What Happens When the Photographer Become the Client?

Jan 28, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

What Happens When the Photographer Become the Client?

Jan 28, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

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When I was still practicing law a lifetime or two ago, some of my colleagues and I used to say that the practice of law would be so much more enjoyable without the damn clients. Obviously this was just a form of letting off steam when dealing with a problem client– usually accompanied by copious amounts of bourbon. When I made the jump to photography ten years ago, It didn’t take long for me to learn that the same maxim held “true,” regardless of whether I was carrying a brief case or a camera bag. It appears that problem clients are everywhere.

Even in the mirror, if you’re not careful.

Let me explain.


I currently find myself in strange and unfamiliar territory. For the first time in my life, I need to hire a photographer. My son’s bar mitzvah is in a few months and my wife has made it quite clear that my place will not be behind the camera. As much as I may not want to admit it, she’s right. This is an important milestone in my son’s life and a proud moment for our family. For once, I need to be in photos instead of taking them. Living the moment and trusting someone else to preserve it.

Not easy for a control freak, yet here I am. Checking out websites. Scanning through portfolios. Looking for experience. Searching out styles. Looking at price lists. Is this really what it feels like to be a client?

Thinking Like a Photographer– Not a Father

At this point I realized I was already getting ahead of myself. Instead of simply sorting our choices by what we liked and what we didn’t, I was dissecting the lighting, criticizing the posing, and obsessing over the white balance.

“What about this one?” my wife asked, with a sigh that said, “Answer carefully.”

“THAT one? Are you kidding me?!?”

Her reply can’t be printed here, but it would make a sailor blush.

Time for a new way of thinking.

Hey– Do You Think You Can Bring Your Camera?

The truth is, I have some pretty talented friends and relatives. But I absolutely, positively do not want to be THAT guy– the one who makes sure to invite his friend or uncle with the nice camera. While I am not so far over the edge that I’m even considering this, I’m starting to see where potential clients get the idea.

My search continues.


Putting Out Feelers

I decide that a good step might be to put the word out with some of the local photography groups. They are full of talent, and it’s about time for some of that networking to pay off. I was very specific in my posts about things like experience– both photographically and culturally. While I got a ton of replies, most were from photographers with little to no experience, many of whom began their emails with things like, “I’ve never shot a bar mitzvah before, but…” or, “I know you said experience is a must, but how much?” Seriously? There were even a few who offered to shoot for free, so they’d have something new and different for their portfolio.

This is not going well.

Speaking of Money…

Let me be very clear about something. I’m not looking for a deal or a discount. If someone wants to maybe trade services, that’s would be great. But I’ve been an event photographer long enough to know what kind of commitment a job like this takes. Whoever ultimately gets the gig is going to work hard and should be properly compensated.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t get me any closer to hiring a photographer.

I think it’s time to narrow the search. I freak out a few non-photographer friends by asking for a couple of referrals and I start taking a much more targeted approach to my online search.

And Then There Were Three

So, I’ve managed to narrow it down to three. I’m waiting to hear back from them regarding their availability. I haven’t sprung the news on them yet that I’m a photographer– mainly because I haven’t figured out just yet how I’m going to convince them that I’m not going to be a huge pain in the ass.

That might be easier said than done, however, because despite my promises to the love of my life that I will not sneak up behind the photographer on the big day to double-check their camera settings or question their lens choice, I do have one request that is so small that it’s almost not worth even mentioning.

Can You Just Shoot It & Give Me All the Files?

There!  I said it! It’s that one dreaded question that cuts through to my very soul when clients ask the unthinkable of me. The question that raises a flag higher and redder than any other when deciding whether to work with a new client. I’ve given the speech so many times that it’s second nature. Am I really about to drop that bomb on a fellow photographer?

I’m sure thinking about it.


I don’t need an album or prints– two more considerations on my own checklist in determining the potential value of a client. All I’m looking for is a qualified, talented, culturally knowledgable photographer who is willing to shoot the event and back up a copy for me before they leave. Kind of funny (scary) how reasonable it sounds coming from me, yet how mortifying it sounds coming from a client.

Does this obvious double-standard lump me into the same category with all of those clients for whom I’ve denied the very thing I’m seeking? Do I become the problem client if I don’t take “No” for an answer?

The jury’s still out. I’ll let you know when the verdict comes in.

Do you have a story to tell about being the client instead of the photographer? Tell us about it in the comments.


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Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

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22 responses to “What Happens When the Photographer Become the Client?”

  1. Patrick12a Avatar

    I believe the photographer has the right to keep the originals and only give you the ones he wants to give you. He will most probably edit them of course, which is part of his job i believe. If he were shooting JPGs there would be the possibility of him just handing the client the pictures over, but oftentimes, photographers shoot RAW. Therefore their pictures aren’t edited yet and its their job to do so. I personally wouldn’t want to give my client all my pictures, knowing that there are a lot of shots taken multiple times, just so I can pick the best later on. Giving a client your bad pictures would make the client think that you might be a bad photographer, because he may think that a photographers work is to just push a button and that every shot taken is a great picture. So in a way, to me, keeping your pictures, sorting them out and editing, is a way of keeping your reputation safe.

    1. T_REC Avatar

      you just made me think about it, but wouldn’t that be when shooting RAW + JPEGs would be convenient? as you can give you clients the unedited “flattened” JPEGs & also the edited versions in JPEGs. so you really they get what they are asking for but without forcing the photog to deny himself some artistic integrity.

      1. Patrick12a Avatar

        Yeah, didn’t think of that. It would certainly be convenient, but then again, the photographer would need to sort out the pictures he deems good enough to give to the client. I personally would always sort my pictures out first. The problem is, the client might not know the difference between RAW and JPG and when they are not satisifed with the flat JPGs then it might become a loss for the photographer again. But I see you point.

        1. T_REC Avatar

          absolutey, I certainly make sure that I don’t include any superflous or borderline-embarassing material before giving the RAW video material to my clients.

          & as long as you make your terms clear from the get-go, if they ever need to revist the RAWs, it’ll be an extra charge.

    2. Wil Fry Avatar
      Wil Fry

      “has the right” depends on the terms of the contract. Without a contract, of course the photos belong to the photographer. But if the contract says “I shoot them and then give them all to you”, then the photographer has no right to keep them…

      Personally, I’m not interested in having a bunch of images from someone’s personal event, so I’ve (in the past) made such an arrangement. But I can also stipulate that they not use my name — that my name is a brand and should only be applied to images that I’ve personally processed. (Again, it’s all up to the contract.)

      1. Patrick12a Avatar

        Yeah, thats also a way of doing that. But i didnt mean “has the right” per say, but i believe most photographers would like to process their pictures first

        1. Wil Fry Avatar
          Wil Fry

          Definitely! It bugs me when I snap a family picture with my 60D and Aunt Molly (not her real name) immediately asks me to *text* it to her phone. Sigh. :-)

          And with clients, if my name is going to be attached to a photo, it will be released to them when I’m ready for it to be released.

  2. pmurph5 Avatar

    Photography today is more than about pressing the button. It can also be about taking RAW pictures and processing them with the photographer’s eye. This could merely be “fixing” the pictures’ exposure, WB, etc. Or it could be also making a special look such as vignetting, stretching contrast, etc.

    If you find someone who is more photojournalistic and is OK with pressing the button and giving you the RAW, that’s fine.

    But for more artistic and higher-end photographers, the retouching and post-processing may be part of their look. It would be understandable if they did not want to turn over the RAW images. The RAW is not their vision.

    1. Patrick12a Avatar

      I totally agree with you and that’s exactly how i feel about my images.

    2. GS_790 Avatar

      This is reminding me of the Ansel Adams series of books:
      The Camera, The Negative, The Print
      There’s a lot that happens, all of which matters, between letting light into the box, and committing that recording to paper.
      I can totally sympathize with that feeling of impending doom. What if I don’t like the work he or she returns? I’d be bummed paying for the dud, but I’m more upset that this was an event that cannot be repeated. But I also do not think those feelings are unique to a photographer hiring a photographer.

  3. Persio Avatar

    I really do not get it what is the problem of giving at least the full res jpg from whatever auto settings your camera spits out, to your customer. Hell, he is paying. When I got married the photographer sent me a CD with the contact sheet, or proofs of the pictures that were selected for the album. I never went back for the album, and although they were not full res, they were enough for me. Really, what is the big deal?

    1. Mike Avatar

      I made this mistake after my first paid shoot. She edited the images to her liking and posted them all over the internet. Clone stamp everywhere, saturation enough to choke a unicorn, and just all ’round piss-poor post processing. Unfortunately she was nice enough to give credit to the photographer — me.

      Now it doesn’t matter how good my version looks, her version has my name plastered all over it. It’s sickening and it’s a mistake I’ll only make once.

      1. Persio Avatar

        That is a fair point, I suppose. You could do this on contract… I give you the originals, but you do not credit me for, or I’ll sue :)

  4. Phuoc Bui Avatar
    Phuoc Bui

    Why should anyone respect you if you can’t even manage to respect a fellow photographer practicing his/her craft exactly the same way you want and expect to be respected? Seriously…get your sh*t together man and don’t behave like that…

  5. Mike Avatar

    post production is just a part of photography as releasing the shutter. A photographer is an artist, and to deny him the ability to finish his creative vision by asking for his RAW images is insulting. You know this. Please don’t ask.

    If he shoots film, would you ask for his negatives, too?

  6. Jason Wright Avatar
    Jason Wright

    Forgetting all the other points, Your wife asked you to NOT be the photographer. That includes post. Be the client and be the whole client.
    You are paying THEM to take the pictures and present them in their style. If you like their portfolio you should like what you get.
    If nothing else, you will learn a lot about being the client and it should help you be a better photographer, but only if you get the whole client experience and value it as a chance to learn from the other side.

  7. Art Nau Avatar
    Art Nau

    As the client you have right to ask what ever you want, just need to find the right person for the job.
    I had similar issue looking for photographer for my wedding, and yes I asked fro RAW files (that was my backup idea in case I didn’t like what I get as the end result… (I ended up retouching only one photo from all the RAWs making it more print ‘friendly’)
    saying all that dont be an a55 if some one not happy with your demands just move on to the next one…

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Most comments seem to imply the photographer as a 1 men show doing everything from shoot to post processing and often also printing.
    Back in time of newspapers having their own photographers under contract, they would shoot and drop the undeveloped negatives. Development and post processing as well as selection would be teamwork and would often not even involve the photographer.
    So check with the photographer(s) what they would feel comfortable to do in your special case: handing over RAW files, handing over low-res “contact sheet” samples or only finished photos.
    Explain them your reasons, why you want the files, it might help sooth their fear of having this backfire against them.

  9. John C Avatar
    John C

    Perhaps a compromise. They can review the images and give you the RAW ones that are up to their standard. Let them pull out the one where “Aunt Molly” walked in front of the lens, the test shots etc. Let him/her select the shots that they are “happy” with and let you have those in digital form. And either leave their info off, or let them approve any images you put out with their name before you put them “out there”. Or just trust that you have used your knowlege to get a quality photographer, and sit back and enjoy the event.

  10. ikke Avatar

    Funny. I always give all photographs, just in case there is just one person only on that ugly photo. I never understood why many photographers think it is wrong to deliver the ‘thirst-class’ photo’s and just in case, with that name, the ‘trash-photo’s’. I’ve never heard a ‘no, thanks.’ on that one. Why would it be wrong to be extra careful with someones life… It’s not just pictures. It’s a very special moment that is never coming back! And I think photographers forget that too often!

  11. Joanie Avatar

    One of the greatest gifts you can give your wife, your son, and yourself is to allow the photographer you hire to do the whole job: shoot, edit, and present.
    As a photographer, you know all too well how long it takes to edit and cull images. Let your photographer do that for you, earning their money, as well as allowing YOU more time with your son at this very important time in his life.

  12. Ben Turner Avatar
    Ben Turner

    I think you may just need to look at it in the terms of a service. Not as in a finished product.

    You are looking for someone to shoot photos for you, in raw and then hand everything over to you. That’s the service you want. In return you will pay them and not credit them for any of the work. That’s it shoot pictures not present pictures to me. That is the only way I would do it for a
    client who was a professional photographer. If for no other reason than just a simple courtesy.

    Now before someone cries hypocrite because you are asking for something you yourself would not do. It doesn’t matter. That is not the service you provide and would refrain from taking a job that required those stipulations. You are the customer and you should pay for what you want. If you cannot provide that, I respect you and I will just look elsewhere.