In high school and early college, I dated a Marine. Through hanging with him and his Marine Corp buddies, I learned very quickly that under no circumstances should you ever make the mistake of confusing the marines with the army, navy, etc. It was a mortal sin committed by civilians all the time and they clearly hated it. They knew the person making the mistake meant no harm or disrespect, but it was annoying just the same. So I thought I would make a similar list of what not to say or do to photographers.
I suppose most professions or groups have such things that insiders complain about but are not well known among outsiders. Photographers joke about many of these items often, but many non-photographers are not aware of them. So I made a list of things that I think most photographers say cause them cringe, even though no ill intention was meant on behalf of the transgressor.
I hesitate to write this list because I don’t want anyone to feel like I am calling them out. That is not my intention. Please know that if you have made the mistake of doing one or more of the things on this list, that is perfectly fine! We hear them a lot and we don’t hold it against you. We understand that these cringe-worthy comments are not intentional. This list is not meant to reprimand, but merely to educate.
What not to say or do to Photographers:
#10 – Jump in front of us with your phone camera
I know this one happens most often to Wedding Photographers, but I’ve also experienced it, usually at my annual Santa photo sessions. Some photographers dislike if any photos are taken during their session. I personally don’t mind someone in the background taking a few shots. But I’ve also had several instances where parents were literally right in front of me taking photos, or for long periods telling the child to look at them instead of me, and taking up the few brief minutes available for me to get the shot. Like, what are you paying me for?
#9 – Print your photos at Walgreens
I joke that when you get professional photos printed at Walgreens, a unicorn dies. My portrait clients have a print release allowing them to print their photos wherever they like. But I can’t lie – it hurts my heart if they get crappy prints made. If you aren’t going to purchase from a professional lab, I highly recommend MPix.com.
#8 – Ask us to alter our editing style
The root cause of this one is really hiring the wrong photographer to begin with. Make sure you hire a photographer whose style you love. This may sound obvious but people hire photographers for all kinds of reasons…because a friend recommended them, they showed up first in a google search, etc. It’s fine to have a recommendation, but also browse the photographer’s portfolio and make sure they are a good fit for you. Don’t hire a dark and moody photographer and then be surprised when your photos don’t look light and airy.
Keep in mind that photography is a service, but it’s also an art. Would you hire an impressionistic painter and then complain that the painting looked too impressionistic? It’s fine to ask for some editing changes – like maybe you want that blemish on your face removed. That’s fine. Just don’t ask an artist to change their fundamental style.
Also, don’t ever ask us to make a photo all black and white, except just one splash of color. That’s just not cool.
#7 – Put a filter on it / crop it weird
This happens a lot, despite most of us having clauses in our contracts to prevent altering the photos. Yeah, I get it. I don’t often read the fine print either. But remember what I said about photographers being artists in #8? There is nothing like spending hours and hours editing a session getting the colors just so and perfecting the skin tones, and then going to Instagram and seeing that the client has added a weird filter and now the skin tones are green. Or they’ve totally cropped it weird and now little Johnny is cut off at the knees, which is something a professional photographer avoids like the Coronavirus. (I started to say ‘Plague’ there but do you like how I’ve updated it to have a more modern feel?)
#6 – Share without Credit
It’s always best to tag the photographer when you share an image on Social Media. Most of our business comes from word of mouth, so it’s very much appreciated. I often see posts on Facebook where someone has seen a pretty photo on Instagram, maybe a landscape or a local landmark. They liked the photo so much that they screenshot it to share on Facebook – maybe even making it their header photo. But because they screen-shotted the photo instead of sharing directly from the photographer’s Instagram page, then the photographer loses all connection to that photo. So just be mindful to give credit when you admire someone’s work.
#5 – Stealing Photos
Ok, this one is much more intentional than #6 (and all the other items on this list) and is really not cool. Most of my portrait sessions include digital images so this isn’t usually an issue for me. But I do shoot some things where that isn’t the case, such as my annual preschool graduation photos. You may notice for those events that I put a giant watermark in the middle of the gallery images. I HATE putting that watermark there, but if I don’t, people will inevitably steal the images. Typically for these shoots, I’ve not been paid at all upfront. So I only get paid for all my hard work if people purchase the images.
I’ve seen people posting on social media asking if someone can remove the watermark for them from professional images they don’t own so they can print them. Don’t do this. It’s theft. You wouldn’t steal items from a store, so why are you stealing from hardworking artists?
#4 – Be completely silent after we deliver your gallery
OK, I’m revealing my own insecurities here but I know I’m not the only one who is super paranoid after delivering a gallery. Even after all these years, I’m still always nervous that someone won’t love their photos. I sooooo appreciate the clients who comment or reply immediately that they are happy. Getting radio silence after delivering a gallery makes me imagine the worst and convince myself that the client hates them, even if I was originally very happy with the session. It pretty much never means that and generally, the client just didn’t think to comment or reply. So mostly I admit that I just need to work on myself with this one. But what can I say – words of affirmation are my love language.
#3 – Tell us that you “just need a couple pictures”
This is a favorite line of the price shoppers. This phrase immediately says to me that you don’t really value my work but are looking for a deal.
I do occasionally offer mini sessions but the value of these for me is that they are offered at a location of my choosing and are scheduled back to back with multiple clients. This way, I can shoot 4 families all in one day at the same location. I’m able to offer families a discount over a regular session because I save time having shorter sessions back to back, and the editing time is usually less than four individual sessions because the lighting & location is usually similar for the back to back sessions.
But if you want to schedule a “mini-session” outside of one of my scheduled dates, then I’m still doing almost the same amount of work but for less pay. And I’m taking up a spot that could have gone to someone paying full price. So while the request may seem reasonable to you, it’s not beneficial to me.
Think of it this way…would you go to a steak house and ask if you could just have a couple bites of the steak because you didn’t want to pay for the entire dinner?
#2 – Tell us that our prices are too high
Pretty much all of us got into this business because we love the art, and we loved capturing memories. We generally do not love the business side of things. Many of us started shooting for friends for free or for very little money. Things evolved and we realize we were working our booties off for almost nothing, so we had to raise our prices.
We spend a ridiculous amount of money on gear, web fees, Adobe subscriptions, etc. We work many hours where we aren’t directly getting paid at all – writing blog posts, marketing, budgeting, taxes, social media, etc. You see us work for an hour at your session, but then we spend hours and hours editing. Believe me when I say that almost all the photographers aren’t in this for the money.
But also, it’s very personal work. So when you question a photographer’s prices, it can feel like you are questioning our worth. There is already this constant battle inside most of us between wanting to get paid a fair wage and wanting to be able to share our passion with everyone.
I know this is probably a matter of semantics, but saying “That’s not in my budget right now” is totally fine. Please use that line instead of “Wow, that’s a lot for an hour” or something similar.
#1 – Give all the credit to our camera
Ok, this is definitely not the worst offense in this list (#5 definitely is the worst) but this one probably happens the most often. Most people who say it intend for it to be a compliment, but they don’t realize they are giving all the credit to the gear instead of to the photographer.
Please do not tell a photographer “That’s a great photo – you must have a really nice camera.”
I do have a really nice camera (two of them in fact). I taught them everything they know. Would you eat a delicious dinner and then complement the chef’s cookware?
“It’s not the wand, it’s the wizard.”
Hopefully, my fellow photographers will relate to this list and get a little chuckle out of it. For those of you who are not photographers, I would love to know if you have a similar list. What kind of things do outsiders say or do to you all the time that make you a little crazy? I’d love to hear about them. I’m sure I’ve often said all the wrong things.