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Your Client Hates All Their Images. What Now?

How would you deal with a selling session where once you have all sat down with your coffee and begin looking through the images, the client decides they don’t like any of them.  Not one.  (This hasn’t actually happened to me, since I’m not open for business yet, but I’m wondering how one would gracefully deal with and diffuse a situation like this!)  Offer to re-shoot? Give ‘em back their money?

Thanks!
Shannon

If you get to a sales session and the client hates all their images, then something went wrong – and it probably wasn’t the photography.

If the photography was truly not consistent with your portfolio, then YOU – the artist – would be first to notice.  And you’d probably have called them up the minute you saw the images and worked something out.  You wouldn’t have even gotten to the sales session.

So, given that the problem is not the photography, the solution will depend on what exactly went wrong.  And clients are typically reluctant to admit the actual problem – they’re more likely to blame it on the photos themselves, since you can’t “argue” with aesthetic taste.  Let’s dig for the real issue:

1) Was the client familiar with your work when they booked you?

When a potential client hasn’t spent time looking at my portfolio, twenty big red flags go up.  My target client always spends a great deal of time investigating the photographer they’re going to hire, and my best clients tend to have followed me for awhile (or at least fell in love with a specific session).  So when someone drops out of the sky, it may indicate that they just need “a photographer,” and assume all photographers are the same, and that I’ll produce whatever ideal images they have in their head.  Which isn’t true – I deliver images that look like the ones in my portfolio.

Always make sure people look at your portfolio before a session.  Make sure they understand that their images will be similar, and this is your style.  If it’s not what they’re looking for, you’re happy to refer them to a reputable alternative.

If the problem is that they don’t like your style, then a re-shoot is probably not going to help anything.  Your style is your style.  You could offer 20-30 mins of additional session time as a professional courtesy to show that you care about them, and to go the extra mile in customer service.  (I doubt they’d accept it.)

In this case, I wouldn’t refund their session fee.  If they were my client, then they would have been heavily advised about my style and the type of images they would receive, and they would have signed a contract indicating that the session retainer wasn’t refundable.  I would have already spent a great deal of time working on this project, so I would retain the fee as compensation for work completed.

2) Did you prepare them for the photo session?

Maybe Mom hates all the images because she realizes that dressing her kids in contrasting patterns of plaid wasn’t such a good idea.  Or maybe she got a bad haircut the day before the session, so she’s jockeying for a re-shoot to give her hair time to grow out.  Maybe she is now regretting the choice to have “the family eating ice cream” as the session theme, because now little Suzy’s face is a mess in some images.

As the photographer, you’re the expert in this exchange.  Your clients aren’t models or stylists.  It’s up to you to prepare them.  Listen to them talk about themselves, and select a location accordingly.  If they’re city people, then a nature shoot probably won’t feel right to them – even if they think it sounds “nice.”  If mom is prim and proper, then a session involving kids and food probably isn’t the greatest idea.

Tell clients plainly what kinds of wardrobe does and doesn’t work for pictures.  Advise them not to take drastic measures right before the session (i.e. haircuts, haircoloring, spray tans) unless it’s their regular thing and they’re dead certain they know and love what it will look like.

Don’t be afraid to tell them NO.  First-time clients of mine often email photos, or I’ll go to their house and look through their closet, or they’ll bring a bag of clothing to the session.  I have no problem enthusiastically telling them what I think will look best, or saying “Well that’s cute, but I think this other one would work best for images.” 

I love my clients.  If they made a really bad styling choice, I might offer a complimentary 20-30 minute mini-shoot (to take place the same week of the sales session – they don’t get to put it off) to give them some additional image choices.  However, in the end, their favorite images will usually be chosen because of the emotion in them, not the styling.  I will be sure to point this out.

3) Is the client just generally self-conscious about the way he or she looks?

If so, then there probably would have been hints long before the sales session.  Self-consciousness often presents itself in the client being overly-particular about something before or during the session.  I had a client once who spent a LONG time going back and forth about the time of the session.  It turned out that she was worried about the need to wear a jacket, and she didn’t like how her face could be ‘puffy’ in the mornings sometimes.  That has nothing to do with the session time – that is self-consciousness.

We had a very gentle conversation about how the images were really about the love she had for her family.  I shared that some things seem important to us because we are experts in how we look and know exactly when we are and aren’t at our ‘peak.’  But when others look at the images, all they are going to see is how happy and in love she looks.  She felt calmer, and we had a wonderful session.

You can’t make a client fall in love with images when they hate how they look.  You could go through and talk about how you see the images, focusing on the emotions and moments.  If we were really at an impasse, and I had truly done my job in creating and culling flattering images, then additional shooting time probably wouldn’t help a whole lot.  I might consider 20-30 minutes of additional session time here, but if we’re going to do that, we would have to get really specific about what the client didn’t like about how they looked in the images.  And a sales session might not be the best time to do that – especially if the person’s spouse or family are around.  I would need to know the exact areas of concern so that I could shoot some additional images that addressed them.

4) Is the client in sticker shock?

My money would be on this one as the REAL problem.  Sticker shock masquerading as “I hate all my images” is most likely to happen when a client hasn’t spent their time researching you, and/or you haven’t prepared them by sending a price list before the session.

However, even if they knew what it would cost and you did your job preparing them, sometimes things change.  Someone lost a job.  A kid broke their arm yesterday.  The basement flooded and they’re having to install a sump pump.  Whatever.  Life is fickle, and money problems are embarrassing to admit.  But something will probably feel “off” about their objections, and gentle follow-up will usually uncover the real issue.

Additional session time is not going to help them in this situation, and again, I would not refund the session retainer / session fee.  They benefited from your time, the work has been done.  At this point, I would focus on meeting their needs.  Can we set up a payment plan with delayed delivery?  How would they feel about a smaller album?  Have they considered wall prints instead of canvas wraps?  I would try to compassionately meet their needs in the least expensive way possible, and be very creative and positive in making sure they still got something they wanted.

Be very careful about words like “re-shoot” and “refund.”

The word “re-shoot” implies to me that there was something wrong with the shoot the first time, and there probably wasn’t.  “Re-shoot” lays blame at the photographer’s doorstep, when it was probably a joint problem at best.  I would call it “additional session time” to be clear that you’re going above and beyond to try to meet their needs.

And “refund” also implies that you did something wrong in providing service.  If you did (e.g. you were a half an hour late, you had the stomach flu and really couldn’t do your job, one of your memory cards was corrupted and you lost half their images), then own up to it.

But if you truly did your job and you prepared them, then you weren’t at fault.  No matter what the client’s opinion is, you still had to spend time prepping, communicating, scouting, packing, checking, driving, shooting, culling, editing, etc.  That was time away from your family, and money in gas.  If you did nothing wrong, you should still be compensated for time spent, and this should be built into the contract.  You’re providing service, not a product – they can’t just “try you on” without substantial cost to you, and they should understand that before they book you.  It’s critical that you’re a good fit for each other.  This isn’t volunteer work.  You deserve to be paid for your time.

And Shannon my dear? 

Since you’re asking this question and the situation hasn’t actually happened yet – you’re probably worrying too much. :-D  I’ve never had this situation happen.  It’s unlikely to happen, especially if you do your job managing expectations.  Make sure you shoot consistently, then stand behind your work.  If the worst case scenario does happen, handle the situation gracefully, generously, compassionately, and keep a two-hundred dollar attitude at all times.  Make sure it’s fair to both of you.  Good luck with your business!

 


Allison - “Since you’re asking this question and the situation hasn’t actually happened yet – you’re probably worrying too much.” Ah, yes. The hypothetical situation, worst case scenario, imagination overload worry. Welp, there’s yer (my) problem. :)
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Jenika - Totally OK to ask questions as long as they don’t paralyze you from taking action! :-D

Amy - Thank you. This post could not have come at a better time for me. One of my recent wedding clients has done the exact thing this article says. They loved their engagement photos and the wedding preview I gave them and were in love with my style and approach when they originally booked me. Suddenly, they hate all their photos. I was in shock and have been having a very rough week listening to their ridiculous demands.

The photos are great…better than the samples of my work they were shown at our initial meeting a year ago, actually. I took every posed photo on their list and I had no technical failures or “oopsie” exposure moments during their very hectic and long day. They’re getting the best of my work.

After 300 family/senior sessions and 10 weddings, this is the first complaint I’ve ever received on the quality of images and it’s so hard to not take it personally.

I’m very worried they’re going to take me to small claims court and I’ll have to spend time, energy and money having to defend myself and my business. Certainly, I have reputation concerns as well, but as long as they keep it to their circle of friends, I’m not sure I care (I never want to work with them again, that’s for sure). The energy I’ve spent on it this week alone just makes me want to give them a refund and wash my hands of it.

We had a clear contract and I’ve been very professional during their attacks and have explained what they agreed to and paid for, but if they continue to complain about their images, no amount of arguing with them over picky little details is going to change their mind. Is there something you’d recommend saying to make their rude attacks stop?

Jenika - I’d ask to sit down with them in person to make sure all their concerns are addressed. Often when faced with the possibility of having to go face to face with someone, attackers will back down or become more reasonable. “I feel as though the remainder of our conversations would be best served if we sat down in person to discuss them. What time works for you?”

As long as you fulfilled the contract (delivered images, timeline okay, number of images ok) – I don’t think you have anything to be afraid of. It sounds to me like the issue is not the images, but without an in-person discussion, the real issue probably won’t come up.

Sorry this is happening – best of luck!

jenn - Just wanted to chime in with another possibility since I saw this happen recently… A co-worker of mine hired a photographer his daughter wanted for his daughters wedding, and when they got the engagement photos back, the daughter liked them, but the father hated them. This ended up rubbing off on how the daughter felt about them since the father used to be a photographer himself. The problem ended up being that the images were shot in a modern style, but the father (and ex-photographer) didn’t understand the modern aesthetics and thought they should be the way wedding photos were done 30 years ago. Long story short, I told him to go back to the photographer and really explain what he did and did not like, and the photographer was able to go back through the photos he took and find ones that the photographer didn’t like as much, but that the father ended up liking, without having to re-shoot.

Jenika - Great perspective. It’s an interesting issue you bring up – often it’s PHOTOGRAPHERS who are the harshest critics. Thanks for sharing the resolution! On a related note, I just had a situation where I was discussing blown highlights with an “old school” photog. (i.e. do we preserve them at all costs, or do we just do it when it’s important for the image)? Times have changed, and some people aren’t on board with the current way of thinking (i.e. most people now are okay with blown highlights in the background, it seems). At the same time, I can see a lot of technical sloppiness that some of the old pros would never abide that really should be fixed, so I’m not saying it’s an inexorable march toward improvement. Things are just different.

Michelle J.N. - Jenika, another great post! I had a problem turning away clients that did not fit my style when I started. I’ve had one experience in 3 years where I wish I had followed my gut and recommended a photographer that better fit the client. The trouble started with the consultation and grew worse from the session to the reveal of the pictures. But it was a referral from a family that I’ve worked with many times. At the session, the children were rushed and upset and not ‘feeling’ the session. Not happy campers at all :( I felt that we had ralied at the end and gotten some great pictures. When the pictures were presented to the client, she hated every single picture. She hadn’t looked at my portfolio and this was not what she wanted. I was surprised but realized I should have never done the session to begin with. I offered a reshoot to be nice but knew she still would like my style at the end of the day. To stop the bleeding, I refunded the money outside of the retainer and haven’t worked with the entire family since then. Lesson sorely learned.

Mollie Tobias - I had this exact situation happen to me and while it was horrifying, it taught me a lot of very valuable, albiet painful, lessons.
I was shooting a high school senior and while I usually have the parents come to the session the mother insisted that she just wasn’t available so I MADE AN EXCEPTION. In all of our communications prior to the session the mother had come off as totally laid back and very hip. I had asked that one outfit be the parents choice for the session, but when the senior put on “Mom’s” outfit it was a VERY short strapless dress. I ASSUMED that if the mom had picked it out that it was fine.
We finished the session, I edited the images and they looked great. When the mom came in for the sales session and we finished watching the slideshow there was dead silence. Then she started yelling. Not at me, at her daughter. Evidentally there were some family dynamics at play that I had no clue about and the Mother had never actually seen the dress on her daughter.
I ended up offering additional session time to get some images that she was pleased with and she ended up placing a good sized order and being very satisfied, but for weeks I felt just this side of a panic attack.
Now I realize the importance of communication, communication, communication. I make sure that I abide by my policies, I never make assumptions, and I always gather more information than I think I will need. Preparation is so important to a successful session and all of the points that you touched on were components of this experience.
The biggest thing to take away from my experience for the rest of your readers is that even if the worst case scenario does happen it does not mean that you are a failure. The experience is showing you where you need to grow and improve. If you habdle the situation with sensitivity and professionalism you can still have a happy loyal client.

Jenika - Thanks for sharing the details of that experience for the rest of us to learn from. WOW. I think it also shows that there’s always a lot going on under the surface in our clients’ lives, and miscommunication can happen within the family – so it’s triply important that WE communicate as well! I agree with everything you said. Thanks again for the story. I’m glad it turned out well for you in the end – great service you provided.

Jenna - I had this same thing happen to me. My client was really upset by the weather, wind, etc. before we started shooting, and we had a long discussion about my editing techniques and how the lighting was actually very nice for the shots she wanted. When I showed her the photos, which were actually very good, some of my favorites, she was really disappointed and said, “there is maybe only 1 usable one” (out of 50 or so). She insisted that she wanted all her wrinkles gone and that was the problem (she didn’t have any wrinkles that I could see). I offered do edit out her wrinkles of some for free and then additional ones for a small fee – something we had discussed prior to the photo shoot (body changing editing would be extra). After several follow ups, I never heard from her again and she never made a purchase. I really tried to alleviate all her concerns, but I think the issue ran deeper than what she was expressing. Either way, at the end of the day I just washed my hands of it and moved on, but it is hard not to take personally.

Keli - Last year I did a wedding that I was very excited about. We did a couple consultations and I went far and beyond my responsibilities as a photographer. I created a video to play during the reception of the couple as children and of their relationship and engagement. (no music, just something for everyone to look at while the DJ did his job) We went over every detail including what she was looking for: poses, important people, location…etc..

I drove to Orlando which is 2 hours away from me at NO EXTRA CHARGE to help her out. She could barely afford a photographer as it was.
She was 2 hours late to her own wedding. The images of her preparations consisted of her mother putting a necklace on her and I snagged one of the dress hanging really quick. When I got to the house she wasn’t even there. Her bridal party wouldn’t let me take pics of them getting ready so by the time she got there she had her hair and makeup done somewhere else and all the other girls were ready. She threw on the dress and we practically ran to the church.
I quickly went to where the men were and was able to get some great pics of the groom with his father, grandfather, and his other father. I had to teach them all how to put on the flower on their jackets (can’t spell the name of it) so I took a mock image of the grandfather “pinning” it on the groom. The grandfather was VERY pleased with this.
During the ceremony I had to remain in one place in the corner at the front facing the back wall and could not use flash.
The lighting was terrible but I did the best I could and was pretty pleased with what I had taken. (this was all explained to her in detail in advance when I found out how bad the lighting was going to be)
But every image of the hour long ceremony was from the exact same position since I wasn’t allowed to move around.
After the ceremony I took them outside for some photos…next thing I new she had EVERY ONE trying to come be in the photos. I had to keep telling her that these people are not in our list and we do not have time and can take those images at the reception. I had to keep telling people they couldn’t take pics with their own cameras (which was in the contract and discussed with bride and groom in advance)
I was able to get pictures of the bridal party then we had to leave to go to the reception.
Once we got there I took pics of the bridal party exiting their cars and the bride refused to get out. Turns out she had just found out her cake fell. (this problem was fixed by someone else …thankfully)
Once inside I set up the video I had made and let everyone get settled in. I got the pictures of the newly weds entering and being introduced. I got pictures of the toast, people dancing, children playing… pure love, joy, and excitement.
I took the bride and groom outside for their pictures and 5 minutes later her sister came out yelling at her it was time to cut the cake. We went in and I got some great shots of this. By the time that was finished it was completely dark outside and my time was up.

I took a couple weeks to complete their order according to the agreed time. She paid for a disc and an album. She asked me to deliver them in person to her job which wasn’t too far from me, so I agreed. She looked through the album and LOVED everything she saw. She emailed me saying how much her family loved the images and how happy she was about how they turned out despite the troubles we had.
2 MONTHS later she emailed me saying she was very unhappy with her images and wanted a full refund. I emailed her back very nicely stating what she paid for and that I went beyond our agreement to make sure she had a wonderful experience and reminded her of the emails she had sent previously. I also asked her to please go over her contract one more time, then contact me if she had any further questions.

I never heard from her again.

I have also not done a wedding since. I’m not saying that one day I won’t start again,because I LOVE weddings and the entire process of them. Right now as a single mother, a full time employee, and a business owner, I do not have time or energy to go through that again.

Sorry for such a long comment!

Robin - It is incredibly hard not to take it personally. In three years of business I have only had this happen three times. The first two were gorgeous women with very low self-esteem that thought they looked bad in every image. And when I say gorgeous, I mean that these women are the women that every person who knows them would say “Oh, she’s so beautiful” yet both of them have horribly skewed views of themselves. With the first I re-edited a few images and she ended up finally happy. With the second, after hearing from myself and a multitude of others about how gorgeous she looked she finally realized that there was nothing wrong with her in the pics.
Both of those women though were the “glass is totally empty” type of customers. That’s the worst. There may be one image out of 30 that they don’t like themselves but, their initial reaction to me was “I hate them all”. After digging deeper they finally admit to it being one or two images they don’t like and after even further digging it’s that they don’t like the way they actually look in said images. Very frustrating!
The third time it was a pageant mom who approached me in such a rude way that I didn’t even attempt to fix things, especially after talking with the pageant director to find out that she’s a total problem parent who is never happy.

No matter the reason though, it’s hard not to take things personally and just let it roll off your back!

Brenda Holtmeyer - I have been going back n forth for weeks now. Ab out this very situation. My clint did not like any of the photos…she is preg. n I honestly dont think she relized her true size baby~belly that is. She is family and yes to be honest it hurt my feelings. I am new to doing this as a bussiness. I totaly love photography and now only shoot for fun again…..back to square one. I belive I am good n all my other clints hav done nothing but brag on my work…I also learned a valuble lesson on posting to many preview shots to f/b i had a clint who down loaded them n went n printed what she wanted…lesson learned !!! There so much to learn. I look at my talents as growing better with each shoot. I looked at them as a blessing from God n wanted to share my talents with others charging only $50.00 a session u got a dvd of probly 100 + photos…becuse times r hard …. but the people who took advatage of this did just that took advantage of me. So this fall so many things will b changing like contracts…pricing, water marking and i’l b the one who will b doing the ording of the prints. LESSONS LEARNED !!!!!..people will b people if ur to low in price they think ur price shows ur work, ouch…..thank u for sharing ur lesson im grateful n will contiue to read n learn from u…u where an answer to a prayer u helped to put my mind at ease….thank you Brenda

Kaisa - I’ve had that horrible experience also. My client had wrinkles on her dresses and husbands shirt. I told her that i could try on some photos(that promise was a mistake) to remove wrinkles. But clothing had pattens on it and it was impossible.. So it started, she hated all photos. If i asked why? She told me to look how she looks! I told her she looks perfectly fine. If i asked if she saw my portfolio before she came, answer was now, because she trusted her friend! Then she told me that she didn’t get enough images, she wanted more. I told her she got enough different images(was over 20) Then she started ‘black mailing’ me. How she is going to give me bad reputation and but everything on facebook. I said: Well, i haven’t said anything wrong so go on.. Of course she demand me to give her all RAW images so her friend can do them for her…
I gave up by giving her 15 more images by her own choice(edited). She picked 30… And it began again… I didn’t give up anymore and said 15 or nothing.
Then she picked 20… I thought i’m going to hospital because of stress. But finally she took 15.. I hope i never have to deal with such people again. But i got my lessons..

Tracieboo - Ive just hit this problem this week over a wedding i have hardly slept but after reading everyones stories i no what to do thank u all

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