The Day We Were Almost Sued

Whew, yesterday’s post had me keeping up with comments all day. Thanks to everyone who enjoyed the discussion – I’ve enjoyed hearing what you have to say.

Wow, I Never Knew It Was So Easy To Make Money At Photography

One comment surfaced that made me want to share a story.

We had been in business for years, had the proper licensing and insurance in place, and had a very strong and lucrative business.

We met with a client and both “fell in love”. This bride and groom to be were from New York City, high powered, traveled the world, and were planning a very exotic wedding right here in the Rocky Mountains. They loved our work. We loved their personality and everything they were planning.

They were heading back to New York after meeting with us, and called a day later to book us. We forwarded a contract to the bride to be – in Word. She printed it, signed it, and sent it back. We likewise signed the copy once we had received it, made a copy for her and forwarded it back to her.

Several months later, we photographed one of the most fantastic weddings to date. It was on top of a mountain, beautiful day with not a cloud in sight. The food was great. The party was amazing. The bands were flown in from New York City. The wedding decorations were flown in from all over the world.

And the photographs were gorgeous.

So of course we started sharing them. We sent some to the caterer. Some to the wedding planner. Started using some for marketing. And then it happened.

One little email started it all. “Why are you sharing our images?”

We laughed and told her we loved her images. And that’s how we grow our business – we share a clients images with those vendors we worked with.

She reached out again and again and told us we couldn’t do that. “Its in the contract” she kept saying.

So finally I pulled out her contract and read it. She wasn’t making any sense so I went back to see what she could be referring to. And then I discovered it.

When she opened up our contract in Word, she had proceeded to change, add and delete things throughout the contract to please her. We were the “fools” and didn’t bother reading it when she returned it because we never assumed someone would change it.

It was definitely a “fool me once” scenario.

We signed it. We had to live up to it.

So we went in “whatever you want” mode for close to six months, giving this bride anything and everything she wanted. We changed our pricing (lowering it of course). We added products. And at the end, we sent her her negatives to do with as she pleased.

Trust me when I say I didn’t care about those negatives – I never wanted to see them again in my life anyway.

Six months of blood, sweat and tears.

We ranted. We cried. We stressed out beyond belief. We questioned our sanity. We questioned why we were in business. We questioned other people’s ethics and how they could do such a thing. We questioned our ignorance.

But at the end of the day, it was our fault. We signed a contract and we couldn’t change that. So we did what we had to do and learned from it.

I’ve talked about this multiple times on this blog because this was a BIG DEAL within our business.

Every day I said a special “Thank You” for having insurance. I never had to use it, but I worried every day about her suing us.

And people get sued all the time. Like the photographer who was sued and may have to completely recreate the wedding in order to take the photographs again – even though the bride and groom are divorced. Yes, crazy things happen.

And if someone out there starts to shoot for extra money, and decides to forgo insurance because “its just a little side business”, I hope this post makes them think twice.

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We're the co-founders of VirtualPhotographyStudio.com and have been writing on this blog since 2004. We started Virtual as a way to help photographers stretch beyond a part time income, and develop strategies to become a Five Figure Photographer or a Six Figure Photographer. Ultimately its all about lifestyle, and if your goal is to live as a photographer 24/7, we think you should have the knowledge and the tools to do so. Welcome!

Comments

  1. Jared Rypka-Hauer says:

    Now THIS is a post I can get behind when it comes to warning amateurs and semi-pros about the seriousness of being a professional photographer. Although it does occur to me it’s not likely an amateur would have had a contract in the first place, I suppose it’s possible that someone would without really realizing the repercussions.

    I’ve gotten nailed with a bad contract situation myself. They can be ugly, painful and extremely expensive. That was in the computer programming world and it cost me about $60,000 of income. Bad news, especially when you don’t have any fallback.

    In relation to the “it’s so easy” post, I have to say that this kind of post addresses the issues surrounding amateurs and semi-pros without the feel of mocking that seemed to get so many people upset yesterday. I know the intention wasn’t to mock anyone but to portray what can happen to people who don’t set out with a plan, but somehow it felt more like mockery. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it… I can just really see how people took it in the wrong spirit.

    Something like this, though, real world stories about the mistakes and accidents that have happened to the people us folks out here respect, do the very same thing without that feeling of elitism.

  2. Thanks Jared – sorry to hear about your contract issue, but I guess as long as you learned from it, something “positive” happened. That’s the only way to look at it!

    Thanks!
    Lori

  3. That’s why I always send mine PDF, never word. Also any changes to our contract have to be submitted in writing and initialed by both parties. Some clients think they can cross out items on the contract but we don’t sign it until they do to see if there are any changes. Then we address their questions for that item and go back an make notes of the conversation and only then do we sign it. Always sending a copy to the client.

    Document Document Document!!!

  4. Thanks for sharing…. Would it be better to send a client a pdf or a format that they cannot change?

  5. Iris and Ann Marie

    Yep, you hit it. After we learned our lesson, we PDF everything that leaves our studio. This story was from years back and we just never thought about it. But we learned quickly. PDF is great. We will also print and mail it ourselves depending on circumstances. In any case, we also initial every page if its a multiple page contract, and scan it now just to be sure there are no changes.

    While for most people this is overkill, and most people would never try anything like this, the most important thing is to keep yourself protected.

    Lori

  6. Jared Rypka-Hauer says:

    I forgot to but I was actually going to mention the PDF thing. I do an annual conference for computer programmers and all the contracts — hotel, audio/visual, ground transportation, etc. — are all handled via PDF. That way they CAN’T be changed.

    Also having checks and balances, like you do with initialing every page, is just good practice.

    And I don’t think it’s overkill at all. It’s simply best practice and due diligence.

  7. Well written post. I don’t know how anyone can work as a “professional photographer” without insurance. I don’t know if it is very often that they DO NOT have it. I certainly sleep more comfortably knowing I have it!

  8. Wow! scary stuff, first of all in US where people like to sue to get some money. Anyway, this is good lesson for all of photographers, not only wedding ones. We learn through mistakes, but this one would cost you even your business. Good that everything ended without court. As for PDF, make sure is secured against any changes, otherwise everyone with PDF maker can make changes. What I did before shooting my first wedding was printed out 2 copies and when I met with couple, we went through the contract then signed, exchanged and it was done. No changes were possible at that time. They also agreed to everything, so I didn’t need to remake it. It was friend’s wedding, but to go into this business for real I have still a lot to learn. This post will teach me and others. READ contracts signed and returned to us by email or post.

  9. Hi Adam

    Yes, in person is the best way. But that’s not always possible if your client is thousands of miles away, as this couple was. PDF is great, and we also snail mailed them as well. We would also put marks, like a red X on each page in such a way we knew it was our original – not a copy. We never had another problem like this, but alot of it was because we learned our lesson well and covered ourselves from that point forward.

    Good luck
    Lori