When Headshots Become a Shot in the Head
I had high hopes. I was going to meet this wonderful, wordly photographer; we’d have a killer connection and birth not only beautiful commercial headshots but a working relationship that would last years. I’d sooner shoot myself in the head than deal with a day like I had today.
A friend recommended this woman in Los Angeles to actors in need of new headshots. I checked out her site and loved her work. Didn’t like her rates- at all. But I figured I would call anyway to see what the “industry rate” mentioned would cost. Maybe the site price was just to make her look important. Like the bar that’s empty inside but has an outside line that runs around the building.
Fees Are Subjective
Misunderstandings are a fact of life but when they occur over money you better do what you can to avoid them or suffer the consequences. I should have known better. A person who sets their own rates and adjusts them randomly based on mood and memory is trouble. Me being the one who goes for the best deal possible will never assume I’m paying anything more than agreed to up front. And so it went down.
This photographer stated that she would charge me $175 for commercial headshots with X number of looks (where you change shirts). I couldn’t remember exactly how many looks we would do but I think it was 2-3 or 3-4. The standard is about 3 so I didn’t pay too much attention. Plus, I was still not sure if I would commit.
Her price was still high (don’t get me wrong there are PLENTY of photographers who charge MUCH more but there are talented ones who charge less as well). However, I needed headshots for Sage too. Would she split the one session between Sage and me? She said that she would and all of a sudden the price became more attractive. She was relatively nice over the phone so I looked forward to our time together.
We arrived at 9:25 for our 9:30 appointment and were greeted with a grimace and snarky comment about being early and how we should have waited in the car (it was already 80 degrees outside) because she’s usually with a client. She wasn’t though. To be fair, she did tell me ahead of time not to come early because it might interrupt her session with the previous client; but that wasn’t the case today. There was absolutely no need for the teaching moment.I chalked it up to a pet peeve.
I’ve been around many a gruff character but they usually warm. Not in this case. The closest to a compliment she gave was when she said I was tiny. But that was in relation to fitting into an old blazer she had in the garage.
She chose the outfits – two for Sage, two for me- and I never questioned it. I figured she knew she was getting paid $175 and she must be ok with doing 4 looks. It was her responsibility to say ‘I’ll do one outfit each but if you want me to shoot two that’s going to cost more’ if she planned to jack the price on me. I wasn’t the one asking for a certain number of looks. She also said she had another person coming at 11 for headshots so this would be a total rush job. She was squeezing me in.
Well golly gee wasn’t it a big shocker when she speed shoots the two of us in less than an hour and then tries to hand over a bill for $275! I coughed. I said I hadn’t budgeted for that nor did I agreed to pay any more than $175 for headshots. Talk about a bait and switch. Oh, and by the way, you don’t actually get the images. “We’ll send you a link where you will be forced to pay to download anything more than a low-res thumbnail from a gallery.” She wanted $275 for her time essentially. Not only was the rate higher but it didn’t include photos! Shouldn’t this have been disclosed during the booking phase?
I also learned she doesn’t color correct or retouch but that’s ok; I could figure that out on my own Photoshop I thought. Just give me my photos. Ok, we can give you the images right now (instead of going through the link) but that’s another $25 for the disc. I have my own flashdrive, can we just put them there? That would be $10. But it’s my drive?! Sorry, ten.
Nasty is as Nasty Does
I ultimately offered $210 because I think the photos look amazing and hoped that giving a little more than the agreed upon $175 might appease her. Unfortunately, her demeanor went from mildly abrupt to downright obnoxious. She snapped, “Whatever! I’m not going to fight about it!” And stormed off, leaving her assistant to wrap things up; refusing to even acknowledge our presence from then on. Who acts that way after 14?
I did love the shots she took of Sage. They’re gorgeous. Mine, mmmm. She rushed it and they’re a bit blown out. They’re usable but certainly not my dream shots-and I asked for some that showed more body and she ignored the request. Perhaps if she had taken her time or given us an afternoon I could see why she might be upset about not being paid more but still, you DISCLOSE your intention to charge more so we can say no before it’s too late. Her attitude and actions were way out of line.
If I have a financial misunderstanding with someone I’m the first one to admit I should have been clearer and let the other person pay what they understood was the fee. If I gave more (a longer story, added video content, worked two days on set instead of one) I’m not going to expect or demand more money after the fact. I’d rather that they are happy with me and my work so they find me again in the future. And I’ll be more clear the next time. This scene today was beyond unpleasant. She didn’t even say goodbye to us or shake my hand.
Her assistant was forced to close. I saw him load all the photos onto my drive but when it was time to pay up I discovered they don’t take credit cards!!! I missed the ‘cash-only’ memo. He refused to give me the photos unless I gave them cash (no checks or credit cards). I drove to the nearest bank. Either she’s not paying taxes or has had too many disappointed customers dispute charges that she’s trying to stay one step ahead of everyone. For sure I would have put a hold on the charge had I known when I got home that they had withheld one of the ‘looks’!
When I returned with the cash and took the drive back to review the headshots, my “mom” look was missing. Perhaps it was an innocent mistake but I swear I saw the asistant put all the photos on the drive. I watched carefully. For those particular ones to disappear, he would have had to go back and physically delete them. A new low; some passive aggressive BS act that suggested, “You didn’t pay me enough so I’m keeping them.”
I sent a polite email: My ‘mom look’ isn’t here. Could I stop by and have you put them on the drive? “We’re out of town until next week. The link will be up in 5 business days,” she responded. Reaally. How convenient. So I have to go through a link to the photo place and pay more after all?
The whole day left a shitty taste in my mouth and a knot in the pit of stomach. There are some people you should never do business with no matter how talented they are. This is one of them.