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What you said and what they heard; working for friends, family and acquaintances.

99% of “stupid things I have done”  in client relations  have happened when dealing with friends, family and acquaintances.

A few years ago a woman I network with in a professional meeting every month wanted to hire me for her May wedding.  Early May is not a busy month where I am located as the weather is still very unpredictable so I was willing to work with her and told her that.

What I said: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget, but the only caveat would be that if I have an opportunity to book a full day wedding that day I will have my associate shoot your wedding”

What she heard: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget and if someone else calls for your wedding day I will have my associate shoot their wedding”

The contract wording was clear and spelled out that I would shoot the wedding unless I booked another event.  But as we know, people don’t read much these days.

So when the inevitable happened, I called to let her know that I had booked another wedding on her date but my associate was excited about photographing her wedding, she was crushed.  When I reiterated what we had talked about, she remembered  the conversation very differently.  “Remember how you told me May is not usually a busy month?  I thought you said you would send your associate to shoot any other wedding”

I told her May was not a busy month.  In her bride-addled brain, that translated to ” I  am sure I will be able to shoot your wedding because it’s not a busy month for me”

What she felt: She felt like I thought  the other wedding was more important than hers and I had willingly dumped her for a bigger better wedding for more money.  Which, technically speaking, I had.  To me it was business, to her it was personal. This was a person that I could not have told you anything more than her name, what she did for a living and that she liked the color pink a lot.   In her mind, we had “A relationship”.  I know this because it was the phrase she used over and over as she expressed her disappointment with the way I handled things.

What I should have done:   Contracted my associate for the coverage and all the verbiage and conversations with her should have specifically been about my associate shooting it. Then  at my discretion I could  have surprised her prior to the wedding that I was available and shot it.  The way I handled it caused hurt feelings and to this day we remain distant with each other.   She was “happy enough”  (her words) with the photos, but I am sure somewhere in her mind she feels like I sent out the second string.  Frankly, the photos were phenomenal.  But that doesn’t really matter, does it?

My contract may have been clear, but sometimes by being right you don’t win.

Kim’s Friends and Family Pricing, revised.

Family Pricing: Includes the people who are my parents, anyone married to one of my parents for more than a few years (yeah, don’t ask) anyone dating or married to me currently, my kids, my sister, my stepbrothers and their children.   These people receive my services 100% free of charge as long as I am am available.   They get their photos outright on a disk and pay cost for prints if they want them through me.   I also have a VERY select few good friends who are included in this list.  They are as close to me as family and they know who they are and are also sworn to secrecy that they are on the list.  It’s kind of like Fight Club with more awesome photos.

Friends:  Anyone that I know that does not meet the criteria of above, but is a friend.  Not just a Facebook friend, but a real live friend that I am likely to have lunch with/drinks with on a semi-regular occasion or extended family such as second cousins that I barely know.   They get a discount on my fees and a discount on prints.  If my prices are too high for them, they are welcome to use another photographer.  I let them know that shooting a portrait session is not ” stopping by and taking a few pictures” and a wedding isn’t “taking a few photos and putting the camera down to have fun”. I treat their session or their wedding exactly as I would a paying client and they need to respect that while I am appreciative they love my work enough to hire me, it’s still work and I am going to treat it as such. When  I am shooting a wedding I am working, and when I am done my camera goes into my bag and is put away for the night is when I turn into a guest and not a second before.

Acquaintances:  I like to call these people “clients”.   If  I know you, that does not mean I have to give you any sort of a deal or discount.  I can at my discretion throw in a free print or something if the spirit moves me but it is never promised or implied.  So for the sister of the guy I dated in high school, she’s an acquaintance.   The soccer moms that I have known for 10 years because our kids played together?  Still acquaintances. However, an acquaintance can be moved into friends if they ALSO provide a service for me.  My plumber gives me a discount because I’ve sent a lot of business her way, and that moves her into friends pricing even though we really don’t socialize in our day-to-day lives.

So, let’s hear it.  Your best horror story about the gig you never should have taken and how it turned out.  And somewhere in there, I want to hear you address two things:
How they felt and what YOU could have done differently.









  1. You know, I never give discounts. Because I’m active in a Jewish community, almost all of my very close friends (who are Jewish) hired me for their kid’s respective Bar Mitzvahs. Not a single one of them asked for a discount, nor did I offer any. They are my friends. And they know that if I didn’t take their gig on any given date, I could have had another one. At full price. That said, I’ve shot a couple of weddings of BLOOD relatives, children of my cousins, that kind of thing, for absolute free and delivered a disk. They never asked. I offered when I heard about it. These are all events wherein I would have attended anyway, and the shooting, honestly, gave me something to do when there was no food in front of me. The lesson I learned (and lectured on at length to you and other forum members privately) from my father long ago is to never offer discounts. Bill the full price, or offer the whole thing, whatever the gig is, as a complete gift. Somehow, the gift of a discount gets forgotten as the recipient is writing a check for the non-gift part.

    And yeah, long ago, I learned to offer my associate. And I simply tell the people (those in that rare situation) that if I’m available I’ll do it myself. But only if I’m not booked otherwise. They are ALWAYS thrilled with the possibility. And sometimes I’ve done it. Sometimes I’ve wound up booked.

    It can be a minefield, working for people with whom you already have a relationship…but it really doesn’t have to be.

  2. Lately I have been thinking that I really don’t want to work for friends or aquaintances because of the awkwardness of payment. I have had many aquaintances ask me to shoot their wedding or family portraits, but as soon as I talk about price or direct them to my pricing on my website, I never hear from them again. It’s like they expect me to either do it for free or give them 90% off. It’s total BS, so I just hate dealing with it. Family and my closest friends I do not charge and I am ok with that. Giving discounts to people makes me feel uncomfortable, so I think that I will take your advice and either do it for free or full price.

  3. I have been burnt and bitten badly by this very topic. Your timing of this article is uncanny. I’m still licking my wounds from my recent encounter with a similiar story. However, mine is a little closer to the bone.

    I do a bit of bookkeeping on the side to keep the bills paid. I’m working with a very small company one day a week until my studio can pay for itself. The director of this company is fully aware of my other ‘day job’ and with his upcoming nuptials looming, asked me if I could cover the photography end of things. They were not considering any photography and had intended that Uncle Jim would suffice – until the bride objected at the last minute.

    Despite having full knowledge of the character and personality traits of this couple, I had a momentary lapse of sanity and could hear myself quoting my packages like I was having an out of body experience. I seriously could not stop myself – as if my body had been taken over by some kind of egotistical avatar with no sense of reason whatsoever. Before I knew it, we had struck a deal – the deal of a century.

    So, off I went to their chosen venue to have a pre-wedding look – a beautiful seaside location I was told. They were to have a special civil ceremony in the hotel and the reception to follow. The venue was a 1970’s architectural horror story. The interior even worse and the place chosen to carry out the ceremony was just a sectioned off part of the 1970’s horror-story-dining room. Not a speck of natural light – nothing, No alternative area to do the formal groups – nothing – no garden nothing. They relied heavily on the nearby seaside for this purpose and it was as if they couldn’t be bothered to compete with it. . Seriously and I’ve been doing weddings since 2003 and I hadn’t seen a venue this bad. I reported back to them with my concerns and a sample of what the photography was going to look like inside the hotel – I was not taking any chances with this guy. Afterall, I had to see him every Monday morning! This is not a customer I could walk away from – learn from, move on and sweep from my memory card.
    To make a long story I had to do all the photography indoors as it was literally raining sideways outside. I struggled with the horrific interior of the hotel and lack of natural light but I was proud of myself for doing such a great job with minimal use of flash and as much window light as possible (where I could find it!). I was chuffed that I had not only taken on a cantankerous-aquaintance and aced it, I had managed to make beautiful images on a particularily miserable day in a particularily horrific venue.

    They were anxious to see the photographs and so I broke my butt getting them edited and uploaded to a gallery so they could view them over the following weekend. When they received their images I sent a small email intro stating that basic edits are done at the preview stage and that more forensic editing would be carried out on their choices, a word about different computer displays etc etc etc -. I do this to avoid any misunderstanding in the absence of an in-person viewing.

    Monday morning arrived and I was greeted with only a very meek response. My heart sank. Their main critisims were things that were out of my control but was still blamed for: they were bothered by the interior of their house (pre-wedding bridal preps) and that I should have done this, or should have done that. and can I photoshop the beam on the ceiling out and can I photoshop this and that out in the hotel, why did I have to use my flash (aaarrrrghhh), etc etc. bla bla bla. It was like I was back in college getting an in-class critique on my latest photo project!

    I am still paying for this wedding with my ego.

    Your question: how did they feel? Because they got the deal of the century and that I also worked a little for them, their view of me and my services were valued in the same light – dollar for dollar. There was no respect for my craft because I was cheap, it was a part time hobby of mine (in their eyes) and it was last minute to hire me. Therefore, they felt the right to be overly critical and use me as a scapegoat for their bad location choices.

    What would I do differently? Never, ever, ever take a friend, aquaintance or relation as a customer again. However, in my dreams if I could rewind the clock and go back and do this all over again, I would probably have worked ALL night to edit EVERY photograph within a pixel of it’s life before presenting them with the photographs. At least I would’ve known in my own head I had done 150% of everything in my power and avoided the boxing match with my ego. After that, I probably would’ve just laughed in the face of any critism! Oh and leave the previews until you can do them IN-PERSON!

    PS. I am still photoshopping crap (their own personal crap in their own house) out of their photographs because I didn’t say no from the start…..yup, another lesson

  4. You’re right Pops, you’re always right. The phrase “the gift of a discount gets forgotten” is key here, isn’t it?

  5. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, Linda. I wish I had been smart enough to do that early on in my career.

  6. Oh my Angela. That is one hard lesson learned. And the bruising of the ego is the icing on the cake of a deal gone wrong. However, you mentioned that you felt you did a good job, and in the end that is what matters. While this may never be fully erased from your memory card, you know you did everything you could. And in the end, you’re the only one who matters. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Love the expression, “forensic editing”! Sorry for such a bad experience. Thankfully I’ve never had one that bad.

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