Here’s a question a young semi-pro shooter recently asked me. "I did a shoot yesterday," he said. "The client wants me to digitally add cars to an empty parking lot. Our agreement was for me to photograph the property, but he’s now expecting, and sort of demanding, a lot more work. What should I do?"
I told him that this is fairly common, and clients can sometimes get a little pushy with photographers who are just starting out. The key is to remember that just because something can be done "easily" in post-production doesn’t mean it doesn’t take time and have an associated expense.
"You weren’t hired to digitally alter the scene to be something different," I said. "You were hired to shoot it as it was. The client has moved the target after you started shooting. If the fix could have been made ahead of time—whether that’s filling the parking lot or painting a wall—it should have been. The client can’t pass that cost along to you—it’s simply unreasonable. So if you do the digital imaging, you would have to charge him for it."
From the client’s standpoint, digital imaging can seem like magic. For those who do it, though, it’s a skill that took many years to perfect, and many more hours to execute on the client’s project. That’s why we charge for it.
"If it were my client," I continued, "I’d tell them that they would be better off shooting when the cars are there if that’s what they want in the finished shot. Of course, that would entail another shoot—which perhaps I’d offer at a discount, depending on the client. Adding cars digitally would look worse and cost more in the long run, so you can actually help your client and save them money and provide a better result by doing another shoot."
The bottom line is that even when a client changes the requirements after an agreement is reached, you can still service their needs and help deliver what they need without being taken advantage of. And perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is to make sure, even for seemingly simple little shoots, that you’ve got an agreement in writing that spells out all the tasks to be performed and all of the associated costs. It’s better for the photographer, and it’s better for the client too.