top of page


I see so many posts of photographers asking for help because they are in a sticky situation with a client or because they are struggling. I have been there, I have struggled too and I hate to see others having a tough time. This post isn't aimed at anyone specific but I am hoping it helps everyone out there who is new or struggling with the basics of running a photography business. This is tough love advice but I promise I am saying all of it with love. Maybe this will keep some of y’all from learning your lessons the hard (and expensive way). We all start somewhere but hopefully this post will give you a head start!

1. STOP THINKING THAT BEING A GOOD BUSINESS WOMAN MAKES YOU "MEAN". I literally just had a new fellow photographer tell me that she doesn't make clients sign contracts, pay deposits, be on time, or pay before receiving digitals, and she doesn't pursue payment from those who avoid paying because she's "a nice person". And sadly that wasn't the first time I have seen someone say that. Anyone who knows me from these groups or in real life knows I'm one of the nicest people on the planet... like literally I have the personality of buddy the elf or a golden retriever and I just want to be everyone's friend and please everyone. BUT I am also running a legit business that pays my bills.

Is Target "mean" for not letting me shop in store hours after they close? Or for not letting me walk out of the store with hundreds of dollars worth of items I didn't pay for? No, they are just a business who has to be fair to all of their clients and uphold a business policy. I hear the "but I'm a people pleaser" excuse a lot. TBH, I used that once too.... but now I realize I was really just a pushover. So please stop thinking that being a nice person, and a good business person are mutually exclusive because they aren't. You can be nice and not let people walk all over you and take advantage of you at the same time. If you are going to run a business, you are going to need a backbone. Being nice doesn't mean letting people walk all over you.

2. PLEASE DEAR LORD STOP BOOKING CLIENTS WITHOUT CONTRACTS - 99% of the "I need help with a client" posts at some point admit they aren't using contracts. This is rule number one. You need to outline what your client gets, when, for how much and what happens if something stops you from performing like your camera failing or your client being late. I PROMISE using a good contract will eliminate 99% of your issues and help you deal with the other 1%. You can get a free contract online or very inexpensively from The Law Tog and your clients can sign them electronically for FREE using Jotform, Agree, or Match. If you can spend $100 on a bunch of blankets and buckets from Hobby Lobby, or a million bonnets and headbands, you can invest in a simple contract. There is literally NO EXCUSE for not using some kind of simple contract. This contract needs to be signed BEFORE you so much as put their name on your calendar. Friends and family too! EDIT: ESPECIALLY FRIENDS AND FAMILY. A good contract is also the difference between losing a client or losing your business, your car, your assets, and your home if you get sued.

3. STOP BOOKING SESSIONS WITHOUT A NON-REFUNDABLE BOOKING FEE/Non-Refundable Retainer/Non-Refundable Retainer - The keyword here is NON-REFUNDABLE. Tired of clients standing you up, blowing you off, forgeting about their session, rescheduling several times, or not valuing what you do? Easy fix. TAKE. A. DEPOSIT. End of story.

I see so many posts about clients not showing up, arriving 45 minutes late, etc. and almost every time the original poster admits they don't take deposits and realize they just learned a lesson the hard way... Let's say you book a client, plan their session, turn away other clients for that day, hire a sitter, pack all your stuff, drive there, get there early, wait and wait and wait and they stand you up. This happens and IT SUCKS! But when you have a deposit, at least you were paid SOMETHING for your time. And something about paying a retainer somehow magically makes session times easier for clients to remember.... Huh, Funny how that works....Just having a booking fee in the first place will make sure 99.999% of your clients show up. It only took one client standing me up to make me require this and I haven't had one client stand me up since. And guess what, If you have a contract, your client has already agreed in writing to let you keep that deposit if they stand you up! These two go hand in hand. I don't even consider putting on pants for a session until I have both a paid booking fee and a signed contract. No exceptions!

4. For the Love of all things photography related PLEASE STOP GIVING AWAY FILES BEFORE YOUR CLIENT HAS PAID YOU!

There are 1,456,380,392 posts from photographers asking what to do about a client who is refusing to pay or avoiding making their payment.... and at some point in the thread, 99% of them admit that they have already sent the digitals or posted 10 sneak peeks on Facebook..... Guess what... They already have the digitals (even if they are low res postage stamp sized photos from facebook) and chances are they aren't going to pay you. Ever. Sorry but it’s true. Another expensive lesson learned.

I can’t go to target walk about with a bunch of stuff with just promise to come back in a week and pay them later. It just doesn't work that way. And the cashier isn't mean for asking you to pay before you leave the store with your items. Why should YOUR BUSINESS be any different?

Payment should be taken before you take your camera out or at least before they leave their session. If you a legit business, you can use Square and as soon as your client sees you take that little device out, they get their card right out! Or your clients can pay online prior to their session. I have had a few clients forget to bring their wallet and I even had a dad lose his at the beach during our session once... You don't have to refuse to shoot or leave them high and dry, you can shoot the session and simply let them know that you won’t do more than back up their photos until their payment is made in full and if their full payment isn’t made in 5 business days, their images will be deleted and they will not get their booking fee/retainer/deposit back. (There is a big debate about what to call this fee for legal reasons but I won't get into that now. Check with a local lawyer for the acceptable terminology in your state).

I hear a lot of new photographers say they feel awkward asking for payment. Please dont! I used to too. But then I remembered that when I worked at the register at Abercrombie and Fitch in high school, I didn't feel bad asking people to pay so I shouldn't now. It does feel awkward though...It reminds me of when I used to get paid after babysitting in middle school…. but it shouldn't. Don’t let it. I will admit that using Square helps BIG TIME! I don't even have to say anything. I just pull it out and people grab their cards! I love it!

5. STOP USING DROPBOX TO DELIVER CLIENT IMAGES. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE dropbox. I use it all the time. But I DON'T use it to deliver images to clients. I see a lot of posts where a client is claiming they hate their images and they want a refund…They claim they are terrible and unusable….but when the OP shows us the gallery, the photos are gorgeous…. But you can’t really “return” a digital file the way you can return a sweater your aunt bought you. And 9 times out of 10, they have already posted all of them all over social media, emailed them to everyone they know, and made prints at the local Walmart…. There are A LOT of people out there who think they can do this to get their money back just because they are cheap, or a con artist, or both. And they usually claim there uncle is a lawyer, their best friend is a professional photographer who agrees the photos are terrible, and threaten to ruin your business if they don’t get what they want…(Don't get me started on social media blackmail). It happens a lot and its always the same story….and it happened to me once. There is a super easy way to prevent this and deal with those clients who are dumb enough to still try it… Stop using Dropbox to deliver files. (And have a good contract but we already covered that). The first time a client views their photos, should NOT be when they already have them in their possession. Make them actively download them and have it written in your contract and in their gallery that “Choosing or downloading photos serves as full satisfaction and acceptance of final product.” That way if they try to pull the old “I hate my photos and want my money back” trick, the ball is still in your court and you can say “nice try crazy person, but if you didn’t like them you should not have downloaded them and plastered them all over Facebook!” but in a nicer more professional way. (This principle works for CD's and USBs too.) They can return the CD or USB but chances are they have already copied all the files. If you want to give a custom USB, have them approve the photos via IPS session or online gallery FIRST.

There are several free client gallery options out there that give you client download confirmation! Let's say that again DOWNLOAD CONFIRMATION. That's the important part here. You will want to be able to prove that your client accepted the files and actively made the choice to download them. Professional gallery software is also so much more professional looking! Again, no excuses on this one!

6. STOP GIVING UP YOUR COPYRIGHT! IF YOU ARE GOING TO CALL YOURSELF A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER, YOU NEED TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COPYRIGHT AND PRINT RELEASE. I feel like this one should be obvious but apparently it isn’t because a slew of new photographers are handing out copyrights with their photos like candy canes at a Christmas parade. If you are giving clients the “copyright” or “RIGHTS” to their photos please STOP! STOP NOW! You might as well have a neon flag that says "I'm new at this and have no idea what I'm doing!" You are embarrassing yourself and miss-educating the general public. There is a difference between a copyright and a print release (thats right, say these magical words with me: Print...... Release.......) and you need to know it before you so much as hold a camera phone. There are also a ton of wedding blogs out there advising brides to make sure they hire a photographer who gives you the rights to your photos... those people don't know what the hell they are talking about either... and the people who wrote those blogs owe photographers everywhere an apology... and a margarita...

Ok I know all that was harsh but I can’t handle watching some of you struggle. The hard truth is, If you are going to charge someone even a dollar for photography you are IN BUSINESS. It may bot be a successful business, but that's a whole 'nother blog: READ IT HERE. and if you are running a business and representing the photography industry, you need to do it right and stop acting like you have no idea what you are doing. If you actually don't know what you are doing. Stop accepting people's money until you do. I feel like I have seen so many posts of people who don’t know these things that my head is going to explode. I love you all and want you all to succeed! You don’t have to run your business the way I do but please protect yourself and know the basics. I am always here to help if anyone needs it!

See someone on who needs to read this? Send them this link:

Have a question or a topic you would like me to blog about? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page