One of the most common questions I’ve received from models lately is how to handle the situation when the photographer doesn’t return images from a shoot. Instead of focusing solely on the model side, however, I want to also cover what I hope will be some helpful tips for photographers who might find themselves in a situation where they aren’t able to deliver photos (immediately or otherwise).
Note: Most of this article assumes we are talking about trade/TF shoots, as that is the primary case where models would be expecting photos. If the model was a client, it becomes a business situation and you may have a contract in place that alters things somewhat.
Let’s start with prevention because I think that can help everyone. Whether you are a model or a photographer, make sure you open up a conversation about the resulting photos from the shoot at some point before the shoot ends, preferably during pre-shoot conversations. It’s usually a good idea to figure out about how many photos the model will be receiving, whether the model or photographer will choose the photos to be edited, and how long it should take to get photos to the model. A lot of photographers tend to cover this, but if you are a model and the photographer hasn’t brought it up, take the initiative and ask. Having this information will give you both (or all) and idea of the expectations for everyone. I think it’s also helpful to ask about this when you check references with other models who have worked with the photographer as well.
Now we’ll jump one step ahead to the situation you might be in now as a model if you didn’t do that preventative step: you’ve been waiting on photos for a while and you’re wondering what to do. First, let’s keep in mind a few things:
- Photographers all have a different editing workflow. Some are very quick and/or minimal with editing, some take longer and are more thorough. Certain styles take longer to edit as well.
- Just like models sometimes have things come up, photographers do too. Life happens to all of us and sometimes things take longer than we expected.
- Sometimes the photos just didn’t turn out. They might be too blurry, too dark, too blown out, etc and the photographer can’t really salvage them. Just as you probably don’t want them posting a photo of you that is really unflattering, they probably don’t want photos that didn’t turn out posted either. (More on this further down).
- Don’t jump into contact aggressively or with an accusatory tone. This will put almost anyone on the defensive and it only hurts you.
- Please, please don’t “out” the photographer on social media (so don’t post their name saying you haven’t gotten photos). Again, this puts people on the defensive.
If it’s only been a week or so (and you didn’t discuss a time frame), just send a friendly message asking if they’ve had a chance to look over the photos and let them know you’re excited to see them. If it’s been longer than that, you can try something similar but mention the time frame as well: “Hi Photographer Name, we shot about 3 weeks ago and I’m so excited to see the photos. Do you have an idea of when you might have a finished photo or two for me?”
Let’s shift gears for a moment and look at the photographer side of things. Photographers, this responsibility really falls on you to a large degree and it’s a good idea to set some guidelines for yourself so you can avoid issues. Here are some suggestions:
- Outline your policy for photo delivery before the shoot. Let the model know about how many photos to expect, how much editing you do, about how long you expect it to take you to edit, and who will be choosing the photos to edit. Let them model know how photos will be delivered as well (Dropbox, email, etc)
- Always give yourself a bit of wiggle room, so to speak. If it normally takes you 3 to 5 days to edit, say a week, for example. If you normally give 3 to 5 photos per look, say 3 and if it’s more, the model isn’t likely to complain.
- If you’re trying something new or experimental for you, let the model know. Be up front if you think the photos might not turn out (and please do this before the actual shoot). Some models are cool with experimental stuff, but it’s nice to know when that is the case. You might also want to do this alongside another more proven concept if you can so the model gets at least some photos.
Now, let me give you a few of my suggestions on what to do if you are behind.
- If you’ve got a long editing queue it might be time to take a break from shooting and focus on editing.
- If you’re behind, consider at least editing a photo or two for each model. Apologize and let them know you will get them more as soon as you can.
- Let the models know. Most of us are very understanding if something came up, especially if it’s an emergency.
You’ve probably noticed that this article is primarily about prevention. That is because this is one issue that is really best handled before it happens by both models and photographers. It can become a source of heavy tension if it gets to far away.
Models, in the event that a photographer stops responding my best advice for you is this: put them on a list not to work with again and drop it. Harassing them or outing them isn’t going to get you any where at all and, if anything, all it will do is make you look like drama (even if you are right in what you are saying) and cause the photographer to likely never contact you again. If you shot the photos at a group shoot, you may be able to contact the shoot organizers if they have a policy about photo delivery (we do have that at the PBD shoots in Nortwest Arkansas, for example), but if you shot outside of an event, it may be time to chalk it up as a loss and try to re-shoot with someone else if you can. I know this won’t be what you want to hear, and I’ve been there before, but it may be the best option.