"Friend" photography dispute

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by katelynch, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. My apologies in advance for the length of this post. I'm still pretty upset about it.
    Last Sunday, I was "fired" from a wedding shoot because the bride perceived that I was taking advantage of a "friend." I am a customer of the bride's, have been for a couple of years. She runs a business that provides personal services for a fee. She liked my fine art photography, and we have traded her services for photographs on a couple of occasions. She has one of my photographs hanging at her business.
    In mid-September, she told me she was getting married in November and wanted to hire me as their photographer. Wedding photography is not my primary book of business, although I photograph corporate and community events. I've photographed a few weddings, all for friends or co-workers. I told her I would need details of her plans before I could give her an estimate, which would be discounted, and part of my fee could be a service trade, because of our friendly customer relationship. At that point, she didn’t know where the wedding or reception would be. I gave her my rate sheet on at least three occasions but had trouble putting together an estimate because her plans kept changing. The wedding date changed twice and she didn't have a location until three weeks before the wedding.
    By early November, she still didn’t know where or what time the wedding – now planned for the end of December – would be. She told me that she was not going to have a reception and would "probably" just have a courthouse wedding. I gave her a preliminary estimate of $650 for an hour at an engagement party, a two-hour portrait shoot in a city 20 miles from where we both live, a brief courthouse wedding, and two DVDs with images from the three shoots. She asked about black-and-white photography for the portraits. I told her that I would shoot in color, and then we can select photographs that lend themselves to black-and-white, sepia, or other treatments. She wanted a black-and-white photo for a wedding announcement she would send out in January. I also gave her a price for designing and printing the announcement.
    I advised her verbally that an hour for the party was unrealistic and that she should plan for two hours, which was written into our agreement, along with a Dec. 10 delivery date for the DVD. I didn't push her for a signed agreement (she misplaced two copies of it), because she gave me a partial payment at the party and her wedding plans were still not defined (my second mistake after taking on the job in the first place). I delivered a DVD and proof sheets in a binder, along with an invoice of $300 (less the $100 she paid me at the party) for two hours of photography (I actually photographed for three hours but charged her for two) and DVD. Two days after the portrait shoot, she asked if she could see the portrait photos by the next day because her fiancé was leaving (he lives in another state). I left her a return message saying that I had two other commitments and that was why I had Dec. 10 delivery in my preliminary estimate. I offered to burn a second DVD for her to mail to her fiancé.
    A week after the portrait shoot, I delivered DVDs with 110 images in both color and black-and-white, in high-resolution and web-sized. That was my third mistake because she told me on the day of the shoot that she only wanted black-and-white. I should have given her color images and asked her to choose two or three she wanted to see in black-and-white. I also delivered proof sheets of the color images, a revised invoice, two 5x7” B&W images of what I thought were the best in the group, and two color images in 5x7”. I charged her extra for the full set of high-res and web-sized black-and-white images in addition to the color. I didn’t charge her for the 5x7s. I later agreed to waive the extra processing charge because we hadn’t discussed it in advance.
    When I delivered the portrait photos, she told me that she was now planning a church wedding with a reception to follow in a community center. I told her that I would need to give her a revised estimate, because my first estimate was for a 15-30 minute courthouse shoot. I emailed her a revised estimate the next day with options of $300 for just the wedding or $500 for the wedding and reception. Either price would include a DVD with high resolution and web-sized images, along with proof sheets.
    A week later, I delivered a new contract for wedding photography and updated invoice for the work I have already done. I asked her to call me to discuss, because she was with a customer. She agreed to call me that evening.
    Instead, I received an email from her the following evening (last Sunday) saying that she could not afford to hire me for the wedding so my services where no longer needed. She also told me that she thought my first estimate was pretty high but that she went forward because we are “friends” and she knew that I was struggling financially. Now she is trying to get out of paying me for the work I have already done. She wants to subtract my revised estimate of $300 for wedding photography from my original estimate of $650 (for four hours of photography and two DVDs with up to 400 images in two different formats). I billed her $600 for four hours of shooting and two DVDs. She paid me $340 and we were going to trade services for the remainder. That’s not likely now. She still owes me $260.
    Although I do not have a signed contract, we had a verbal contract for the engagement party and engagement portraits. Now I have little recourse other than spending several hours seeking a solution in small-claims court. I am tempted to request that she pull the engagement photos off Facebook (she has ALL of my photos posted there). She really doesn’t have the right to post those photos. Lessons learned: assume nothing (including level of friendship), explain published rates, and get a signed agreement. Oh! And turn the job over to a photographer specializing in weddings. I don’t have event photos posted to Photo.net, so email me if you are curious about my work. Forum rules are that linking to my website is a no-no. Thank you for reading and thank you in advance for your advice.
     
  2. Your first and BIG MISTAKE was NO WRITTEN CONTRACT!
    I hope you have e-mails from your former "friend" discussing and agreeing on the prices you were going to charge her, that will show the judge you had agreed on a price for a Court wedding.
     
  3. I was "fired" from a wedding shoot because the bride perceived that I was taking advantage of a "friend."... ...Lessons learned: assume nothing (including level of friendship), explain published rates, and get a signed agreement. Oh! And turn the job over to a photographer specializing in weddings.​
    The summarized version.
     
  4. Richard, my first mistake was agreeing to do the job. And, of course, a lack of contract means I will likely let it drop. Yes, I do have a record of an email exchange but it was after she decided I was too expensive. What do you think of asking her to remove the images from Facebook? That may be my only recourse. If she decides not to remove them, I can post a link to this forum on Facebook.
     
  5. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. :)
    You're not out money, but you just gained a lot of experience. I'd chalk it up to the cost of taking a business class, but with more real world applications.
    You don't need a contract to do business, but I'd strongly advice having a contract if you're willing to take somebody to court if you have a disagreement. You billed your "friend" for services she didn't request. You don't have a firm agreement on what you should or should not be delivering. From what I understand, there isn't a mutual understanding of what will be paid in cash and what will be bartered.
    You said that you don't normally shoot weddings, but you billed $600 for 2 hours of shooting. That seems like a lot for somebody who doesn't do weddings.
    I don't have a legal degree, but if I were a judge, I'd throw this out. So if I were you, I would move on. I wouldn't worry about what pictures she already has or which ones she has posted to Facebook. Concentrate on doing something negative. Forgive and forget.
    Eric
     
  6. Going to small claims court only takes about an hour, so taking several hours of your time is unlikely. I think she has every right to post her images wherever she wishes. You gave her a DVD is high res and also low res for the use of the internet and to make quality enlargements.

    Since she didn't sign a contract I have no idea what your legal rights are. If you rely on a verbal agreement and use that in court, it could hold up, but chances are she will say she never agreed to any of this. At that stage the judge will have to figure it out.

    I feel badly that you have to go through this. $260 is a lot of money, so you may wish to take your chances in court, because the judge may rule that you are the owner of the copyrights, not her.

    Keep us posted with the results of your situation.
     
  7. Thanks Eric. I billed for 4 hours of shooting and two DVDs with 350 images. That's $100/hr and $100 for each DVD. My estimate was for 4 hours of shooting, including the wedding. The engagement party shoot went over an hour, which I discussed with the bride before and during the party. You think that's overpriced?
     
  8. " You think that's overpriced?"

    Hard to answer without seeing any of the images. Can you post a few?

    As an artist you can pretty much charge whatever you wish. I don't give out DVD's to clients, unless they are friends. So if a client orders an 8X10 I charge them $24. My cost is under $2. I feel I'm relatively inexpensive compared to a few Beverly Hills studios, yet my fees are related to artistic creativity.
     
  9. Kate -
    I read your post twice - just to see if I could keep the payments, deliverables and estimates straight - I think I finally got it.
    If I'm reading correctly - she thinks that the $300.00 estimate for wedding was baked into the $600 billing for the work already done. I can definitely understand where she is coming from on this:
    I gave her a preliminary estimate of $650 for an hour at an engagement party, a two-hour portrait shoot in a city 20 miles from where we both live, a brief courthouse wedding, and two DVDs with images from the three shoots.
    I emailed her a revised estimate the next day with options of $300 for just the wedding​
    She's assuming that the $300 wedding cost is what is baked into the $650.00 upfront estimate for the court house wedding. Thus, in her mind she wants that taken off - since she doesn't want / can't afford you to do the ceremony + reception.
    Lesson 1: Get a signed contract - with everything spelled out - up front. No contract - no pictures. Period
    Lesson 2: Agreement on terms is existential - it sounds like the two of you were talking around and past each other from the beginning. Especially in terms of B/W and what would be presented when.
    Lesson 3: Agree on barter up front. Get the barter / exchange into the contract.
    Lesson 4: Show the client the discount. In the contract.
    Lesson 5: Changes to the contract must be in writing and agreed upon by both sides.
    Lesson 6: Get the contract signed in person - don't rely on her to take the contract with her and sign it and send it back.
    Lesson 7: Once the Images leave your hands and go to hers on DVD - there is very little that you can do to stop her from using them. Unless you have a signed release / agreement.
    My advice - Go have a glass or three of your favorite beverage - take 2 aspirin and stay in bed with a good book tomorrow. And enjoy not having to go to her wedding.
    Dave
     
  10. "Lesson 1: Get a signed contract - with everything spelled out - up front. No contract - no pictures. Period"

    I'd like to add to David's statement -No contract, no pics, and NO SHOW!

    Without a signed contract we won't show up. It's interesting how fast they find lost contracts and sign them!
     
  11. Thanks Dave. Your last piece of advice is probably best. Given what I have experienced so far, it's a blessing that I'm not photographing the wedding. Just a bit of clarification: the original estimate was itemized. I estimated $150 for a few photos outside the courthouse. I gave her a revised estimate after the engagement photo sessions, based on an hour at a church and two hours at a reception, $300 or $500 respectively. So I was actually charging her $100 more than what was in my estimate, for that extra hour at the engagement shoot.
     
  12. Thanks Bob. I'm reluctant to post the photos from this shoot but I can post a few from another wedding.
     
  13. Going to small claims court only takes about an hour, so taking several hours of your time is unlikely.​
    I usually agree with Bob but not on this one point. Preparation time alone takes more. Then there's getting forms, even if online, completing them and then dealing with payment for filing. Getting someone to serve the complaint if the clerk in the particular jurisdiction doesn't do it. Being sent to negotiate by a judge before a hearing commences happens in many locations. As does waiting for one's case to be called while watching everyone else ahead on the docket hash they're problems all out. The continuances the other side sometimes gets (including on the court date itself) throwing logistical hassles in that need to be dealt with such as getting time off again and other run around. Researching what the law is, preparing exhibits, getting witnesses and evidence if needed. I can go on with more but the point has been made.
    Finally the case is called. NOW that one hour begins.
    Some are fortunate to see streamlined matters but it shouldn't be expected overall. These things happen in straight forward cases. In this one?
    I don't have any advice for anyone else but, if it were me, I'd let it go since this matter, as described, is more about principles than business. If that's the guide, then there will be victory because the other side loses more by losing a steady customer.
     
  14. Good advice from John.
    I can see no value in pursuing a claim for $260. It would cost you much more than that in time and stress even before you get to court, and without a contract you're at the mercy of interpretation and presentation -- with probably much greater likelihood of losing than winning.
     
  15. Speaking as moderator, I would first ask if you care that people can find this post--photo.net is very google friendly. Second, I would say to people who wish to see your work, that they can do so by clicking on your name and looking at your website and photo.net gallery. I don't think posting images in this thread does any good, particularly if they are images of this 'friend's' engagement session. It also has no bearing on this issue, since it is all opinion, whether you are worth $xxx.
    Not speaking as moderator, I agree with many above who say that $260 is not worth pursuing. I would just forget about this. I detect more than a little resentment and anger over her usage of your images without agreed upon payment. I would also let this go unless you can negotiate more barter items, rather than money. Looking at it philosophically, I would take more barter items and perhaps try to repair the friendship. And next time, you know what to do.
     
  16. Thanks Nadine...and all. Very helpful. I didn't use any names, locations or other specifics, so I'm not too concerned about who might find it. I don't intend to address use of disputed photos online. I have wedding photos posted on photo.net but not of this session. photo.net/photos/katelynch.
    I occasionally dip my toes into the wedding photog pool. However, if I do it again, it will be deliberately and methodically, and in the company of a seasoned wedding photog.
     
  17. Thanks John for enlightening me about the court system. I haven't been to a small claims court since the 80's; on behalf of myself, an unrelated lawsuit to the photo biz. I'm sure I'm way behind regarding how the judicial system works. Last time I went to court the filing fee, including serving the defendant, was about $35! That took about 15 minutes to fill out. The hearing took another 20 minutes. I have been to court in the last few years to support other photo friends, needless to say I wasn't involved in what you described. John, if people agreed all of the time I'd worry, because the idea of a forum is offering several opinions, options, and solutions to various problems such as this. It really helps all of us decide how to deal with apparent conflicts with clients.

    Kate, I enjoyed your wedding pics. I've never seen a cave wedding! Wow, really cool. You did a nice job picking up the candle lighting and the people. That can be really hard to pull off. I think you are well worth $150 an hour and charging $100 for a DVD seems more like a gift to me. Too bad the bride isn't aware of such a generous gift from you. If you decide to go to court it can be a feeling of closure for you, whether you win or not. It's doing something you truly believe in. Once it's over just move on and put this bad memory behind you. Try not to ever think about it. You will make up that $260 many times over, perhaps as soon as your next photo shoot.

    I'm pretty sure I'm one of the few remaining photographers that won't give out DVD's, so I really have no idea what the present value is for a DVD. I'm sure I will consider selling DVD's in the future, if the business slows down.

    Perhaps some photographers reading Kate's post can describe and offer techniques how they sell their DVD's which may place some sort of artistic value. I'll ask a few local photographers in my area and post something in the very near future.

    Some photographers don't wish to mess with reorders, including album design, enlargements, things of that nature. We've had good luck with reorders averaging around $1000 to $3000. When and if we decide to sell DVD's I'd probably put a price tag around $1000 or more and include it as part of a wedding package. Who knows, I may be way off base here.
     
  18. In the E lectronic A ge, you need to keep a old method in mind for your future wedding deals:
    Payment in hand equates to delivery of any images in print or on CD that are not stamped heavily Proof Copy. Once you turn over the images, chances are really reduced that you will get paid for your work.
     
  19. Friend = Free, Client = Contract. It is best to never mix the two.
    "... we have traded her services for photographs on a couple of occasions. She has one of my photographs hanging at her business."
    So you did each other favours that did not involve an exchange of money. That's what friends do.
    She agreed to call me that evening. Instead, I received an email from her the following evening (last Sunday) saying that she could not afford to hire me for the wedding so my services where no longer needed. She also told me that she thought my first estimate was pretty high but that she went forward because we are “friends” and she knew that I was struggling financially.
    My guess is that your friend has become upset because your detailed account of charges for this change and that change has made her feel like a client rather than a friend. And her inner expectation of what she thought you might charge (or more to the point, not charge) is different to what you have offered. And perhaps even more so when you acknowledge that, "Wedding photography is not my primary book of business".
    She feels she has been "taken advantage of" and you feel "undervalued".
    That's why Friends = Free, Clients = Contract. Disagreements over money will kill more friendships than the black plaque ever did. Just not worth the hassle. I would follow the advice that Nadine has provided (which echoes the earlier sentiments of others).
     
  20. Greg, we did a trade on exactly two occasions. I have paid for her service - no discounts - many many times. I would not characterize our relationship as friends. She clearly thinks that is the nature of our relationship, though, and was expecting almost-free. We don't socialize and really have no relationship outside of her business. It really is no different than other weddings I have photographed for co-workers, who did sign an agreement. Wedding photography is not my primary book of business, but I'm no stranger to photography contracts and invoices - on both sides of the equation. My "day job" is in public relations and marketing. I have hired many many photographers over the years and I have been under contract as a photographer. Just not weddings.
    Bob, thanks for the compliments. It's especially welcome because I really like your work too...and everybody else who has been so kind to help me work through this.
     
  21. That's why Friends = Free, Clients = Contract. Disagreements over money will kill more friendships than the black plaque ever did. Just not worth the hassle. I would follow the advice that Nadine has provided (which echoes the earlier sentiments of others).​
    Maybe don't take friends as clients?
     
  22. "Friends & Family" always want you to work cheap, and will most likely rook you. One friend wants an awards banquet event photographed in Feb 2010. I'm considering the extra $$ but would get a signed contract and the cash upfront before the shoot if I decide yes.
    One good experience was a wedding I shot for a friend, she agreed to pay cash before the shoot..this is truly a good friend, and the exception to the rule.
     
  23. You said mistake was no contract, nope, first was to say yes. In all my years as a wedding photographer I had one rule, learnt the hard way from one (ex)friends wedding, no friends, no family. That way you don't fall out with anyone because it's almost impossible to be a business person with friends or relatives. In all those years I was always respected for my decision. Many of my photography friends were used for these jobs and they still had there discounts as the work was passed on from me.
    Another thing I never think twice about small claims action, name and shame is my advice. Also you could send a letter explaining copyright laws and how much it could cost her if your images are not removedfrom the web site.
     
  24. "Many of my photography friends were used for these jobs and they still had there discounts as the work was passed on from me"
    Thanks David. I think that's the missing piece for me...and will be in the unwritten part of my business plan for the coming year. I moved to Washington nine years ago and really don't have the photography friends I did in Arizona. A few months ago, my son (who is 23 and will probably marry his long-time girlfriend in a couple of years) said that he was glad his mother was a photographer because they wouldn't have to worry about hiring a photographer. I thought about it and realized that I don't have close enough working relationships with photogs here to trade or collaborate.
     
  25. I think many lessons were learned here. 1 - working for a "friend" can sometimes be trouble.
    2 - Have a more set price schedule. If you are going to do weddings here and there you need to have a set prices with add-ons etc. If shooting for a friend, then give a certain discount. For example 5% off or whatever. It may seem obscure to have a package or price list for weddings, but even if you do 3 a year, it is good to have something set and to go from. This way the client knows right from the getgo what to expect.
    3 - Signed contract is the most important lesson in all this. With this you are protected and so is the client.
     
  26. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Taking only one side of the story, as fact: I would just walk away. That is my suggestion to you.

    The main element which seeps through your original post is anger, and that is multifaceted, not the least of which anger at yourself, because you would likely NOT have accepted all the preliminary stuffing around from any other client, you gave latitudes because she was your friend

    If I wanted the images taken down from Face Book, I would craft a formal letter apropos copyright and indicate that you are the Photographer, register the document and address it to the Face Book Publisher: if you want the images removed that will be the easiest & cheapest course of action with likely an effective and permanent outcome.

    I am not intimately familiar with your (USA) Small Claims Court system, but reading many of these threads, it seems very similar to our system of recovering small debts. Here the system usually is not worth the hassle and the time in preparation for amounts under about $500 to $800 . . . but, it depend upon what one values one’s time at . . .

    But if you go that route, be assured that you are doing it to recoup monies owed and not to “get even” – you will no “get even” because the Bride will likely have a bigger mouth if she is forced to pay up – and that has to be calculated also.

    On the face of it the “friendship” is gone, anyway.

    WW
     
  27. Kate, sorry for your troubles, and hope you take all the others' good advice to heart.
    I think the only one I feel more bad for in all this is the future husband, living in another state, hope he knows the bride, she sounds like a piece of work.
     
  28. Thanks William W. and W.T. This has been very helpful. Ah, yes...I try to keep a distance from premarital counseling. That would have an even more disastrous effect, I'm thinking. :)
    Veronica, thanks for the advice about "add-ons" for my rate sheet. I did give this client my rate sheet (three times). I can see in hindsight (always 20/20 that) that I should have been more direct about asking what her expectations were. I recommended a couple of wedding expos to her, and then asked her questions about what she learned from other photographers. She told one photographer that she wouldn't be swayed by his price because she really wanted me to photograph the wedding. I see now that she assumed that I would give her a low "friend" price regardless of how many hours or how many images I gave her. I revamped my rate sheet recently because a portrait client assumed that they would be paying for just the shoot and somehow they would magically view the images to order prints from. I generally offer package pricing and "a la carte" pricing, like many photographers. But I can see that I need to revisit the list again. I doubt that I will shoot another wedding for a friend, unless they are a really good friend, and I intend to gift them with photography.
     
  29. My great-grandmother could barely read, but owned a small hotel, a boarding house and a couple of apartment buildings. She told me that the family and friends discount is 10 percent and to get the money first, before you do anything. And if you have any doubts about them paying, don't do business with them.
    I have lost many family and friends weddings because of this policy, but I haven't lost any money.
    If you still want to be her friend, tell her that $260.00 is not worth the loss of her friendship and never mention it again.
     
  30. I'm sorry for your loss. Friendship means more than $$$, so I am inclined to do what Marcus said.
     
  31. "I get what I get to shoot the job and for time and materials, but I'll work around a 15% discounted price for you on after prints, that will definitely save you some money and get you some nice extras". I still have most of my friends, and nobody was ever unhappy with what they got for their money. In other words, the job is what it is, some discounted aftersales is what they get from me. Merry Holidays, Dave
     
  32. "I doubt that I will shoot another wedding for a friend, unless they are a really good friend, and I intend to gift them with photography."
    I totally agree with this. I gifted photography to a very good friend last year. They got married on xmas and it was in their home. I did the ceremony and then went outside with them and got some really nice shots of the 2 of them together on their wedding day. After that we had good food and drinks and I was able to have fun, she was able to get some nice images.
    She loved the images and why wouldnt she, they were free! lol But she was a very good friend and didnt even expect me to so she was happy.
    So-so friends looking for a deal like the one you spoke about just leave a bad taste and I would avoid them in the future.
     
  33. Ah Marcus, good counsel. However the client wrote me off as friend, customer, or client. Unfortunately, she didn't leave the door open for any kind of negotiating. Interim update: she used one of her child's photos from the same engagement shoot for her wedding announcement. It's posted on Facebook. The young person is in high school and a budding photographer who job-shadowed me for a school assignment last year. The youngster tagged along on our shoot and I let them use my back-up camera. I'll let you all know what happens next week ...unless she blocks me as a facebook friend. Stay tuned. And thanks to you all. You have been a huge help.
     
  34. Lesson 3: Agree on barter up front. Get the barter / exchange into the contract.
    Even with this stipulated, you may still end up losing out on the deal. I did some commercial photography for a friend, with a contract for service in trade. In lieu of payment, we would receive a birthday reception on his company's yacht. Everything was stipulated, and we even had a cash payout clause if the ship didn't sail for the season.
    Well, the company went bankrupt, and didn't sail. The value of the payout was $3500. When we tried to settle the payment, they offered $1850. After talking to a lawyer, and finding out that the maximum reward in small claims in Massachusetts is $2000, and to pursue a suit would cost us about $6000, we took the $1850.
    The point is to know how much it will cost to pursue in small claims or regular court for your area, and what the maximum reward is for which courts if you do need to sue someone. This isn't to say that you should expect to be rooked, but even with a contract, it may cost more than it's worth to enforce that contract.
     

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