A young photographer, not upcoming but reasonably established, got in touch to seek advice on a problem he is facing.
The problem unfortunately is not faced by him alone , this actually haunts all the professional photographers or rather all the freelancers. It is a catch 22 situation faced by all in the fraternity, to work or not to.
And the cause of concern are ‘Outstanding Payments‘
A typical situation-the assignment was completed long time back, there was either no advance or it was just a small percentage of the total assignment fee. The client is delaying, refusing to pay or simply not responding to the payment follow up calls, messages, or emails.
One very common reason for delay in payment could be operational in nature or temporary cash flow issues with the client. Patience is the key here as long as the client is responding and is apologetic of the delay. This can happen with best of the clients and should not really be a cause of worry.
Other than the operational delay, there could be many reasons for this attitude from the client, one reason being not satisfied with the quality of final output. This generally happens when the details of photo shoot are not discussed in detail before the actual shoot. The expectations of client are not met because of gaps in communication. The client always expect best quality output at minimum possible price, here it becomes the responsibility of the photographer to not to compromise on the quality or quantity after the amount of assignment charges has been fixed even if they are too low. All negotiations should take place before the photo shoot and final terms should be put in black and white, maybe through exchange of emails. Once the terms are finalised, there should not be any going back or any attempt to compromise on the quality of final output.
Not only the terms of payment , other fine details of the assignment should also be discussed. Always advisable to ask the client to share reference images, just to understand what is going in the mind of client regarding the assignment. Most of the times, advertising agencies share the concept but in case of direct clients especially the first timers, chances of miscommunication are very high. Better to clear all the doubts before than justifying the photographs after the photo shoot. Client is always right and to be on the same wavelength is of utmost importance . In situations where client is refusing to pay because of quality issues, best option is to offer a reshoot at no extra cost.
Not delivering the photographs on committed time can also be a reason for refusal to pay. This could be because of certain reasons which are beyond control and these can be explained to the client and maybe some kind of compromise can be arrived at. At times the delay is on account of over commitment by the photographer.Promising a date knowing very well that it is not possible to deliver is something which needs to be avoided at any cost. Always request for extra time, the client will be happy if delivered before time but the delays are never appreciated . On a lighter note, I came across a wedding photographer who delivered the final wedding album after 6 months of the marriage. After some days when he asked for balance payment, the album was returned to him as the couple had already filed for divorce.
Now comes the toughest part, there are no quality or time issues yet the client is refusing the payment or not responding to payment follow up calls. This is a matter of serious concern, many professional photographers have faced a similar situation and it becomes a very frustrating experience. Here the intentions of the client can be doubted.
Some clients have understood the working of photography industry knowing very well that currently the supply of photographers is more than the demand (not discussing the knowledge and experience of photographers here). The client also knows that though it is a small world, there there is no exchange of information among photography fraternity, there is no forum where experience of a ‘bad’ client is shared. The client is confident that if one photographer refuses, there will be two more to grab the assignment. A small advance payment, fraction of total committed amount will increase the confidence of hired photographer. And it is goodbye time after getting the photographs, seek newer pastures when there is fresh photography requirement.
One solution to this can be holding the final output till the time full payment is received. Low resolution photographs with watermark can be shared with the client to give an idea about the result of the photo shoot. Once the total payment is released, high resolution images can be delivered. Here, many a times, the client will try to act smart, will try to delay the payment citing frivolous reasons, chequebook finished, issues with netbanking etc but will keep on highlighting the urgency of photographs. The photographer has to stay firm here and refuse to part with the final images till payment is made. The client may threaten to stop future dealings but it is just to intimidate the photographer. Stay firm, deal calmly, be professional in your approach. Stick to payment terms decided before the photo shoot.
There is another possibility, the photographer having trust in the client or under pressure of urgency has already shared the final images without receiving the full payment. The client is using the photographs but no longer responding to any calls or mails, what can be done in a situation like this? When all efforts to get the money out from the client fail, resort to following:
1. Technically the copyright of the photographs remain with the photographer, send a notice of copyright violation if the client is using the photographs. Copyright violation is a criminal offence under Indian Law.
2. Name & shame the client on social media (ideal situation is a forum of photographers to deal with such issues but in absence of one), making other people aware about the client is likely to ruffle some feathers. Here the client may threaten to spoil the reputation of the photographer but once the photographs have been used, people will see and understand the real story.
Even after resorting to these measures, the chances of recovery are quite bleak in such situations but as a service to the fellow photographers sharing information will ensure that the particular client is blacklisted. If the terms are in writing, legal action may help but it is a long drawn and slow process.
Consider yourself lucky if you get the payment , otherwise take it as a lesson learnt the hard and expensive way.
© All Rights Reserved Ravi Dhingra