My Wedding Client Wants a Refund: Now What?

One of the biggest draws to photography as a profession also happens to be one of those things that can get you into trouble: creative vision, artistic license … call it what you will, we’re always looking for that perfect shot, the one that transcends the mundane and puts the “extra” in extraordinary.

If you’re doing portfolio pieces, this is fine. But in certain commercial scenarios–weddings are a prime example–sometimes the client wants ordinary. Some people simply can’t see beyond clichés … and if the final product doesn’t match their vision, well, it’s wrong, plain and simple.

Now, if you’ve done even a couple of weddings, you’ve probably already learned to leave a good chunk of your creativity at the door and go for standard shots. That’s usually the best and easiest way to get the job done. But sometimes, for whatever reason, the client still isn’t happy and starts demanding money back. So what do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

Validate the claim.

The first decision thing to do is decide if the complaints are justified. Did you miss a key shot? Is the final product up to professional standards? If you really did screw up, a full or partial refund might be in order. Even if you don’t feel it’s your fault, sometimes the fight isn’t worth the aggravation: it might be better to cut bait and get on with your life.

Dig in.

If you feel you held up your end of the contract, and if the fight is worth it, it’s OK to stand your ground. If the client is as determined as you are, this will lead to a couple of likely scenarios: a chargeback (if the client paid by credit card) or a court battle. In either case, your best friend from here on out is the evidence you can provide.

Get your story straight.

I’m going to assume you were already savvy enough to get a signed contract before you started. That will be hugely beneficial … but it’s also a good idea to get your entire argument down on paper, too, preferably in a carefully worded letter to the client. List all the client’s complaints as evidence that you understand the charges, the add your justification for each item.

This is also a great way to wrap your head around both sides of the case. In truth, the judge may never look at your notes (although an arbitrator in a chargeback dispute probably will), but they are admissible in court, and the fact that you wrote the client with explanations shows you tried in good faith to resolve the conflict.

Keep the tone of the letter civil, and be as objective as you can. Skip the insults, and try not to make judgement calls. Stick to the facts: the more rational your argument, the more believable your version of events.

Bring up the contract.

Most disputes of this nature are going to be conceptual rather than contractional, but if the client is accusing you of missing important shots or not being available hours after the wedding was supposed to be over, feel free to fall back on the language of the contract. Again, remain as calm and collect as you can: let the contract speak for you.

Accept the inevitable.

If nothing you’ve done thus far has placated the client, and words like “court’ or “lawsuit” are being bandied about, there is no need to keep beating your head against the wall. Acknowledge that a court date will most likely ensue, then set it aside until that time: anything else you need to say can be said in front of the judge.

Obviously, this won’t keep the client from continuing to contact you. And while you don’t need to argue anything the client brings up, you do need to respond to any communication; a simple “I received your letter, but stand by the response in my letter dated 00/00/0000″ acknowledges the client’s correspondence without an argument … and without leaving yourself open to charges of “I tried to contact him, Your Honor, but he ignored my letters!”

 

At this point, you’re mostly waiting for your day in court. One other thing: if the situation is dragging on, you can always offer to settle. That doesn’t mean you’re admitting guilt–and you should go to great lengths to not–but rather you’re willing to compromise because it’s in your best interest.

Of course, if the client were willing to settle, the idea would probably have already come up. But there’s always the chance the client underestimated the amount of hassle involved, and is now in more of a mood to negotiate. Just make sure to get the deal in writing, and be certain it fully releases you from all claims past, present or future pertaining to the event. Make sure that once any money is paid out by you, you’re able to wash your hands completely of the client.

Finally, I won’t say a lot about lawyers, but I will say this: I’m not one, so don’t consider any of these actual legal advice. What I am is a professional photographer, and my professional photographer advice is simple: it’s not about whether you can win a case, it’s about not having a case to worry about.  With a little forethought and common sense, you can easily avoid situations now that could take a whole lot of resources to resolve in the future.

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Going It Alone: 4 Great Resources for Starting Your Photography Business

Here’s a joke: What’s the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional? Answer: An amateur photographer also has a full-time job. A professional photographer is MARRIED to someone who has a full-time job.

(cue laugh track)

That’s not always the case, obviously, but it certainly has a ring of truth: for most of us, photography is an avocation, not a vocation. But haven’t you at least dreamed of having a business card that reads Your Name Studios and included the title “Photographer”? Because that’s what we are, right? At the end of the day, no matter what we may do to pay the rent, in our hearts we’re first and foremost photographers.

The idea of owning a studio or even being a freelancer is definitely romantic. On the other hand, it takes more than just a good eye to grow a successful business. One of the most consistent mistakes I see photographers make when they try to go out on their own is believing they can do it all themselves. Anything’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely.

This is the case with any sole proprietorship, but it seems especially true for those in creative fields: Music, theater, design … and yes, photography. Maybe we’re too in love with the image of the “starving artist” to really consider our art to be a business … but if you’re going to make a living at it, you can’t afford not to think of it that way.

Having said that, running a business requires an entirely different skill set than taking pictures. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but no one says you can’t ask for help. A good place to start is John Harrington’s excellent resource, Best Business Practices for Photographers. Now in its third edition, the book is a comprehensive guide to starting and growing a successful and satisfying photography business.

Harrington’s book touches on legal issues, but for a more in-depth and experience-based view, check out photoattorney.com. Carolyn Wright is both an attorney and a photographer, and she does a great job helping you navigate contracts, copyrights, and legalese.

Getting paid can also be tricky for a creative … but not getting paid can be catastrophic. This article from Photo.net lays out a number of good tips and technique for making sure you get compensated for your work. It’s also good to cultivate a relationship with a representative of your bank to help deal with risks like bounced checks or chargebacks.

Finally, it sometimes helps to remember that you’re not the first person to do this: look into joining a community of professional photographers like Professional Photographers of America or American Photographic Artists. Being able to converse with others in the business can be invaluable, plus you’ll gain access to resources, critiques, networking, and more. Not only can an association be a source of support, it can also be a source of personal validation.

Starting and maintaining any small business can be challenging, but running your own photography business means wearing a lot of different hats: artist, accountant, office manager, sales agent, and more. While it may not always be as glamorous as your dream, with skill, careful marketing and a professional reputation, you can build the rewarding career you’ve always wanted.

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How Can Photographers Adapt to Mobile Commerce?

As commercial photographers, we are increasingly being asked to optimize our images for digital implementation. First it was for websites, then for tablets; now, customers are demanding images that feature hi-res clarity (ideal for sales) at ridiculously low file sizes (for faster load times.

From the retailers’ perspective, this makes perfect sense: on average, mobile now accounts for more than half of all online traffic around the globe. More and more, people are browsing and shopping online stores through mobile devices, even on the weekend. To leverage this trend, e-commerce sites need to be able to convert on mobile … and that means optimizing their sites for speed, aesthetics, and ease-of-use.

It is essential that mobile sites offer customers the necessary resources to make quick, informed purchases. Users are accustomed to the process that already exists with desktop machines; intelligent, responsive design ideally provides that same experience for shoppers, regardless which device they’re on.

While it makes sense for merchants, this need for responsive design can pose challenges for photographers. The stickiest part is reducing file size while maintaining image clarity. There are multiple ways to do this, but photogs are better off handling the size reduction personally, as opposed to letting programmers solve the issue.

Too often, the programmer simply places the largest image on the webpage, then “shrinks” the dimensions through the source code. Images become blurred and colors fade, making the product unviewable; worse, load-times are still dangerously long.

It has been shown that most consumers will give a website about 2 seconds to load on a desktop or laptop. They are slightly more generous on mobile devices — allowing 5 seconds – but that still leaves an incredibly small window for capturing their interest.

To alleviate this problem, photographers should provide programmers with at least two sizes of every picture. The site can have a smaller image for lists, with an option to view a larger image in a pop-up or on a separate webpage.

This also allows the photog to make sure that the images all have the best color balance and sharpness. This can sometimes be as simple as selecting the most appropriate file format. Normally, JPEGs will be the most logical choice for ecommerce use, as they offer the highest quality at the smallest file size.

For thumbnails or extremely simple images, GIFs are another option. GIFs should never be used for large images, however: the file will be huge with no way to make it smaller without obscuring the picture.

PNGs are sometimes an acceptable alternative to either JPEGs or GIFS. For simple decorative images, PNGs’ smaller file size can be an advantage; PNGs also allow for transparent backgrounds.

Most image editing programs can save images to any of these file types. Adobe Photoshop is obviously the industry standard, but there are other good programs that exist.

All trends are pointing to mobile commerce as the future for online shopping. Commercial photographers should embrace this rapidly changing medium and develop techniques to profitably fulfill the image needs of digital merchants.

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Do Photographers Need Professional Chargeback Help?

credit cardsAs a professional photographer, chances are you don’t have an immense wealth of knowledge when it comes to payment industry regulations. However, that subject is one in which what you don’t know can hurt you.

What is a Chargeback?

These days, chargebacks are most commonly associated with online transactions, but they do still occur for card-present businesses.

A chargeback is essentially a kind of bank-enforced refund. The practice is based on old payments industry infrastructure dating back the early 1970s and intended as a way of encouraging consumer confidence in credit cards. Essentially, a chargeback gives the cardholder the right to request that a transaction be overturned either because of criminal fraud or an error on the part of the merchant.

Technically, those are the only two justifiable reasons why a cardholder should be granted a chargeback. Unfortunately, cardholders often attempt to dispute chargebacks without proper justification—a practice known as “friendly fraud.”

It’s important to distinguish between these loss sources so as not to lose funds unnecessarily due to groundless and excessive chargeback claims.

When is a Chargeback Justified?

Practices which fall under the umbrella of criminal fraud are relatively straightforward. This could mean that the customer used stolen cardholder or account information, or in some other way managed to impersonate a cardholder. There is little one can do to avoid a chargeback if they process a transaction which is later found to be the result of genuine criminal fraud.

So, what does it mean to receive a chargeback due to merchant error? There are several different potential chargeback triggers here:

  • The customer didn’t receive the correct number of proofs.
  • The proofs arrived late / did not arrive at all.
  • The customer was billed for the incorrect amount, or is accidentally billed twice.
  • Services did not represent what was contractually promised.
  • Customer attempts to contact you to resolve any above issue, with no response.

If any of these are applicable, you might find yourself facing a chargeback resulting from merchant error.

When is a Chargeback Not Justified?

You might assume that most chargebacks fall into one of the above-mentioned valid categories. However, the data suggests that more than 80% of all chargebacks may be friendly fraud cases.

Any of the below-mentioned situations would be an example of an unjustified chargebacks, and therefore, friendly fraud:

  • The customer doesn’t like how they look in the picture.
  • The entire process costs more than the customer expected.
  • The customer didn’t actually read and understand their contract.
  • He or she was just trying to get something for free.
  • The customer failed to contact you to try and resolve their issues first.

What Can I Do About Chargebacks?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will help insulate your business against these largely-avoidable loss sources:

  • Create a fair and easy-to-understand customer contract, and have customers sign-off on this before providing any paid services.
  • Provide top-notch customer service, ensuring you live-up to the expectation of service outlined in your contract—this means appointments, pricing and shipping dates.
  • Keep documentation of all interactions you have with customers. Save all emails, and keep copies of all written material on-file.

Of course, these preemptive strategies won’t be enough to counter every chargeback case; by its nature, there is no way to really prevent friendly fraud from happening. The only really effective way to deal with a problem like friendly fraud is to consult with a professional chargeback mitigation service.

If you’re in the market for a solution to fight back against friendly fraud, as well as to help prevent chargebacks resulting from other loss sources, we recommend you check out Chargebacks911. As this Chargebacks911 review points out, they are widely established as the industry experts regarding friendly fraud prevention.

Just remember—if you’re facing a real chargeback problem, fighting back is not a lost cause. With the right tools and insight at your disposal, you can quickly make chargebacks a thing of the past.

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Best Places to Shoot Landscape Photography in Arizona

arizonaArizona has breath-taking scenery and draws thousands of photographers every year. Both professional and novice photographers set out in search of the perfect shot and spend weekends traipsing through backroad territories trying to find it.

Before you head off chasing the light, assemble the equipment you need.

  • Your camera. It seems self-explanatory, but double check your camera bag and make sure the camera is there. Check the memory card (and bring a back-up!). You will never regret having an extra, but will always regret having to stop shooting when your card is full.
  • Extra battery pack. Better safe than sorry. The day you don’t bring an extra will be the day your battery dies.
  • A tripod. Setting the camera up to catch the light as it moves through the desert, filters through the leaves or crests over the mountain range will be easier with a tripod.
  • A notebook. Make notes of when, where and other details of the day. Jot down your thoughts about the pictures you’re taking, so you can refer to them later as needed.

Be Cautious of These Locations

Not all Arizona landscapes are easy to capture. When planning your adventure, be cautious of these locations.

Bryce Canyon

Photographer Terry White cautions photographers about the drive to Bryce Canyon. Consult a map and carefully plan your route before venturing to this location.

Show Low

Monica Cardone warns visitors about potential fraud issues in Show Low, Arizona. While credit card fraud isn’t usually an issue for photographers, it is a danger readers should be aware of.

Best Places for Landscape Photography

Wondering where to start in your search of Arizona’s perfect scene? Try one of these.

Horseshoe Bend

Overlooking the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend is breathtaking at both sunrise and sunset. A short 15-minute walk from the parking lot will put you in the perfect spot for a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon and the river. The terrain is filled with loose rocks and sand, so wear appropriate footwear. The weather can be vastly different, moving from extremes in both directions.

San Rafael Valley

Outside Patagonia is the remote area of San Rafael. Cattle ranches and farms abound, but the valley is filled with a quiet beauty that provides you views of the sweeping landscapes Arizona is known for. If you’re lucky, you can capture some shots of the raptors that winter in Arizona. Make sure you bring your telephoto lens for capturing every angle.

Cochise Lake

Juxtaposing the beauty of the desert with the expanse of Cochise Lake gives photographers the chance to take photos in vivid colors. As a watering spot for migrating birds travelling through Arizona, you can catch some wonderful scenes of nature’s highlights. Monsoon season offers stunning views of lightning storms, so use both a standard and a telephoto lens.

London Bridge

London Bridge, purchased by Robert McCulloch, was reassembled in the city in 1971 and has drawn the attention of thousands of visitors. The best time to capture images at the bridge is during the blue hour –starting 55 minutes before sunrise or 15 minutes after sunset.

Finding the perfect shot is easy when the landscape is as beautiful as the ones offered by Arizona. Perhaps the most difficult part of capturing the best scenes in Arizona is trying to decide which one is your favorite.

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