The idea for this post came out of an unfortunate situation that I found myself in. This past summer I did a lookbook shoot for a brand that afterwards conveniently forgot to pay me.
I’ve gotten %60 of my original payment on the day of the shoot, which I did not agree to and that should’ve alarmed me right there and then. However I’ve worked with my point of contact for a few years before that (always with a contract) and I let it slide, because I saw him as a friend. The second part of the payment was promised to be mailed by the end of the week. However end of the week turned into a few months, and a few dozen unanswered emails, texts and calls. It came to a point that I already gave up to getting paid in full when they started posting photos that we shot that day and kept tagging me in the photos while not responding to my questions about the payment.
This led me to doing something I’ve never done before - calling them out publicly on Instagram. I’ve shared the whole story with my friends who quickly came to my defense and flooded the above mentioned brand with requests to pay me.
It still took about a month and a half for me to get paid after I called them out. The final straw was after I notified the company that I’m sending a Cease and Desist letter and that all the images will need to be take down, just a few days after I mentioned the Cease and Desist the check was in my hand.
I will not blast their name out at this moment because I’ve already gotten paid and I hope they have learned their lesson. If they didn’t…at least I did…and I’ve compiled all of what I learned into a pretty thorough guide that will help you stay informed and steer clear of an empty bank account:)
In many occasions most of the issues can be easily avoided when/if the right prep work has been done, below are just a few suggestions that have helped me the most:
MEETING IN PERSON
This option is not always available to you, however it is always a good idea to go an extra mile and meet with your client in person beforehand, to know who you are working with and to possibly predict any potential communication pitfalls based on their behavior at the meeting.
Basically a document that needs to clearly state (among other details) who is the client, who is the photographer, when and where the shoot will happen, how long the post production is going to take, how much and WHEN is the photographer getting paid. It is preferable to have the agreement/contract signed before or on the day of the shoot.
Basically a bill, that lists the services provided, with a statement of the sum due for these services. I always send an invoice before the actual shoot to make sure that everyone is clear on the amount of money that needs to be paid and on the late fees that will occur should the client forget pay on time. Add any legal repercussions that can occur as well depending on your state. Use formatting to your advantage - bold and red letters are your best friends.
ASKING FOR A DEPOSIT
In some instances it is not possible, but you should always ask for it and if it is. However, some companies have a NET30, which means you will only get paid 30 days after the job is done. This is not something to be scared of, but you should be prepared by having your agreement/contract signed before the shoot.
Before we dive into these I want to stress that you must remain cool, calm and polite at all times. You have the right to feel upset, but under no circumstance should you ever let that get the best of you. Do not get personal, your goal is to get what is owed to you and not to humiliate or vilify anyone.
STEP 1 - GENTLE REMINDER
Basically a simple, polite email reminder that the deadline for the payment is approaching (or already passed). Most of the times this is enough, a lot of times late payments are simply due to some companies being understaffed and overwhelmed, without any malicious intent whatsoever.
STEP 2 - FIRM REMINDER (+reminding of the late fees)
Usually this would be again a simple and a straight forward email, reminding of the deadline and how much (put the exact amount) of late fee will occur if you will not receive the payment.
STEP 3 - NEW INVOICE WITH ADDED LATE FEES
Your blood is probably boiling at this point. Keep it cool. Send just a short email with a new invoice that includes a late fee added to the original payment.
STEP 4 - REACHING OUT TO OTHER POINTS OF CONTACT WITHIN THE COMPANY
This is a flexible step that you may opt out completely or do before/after any of the steps mentioned. I try to postpone this step and give my point of contact every opportunity to resolve the issue before I start poking around, because you never know what additional conflict that may create. It’s up to you to decide to use this step or not.
STEP 5 - NOTICE OF CEASE AND DESIST LETTER
Some companies have never received one and just the thought of it can scare them into finally paying up, which is what happened with the client in my case. I only had to mention it once and I’ve gotten my check a few days later.
STEP 6 - SENDING OUT A CEASE AND DESIST LETTER VIA CERTIFIED MAIL
Why Certified Mail and not just regular mail? Because Certified Mail is a special USPS service that provides proof of mailing via a receipt to the sender. With electronic USPS Tracking, you will be notified when the mailing was delivered. That gives you an assurance that the client is well aware of what’s going on. I will add a sample that I’ve found, I haven’t had to actually make one for myself yet, but this should give you an idea.
STEP 7 - GOING TO COURT
Now I’ve never had to go to court and I don’t think I would for anything less than few thousand dollars, mostly just because of the amount of time and money court requires. If any of you reading this have gone to court to fight for your money, please share that information with me so I can update this blog post.
Sharing my story online has opened up many conversations with my photographer friends on how they make sure they get paid and what situations have happened to them in the past.
At this point I have about a dozen of different stories on how other photographers didn’t get paid and below I want to share just one that has stuck out the most for me, because, quite frankly, it’s hilarious and you can’t make this up! It is from a pretty awesome LA based photographer Holly Jo:
“When I was 14, 15, 16 years old I used to photograph bands in my hometown area. Famously three times when I was not paid (or almost not) come to mind. Once a band came to my house for photos in my studio. They knew the price ahead of time which couldn’t have been very much at all considering how young I was and how low my pricing was. There was, I believe, 5 members of the band- 5 teenagers who had to put money together to pay me my low fee. At the end of the shoot when I asked for my money, they give me a BAG OF CHANGE. I cannot make this up. In the moment I was making jokes because it was truthfully so rude and awkward I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to avoid any hurt feelings because I wanted to continue shooting bands as it was my JOB. They literally paid me my fee in COIN CHANGE. Firstly, the shoot had been planned for some time, they all had time to get together the money they needed ahead of time. Secondly, the amount of COINS did not include the fee it would cost for me to bring it to Coinstar- which is not a high fee, but certainly not my responsibility. I know this seems minor to some but it was the principle of it all that really irked me.”