Photographed an Event… But NONE of the images turned out!

Dear Stefanie Shutters

How do you respond to a client who isn’t happy with the pictures and then asks to buy your SD card to get all the pictures from the event?  I don’t really want to do that, but I’m not sure what to say.  The event was a family party and we did formal pictures outside and then I went in and took some pictures during the party itself. The outside ones were fine but the inside ones were dark and blurry. I gave her the best of what I was able to capture but I didn’t have enough light to get anything good. I’m a beginner and I just need some advice!

~Tried My Best

Dear Tried,

It’s a well-known fact that we photographers always keep back the best pictures for ourselves and never show them to the client…. NOT!

What this situation sounds like is a combination of you in a situation that you weren’t equipped for (both in literal equipment and skill knowledge for the lighting you were going to encounter) and a client that doesn’t trust your judgement because of expectations that were set beyond your ability to deliver.

To start with, you shouldn’t have accepted a job that you didn’t think you could manage. In terms of gear your camera couldn’t manage the lighting in the indoor environment with just your pop flash.  You needed at least an external flash or perhaps a camera body that manages low light with more ISO finesse.

BUT I know from a follow up conversation that the original plan was to have you only take pictures outside.  You had told the client that you weren’t equipped for indoor pictures, and the agreement was for outdoor pictures.  So you had set your client expectations for what you could do but then felt pressured on site to try and give the client what they wanted.

Which is where things went wrong. Because the client assumed (wrongly) that you could get more than you got. Because you went in and took pictures. In the client’s mind, you should have an hour’s worth of images from the event to show. In my case that’s at least 30-40 images. Not ten. Maybe.

So yes, you failed to deliver what the client expected (despite your pre-event conversations explaining your lack of confidence to deliver in that area).  What do you do moving forward?

There’s a part of me that says “Let her buy the blurry, completely dark and can’t even tell who’s in the picture images” because then at least you’re getting paid for that hour that wasn’t in your original hire. But the nicer and more ethical side of me has trouble accepting money for something that’s essentially photographic trash.

Normally a client coming and saying “I want the rest of the pictures” results in me laughing my head off and mentally replying a la Dr Evil however… in this case, I’m going to make a different suggestion.  Even though the indoor portion wasn’t in the original plan, you agreed to do it and as such have a certain obligation to deliver.  (As a note, saying ‘no I dont’ have the equipment to get the photos you need in that situation’ and standing your ground politely would have also worked.)

So my suggestion is for you to send over to the client an entire disc or usb or whatever you use to deliver digital images with the edited good stuff and a secondary folder called ‘archives’ or something that contains everything from the indoor section.  Give them the beautiful outdoor images and then the stuff that you know doesn’t work to prove that you didn’t’ just miss a hidden gem moment. Because you can’t reshoot it – they can at least have the images for archival purposes.

And then send over, in writing, a replay that reiterates that when she booked and paid you, the plan was only for outdoor portraits and that you had told her you were neither equipped or experienced for indoor event work. And that once on site and requested to shoot some indoor images, you did your best to accommodate for good customer service which meant staying longer than originally planned at no additional charge. I would also emphasize that the job she had contracted you for was the outdoor portraits and you more than delivered.

And then recognize that you could  have said ‘no’ and left when your initial job was done rather than take on an assignment that you knew you couldn’t do. And weren’t being paid more for.  If you’re going to be in business, learning to say no is an important part of running the business.

After that, you need to get the gear to do the job right and learn how to use it for the future if you plan to do this work in the future.

Because as we learned here, clients expect images from a shoot. You have to be able to deliver. Especially if you’re taking money for the job.


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