To those who may hire a portrait photographer:
As I write this, a guy outside my window is painting the exterior of my house. I had a hard time choosing a color, and I hope I chose well. I’d hate to screw that up.
If, however, the painter completes the work and I decide I that I should have chosen a gray with a little less green in it, that’s my mistake. I would not expect the painter paint my house again for free.
If the painter screws up — by doing shoddy work or painting a color other than the one I chose — that’s a different matter altogether. He didn’t do the job he was contracted to do, and he’d better fix it.
Most reasonable people would agree with this distinction. When it comes to portrait photography (particularly by small, local businesses), that’s not always the case. I’ve heard many stories about clients who expected their proverbial house to be repainted for free because they got the color wrong.
Fortunately, this has not happened to me. I’m hoping that it never will. Perhaps, by explaining the issue, I can avoid it altogether.
The “proverbial house” here is portrait photography, especially more casual portraits taken outside a studio. Although the issue arises in all genres, I’ll use family portraiture in this example.
Abby hires a photographer, Ben, to take family portraits. Abby is unhappy with the photos. She tells Ben that she hates them all. She expects Ben to fix her problem. Ben wants to provide good client service and avoid conflict that could harm his substantially-word-of-mouth business, so he offers a re-shoot.
When Ben encourages Abby to explain what she didn’t like about her photos, Abby explains that she didn’t like her hairstyle, her son’s glasses were bent, and her husband’s shirt was too tight. In other words, all the things Abby disliked were things she brought to the session. Nothing Ben could have done would have changed them. Abby chose the green paint and is unhappy that her house is green.
In this example, Ben has agreed to paint Abby’s house a second time — for free — although he did nothing wrong.
A portrait photographer should show his clients looking their best under the circumstances. He should notice untucked shirts, flyway hair, and runny noses. He should place his subjects in flattering poses in good light.
Abby’s complaints go beyond this. While Abby should expect Ben to show her family at their best, it was not his job to style Abby’s hair, repair her son’s glasses, or dress her husband, yet some clients expect just this level of perfection from their photographer. (Abby’s complaints are real complaints made to photographers I know.) People who would never expect their painter to re-do the job ask their photographer to do just that.
Please don’t be Abby.
If you hire a portrait photographer, remember this. I hope that you are thrilled with your photos, but if that’s not the case, please be objective. Are you second-guessing your decision to blow dry, or did your photographer fail to perform? The difference matters.
If the photographer failed to perform, by all means get what you are due. If not, please don’t ask for a do-over, and don’t badmouth your photographer. It’s just not fair.
About the author: Cynthia Ragona is a child and family photographer based in Barrington, Rhode Island. She offers her services as Sea Green Photography and blogs at Flotsam of the Mind. You can find more of her work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.