Manage Photography Client Expectations with Effective Contracts

Photographer by Elicus from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One of the problems I’ve heard about from a number of photographers is clients not understanding what the photographer will and will not do for them. A way to manage client expectations is to clearly document them in your contract.

Clearly State What the Client is Getting and When

When your prospective client reads your contract, it should be as crystal clear as possible what they are hiring you to do. This includes providing expectations when deliverables will be ready. Your contract may say things like:

  • You will show up on time and prepared to shoot the client’s wedding if they’ve paid your fee for the event in advance, or alternatively, the wedding party will not receive proofs from the event until they’ve paid in full, including any extra fees incurred because they asked you to stay late.
  • Proofs will be ready 3-4 weeks following the event.
  • The model is being compensated for their time and talent with money.

When I review a contract, sometimes I take my notebook and divide it into two columns – one for each party to the contract – and make a list about what each side is giving and getting in return. Your client should be able to do the same, which means the contract needs to be written with verbiage that they (and you) can understand.

Be Clear About What the Client is Not Getting

Along with being clear about what the client is hiring you to do, you may want to include terms that clarify what they client isn’t getting in this transaction. This may include things like:

  • You will show the client the best images from the event. The client will not be allowed to see every image shot at the event.
  • You make no guarantee that you’ll be able to capture every image the client hoped you’d get.
  • Unless the client paid for extra editing, you will not photoshop the client to make them look like a completely different person.
  • If the client only paid for images for personal use, they can’t use them to market their business.
  • The client is not getting a license to modify the images. This includes running the images through a filter before putting them on Instagram.

Additionally, I hope your contract has a provision entitled “Entire Agreement” that states that the terms therein constitute the entire understanding between the parties, and the contract supersedes all previous verbal and written exchanges. That way, anything that isn’t written in the contract is, be definition, not part of the agreement.

Contract = Relationship Management Document

The best way I can describe a contract is that it is a relationship management document. It clearly states each side’s responsibilities, helps manage expectations, and mitigates problems.

Your photography contract is the master document that applies to your relationships with your clients. When a client hires you for your talents and services, they must agree to abide by your rules. Whatever your concerns are about client behavior, make sure to address them in your contract.

An effective contract can save you from stress, headaches, and legal bills. It won’t eliminate problematic clients from your life, but it will help you manage them more effectively when you can respond to their complaint with a copy of the signed contract and saying, “As you can plainly see in the agreement you signed on [date], you acknowledged/agreed that . . . “

You may also want to have a section of your website where you share with prospective clients, “My Commitment To You” where you can lay out your promises to clients. You can even include a section that starts with, “While I promise to do my best for you, I’m not a miracle worker.” From there you can go into some of the things that you can’t or won’t do for clients.

Lights Camera Lawsuit

There’s always a need for quality legal information for photographers, especially about what to include in your contracts. That’s why I created an online course called Lights Camera Lawsuit: The Legal Side of Professional Photography to address photographers’ most important questions – including what terms to include in your contracts and how to deal with copyright infringement.

The pre-sale for this course will be from Friday, February 14, 2020 until Tuesday, February 18, 2020The pre-sale price is $199 – that’s 60% off the $497 regular price that people will pay when the course goes live in March 2020.  

Please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on this fantastic pre-sale price. I’ll never offer this course at this price again.

When a Client Threatens to Leave a Bad Review

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yazuu/3053549142
Angry Guy by Adrian Tombu from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s the scenario: A client hired you for a photography job, which you did, and you provided the deliverables on time. The client is unhappy with their photos, threatens to leave a bad online review if you don’t give them their money back.

What do you do?

You’re a Photographer, Not a Miracle Worker

Your client has put you in a difficult position. You have to work with what you’re given from the client. You don’t want to be insensitive, but you can only do so much. It may be impossible to give the client images that match what they envisioned in their head.

Many times, part of being an entrepreneur involves educating and managing the client’s expectations. Based on the client’s complaint, it may be prudent to review the images and see if there’s anything you can do, perhaps suggest additional edits than what they hired you to do or explain that this is best you could do given the constraints of the situation.

Ask Yourself the Difficult Question

Ask yourself the difficult question: Did you screw up? Do you owe this person additional edits, a re-shoot, or some type of compensation? If so, admit it.

As Peter Shankman says, “There is no greater lover than a former hater.” If you make a mistake, admit it, and make up for it, that person may become your biggest cheerleader.

Go Back to the Contract

When dealing with an upset client, having a well-written contract can help you resolve the matter and remind the client about what you both agreed to at the outset of your working relationship.

If the client is upset because you didn’t provide an image of certain pose, show them the provision that says there are no guarantees that they’ll get every pose or image they hoped for.

If the client wants to see all the images you took during the shoot, show them the provision that says you’ll only be showing them the best images and that they won’t see every image you take.

If the client says they shouldn’t have to pay because they’re unhappy, remind them that they hired you for your time and skills. Payment is expected if you fulfilled your obligations under the contract.

Hopefully, you have a photography contract that anticipated common complaints and addressed them accordingly.

You Can Always Cave to their Demand

Whether you give this person their money back is a business decision, not a legal one. You may decide that the best course of action, regardless of whether you think it’s warranted, is to give this person their money back and move on. That’s your call.

I recommend you decide in advance, just for yourself, the circumstances under which you’ll give a refund. Many photography contracts state that there are no refunds or that they are given only in rare specified situations.

If They Leave a Bad Review

If the client follows through on their threat and leaves a bad review, respond to it in a polite and respectful manner. You can say you’re sorry they’re upset and invite them to contact you directly to discuss it. (Many times, how you respond to a bad review isn’t about the upset client, but rather it’s an opportunity to demonstrate to anyone who reads it that you take client concerns seriously.)

In a perfect world, you’ll have enough positive reviews that one bad one won’t tank your average. But if you’re just starting out, one negative review could have a substantial impact on your score. You may want to invite happy customers to leave reviews about their experience to bring your average back up.

Lights Camera Lawsuit

I’m working on my first online course called “Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Legal Side of Professional Photography,” which will be released by my second company (separate from my law practice). Leading up to the release date, I’m sending weekly updates with

tips about the legalities of photography. Please add yourself to this exclusive list if you want to stay in the loop. (This list is completely independent from the CLF newsletter list.)