Three Stories About Cheap Clients I’ve Experienced as a Photographer

If you’re a photographer who has ever been cheaped out on by a client, you’ll enjoy this.

The quickest answer is yes, I’ve been cheaped out on and it sucks! I believe everyone in business has been in that situation before. But as a freelance creative, it probably hurts more because of the artistic value of our work and the sentimental attachment we have to it.

Let me elaborate on this and give you a few examples of situations where I was cheaped out by a “client” and how I reacted to the situation. (Note – the photos, names and brands have been omitted to protect the guilty.)

The very first time was a brewery in a village I used to live in. I took a picture of their product being carried and delivered in the streets and shared it on flickr and with the local magazine. The local magazine published it as picture of the month and days later, an email comes through from their marketing team asking for the picture in high resolution to be used in all sorts of publicity stunts – from beer mats to beer labels all the way up to be printed on their delivery trucks. In exchange, they offered 5 litres of beer!!! 

My reply: “I’m honored to be asked for this opportunity but unfortunately, my landlord doesn’t accept beer as a payment for rent and I’m not much of a beer drinker. Thank you.” Never heard back from them.

Once an artist rang and asked in distress for a very urgent service – to photograph a couple of paintings that had to be submitted urgently to a big festival in the Nevada desert. That day it happened to be my first wedding anniversary so my day was already planned. She insisted so bad and begged in a way that her career nearly depended on this that I agreed. Oh boy! What followed was a living hell of message exchanges while she made her way to our flat:

    • What camera do you have?
    • How many megapixels?
    • What’s the resolution?
    • What’s the lens?
    • How do you photograph?
    • How do you frame?
    • When can I see the photos?
    • I need them in 2 hours.
    • I have a friend who is a pro photographer but his camera is shit so he can’t help me… and so on.

I knew I should have said no but when she arrived and I saw her work… I was like “OH F@CK GOD HELP ME!  I knew I should have trusted my gut. Long story short, the stink of weed was ridiculous. I don’t have anything against weed but if you need a favor… First impressions, man!  We shot her two metaphysic paintings,  I gave her the RAW files since I had zero interest in her artwork and exchanged payment but not before making sure she knew what a RAW file was and what she could do with it. What followed that evening were at least 40 missed calls and a series of super-offensive messages saying how crap the pictures were and how bad my camera is.

My reply: “The spirit of the ancient ones in your paintings has ruined my camera, who’s gonna pay for this?”

Years later and I’m commissioned to photograph four restaurants in four different cities across the UK (same owner, of course). I’m taken to city number one up north, accommodation sorted, and the job sounded too good to be true. I meet the owner the following day and get hands-on with the job. We drive with his accountant and business developer manager to the rest of the venues in different cities doing the same job at each venue. Two days on the road and we finish the job on the 3rd day. I spend the next week editing, deliver the pictures, all parties are happy, and I submit the invoice. 1 month, 2 months – no payment. His accountant is having some family issues and hasn’t been in the office. 3 months – no payment. His mom is not well and hasn’t been in the office. 4 months – no payment. He’s off to Greece for holiday. 5 months – I issue an invoice with a delayed payment charge. No reply. 6 months and there’s still no reply.

I faked a debt collector’s email and an “official” branded letter stating that my client (me) has opened a case against them not paying an invoice for X amount. The letter stated if the money is not paid within a week, they will visit the Head Office. 3 days later – a long email with a drama of a story and my money in the bank! No need to reply this time.

These are the only three occasions that something like this has happened. I’m usually very cautious of who I’m getting to work with. I do my research and thankfully, the food industry is a very small world so everyone knows everyone. I ask my friends and they report back straight away with invaluable feedback.

Still, nowadays I get cheaped out on the initial stages but it doesn’t bother me at all, I just don’t pay attention to the situations. I try to focus and look after those who know what my work is worth.

More from Xavier can be found on his website.