Dealing with Last Minute Cancellations as a Beginner Photographer by Maddie Pake

If you’ve had a client cancel on you as close as 30 minutes before a shoot (yep, happened to me a few weeks ago!), welcome to the club. As photographers, it’s essential to our income that this second party actually shows up; it’s not all about our skill or equipment to bring home the bacon. And sure, sometimes they have a legitimate excuse (like my client who got in a car accident the day before her shoot), but most of the time, it’s pure lack of professionalism and respect. When my first client cancelled on me back when I was shooting graduation photos in college, I hopped onto google to find out how I could make sure this never happened again.

Sweet, naive, little 20-year-old me expected some quick fix, but I soon found that most of the articles I came across were for established, professional, charging-$500-a-session photographers! Sure, I wanted to be there some day, but the reality was that I wasn’t (and still am not) ready to be a photographer that sends contracts or requires a holding fee. Most of my clients are friends, family, or people I have known for years that I met through the church I grew up going to. I’m a SHY, non-confrontational businesswoman—I needed to figure out a way to make sure I earned the money I deserved without coming off too strong. So I figured it out on my own

How to Prevent Cancellations Without a Contract or Fee

  1. Let potential clients know you have limited openings and high demand

If you’ve ever worked in sales, you know creating demand is essential to getting a client. As a photographer, you might have people lining up for sessions(especially around the holidays), but sometimes one client thinks they can give you four or five possible days that they want you to keep open for them. Listen sis, don’t let them book all of your time just because you’ve known them for 10 years. And then comes the big question: what if they cancel anyways?

This happens to me over and over, and the reality is that you could be making money from 5 different clients on those 5 days; don’t hold out for one person. Even if you have to fake it, just say “Sorry ______, I’m actually filling up my calendar fast and only have {this day} or {that day} available.” And BAM, just like that, your client will realize that your time is VALUABLE and they aren’t doing you a favor; you’re doing something for THEM.

2. Give them a longer wait time if they cancel

So let’s say this client books with you and then sounds like they’re going to try to cancel or reschedule for another day as you get closer to the session date. Remember the client I told you about that cancelled on me 30 minutes before our shoot? She told me as I was pulling up the location that she and her family wouldn’t be coming and instead wanted to reschedule for a weekend day the next week (or maybe the next day, depending on how tired they felt Saturday). Yep. Cue the blank stare. And the tears.

As a newer photographer just moving back to my home town, I immediately wanted to tell her yes, I’ll keep that open for you. I needed money and I needed new clients, but telling her yes would mean that I would have to drive back early from visiting with my family that next week—and who knows, it sounds like she could cancel on me again. This client did not respect my time, so why was I giving all of it to her? So, I told her no. I gave her a time two weeks after her new requested date (which was the next date I had open WITHOUT having to change my plans) and left it at that. She accepted the new date and cancelled on me a week before. At least this time I was able to fill the spot and didn’t change any of my plans just to save one client that didn’t care at all about me.

In hindsight, telling this client when she booked the first time that I would not be able to reschedule for 3 weeks if she cancelled could have prevented this from the beginning. Going back to number one, always let your clients know that you are in high demand; it could prevent them from cancelling if they know they can’t reschedule for quite some time!

3. Let them know how much work you put into shoot prep

As most of you found out when your friends started asking you if you wanted to take pictures of them “because they needed something to Instagram,” people who aren’t photographers don’t know how much goes into a finished photo. There’s no subtle way to send someone a list of all the prep and post-shoot work you do, so you have to create that value in other ways. I always try to communicate as much as possible with a client leading up to the shoot: what kind of location are they looking for, what colors and style of clothing they should wear, what photos if any they want to re-create, etc. I try my best to show clients that I want to make their photos tailored to them or their family—it’s not just a show-up-and-shoot kind of deal. Most of the time, it works! Clients that I talk to and plan a shoot with see the value in what I am doing and are (usually) very appreciative and happy to pay me when the time comes. And the best part? They understand the burden a cancellation would put on me, so it’s not even a thought unless there is an emergency.

For the most part, I have some of the best clients I could ask for, and it’s not because they photograph well; it’s because they respect my time and my work. It took me a while to figure out these steps to preventing and dealing with cancellations in a way that worked best for my business, but I am so glad I had all of the crappy experiences I did!

If you have any other suggestions, let me know! I’m always trying to grow my knowledge and help others just starting out so they DON’T have to go through the bad experiences.

Thanks for the support!