My 10 Commandments Of Photography (To Customers)

I’ve been a photographer for 5 years now and I love it more and more with each passing year.  Although I consider myself a “practicing enthusiast”, what began as a hobby has become a business and something I’d like to continue for as long as life and health will allow.  I’ve had some really great shoots and thankfully, to this point, experienced nothing disastrous (unlike what I’ve read in several articles by my well-established colleagues).  I’ve also had a few where I had to breathe a sigh of relief after a few near-misses, emerging passably unscathed.

One thing I’ve definitely learned is that, try as you might, you can’t plan for everything and you can’t please every ONE.  This is where good (and quick) problem-solving skills, common sense, field awareness, business etiquette and human compassion have helped (remember those things because they apply to all walks of life).

Soooo, although I’m not an authority on the subject and far from the best, I’ve been at it for 6 years now. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way and have had to adopt as my philosophies or rules.

Here is what I’d like to call “My 10 Commandments Of Photography (To Customers)”:

Dear Lord, please don’t strike me down for this…

1. I Am Kenny, Thy Hired Photographer.  Thou Shalt Not Have Any Other Guests With Camera Phones In Front Of Me – I am grateful that you hired me to capture those treasured moments for all time, but in order for me to do so effectively, I need to be able to work without obstruction.  If you ask me to photograph a wedding or something of the sort, please ask other guests and onlookers to remain seated and/or not stand in the photographers’ paths (some wedding officiants have been known to announce that the use of camera phones is not permitted during the ceremony).  This isn’t me being arrogant or selfish, but I’ve had people stand/walk in front of me, KNOWING I’m right there, trying to get the appropriate shot.  Most often, I will say “excuse me” and sometimes remind people that I need to shoot the subject.  I will also move around whenever possible, if I need to accommodate others, all the while trying to remain inconspicuous (which ain’t easy for someone my size). 

I had one wedding where the front half of the audience left their seats and completely mugged the poor wedding couple with phones.

The couple never saw this photo (used for educational photos)

I had to climb onto the stage off to the side, just to get decent photos.  It became so congested that during the well-wishing, one of the bridesmaids got backed into the unity candle and her hair caught fire!  Thank God they put it out in time, but that’s a tale for another day.   

Also, if you hire other photographers, I will always introduce myself to them and work out a plan of positioning because ultimately, it’s all about giving you what you want and need.

2. Thou Shalt Not Fiscally Take My Services For Granted – I once did a Baby Portrait shoot which included the young unmarried parents.  They argued the entire time.  After the shoot, baby’s grandfather called and told me that the couple broke up before I even got back to my house!  I gave the father the quickly-needed photos but (lesson learned) have yet to receive payment.  This was years ago, so I’ve left it all in the past, along with my desire to shoot for him again without prepayment in full for the old and any newly-requested shoot(s).

So no, Wimpy, you will not gladly pay me Tuesday for a hamburger today… (that joke might be lost on some of you youngsters)

3. Thou Shalt Not Enter Any Contractual Agreements Without Payment – (on the heels of #2) I require a retainer to secure your date and time.  I’ve had several instances where a second customer requested an appointment date that had already been booked, so they had to choose another date (or unfortunately, another photographer).  I’m sure you can imagine my frustration when the original client, who had the date locked, decided to cancel at the last minute.  Especially when no deposit payment had been made.  I lost both sessions.  

Paying a retainer encourages people to keep their commitment and protects me from total loss when you cancel.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that we all have unplanned eventualities and I have no problem rescheduling (inclement weather, illness and other anomalies), but accepting a beer night invitation with your co-workers? Uhhh, no.

4. Remember The Scheduled Day And Keep It, Wholly – While we’re on the subject of schedules, please keep track of your own. I most always contact my client the day before to make sure things are alright, but in the end, it’s your responsibility.  If I show up at our predetermined shoot location, I expect to receive a phone call if you are, or expect to be, more than 10-15 minutes late.  I try to clear my afternoon (in case you are behind schedule or our shoot runs longer), but sometimes I do have other appointments, which I will tell you, especially if you asked me to squeeze you in.  But if I have to call you, only to hear, “Oh, was that today?”

I once waited an additional hour, at the request of the client, only to be asked to reschedule when the time had elapsed.  In the words of a good friend of mine, “People, we have to do better”.  I now have a cut-off time, at which point I will terminate the session.  If you reschedule at THAT point, there will be a penalty.  If you decide to cancel, well, NOW you know what the retainer was for.  

5. Thou Shalt Not Ask Me To Shoot For Free – I hate that Commandments #2-5 have to be about money, but hey, it is what it is.  I am a photographer.  This is my line of work.  I have retired from my career position as a Corporate Safety Director (for health reasons), so I no longer have salaried, guaranteed income.  This means I earn my living photographing and video recording others and delivering a quality product.  I compete with high-profile companies with staffs of 5-10 employees that most often have more experience, received formal training and use state-of-the-art equipment.  I’m growing as a business, but nothing falls into my lap.  It’s bad enough when people ask me to give them the ultimate hookup, but it’s worse when people expect to get for free what they’ll pay top dollar for with others, without question or negotiation.  

I had a woman call me on a referral and tell me that if I photographed her products and her presentation/luncheon, she’d give me a “shout-out” at the end of the presentation.  Her program fliers had already been created.  She said they’d be taking notes and would most assuredly write my name and company down which would generate more business for me.  And it was only “an hour of my time”.  Wait. WHAT?!?  I donate my time, talent, resources and GAS for something that is not guaranteed, but you get my service output that you will use to bring in more and more business for yourself?           [Censored]

6. Thou Shalt Not Turn Me Loose To The Masses – This is for those that attend an event, but didn’t actually hire me.  Two examples that don’t need an explanation: 

I shot a wedding where the bride’s cousin (who fashioned herself a practicing photographer, but was asked to be a bridesmaid) thought it acceptable to tell me where to go, what to shoot and how.  She said not to worry about what they told me because they didn’t know what they were doing.  I tried, respectfully and unsuccessfully, to explain that I had a shooting agenda that had been discussed and knew what I was doing.  I ended up informing the groom (who hired me) of the situation.  Not 10 seconds after notifying him, he shockingly grabbed her by the arm, took her around the corner, and cursed her out from head to toe.  I don’t know why he took her out of site because everyone who had arrived early and was seated in the church could hear it.  I never heard from her again for the remainder of the ceremony (and her face in the group pictures was hilarious). 

I also shot a formal ball where I was instructed to make award presentations my top priority.  Second, was the ice sculpture and anyone who wanted to pose with it.  Third, candid shots of dancing, eating and socializing.  Well, during the dancing, one woman grabbed me and… “Take a picture of me and so and so.  Now take a picture of me and so and so.  Now get me and-” 

DAYUM, WOMAN!  (no, I would never say that)

I ended up telling her that I had to get back to the sculpture because people were waiting and it was beginning to melt (which was true on both counts).  She snapped back, “You work for US and you’ll take pictures of whatever we say!”  

Guess who got corrected with a quickness?  

Oh, I was polite and professional, but quite direct.  I even went so for as to suggest that she discuss it with the person who hired me.  Apparently she and he had a not-so-pleasant history and, she remembered that she was just an attendee. She left me alone after that.  

And for the record, if you want my attention, just kindly wave and motion for me. It sounds picky and petty, but I’ve never been a fan of the point-peer-pull technique.

7. Thou Shalt Not Quote My Rates To Another – I have a standard rate and structure for each shoot, but prices will vary at my discretion.  Sometimes someone will ask me to just shoot a wedding ceremony and nothing else; no pre-ceremony or family poses.  Or someone will need a photo shoot for just one picture, and so forth and so on.  Some people are repeat customers and/or have brought me considerable additional business.  For whatever reason, I may adjust the price.  But whatever the arrangement, any price changes are for you and you, only.  Please don’t go telling everyone else that I will shoot them for “x” amount.   Chances are, I won’t.

8. Thou Shalt Not Ask To (Continuously) See Photos During A Photo Shoot – Sometimes, people would like an idea of what they’ll look like in the end.  I may show one or two pictures to give you an idea, but know that they will be edited to bring out your best in post-production.  Asking to see every single picture is inappropriate, time-consuming and quite often, an insult to the photographer.  We get the impression that you lack faith in our skills and abilities. 

I once shot an awards banquet and, after shooting a group picture, one lady asked to see it. No problem. She took one look and told me I had to take it again because she didn’t like how she looked. So I did, kindly. She demanded to see it again and said they needed to take another. Thankfully, one of the group members yelled out, “this man ain’t got all day to keep taking our picture because you don’t know how to smile!” and they all disbanded, laughing. Thank God he saved ME from having to say it.

9. Thou Shalt Not Run, Hide or Panic – I once had someone hide from every photo I took at a party because she had a black eye.  I assured her that if she posed for me and with others, she wouldn’t see her embarrassment in any of the pictures.  It took a lot of extra work (which I didn’t charge my client for), but she was very pleased that I kept my promise.  

Stain on your outfit? I’ll remove it.  Something you don’t want seen? I’ll position you accordingly.  It’s all about you, remember that.  I certainly will.

10. Thou Shalt Not Forget Me – Phil Collins said, “Billy, Billy don’t you lose my number”.  I’m saying it too.  Anyone who has worked with me in the manufacturing world or hired me for photography knows my work ethic.  I put your needs first and will do everything within my power to accommodate you and make your experience a delightful one.  It’s who I am.  

But from a business perspective, repeat customers are paramount to my sustainability and success.  If you’re satisfied with my work, which I’m sure you will be, think of me when you need those subsequent Christmas, prom, graduation and engagement photos. You are not obligated to use me again or continuously, but it’s most often an unspoken gesture of appreciation and approval of my hard work.  And definitely share the word with others who need my services.  I do it all and love what I do, so expect me to say “I hope to see you folks again!”  The only person that shouldn’t say that is a funeral director.

Mic drop…

“So let be written, so let it be done!” 

I’m sure my colleagues in photography feel the same about many things I’ve said. Some can agree with how I’ve handled situations, while others may choose to be quiet or surprisingly bold (and borderline rude) with how they handle things.  We’re all different people with different methods, but one thing is for certain: As business professionals, we do our best to leave you a satisfied customer.  But please don’t, for one minute, think you can simply walk over us because we’re “the hired help”.  We’re human beings, with feelings (AND temperament).  So respect us as you expect us to respect you…  

For inquiries of my availability and how I can help you “capture those moments for all time”, contact me at 614-282-5813 (in the Greater Columbus Ohio area, but I’m open to travel). If you’d like to see some of my work, feel free to follow my photography page on Facebook or visit my ZootShoot Photography website!

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2 comments

  1. I am a keen photographer, but would never turn pro, precisely for the reasons you mention in these commandments. 🙂
    I enjoyed the Wimpy reference, the cartoons of my youth!
    Many thanks for following my blog, Kenny. I currently follow 100 blogs, which is all I can manage.
    But the next time someone drops out of blogging, you will be on my list to follow.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Man the 10 that I posted are just a small sample of the things I’ve seen and lessons I’ve learned along the way. And although I’m not wise man of photography, I’ve definitely gained a significant amount of wisdom. Thankfully before any of them resulted in catastrophe.

    I appreciate your willingness to follow back and I’m truly honored. Whether or not you do, I’m always around and look forward to more of your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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