Ever encounter a difficult client scenario and not sure how to respond? Here is our list of 12 challenging photography client situations and how to handle them professionally!

Now that you’re in the midst of running your own business, you get the added fun of encountering many colorful personalities! Hold on tight, because it’s going to be an enjoyable, sometimes shocking, and potentially very confusing, ride.  It may also be hysterically funny (you know, 10 years from now when you can look back without thinking thoughts that may land you in jail). One of these difficult client scenarios is bound to happen sooner or later, and how we respond will ultimately dictate how successful we are (in business AND in life).  Here are our top 12 confusing and potentially challenging client experiences, and ways to diffuse them.

1. I spent $75 on my new logo and my client chopped it off my photo!

I get it, you went on Etsy and spent a month designing the PERFECT logo.  You picked out your branding colors, changed the font 36 times, and finally made your vision come to reality. You plan on putting your logo on every photo because you rightfully want credit for your work! I totally get it. This is how we make a living!

So here’s a little story of something I did before I was a photographer (read: a regular person with ZERO knowledge of photography etiquette)…I WAS the challenging photography client.

A real life scenario…

I had couples photos taken by a local photographer about ten years ago.  I understood that I wasn’t supposed to crop out her logo if I posted anywhere on social media. Fine. I got our photos back and was IN LOVE. Like, they were amazing and I was so proud to show them off! I jumped on MySpace (yep…the good ole days) to make one my new profile picture.

Weird. It won’t let me move the crop to include her watermark! Shoot. I try to resize, nope, not working. I do manage to crop half of my head off in the program “Paint,” but that just doesn’t look right. Whatever, she was so nice, she’ll understand.

So, I posted the picture as is (and her logo wasn’t visible until you actually click on it). Within about 30 minutes, I got a very seething message explaining that I wasn’t allowed to alter her photo, that in her contract it clearly states….

You guys, I TOTALLY understood what she was saying, but I was hurt (like almost brought to tears). It wasn’t on purpose! This lady, that I really admired just a week before, was now yelling at me like I was a child. Needless to say, the ENTIRE experience ended for me in that moment. I think the photos are just “ok,” because that feeling of being chastised is the FIRST thing I remember now. I subsequently did not refer any of my friends either…and it wasn’t because of her work.

How to avoid the logo issue?

There’s only so much you can do.  Put it in your contract, you can tell them in person, you can write it in an email, etc. The thing is, it’s GOING to happen and you need to ask yourself what it’s worth to confront them about it.

When it happens…

You can get angry, physically worked up inside (which we know isn’t good for your health), or, you can channel your inner Elsa and let it go. If you’re getting upset, try to flip it and be thankful that your client loves your work enough to post it and show it to all of their friends.

You can comment on their photo with something like, “I’m so happy you love your photos! It was so much fun meeting and working with you guys! Can’t wait to do it again!”  Not only are you casually taking credit, you’re also being nice (and don’t we all appreciate that, instead of being told when we did something wrong)!? It simply isn’t worth losing a client over OR their referrals. Is it more important to be right, or to be kind?

2. Seriously? A filter!? I spent 30 minutes editing that picture!

The great thing about living in such a diverse world is that we all have different tastes when it come to art.  Some are huge fans of black and white, while others are obsessed with Sepia or those super vintage filters on Instagram.  I know it seems to undermines our work and vision, and it can be SUPER frustrating when you’ve spent a ton of time working on their images.  But here’s the thing…maybe they really LOVE it with that funky purple sky and sun flare. Isn’t that ok too?

*Side note, I did this quickly in Photoshop by randomly clicking on two actions, and I sorta like it. SEE! And you better not be judging me!

How to avoid the awful edit?

See the aforementioned logo post.

If it happens…

Appreciate our vast diversity and individualism (and have a good laugh with your friends who can relate)! Something that we all need to accept (for a much more stress-free life) is that MOST people (out of what, 7 billion?) are not going to agree with us on some things. There is YOUR way, THEIR way, but no RIGHT way. So again, schooling them on photography rules, and making them feel bad for having a different style, isn’t going to win you any business. Approaching any situation with kindness is really the only way to keep things going in a positive direction! So take a deep breath and hope you don’t get inundated with purple sky and sun burst requests!

3. The mom from your last session doesn’t like the photos even though she’s basically a super model.

You WILL encounter this scenario at one point…and it can be touchy!

challenging client

How to avoid?

Require that your clients attend a self-confidence retreat before their session. Too soon? Ok, I’m obviously joking.  A really great way to help avoid this situation is to ask! This can be done on a client questionnaire before a session, or on location. Sometimes I’ll ask if there is anything anyone would like to avoid in the photos, or if mom has a “side” she prefers. Do it casually and tell them you have their back and just wanted to check because some people DO have a side they prefer!

If it happens…

Try to be as understanding as possible. Tell them you think they look great. Also ask them what they think could be improved upon on your end. Really try to open the lines of communication and sort out what EXACTLY they don’t like…and then proceed.  It can potentially be an easy fix in post-processing (which we’ll talk about later), or simple a personal issue that you simply have no control over. The biggest mistake would be to discount what your client is saying. Listen, empathize, and see what can be done.  I know our time is precious, but making clients happy increases business overall.

I had this happen, and offered a reshoot (even though I didn’t think it was an issue of my technical photography). I tried to go above and beyond, really hear her concerns…and guess what, after that reshoot, she sent me another 10 of her friends!!!! You just never know.

4. My clients are 30 minutes late to a 30 minute session…

You’re sitting on location, looking at your watch…15 minutes…20 minutes. You then start questioning if YOU messed up the date/time/location. You frantically search through your emails to double check what you wrote your client. Thank goodness, you got it right! Uhhh, so where are they? What do you say when they get there!? Awkward!

How to avoid?

Confirm the session (date, time, location), twice at LEAST. Write out ALL the details in an email a week before, and again the night before. You should also exchange numbers and let them know that they should text if anything pops up. I usually send a text about an hour before the session telling them I’m excited for the session and that I’ll be on my way soon. This opens the door for them to tell you they’re running late.

If it happens…

Give up, go home and take a nap!!! Ok…slow down. Maybe that’s what we’d LIKE to do, but let’s go with the more productive route for now.

challenging photography client

There are three ways to handle this situation…

  1. If you don’t have any pressing plans, you can stay, do the session as planned (late), and be thankful for the extra time you had to yourself (especially if you have kids). Listen to music, an audiobook, or spend extra time scoping the location for the perfect spot to take their photos!
  2. Text/call the client and tell them that you unfortunately have other plans after their session. Ask if they’d like to reschedule, or just use the remaining time they have to take the photos. If that’s 5 minutes, that’s 5 minutes.  As long as they know, they shouldn’t be blindsided.
  3. After the session time has expired, you can inform the client that you won’t be able to stay any longer. Kindly tell them that they can pay the rescheduling fee of XX that was outlined in your contract.

For example, “Hi Michelle! I’m so sorry I missed you today! Unfortunately, I’m unable to stay any longer because I need to ________. Feel free to get in touch and reschedule your session on a date that may be better for you. Hope all is well.”

Never assume the client is trying to do anything malicious. We all hate being accused of something that was beyond our control, right? Open the lines of communication and trust that they have a good reason (until they prove otherwise).

5. I sent their gallery two weeks ago and have heard NOTHING! Don’t they know I’m going crazy over here?

How do they not know we are tortured artists?!?

How to avoid?

Stop having expectations and thinking the worst. I know…it’s hard to wait for feedback, and I’m the first to admit that I LOVE hearing that my clients adore their photos. But you have to be just as ok without that feedback.  If you’ve delivered your very best client experience, be ok with knowing that you did everything you could to make them happy.

If you’re literally losing your mind over this…

Send a follow-up message! “Hi, John! I just wanted to reach out and make sure you received your photos and that you’re happy with them! Thanks again for letting me take these photos for you, I feel so lucky to work with such great people! Hope all is well.” If you don’t hear back, time to move on!

6. Uhhhh, is my client drunk?

Yes, this has happened in real life!

challenging photography client

How to avoid?

Good luck with that.

If it happens…

Laugh about the situation, and challenge yourself to do the absolute best you can! HOWEVER, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with. If anyone is being aggressive, publicly disruptive or dangerous, get the heck outta there! If they are angry at your unwillingness to continue the session, be professional and firm.  More often than not, they’ll probably be really embarrassed (and apologize…fingers crossed). Stand firm and charge a reshoot fee if YOU choose to work with them again.

7. My client just asked me to Photoshop their nose in 150 photos…

Send them this for future reference…

challenging photography client

How to avoid?

In your initial/continued contact with a potential client, mention that you will provide them with X number of lightly edited photos (typical contract jargon). Anything beyond will have to be charged at a fee of $x/per image.

If it happens…

Client: “Hi Kate! I love my photos, but I really don’t like that little bump on my nose! Can you Photoshop that please?! You’re the best!”

…You look and that would be like 150 wedding photos…

Photographer: “Hi Anna! I’m so happy you love your photos! I’d love to edit five photos at no extra charge! Unfortunately, because editing can be really time consuming, anything more than that I will have to charge $10/image. I hope you understand! Let me know which photos you’d like edit and I can send you an invoice for anything over five! Thanks!”

Sometimes your client only really needs three images for wall art or an album. Going above and beyond may get you some extra business and I’d say it’s worth the extra effort.

8. Next week’s client just sent me 80 Pinterest posing examples for their 20 minute mini session.

How to avoid?

Send a client welcome guide/style guide and emphasize that you will take care of all the posing! You can reassure them that you have studied posing and will take care of it (and then start studying like crazy)!

If it happens…

Tell your client that you’re so happy they have ideas, and that you hope they are practicing everyday in the mirror! Ok, what I’d really say is, “Great! I’m so happy you have some ideas in mind! Can you narrow it down to 2-3 poses you’d really like to capture? I’d love to make it come to life for you!”

9. Can you just send me the RAW files?

Ok, this question gets asked A LOT. It most likely comes from a very basic knowledge of what a RAW photo is, and what they can do with them, OR, that they are a photographer (although I don’t know of any photographers that would ask this). Either way, it’s not worth getting upset about it.

How to avoid?

This one is pretty tough to avoid.  You can put it in your contract, but we all know how little people care about contracts (if they read them at all).  Just have a standard professional response set up for when it does happen!

If it happens…

“Hi Bryce! Unfortunately, I do not give my RAW files to clients, for a few reasons. The price I quote includes XX professionally edited .jpeg images, that I hold to my highest artistic standard. My work and style are very important to me, which is why I only deliver images that reflect professional standards. Thank you for understanding. Let me know if you have any more questions!”

SHUT. IT. DOWN. No need to explain, and be ok if they walk away slightly annoyed.

10. Someone at the session is being a grouch.

Every once in a while, you’ll get a grouchy dad or annoyed teen, and that’s just a part of the biz. On my first session in my new town, I had a pre-teen kick his mom. She was mortified, I was trying to play it off like this happens ALL the time, and it was just overall TOUGH.

How to avoid?

Sending a welcome guide with how to prepare for a session can help! You can mention the following:

  • Try to get LOTS of sleep the night before!
  • Make sure everyone is fed before coming to the session.
  • Explain to your family that this is supposed to be a quick/fun experience and there’s absolutely no pressure to be perfect!
  • Leave the posing and smiling to me, the photographer.
  • Don’t worry about telling your kids to smile and behave! They usually listen to strangers, so this is your time to relax and enjoy the session! Let me do the work!

If it happens…

Divert, district and TALK. Keep things moving!

You can even acknowledge when someone is uncomfortable or upset. You can say something like, “Hey Jack, I know you don’t really want to be here, but just give me your best for 20 minutes and I’ll get you outta here as quickly as possible.” Let them know that you are on their side.  You have NO idea what happened that morning or in the car on the way, so go with the flow and try to salvage what you can! Half of being a photographer is also being an expert in human psychology!

11. “Can I have a discount?” OR, “Oh, wow, I see your prices went up?”

There are ALWAYS people looking for a deal, so don’t be offended or get upset! Just have a response that they can’t argue with!

How to avoid?

If someone is just contacting you out of the blue or as a reference from a previous client, you may not be able to avoid it.  You can always list your prices or starting price on your website, but some people may contact you through Facebook or Instagram not knowing your prices. The fact is, you’re going to raise your prices eventually and someone WILL ask you about it. *It’s up to you if you want to give a discount obviously!

If it happens…

The general discount response: “Hi Mary! Thank you so much for getting in touch. At this time, I am unable to give any discounts on my work. I pride myself on the quality of my product and feel it would be unfair to clients who have paid full price for my services. Thank you so much for understanding! Let me know if you’d like to schedule a session! I’d love to work with you.”

The increased pricing response: “Hi Peter! Thanks so much for reaching out! I’d love to take your family photos. I have indeed increased my pricing from last year.  I pride myself on constantly learning and growing as a photographer by continuing my education, upgrading my gear, and giving my clients a very personal and customized experience. All of these factors go into my cost of business, and because of this, I will be unable to give you last year’s pricing. Thank you so much for understanding! Please let me know if you have any more questions! Looking forward to hearing from you.”

12. The overall jerky client.

Sometimes we’re going to encounter someone who just isn’t nice. A cool and easy metaphor about not-so-nice people was by Wayne Dyer, a best selling author.

“What do you get when you squeeze an orange? Orange juice, of course, because that’s what is inside! What comes out of you when YOU are squeezed?” In this case, your client.

By squeezing, he was referring to those things that upset us. For example, when someone pushes our buttons, makes a random comment, doesn’t do what we want, or hurts our ego. What is our response? What is our juice? Is it anger? Aggression? Kindness? Love?

Clients that react in an outwardly nasty way (99.9% of the time) doesn’t have anything to do with you (if you were professional and friendly). Let THEM own those feelings. React with as much kindness as you can muster (even if you have to pretend), and let it go. Do your best to work out a compromise if they are upset for a legitimate reason. Take responsibility for what you could have done better, listen, and react calmly. You know those people who simply refuse to engage in arguments or fighting? They tend to be pretty darn happy overall! And please note that I’m not talking about letting people walk all over you and your business! You simple don’t allow the space for the negativity.

In conclusion, no matter what challenging photography client you encounter, the answer is to always remain cool, professional and friendly. I know it’s easier said than done most days, but doing your best to be kind will ALWAYS get you further than getting upset. So channel your inner zen and spread happiness in this world (even if it’s tough at first)!