Client wont pay remaining balance, already received photos

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by charles_lattin, Dec 26, 2016.

  1. Simple question and then I'll post the back story. Should my wife and I take a couple to small claims court over and outstanding balance ($250)? This would be on a principle basis more than for the money.
    My wife and I started doing photography a little over a year ago, and this is the 5th wedding that we have shot. Never had a single issue with the others and we charge what we believe is a great rate ($600) and dont claim to be the best photographers on the planet, but everyone has loved our work so far.
    We shot a wedding for a friend (high school years) and in our contract, and charged $100 as a retainer with the remaining balance of $500 being due the day of the event. The event came and the clients were a mess. Groomsmen showed up 20 minutes before the ceremony (instead of the hour prior that we had been told), so I had to rush to recreate some photos of them getting ready while my wife was doing the same with the bridesmaids.
    The ceremony came and we took plenty of beautiful photos, but again, afterwards they didnt stick to the schedule. We were supposed to have an hour of uninterrupted time to do formal shots with the usual arrangement of bride+groom+parents, grandparents etc. Well, they decided that they would rather socialize. I tried three separate times to remind the bride and groom that we needed that time foe formals but was told to wait each time, finally after insisting that we get started, they grudgingly accepted. At that time we had about 40 minutes left to do the formals on scene. We managed to get those done as well.
    We stayed and shot the reception where we captured all the traditional dances such as Groom and Bride's first, Mother and Groom etc and they were great. Here is where we made our first mistake, we allowed them to put off paying us until the photos were delivered.
    Fast forward two weeks; we had a flash drive ready with over 150 high quality edits that were consistent with our artistic style. We decided to include some extra novelty photos (these are for friends right? pssh) that were not edited. Messaged the Groom told him the photos were ready and that we would trade the photos for remainder of balance ($500). One day before the agreed meet day, he messaged with a sob story saying his kids were sick, had to go to the doctor, payed a bunch of money out of pocket, etc, and asked if we would take payments. *Cringe. This being an old friend of my wife whom I didn't know, I let her make the call. We decided to trust them and gave them the flash drive for half the outstanding balance (250).
    Couple days later I get a rude message from the Groom saying that his wife hates the photos, we are missing bunch of shots, blah blah blah. I respond politely saying that "Im sorry to hear that, but could you be more specific, told them we take pride in our work and will do everything in our power to make sure they are 100 percent satisfied. At this point the wife sends me a demands list of a bunch of photos that she feels are missing. Sigh...
    I offer to take the flash drive back and compare the photos we gave them to what we had on our cards and told her "I cant guarantee we have all of them but I'll see what we can do". We ended up giving them an additional 30 edits (about 5-10 more hours editing time for us). I give them the photos and a request for the outstanding balance to be payed within 1 weeks time explaining that we had fulfilled our contract to the best of our abilities and would not perform any additional work without charging for it.
    That was a week ago. Groom sends me another nasti-gram today saying that he is still not satisfied, will not pay the remaining balance, and that it was our job to make sure that the photos turned out great and we should have cracked the whip more at the wedding and so on. He offers to give all the photos back for a full refund or says I can just basically suck it up because he isn't paying.
    Thats the story, now the big question what would you do? I havent responded to him yet, I'm outraged, feel like we went above and beyond to accommodate their every demand and feel like he is just ripping us off and doesnt want to pay.
  2. Send a letter by registered mail, so you have proof
    of receipt, demanding payment within 14 days. On
    the 15th day file a small claims court action.
  3. Well, decided to tell them to keep their photos and regretted that we couldnt make them happier. We feel as though they never intended to pay the remainder and even though we would win in court, it wasnt worth the headache
  4. I think you're right that a) he never intended to pay, and b) it's not worth the trouble.
    Lesson learned!! Sometimes these lessons are painful and expensive. Raise the price of the weddings a bit. The cheaper they are, the more trouble people can be. Next time, let them maybe see them online or in--person, but not take the files without payment. Much of this would have gone smoother had this presentation & communication not been via text, in my opinion.
  5. Well I hope you learned a lesson and will start
    referring to the client as a "former friend". That's no
    friend nor a reasonable client either.
  6. I imagine this is a good experience and will make it easier for you to stick to the 'no money, no photos' point of view. It sounds like a classic case of them going over budget and trying to shout their way out of it. You might not have been the only vendor there having this problem. I once had a bride write me two bad checks and then complain and demanded her money back (what money?) and wanted all of the negatives turned over to her. My next stop was the sheriffs office. I've hit a point where I just don't do weddings much any more.
    Rick H.
  7. Next time do what most pros do and get the full payment of your balance a month before the shoot. There is no reason not to get paid in advance. Head aches will be gone.
    Dave Gardner likes this.
  8. I hope you had and have a written contract specifying, among other things, the payment schedule. You said this was only $250.00 and that may not be a consequential amount, but if the total was $600.00, you just walked away from 40% or thereabouts. Hopefully that puts this in a different perspective. Finally, $600.00 for a full wedding is peanuts. PLEASE triple your prices today.
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
    Charles_Webster likes this.
  9. You don't do yourself or anyone else a favor by charging such a low price.
  10. As previous comments have stated, always get payment before wedding. Just let it go and put it down to experience. I am a bit perplexed in you stating 30 edits would take 5 to ten hours and only 150 photos delivered. What do you do to the photos to take that long. If properly exposed etc should not take that long. Similar scenario to yours we would have delivered 600 + edited photos.
  11. "I'm outraged"
    I would be too, and the only answer I can off is to sue.
    Why? Because you'll likely run into clients like that again, so taking a stand as a matter of policy is in your own business interest in the long haul.
  12. For future reference.

    They are already in breach of your agreement by not providing the balance the day of the wedding. How you handle that
    in the future is another issue you should think through.

    After his sob story about the kids and being broke, I would have responded, I'm sorry to hear that. When you are able to
    gather the balance, the photos will be here waiting for your approval."


    Like or not like, he has the photos and is gambling you won't go through the trouble to get the balance. He wins.
  13. Sorry to say, but it's not really worth the trouble- but maybe a free consult with a lawyer would help you decide? Those people will continue to screw businesses over and over again, so maybe a collections against their name would be fitting.
    Never give product before payment (unless it is your bestest friend and even then only give the % amount of paid shots) Only paid 1/6th? only give them the first 1/6th of the photos chronologically (which probably don't include formals or ceremony.)
    Even if they gave you back the flash drive... were we all born yesterday? they've already copied the files.
    Hopefully you have a good contract that says that the B&G are required to be helpful and courteous and if they do not have anyone to assist with formals and some shots are missed then it's not your fault, etc. Having a watertight contract can help you when you have to deal with terrible customers.
    In one of those registered letter-y things, I would make sure to outline the fact that payment was not received at the time it was due, and as such no more photos will be given until payment in full. The 'missing shots' line is one we hear frequently, and if your contract has that clause in there, you should be all set.
    Let us know how it works out. Friends are dumb.
  14. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “Well, decided to tell them to keep their photos and regretted that we couldnt make them happier. We feel as though they never intended to pay the remainder and even though we would win in court, it wasnt worth the headache”

    (charles lattin, Dec 27, 2016)
  15. Don't sue, it's not worth the trouble. You are just starting out, learn from it and move on. Don't EVER give out photo's
    until the whole bill is paid for. If you go to court you are at the mercy of the judge and it really depends on the quality and
    what you offered the couple. If pics are missing the judge will probably vote in favor of the couple.

    Here is why you NEVER give out the photo's. From 1 full length shot of a bride, carefully posed, you can make 5 or 6
    shots out of that 1 single shot. A close-up, a ring shot, B&W a sepia, vignetted, just her eye area. By moving a foot to
    her right or left and having her tilt her head . boom, you have another full length and a bunch of other shots. They all look
    totally different in photoshop when you are done. However I hate working in photoshot and would rather get the shot
    right first. Taking all of these "In Camera." Lesson is to be creative. One great pose can save you. One great pose can
    also save hours on the computer.

    A hard lesson to learn. Always bring a MUST list of required shots. You have to get the following, just a short example -

    The bride alone, several shots, 15
    bride with mom, 5 shots
    bride with dad, 5 shots
    bride with mom and dad 5 plus shots.
    bride with bridesmaides
    bride with each brother and sister
    bride with entire family
    bride and groom with entire family
    bride and grandparents

    add divorced parents. great grand parents.

    Groom - same way as the bride. same shots. 8 shots.

    Add divorced parents

    Bride and groom with the wedding party.

    This should keep you out of trouble. If you miss any of these you could be in trouble and lose in court.

    Do a search for must have shots for receptions. There has been plenty written on this subject.
  16. 30 edits takes you 5-10 hours, you gave them 180 edits, that's 30 -60 hrs, say 45 hrs hours of editing, plus say 8 hours shooting and traveling, total about 60 hours. Even for the full $600, that's $10/hr. Were there 2 shooters to make it even worse? You say we. You had to use your gear, gas, computer. McDonalds here pays 12/hr with benefits and you get a regular paycheck. Then these people didn't want to pay you 250 of the 600? I agree with Michael and except in special circumstances, no advance payment 30 days in advance , don't expect me there to waste my time. Do you think the cake or flowers arrived without prior payment? The cake is eaten and the flowers dead, but they have the photos. If you didn't give them to them, they have incentive to pay. Let them complain and sue then. Also, in case you aren't aware, in my former state, CA, 2 turn and burn wedding photographers have each been successfully sued in the last couple of years and gotten verdicts of $40,000+ against them. I'll bet they didn't have insurance and aren't incorporated so the verdict is against them personally. Gotta shoot a lot of $500 weddings to make that up. It's a business, have insurance-look into PPA, they give errors and omissions as well as general liability for damage and gear insurance included-, a contract, advance payment. Period. And as someone above said, if you THINK they are friends, then do the shoot but don't deliver any photos til paid in full. Chalk this up to experience but be sure to learn from it. As Michael Corleone said, it's just business. And as Henry indicated, triple your prices. The turn and burners for that price that I am aware of don't edit. Don't feel bad, this isn't the first time this type of scenario has been posted here. Make sure it's the last time it happens to you. You got off cheap, 250.
  17. You know what hurts is photographers shooting weddings for $400 to $500. Craigslist specials. Will these people ever go
    away? Don't think so. Weddings should cost about $3000 for 1 or 2 shooters. The bride and groom can afford it, but they
    would rather get that craigslist special and sue you for missing the shots.

    Bob Bill is correct. If the bride and groom hire a lawyer and avoid small claims court, you, as the photographer is looking at
    $25,000 and up. The bride and groom wide up getting their wedding for free, probably their honeymoon too. All because of
    some missed shots. Lets say you WIN the lawsuit, you still lose, because you have to pay the attorney fees, which start
    around $500 an hour. Maybe $500 to $1000 a half hour if it goes to court. Scary...
  18. Here we go again. No we won't go away. I have never advertised on Graigslist but have charged in the past $500 when I was starting and I did a got job. I could have charged $3000 but that would not have made me a better photographer. Weddings should cost whatever the couple can afford and a lot can not afford $3000. A lot of photographers seem to think they have a god given right to be paid the mega bucks which is why they moan about the Craigslist Specials, That's what business is about and times they are a changing. Getting back to your original question, let it go, put it down to experience and move on.
    J_Tom likes this.
  19. "you'll likely run into clients like that again, so taking a stand as a matter of policy is in your own business interest in the long haul"

    That would be accomplished by not turning over images when there is an outstanding balance but without all the hassle and fuss.
  20. "Will these people ever go away? Don't think so. Weddings should cost about $3000 for 1 or 2 shooters"

    No. No one owes other photographers a living. If you can't compete on price, you better do so on results.

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