Is It Acceptable to Make Clients Wait Eight Months for Images?

Is It Acceptable to Make Clients Wait Eight Months for Images?

After reading an article about a wedding photographer who has taken over eight months to deliver photos — only doing so when a local news station got involved — I wondered how long is considered acceptable for image turnaround times.

The story I came across was that of Micah and Emily Hatchett, who allegedly paid photographer Britt Smith around $2,500 for their wedding photos. As per their contract, Smith was due to deliver edited photos on a flash drive, plus a number of extras, including a coffee table book and a large hallway print.

The problem, however, was that Smith went silent after the wedding, failing to reply at all until the couple left a negative online review of her business, Britt's Eye View Photography.

Bride Emily Hatchett said:

The point is we paid [her] in full, per [her] contract and we don't have what [she] said [she] would deliver and [she’s] not responding. We have no issues with Britt as a person or the actual pictures she takes or edits them. They're fantastic. It's her follow-through, her lack of communication. It's just not done.

The couple are not the only ones still waiting either. Megan Ryan and her husband were without their images after a six-month period. The pair had planned to use the photos for Christmas cards and marrying in the summer, never expected that their images wouldn’t make it back to them in time. Hatchett said that while they were made to wait, she didn’t have any pictures of herself with her mum from the day. And it gets worse: two of her grandparents passed away in the time since the wedding. “They didn't get to see any pictures and they weren't even able to be at the wedding,” she said.

Smith has apparently hidden behind the excuse of being a busy single mother. It was only after involvement from local news station Oklahoma's News 4 that she eventually coughed up the images, although the Hatchetts claim both the coffee table book and the large print are largely erroneous.

The case begs the question of just how long is considered an appropriate length of time to deliver pictures. Is a 6-8-month wait ever justified?

As a freelancer, there have been occasions when a day I’d originally penciled as an editing day was then taken over by a last-minute job, causing a delay in delivering images. It happens, but is there really any excuse for such a wait as the above couples had to endure? As standard, I usually tell clients that images will be delivered within two weeks of the shoot date; even then, it’s usually just a precaution, and on the basis that payment has been received, it’s often notably sooner.

On the occasion where there has been some kind of hold-up in delivering photos, I make a point of being in constant contact with my client. Communication is key, and I find that most people respond well as long as they’re kept in the loop. It’s common courtesy that if plans change, those involved are informed. To hear that some photographers simply fail to respond while holding clients’ photos hostage is disconcerting.

What is your standard turnaround? Does it vary by genre of photography? And what is the absolute maximum you believe a client should be allowed to wait?

Lead image credit: Mike from Pexels.

Inside image credit: Pixabay from Pexels.​​​​​​​

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44 Comments

amanda daniels's picture

My turn around time for my regular sessions is 7-14 days. For weddings or events I say 60-90 days but also deliver within 45 days. When I got married our photographer took 11 months to get us our images. Our contract with her stated 8 months because it was her busy season. She communicated with us and our images were worth the wait. I think the issue is the lack of communication. We were fully aware we would be waiting at least 8 months, and when that had passed she communicated with us and we were fine with it. Photographers need to be upfront in their contracts and always allow more time then they think they will need and because life does happen, if they are going to be late, communication is key. I think people just don't like these types of conversations, but they are actually hurting themselves more in the long run. When a client doesn't hear from their photographer they immediately think the worst, that they are never getting their images.

Normally, 1-2 weeks but I've gotten requests as early as the same evening after a daytime shoot.

Jack Alexander's picture

And it's always the last minute jobs that request it, right? I stepped in on my day off, worked a 14hr day and you want the pictures by 9am tomorrow? OK, sure!

Scott Mason's picture

Turnaround should depend on expectations laid out before the shoot is done. I get it, it's not easy for most busy photographers to give a precise date because editing times can vary and things pop up in life.

However, I try to give my clients at least a vague window of when to expect images by, and I always over estimate that time. This way the client is happy when they arrive early, and not disappointed if I need that extra time to edit.

Spy Black's picture

Eight months!? They could be divorced by that time...

Tom Lew's picture

laughed out loud at this one.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

My late father's second marriage only lasted 6 weeks!! So there's a lot of truth to Spy Black's comment.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

For our wedding films, we try to give the highlight film out to the couple usually within 2 weeks. The longer edits we reserve up to 4 weeks if requested in advance and up to 8 weeks if ordered afterwards (and if we got enough footage).

For our destination wedding shoots I try to give the couple one edited shot at the end of the day. The whole edits usually within a few weeks. I think it can really boost the clients confidence and experience if you just scan over your shots and share one or two images the next day.

Is It Acceptable to Make Photographers Wait Four Months for Payment?

Motti Bembaron's picture

For a wedding, should be 3-4 weeks. Not eight months and not without communication,

Rob Mitchell's picture

5 days is a lot here, usually 2 day turnaround. Then wait 'End of the month +60' to get paid, only after a purchase order has been issued.
But that's commercial, not wedding.
I hear a lot of this in the wedding world though, months of waiting. I don't get it to be honest, how it can take so long?

William Howell's picture

The only thing I can think of that may make it take longer, is waiting for a week or so to go back and take a second look at the finished edits, you know, to make sure they’re good and no additional retouch is necessary. I mean really that’s it, right?

Rob Mitchell's picture

I hear you there. A wedding is working on an impression rather than preset goals of a commercial shot. Photographer interpretation and feel. So yeah, let it rest a week and have another sift through.

Tony Clark's picture

The couple showed great patience and I'm amazed that they waited six months to comment. The only excuse for late images are serious illness or similar and being a single parent doesn't qualify. If you took the booking, you better spend some late nights editing to deliver in a timely manner. Otherwise, call or email or text the client to give them the reason for the delay. If you're that busy, there are plenty of online services available to do the job for you.

Hell, I shoot Commercial projects and deliver proofs within days and edited images in less than a week. I think that people lose sight of Customer Service when they are in this profession, it's the those that understand the concept that are successful.

David Pavlich's picture

Before the first shot is taken, the wait time for the proofs and the prints as well as when the photographer is paid should be on paper. It saves a lot of angst.

And if this isn't good enough, there's always small claims court.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

That was my first thought too. I get it's a stressful time planning weddings, I was a wedding photographer in the '90s, but I always made sure to have in the written contract time frames for every step of the process. And this was during 120 film days. The photographers excuse of "a busy single mom" is absolutely THE last reason she could have used. Also, wedding couples need to do a bit of research on who they hire as to reliability and professionalism, not just image style and cost.

Chris Sampson's picture

I would call that time frame the classic definition of "unprofessional". If a person has committed to doing the work then time matters to the client. If there is a valid reason for a delay then it should be clearly discussed. I'll give an example: I was nearly finished with a CD design last year when a drive containing the near finished work died and I had no second copy of the drive. I immediately contacted the affected clients and told them I'd be recovering the drive but didn't want them to wait. Turns out I could still see the last proof I sent to them and master copies of the photos we were using were still on a storage site. Wonderful! I put the time aside to entirely rebuild the design and send them a final version that only needed minor edits and voila, we were done. "This is why we call you", they said in return.

I've been a designer for 25 years including turning around websites, CD/DVD and poster designs and editing both photos and video. There is no excuse for simply ignoring the client. It sends the wrong message. When stuck, tell them, "I'm stuck". When there's a complication, "There is a complication" is the best response.

Time frame for edits should be accounted for in the planning of any project. "Sorry, we got slammed with work" may work with understanding clients but it generally leaves the wrong impression of, "you're not as important as the person who just gave me my next payment".

Weddings? My contract states up to 90 days -- I typically get a 5-10 preview shots within a week or two to the client to keep them happy and typically get turnaround done within 30-45 days. But life happens and hence, up to 90 days. Better safe than sorry. Just be open and communicate and most issues don't arise.

Christopher Cooke's picture

If it takes you more than a month or two at the most to deliver images you really need to outsource editing. If you are THAT busy you can afford it! I dont see how anyone can justify that long of a wait.

Kirk Darling's picture

Yes, a professional should have a backup for everything, not just equipment but for every part of the process. The photographer should have outsources already tested and on file so that work can be parcelled out when necessary to avoid delays.

During an expected busy season, it should be standard practice to outsource the less critical portions of every job in anticipation of unexpected time crunches ahead. Just live by, "I'm going to outsource this now, because something's going hold me up next week."

I believe a lot of wedding photographers and really photographers that don’t do it full time take longer because. The take longer because they are trying to work a full time job with 40+ hours a week, travel time too and from work. They also are trying to raise families which if their kids are older they have to juggle sports, dance and other extra curricular activities. If they have more than one child this just compounds the problem. I am not condoning this kind of way to run a business but so many people have gotten into photography as a part time job the customers are paying for the slower delivery. I myself believe that less than 48 hours for a commercial event. A portrait session less than a week and the first images 20-30 from a wedding should be less than a week because so many people want to share on social media.

Francisco B's picture

You should definitely discuss a concrete delivery date, but a 6 month wait seems bananas. I can't imagine there are that many photographers out there that are backed up half a year before they can retouch your images. Especially for work like wedding images where you can batch edit in lightroom and get great results.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

While 8 months is indeed too long, I do think delivery time is a metric clients should take into account when choosing their photographer(s). Communication and realistic time lines are key. Great original, Jack!

William Howell's picture

I thought the nominal photography fee for a wedding is five grand, right?

I think new couples should research famous or renowned wedding photographers. Find out what it is they do and how they do what they do. Then that should give the prospective couple some idea as to what to ask. Still images, in my view, are more important that moving images.

Blake Aghili's picture

My record is two years and half :D she gave up ...
It was $150.00 and only for one specific part of the party which I did and delivered in a week ... then she said can you stay all night and take more photos ... I stayed, she didn't pay more, I didn't deliver the REST.

I deliver images within 24 hours. Events, weddings, commercial, whatever.

How many weddings per year out of interest?

Not too many. I'm mostly commercial and events. Maybe a half dozen weddings per year.

As a wedding couple I wouldn't want my images delivered in 24hrs as it would concern me that the photographer hasn't taken his/her time with the images. I would feel the job has been rushed with no personal touch.
As a wedding photographer I deliver within two weeks and often that means a seven day turnaround. I feel that is a good balance. The only part which can take longer is the album but the time difference is where the client is taking their time to approve it.
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