CYA and Other Legal Matters: What to do When A Client Wants to Sue
Photography contracts. The one thing we love to hate but are a necessary evil. They are literally the lifesavers for small business owners. If you are reading this and are in a service industry, stop reading this, and analyze your current contracts. Seriously. Do it NOW. If you think that they need to be updated, please contact an attorney.
SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY HUSBAND, Rich, he is an awesome attorney and makes simple, easy to read contracts that suit your needs. Both you and your client will be on the same page when it comes to expectations. Check out his website.
I am writing this blog based on personal experience. Without giving too much detail, I photographed a session and it went swimmingly. The client and I meshed, and it was a great session. I then went home, edited the images and delivered them to the client. A few days passed and I finally heard back from the client. She was less than pleased with her final images. She wrote me the nastiest email I have ever received. Her words were soul crushing. Basically none of my images were what she wanted and that I misrepresented myself and skills. It ruined my week to say the least. As a photographer I pride myself on giving clients images they will cherish for years to come. I am capturing legacies and I carry that responsibility heavily. It took me a good 24 hours to even look at the images I sent her. What if what she said was true? What if this was the one session I royally screwed up? When I finally went over the images with an unbiased 3rd party I was surprised to find that they were not what she said they were. I am my own worst critic. I pick apart every image looking for ways to improve. I'm the only one that sees that one thing out of place on one will ever notice, and if I thought they were pretty good images, that says something.
You spend years honing your craft. Nine out of ten times, clients love them and are overly complimentary of your work, but when that one attacks your work and skills it makes you rethink everything you've ever done.
I responded that I was sorry she wasn't happy with her images. However, the points she made about my work were simply not true. I wrote that I thought we were in a disagreement with stylistic editing choices and not the actual integrity of the photos themselves. She then sent a response again picking apart my work image by image and stated she wanted more than a 50% refund.
As a pro tip to any small business owners out there, this is the point you CALL YOUR CLIENT. Do not continue in email form, this will only drag out the process. I realized that I was NOT going to refund this client any money. For starters I was contractually obligated to complete a service, and I fulfilled that obligation. I also stand by my work. It is in line with my portfolio and stands on its own. After I put my big girl pants on, I called my client. You guys, I was SO NERVOUS. I seriously was about to throw up as I heard the phone ringing. I offered to reedit the images in a style she would be happy with. She refused and stuck to wanting a refund. I explained all the above and she then threatened to call the venue and other wedding vendors and tell them about the situation. She then said she would take me to small claims court. At this point in the conversation I got super calm. Praise the Lord for my contract! I explained to my client that she was free to do as she wanted and that I was willing to go through that process with her. I suggested that she take her signed contract and show her attorney.
My contract states that ALL images are at the sole creative discretion of the photographer. Case closed. If I had not had a signed contract before I took ONE IMAGE, this could have been disastrous. Please let my situation be a lesson to you all. GET A GOOD CONTRACT AND MAKE EVERY CLIENT SIGN ONE!!!! Even my friends have to sign a contract. Seriously. I don't take photos as favors. This is my livelihood and I will protect it with everything I have.
By having a signed contract upfront you immediately set the expectations for the session. There is no arguing about minor details. It protects you and your client. It allows you to both be on the same page. So please, for the love of all things good, speak to an attorney and get your contract looked at. Don't wait until you get threatened, it may be too late.