Learning From Expensive Mistakes! or 5 Tips for Wedding/Portrait photographers!

This weekend was originally booked to have me shooting a wedding. I say that because just a few days ago the couple whose wedding I was shooting cancelled my services due to various reasons. I won’t give specifics or name names because that’s rude and unprofessional, but what I can tell you is a few things I learned from this endeavor that I plan on doing better next time. First though, some backstory:

A few weeks back I did an engagement shoot for this couple as part of a larger wedding package which would eventually include:
– The full wedding service including photos of the Bride/Groom getting ready and behind the scenes shots;
– 10-15 post processed Engagement photos;
– 10-15 post processed Bridal Photos;
– 50-75 post processed images of the wedding day and full ownership of all the “negatives” and misc other photos

The price was agreed upon even earlier on and I had spoken with them a little earlier about what kind of images they wanted to see. They both were in their 40s and kid free, so they had some toys (a VERY nice car and an expensive motorcycle) that they wanted incorporated into the shoot. Knowing that I gave them a few options and some warnings about the types of photos we’d try for and the time frame it would take. Everyone seemed happy and OK with all that. Sunday rolls around and I shoot their engagements. I get about 12 of them done and I email them off. The reply I get is anything other than pleased. The client seemed exceedingly disappointed that there were only 12 pictures. I replied back explaining those were the post processed images and the rest of the photos weren’t good enough to make the cut for their 10-15. The other photos were either blurry, or the lighting was off, or the focus was incorrect, etc. If you’re a photographer, this all makes sense to you. You snap 1,000 photos in an hour and hopefully with all the different angles and options you come out with a spread of 10-20 really good shots.

However, I think most people who get photos taken don’t know this. So this is point ONE.

1) Be clear and concise in how your process works. Both your physical shooting and your thought process.
Let the client know that you’ll be shooting hundreds if not thousands of snaps in the time frame you’re shooting, but you are experimenting with a lot of variables and the end result will be a fraction of what you snapped. People want the best quality pictures for their wedding day, not blurry junk, so making sure they understand you won’t be giving them the blurry junk is vital.

So after my reply, I get another email politely requesting the junk photos. Figuring that they wanted to just see more of my process and maybe find a few extras to pay for, I send them off. Within a few hours I get a reply saying they are absolutely dissatisfied with the work and are cancelling the wedding shoot. I was floored. They seemed happy enough with the post images, so the only conclusion I could come too is they were basing the entirety of my skill or talent on the throw-aways. Which is mind boggling to me. Or it was at first anyways. After mulling over it for a few hours, I had come to realize there were some red flags I hadn’t noticed or forcefully ignored throughout this process that should have told me this could happen. To a photographer, who understands how it all works it’s silly, but to a client who doesn’t get why they should pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for something a relative can produce for free with a point and shoot, it’s fairly obvious. They didn’t know anything about wedding photography and so they didn’t know what to look for or ignore. They were forced through an ignorance on the topic to take the entire shoot as a collective average without properly weighing some images more than others. This is normal and also point TWO:

2) The average person knows almost nothing about photography other than how to use a simple camera.
Using a camera is exceptionally easy. Anyone can do it. Anyone can get lucky and snap an insanely cool shot. My five year old took this one on accident with my Nikon d3200:


I think to some degree it’s important to explain a little about what you’re doing (ala point 1) but also what it takes. A simple explanation on fundamentals can show that you a) know what you’re talking about; and b) illustrate why grandpa Melvin isn’t qualified to record their special day. Having shit the bed on this front, you could find yourself with a very unhappy client who was expecting something entirely different than what you sold them.

My next mistake I realized (pretty quickly after getting that email actually) was that I had dropped the ball on the contract side of things. They seemed like a really nice couple and I figured we’d get around to signing one at some point, likely when they were paying me day of. So the next two points are different but go together well:

3) Make sure you have a contract that lays out the work you’ll perform and the price you’ll do it for.


4) Collect their money, or at least a deposit.
I’d decided even before this wedding fiasco that I would be requiring a 20% non-refundable deposit for booking up that time slot. This does a couple of things: a) it makes it more likely a client won’t back out over something petty, b) clients will be more likely to communicate with you over concerns or questions instead of ignoring you till day of then being angry and c) In the worst case scenario, you didn’t do all the prep work for nothing.

Your time is valuable, and every scheduled event is a time slot you could have scheduled something else in. So if a client wants to flake out, or cancel, you need to realize you’re not losing that money, but also the money you could have earned by booking a client who shows or doesn’t cancel. Lots of cash to be leaving on the table …

Finally, and I think the most important thing to remember is

5) You can’t please everyone.
I took what I felt were some stellar photos. I did so given some pretty unfortunate circumstances (namely there was a heavy inversion that day causing a ton of haze in a lot of the shots). I managed to create some really neat shots at sunset overlooking a pretty landscape and a lot of people who’d seen the photos were pretty amped about them. Turns out, the client just wasn’t as happy as myself or anyone else. At the end of the day though, it’s about what the client wants regardless of how good you think another option is.

So a quick recap:
1) Explain your process (both physical shooting as well as your thoughts on the shoot)
2) Most people are ignorant about photography. Take a few minutes to educate them. It will make your life easier.
3) Have a contract
4) Make sure you get paid for what you do
5) Remember you can’t please everyone and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

All that being said, I’ll leave you with this; the old adage in retail of “The customer is always right” definitely holds true in photography as well. Well, at least until you hit the bar with your buddies later …

Until next time, Thanks for reading!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s