So, I made one of the classic mistakes that so many new business people, including - maybe especially - photographers make.
Well, actually I made the mistake about a month ago, and over the weekend it finally caught up with me and bit me.
[Spoilers] It has to do with not asking for a deposit up front. (I know, classic right?)
There’s a bit of a wrinkle that adds a little bit of complexity to the situation, a wrinkle that I think is more common among photographers than other similar creative fields.
The (potential) client was a friend of mine, let’s call my friend Andre (not his real name).
Andre and I definitely aren’t close friends. We’ve played on sports teams together repeatedly over the past five years, and have always got on well but have rarely done anything outside of the team together. On the occasions that we did, it was in a group setting, a Christmas party here, housewarming party there, that sort of thing.
He knew I was a photographer, and so when he announced to the team one night earlier this year that he was engaged, he approached me after the game and mentioned that he had been wondering if I might be willing to shoot the wedding.
Of course I was interested, and he promised to keep in touch over the course of the coming months as the plans came together.
Even at this stage there were warning signs, that looking back, seem obvious. The wedding was being held in September, and as the months progressed, the plans seemed slow to develop. First there were plans for a traditional, local wedding, a couple of weeks later Andre mentioned that they were now thinking of a destination wedding in Mexico with just a few close friends and family.
At this point he asked me if I would be willing to shoot the destination wedding, and if so would I consider accepting having my costs for the week covered, but no additional payment. I was a little taken aback, but as it was a friend, I told him I would consider it, and that we could work something out.
This became a moot point a few weeks later when the destination wedding plan was nixed. The date was finally set in July, for the last weekend in September. This was a disappointment to me as I already have committed to shooting another wedding that weekend, this one out of town, meaning I would be unable to attend Andre’s.
Andre too was disappointed, but quickly asked if I would be able to do an engagement shoot for him and his fiance. Of course I agreed and we made plans to do a downtown shoot a couple of weeks hence.
I asked for the couple to pull some sample images off the internet to give me an idea of what type of style they were looking for. These never came, and on the morning of the shoot Andre called me to tell me that they had just realized the local Pride Parade was going to be taking place downtown, in the general area where they had wanted to shoot. I asked if there was somewhere else they would prefer, but he asked to move the shoot to the next day instead. At this point he also assured me that he was going to send the sample images as soon as we hung up.
They never came.
The next day, a few hours before the shoot, Andre calls me again. He’s wondering if we can postpone the shoot again. Since they won’t be having a professional photographer for their wedding, they now wanted to get some wedding style shots during our engagement shoot.
The rings are being picked up during the coming week, so would it be possible to move the shoot back to next weekend?
I was a little annoyed that Andre had now postponed the shoot twice in two days, but understanding, and wanting to accomodate my friend, I agreed. I mean, he’s a friend right? Once again, the concept images were on their way.
They never came.
Finally, a week later, the third day of the engagement shoot came. Whereas the past two scheduled days had been incredible weather wise, this one was looking iffy. There was a chance of rain and the sky was mostly overcast. I was optimistic however that the conditions wouldn’t be a problem, and that we’d still get some great shots.
Can you guess what happens next?
Andre calls me. Again, only a few hours before the shoot.
“What do you think about the weather?” he asks me.
I tell him I think it should be fine, we could meet earlier if he liked as the chance of rain increased later into the evening.
“Well actually, it’s my birthday today and my extended family is over, so unfortunately we can’t really meet earlier. And we’re not too sure about the weather, maybe we should pick another day.”
I wished him a happy birthday and suggested that he enjoy it with his family and we’d reschedule for the following weekend.
He thanked me, and oh, those sample photos? I’m just sending them now.
THEY NEVER CAME!
Ok, so finally, last weekend, the 4th(!) day of the shoot was here. The sky was clear, it was a perfect day, I hadn’t heard anything from Andre, everything looked good. I got my gear together and planned to head out early to get familiar with the location.
Before I left though, I figured I’d send Andre a text just to make sure he remembered that today was the day and that there were no issues.
A few minutes later, Andre texted back:
“Hey, sorry about this, but we just found a photographer for our wedding and we packaged together a quick engagement shoot. We have to try and save a bit of money where we can. I hope you understand.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I resisted the urge to ream him out for his conduct during the entire process, and instead texted him back wishing him good luck and telling him I understood.
Immediately, I regretted my decision to not ask for a deposit up front, as I would with most clients. I had thought that since he was a friend there was nothing to worry about. I think in reality however, friends are often the ones we need to set a more rigid structure with and clearly define expectations.
See, friends expect you to forgive them if they misbehave. What’s more, they probably don’t have any experience with you as the professional. Chances are, they’ve hung out with you before where you’ve had your camera along shooting for fun. They’ve seen the goofy, silly, non-work sides of you before, and might not take you as seriously as they would a photographer with whom they had no experience.
I have serious doubts as to whether the shoot would have been rescheduled once, let alone three times if I had requested the upfront deposit. Next time I doubt I would be as lenient and accommodating with with their requests, especially for a client who falls somewhere between friend and acquaintance on the relationship continuum.
But, what can you do but learn from these events? Far from being too disappointed, I’m happy to have the situation off of my hands, and have learned a valuable lesson that will no doubt pay dividends in the future.
What are your experiences dealing with friends as a professional? Do you think they treat you worse than they might an unknown photographer? What are some of the hard lessons you’ve learned from dealing with clients, whether friends or otherwise? Let me know in the comments so that we all don’t have to make the same mistakes!
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