This is a tough question, and one that I came across again this week.  What happens when you’ve done all you can do and the client still isn’t happy?

If you’re anything like me (a raging perfectionist), you’ll know that these situations aren’t easy.  Even if it hasn’t happened to you yet, the idea is a daunting one.  The first step to figuring out what to do next is to breathe.  That’s it.  Just sit and breathe and let yourself calm down so you can think about the situation logically.  More than likely, a client’s unhappiness is a result of a lack of communication of one or both parties and can be easily fixed.

When this situation arises (it’s rare, but it happens), I ask myself a few questions:

1.  Did I give this job my best effort?
This is a no-brainer for me but I ask it of myself anyway.  I ALWAYS give 1,000% when it comes to my photography, but by asking this question I’m accomplishing two things; I remind myself of the hard work I put in, and *check* I at least did one thing right.  That feels good.

2.  Were these photos consistent with my existing body of work?
In almost all cases, the answer will be yes.  You know what you can do better than anyone, however sometimes when clients are looking for something very unique or something that doesn’t already exist in your portfolio, expectations can get a little muddy.  Make sure your client knows beforehand what you expect of them and what you expect of yourself.  If they’ve seen your portfolio, then they have received a visual representation of what they can expect of you.  I have a clause in my contract specifically for times like these.  In so many words it states that by hiring me, the client agree that they trust my creative talent to deliver photos that I think are consistent with the quality of my portfolio and that are fair for the price.  Everyone should include that clause; it’s just a smart idea.

3.  Is the problem even about you?
If you gave the job your best effort and the photos were consistent with your shooting style, the issue may not even be about you.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spent hours and hours Photoshopping blemishes, uneven skin tone, hair, body, etc. and the client still doesn’t like the way they look.  At this point, you need to realize that it’s not a photo issue, it’s a self-esteem issue.  Some clients go into a shoot expecting to have their photos turn out with them looking like number one on the Maxim Hot 100, perfectly tanned and beautiful on the cover of Vogue.  It’s just not going to happen.  A lot of what goes into looking great in a photo is confidence on the client’s part, and unfortunately to some extent that’s something that only they can find within themselves.

4.  Does the client think they know better?
Some people have really bad attitudes.  I shouldn’t have to tell you that if you’re old enough to read this.  Every once and a while, you will come across a client that thinks they know everything about everything and has restrictions about everything from the lighting to the wardrobe to the composition.  These people cannot, will not, and won’t even try to be impressed by your work because they will always be thinking about what they think is best.  I’ve had clients tell me they need something shot in a particular location and when I arrive it’s a 6ft across area that barely my camera and tripod can fit into, yet I’m expected to take magazine-quality images.  At this point it’s your job as the professional to speak up.  I’ve not given my opinion in these situations and regretted it later on.   In my opinion, it’s better to do the job right or to not do it at all.  It’s a waste of time if you come out looking like an amateur in a situation in which you could have flourished if you had only used your voice.

5.  Is this person crazy? 
No joke, I’ve asked myself this question before.  I’ll tell you a little story.  I was approached by a client about a last-minute shoot (we’re talking next-day turnaround here).  I explained my process, gave them my opinion and made sure to get a contract signed.  I was paid for the session and editing time at the shoot and proceeded to work late to finish the photos and have prints made within 24 hours of the shoot (sometimes I guess I’m the crazy one).  I had emailed the client the finished photos before the prints were made to make sure they were happy with the final result, to which they were ecstatic.  I delivered the photos and everyone was smiling and very gracious.  Not even an hour passes before I receive multiple messages about the disapproval of the images, the desire for a refund, and yes, they even threw in some profanities and slander.  These were photos that I believed (and still do) were some of my best work and that I stood behind 100%.  But guess what?  Some people are still crazy.  Needless to say, a refund was NOT given.

Sometimes things can’t always go the way we envision them.  For one reason or another, sometimes people just aren’t happy and there’s not a lot you can do.  As for my business, I rarely give discounts or offer refunds because I believe in my talent and I believe my work is consistently amazing.  I think we all should.  At the end of the day, don’t forget to trust your instincts.  If you feel it’s right to be a little lenient, then do it.  Just don’t let yourself and your business become a doormat for your clients.  Trust your gut and your business will thrive. 🙂

xo Sara Faith

Medford, Oregon Photographer