I see it all the time on message boards and forums. Photographers posting about potential clients who have tons of stupid questions that they obviously got off The Knot, have unrealistic expectations about their wedding day or are challenging terms in the photographers contracts.
Generally it’s met with outcries from other photographers saying “Red Flag! Bridezilla! Don’t walk, run away!”
I don’t know of many other industries where artistic temperament is celebrated like it is with wedding photographers.
It’s considered a sign of success if you can hand pick every single client. We want them to be the finest of the litter, the yin to our creative yang.
We want to have Tapas and Sushi together over craft beers and discuss how Dave Grohl is the coolest guy in the world (he is) with them.
Years ago when my son was in second grade, he hated his teacher. He came home complaining about it a lot in the first few weeks, and I knew instinctively that the reason he didn’t like this teacher was because she was not huggy touchy feely like his former teachers were.
She was no-nonsense because she understood that second grade is a pivotal year for kids to start learning the demands of homework and testing.
Was she a bad teacher? Of course not. She did her job, and he learned that not every teacher was going to be his BFF.
Not every boss with be his BFF. and certainly not every client he has no matter what his field is.
(Unless of course he fulfills his lifelong dream since he was three of becoming the ice cream man, with the sage advice he gave me then about his chosen career “No one doesn’t like the ice cream man”)
A few years ago I got an inquiry for a wedding at one of the most prestigious venues in my town. It was a very high end wedding, and they were looking at my top package which is about 7K. She mentioned in her consult that she had met with a lot of photographers, and I knew by her questions she asked that she had.
In fact, she met with 27 in my city.
She dropped off the face of the earth, and then someone on my local Facebook group mentioned her.
Oh, the stories of Karen P. Every photographer had a story…missed appointments, last minute cancellations, recounts of her demanding emails on the terms of the contract.
She became the Gold Standard for a Red Flag client.
Her name became a verb on the board “That bride tried to Karen P me on my contract“. I thanked my lucky stars that I dodged that bullet and moved on with my life.
5 months later, her fiancé emailed me to hire me. I mentioned this was a 7K package, right?
I’d like to say I thought long and hard about this booking. But the real truth is, I needed the money and I wanted this venue in my portfolio.
And a part of me wanted the challenge. I was going to handle little missy Karen P just fine, thankyouverymuch.
I would take no shit, tell her how this would go down and how I “do” wedding photography and she would take what I gave her and like it.
We met again to go over the terms of the contract, and that’s when Karen P had a big, messy, ugly cry meltdown in my studio.
Sobbing, hiccupping hysterically telling me how her dream wedding had become her worst nightmare.
How she and her fiancé were doing nothing but fighting, her parents were screaming at her for going over budget and being indecisive and how pretty much she hated everything about her wedding.
This is when I realized that a Red Flag isn’t always a Red Flag.
Sometimes it’s just a scared as hell 23 year old girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing .
She’s planning the biggest event of her life, and it’s beyond overwhelming. Her type A personality did not help, she was trying so hard to control every aspect of the wedding that she wouldn’t let vendors who knew what they were doing do their job.
Since that time, when I meet with a potential client I have a very different idea what a Red Flag is.
When I’m in a consult, I try to probe for my own Red Flags. As I chat along asking about the details of the day, OMG what are your colors, I like to drop a bomb right in the middle of the consult when they least expect it asking:
“What are you worried about in terms of your photography?”
9 times out of 10 they look shocked, take a second and give an answer along the lines of not having enough time on the day, crappy weather, family dynamics that are troubling them in the formals, worries about the logistics of getting to photo locations,etc.
To me, these are common concerns and things that can easily be explained in terms of how these challenges are normally dealt with.
For me, the clients who say “I’m worried I’ll spend all this money on you and I’ll hate the photos” are my Red Flag clients.
These are the people I probe carefully, because their immediate distrust of of the outcome despite my vast portfolio and experience signals to me that there are deeper problems.
And as for Karen P’s wedding, it went fine.
We most certainly will never have Tapas together, and I nearly gagged having to do a photo of her with the bouquets on her train because that’s what she wanted. But I did it, and she loved the photos.
Sometimes it’s my career, and sometimes it’s just a paycheck.
Who are your Red Flag clients?