrong way.

2. Request a Price Without Giving Many Details

Clients asking for a price with no real specifics happens more often than you'd think. This is probably in part due to them not knowing or appreciating the implications of small changes such as how the number of shots can impact on the workload. It's like asking a chef how much it will cost to cook for your whole family without the chef knows how many people they will be cooking for or what their dietary requirements will be. The real problem with giving a price without completely knowing what you are signing up to is that a few hidden details can easily turn a job into not being worth your while.   

How to Deal With This Issue

When a possible client approaches you to work for them the issue of money may not always be the first thing which is talked about. It's always important you don't quote figures until you have all the details of the job in front of you as you may sell yourself considerably short. The most important thing to do with a client reaching out to you is to immediately start a paper trail with them. Word of mouth will not cut it as things said can be forgotten, twisted, or misunderstood when it's not written down in black and white. For these reasons, I will always divert a client to email and ask them to clarify all the details of the shoot. If the retuning email is still vague, I will send out a list of bullet-pointed questions and not even begin to think about giving a price until I have all the answers I want. I've talked in the past about the questions you should be asking a client before giving them a price and it's paramount you don't miss any detail out before committing to anything.

3. Move the Goalposts

You may have already experienced this on a shoot when a client asks for something completely different from what was agreed beforehand. While photographers need to be a little flexible when it comes to a shoot if a client is asking for something which will dramatically affect workflow on the day, or afterward in post-production, then this is a problem. Things like shot count, change of location, extra editing requirements, or moving the date of a deadline are just a few of the headaches our wonderful clients may drop on us.

How to Deal With This Issue

Again, this is another reason why having everything in black and white before a shoot is vital. Once a client has agreed to the details of a shoot I will send them the costing for the job and a contract to sign. Included with this paperwork is three pages of terms and conditions which clearly state the cost of deviations. It's funny how clients stop trying to move the goalposts when they know charges will be incurred for changes.

4. Pay Slowly

In an ideal world, all photographers would be paid before or just after the event for their services but some areas of the industry just don't work that way. In the fields I work in, I can typically wait anywhere from 30, 60, or even 90 days for my payment. Is this frustrating? Absolutely, but it's the way it is. Such payment terms can be tough when you first starting as a photographer but once you start to have regular work coming in those delayed payments seem less painful. It only really becomes a problem when clients pay even more slowly than they promise. Not only can this cause you problems financially, but it usually involves you using up more time and energy chasing things up.

How to Deal With This Issue

While there is no surefire solution for slow-paying clients, having a payment date in your contract can help focus the client's mind. This will vary from country-to-country but you should be entitled to charge late payment fees plus interest if a client pays later than the agreed date. Once you know what you can charge, you should make it very clear in the paperwork the implications for paying late. For larger companies, I always make a point of befriending the accounts department as they are the ones who are not only responsible for paying you, but they also know the procedure for payment way better than any art director, studio manager, or company owner ever will.

A few days after sending in an invoice I will always politely call up the accounts department to make sure they have received it. Sometimes the delays are down to stupid procedural issues so make sure everything is correct when you send it in to avoid unnecessary delay. For smaller clients, I will sometimes send them a reminder a few days before the payment is due. Again, the tone of this is polite rather than threatening. Sometimes, people genuinely forget to pay bills on time and appreciate the heads up.

5. Cancel Last Minute

There is nothing worse than having a client cancel a job that you were booked in to do. If the cancelation is last minute you may be out of pocket either figuratively or financially as a direct result. Committing to work with a client means you will have blocked off days in your diary where you may have turned down other work. The short notice nature of some cancellations will probably mean you won't be able to fill those days with anything either. Cancelations that are rescheduled are better than jobs that get canceled and are never rebooked. Neither are particularly fun and unfortunately, both are quite common in the industry.

How to Deal With This Issue

Just like slow-paying clients, you need to have financial penalties clearly stated in your terms and conditions regarding a cancelation. Many photographers will charge a percentage of the initial fee for cancelation and increase the amount that is owed the less notice a client gives. For example, a client canceling two weeks before a shoot may still have to pay 25 percent of the rate agreed. If the cancellation is much shorter, say 48 hours, the client would still be responsible for paying 100 percent of the rate. I have had a client cancel on me less than 12 hours before a shoot! Not the best text message I have received before bed, but thanks to my cancelation policy in my terms and conditions I still got paid in full.

6. Communicate Too Slowly

Clients that take forever to reply to your messages or don't return your calls can be a major headache. This can be especially problematic when you're trying to finalize a shoot and other work commitments are coming in for the same dates. While you have to appreciate that most clients are probably not constantly hitting the refresh button of their inbox folder, it's also reasonable to expect a reply in a good amount of time.

How to Deal With This Issue

Send messages out early in the morning to give yourself the best chance of getting an answer the same day. I'd also specify in the message that you need an answer by a particular time and date due to other work commitments. Be polite and reasonable with your requests otherwise, you may just come across as annoying or demanding. The last thing you want to do is to lose the job completely. Lastly, once you have secured a job it can sometimes help to have alternative contact points for the client. Massage their ego a little and say that you appreciate they are busy and that maybe someone else can be a point of contact for some of the smaller details. Having two contacts in a company is always better than one and can really help to speed up the whole process.

7. Butcher Your Work on Social Media

Ever had a client take your hard work and butcher the hell out of it on social media? I've seen everything from extreme crops to soul-destroying in-app filters being added to my pictures.

How to Deal With This Issue

Part of you just has to accept that people will mess around with your work and there's not much you can do about it. One thing that can help is to provide the client with some ready-made versions of the work for social media. This doesn't have to take much time or effort as you can make some templates and automate things with a few actions in Photoshop. Not only will this save them a job at their end but you're adding value to the end product you deliver. It may even stop some clients slapping on a filter and cranking the saturation up to eleven. No promises though.

So there you have it, seven annoying things that clients often do to photographers and how best to deal with them. While a few of the points mentioned here may just be mild annoyances, some of the issues raised are the bane of the working photographer and actually cause harm. Bad clients can waste a great deal of time, money, and energy. Commodities we really could do with trying not to lose if we want to stay in business.

Over to You

How do you deal with bad or annoying clients? Anything situations you think we missed off the list? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.   

Lead image by Moose Photos from Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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I had a real estate client a few years back that had two listings in the same building - a commercial business on the first floor and a residence on the top floor. The client wanted me to charge for only one listing as both listings were in the same building. I politely told him I would be moving all my equipment from one location to another and even though it wasn't far I would have to charge for both shoots. The client grumbled and I reminded him that these were two separate listings. He finally agreed to pay for both shoots. He had always been difficult to work with and a few months later after arriving at another listing he had the driveway had a foot of snow on it (and it was 50 yards long and uphill) and the house was a complete mess. That was the final straw. I fired them.

I'm totally with you on the two shoots, but the driveway thing isn't too bad surely ? Isn't it a bit like saying "I turned up for a wedding but the bride was too fat ?

I feel your pain but will keep my experiences to myself because it could come back to bite me.

There are alot of stories out there for sure. I think that a lot of your most "annoying things" can easily be dealt with by the photographer asking questions and the photographer having the confidence to negotiate.

Paperwork is good but three pages of terms and conditions seems like a lot, I have one.

Anyone send a client to collections for non payment? 😅

Yes. Small Claims Court.

Love the red theme of the images!

I've faced pretty much the whole list. It's a good list and some good advice. A very helpful post.

I have only been burned twice in my looooong career. Once by a commercial client (and it was a surprise) and once from a benevolent group . . . not so much of a surprise.

You need to be smart, educated, and honestly . . . a cynic. Everybody (like you too) want a better deal. Sadly a lot of people put ME before everything, including their reputation. You should never let that hurt your business. If you want to succeed you have to be ruthless. No emotion, no "well, maybe:" This is what I do, this is what it will cost you and that is it. Period. Don't like it? F**k off.

Most people who chintz over price are in the low end market . . . which means if you are dealing with it you are a low end photographer. Nothing wrong with that, but if you play that stupid game that is where you will stay . . . deservedly so.

It is business. They want, I give, this is what it costs . . . no diddling. If they can't afford what hopefully you have presented as a realistic cost, they can't afford to be in business. So don't let them drag you down with their incompetence and dishonesty. Let them get on to the next "photographer" wannabee who will ultimately fail.

There are a lot of whining cost cutting people out there . . . if you cave to them, you are simply an idiot, they know that, and they have played you for the fool you are.

Be aware also of "future work" . . . biggest load of BS ever. I have, and still do, shoot for a few non-taxable organizations (my area of expertise is food/product), but I enjoy and support some cultural and health outfits, and with some judicious selection I have profited, as have they, from a reciprocal relationship and further contacts . . . some good, some not so much.

The ABSOLUTE WORST client is and always will be anybody/thing political. They will STEAL from you each and every time. I have shot twice for a political party because the person who contacted me worked with me at a non-profit educational group in the past . . . I know her, like her, and believe in her . . . sadly her employer is worthless shit . . . major political party . . . what a surprise. Getting paid by a political entity is a Kafkaesque experience. ALL political parties will lie to you, promise you seventh heaven etc, . . . DEMAND cash up front if you ever decide to go that route.

Better yet, tell them to f**k off