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Norman Phillips on Legal - part 1 of 1 2

by Norman Phillips Published 01/06/2005

PiCTURE THIS. Your client makes an appointment to have her portrait made with her three children as a gift for her husband's 40th birthday. She meets with you for a consultation so as to be properly prepared for this important event. Resulting from this meeting she shops to acquire the appropriate clothing for the children and herself. The appointment was deliberately made to allow her time at the beauty parlour for her and her two daughters, seven years and nine years old.

While she is at the beauty parlour she has a baby sitter take care of her four-year-old son and arranges for her to deliver the boy to the studio where all four of them will be dressed. In effect, she has invested not only considerable dollars in clothing and beauty parlour charges; she has invested the best part of two days of her time.

The woman is very excited about the session and so are the children. This is going to be a big surprise for daddy and the children have vouched not to let on what's being planned.

They arrive for the session and it seems that all goes well. The children enjoy the session as you are a very nice friendly photographer and they leave with great expectations. The potential problem is that the timing of the session and the date of dad's birthday puts a little pressure on you to be on time with not only proofing but also the finished product.


When you process the portraits you discover that there are serious technical issues and the only way you can deliver on the promise of the finished portrait is to have them back for a retake. But there is not enough time for this to be arranged and deliver finished product in time.

Nevertheless, you call her and tell her the bad news. She is obviously very upset and is in a panic. Her well-planned gift is not going to happen. She declines the invitation for a retake for all the obvious reasons. You apologise profusely but she is not consoled and you do what is the obvious and offer her a refund, which she accepts. That, hopefully, other than the potential bad public relations is the end of it no matter how regrettable.

A few weeks later you receive a letter from the ex client's attorney. It demands that you reimburse her for her expenses and disappointment in the amount of 5,000. When you have consulted your own attorney you take his advice and send her a cheque. To argue the point would be more expensive, especially if she should sue.

This scenario begs the question. Did you have a written portrait contract with this client? You will reply no and that you would never have thought about such a thing and as far as you know no one amongst your professional colleagues has one either. And you are probably right. Virtually no one in the professional portrait business has a portrait contract.


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1st Published 01/06/2005
last update 30/04/2014 16:20:53

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