The Family Portrait Session of the Century

The year was 2007 AD. April to be precise. I was preparing for my first solo photography exhibition. The venue was Silverbird Galleria in Victoria Island. The idea of a solo exhibition had been borne out of the need to get financial resources to look for a new office space because my then landlord (for the office) had given me an eviction notice. The exhibition will eventually turn out to be one of my first series of great marketing feats as a photographer. Great unforgettable lessons would come of it too.

After the first day of exhibiting, I would eventually get an interesting call at around 9pm. It originated from one of the clients whose picture I was showcasing at the exhibition venue. It would eventually turn out to be a moment I would never forget (even if I have a brain transplant).

Let’s take a few steps back in time. Precisely 6 weeks before the exhibition. I was preparing to photograph my friend’s family in one of the most beautiful homes I had ever stepped into. Steve had been a family friend of over 15 years. When he found out I was into photography, he decided I was the best person to help document some moments in their life. We decided a session with his wife and 2 daughters at his brother’s mansion would be sufficient.

We agreed that in exchange for doing a complimentary session for his family, I would have the rights to use the pictures for marketing purposes. At least I could have sworn I made that clear. But there were no written documents to back up the verbal agreement. Afterall we were friends and what could happen.

What did happen eventually turned out to be more of a heart breaker than I had expected. I had gone ahead to use 2 of the pictures for the Silverbird exhibition and the wife had seen the framed exhibits on the first day. He expressed his dissatisfaction with her husband (Steve) about how I was revealing to the world their personal family moments. Steve had called me to ask that I remove the pictures from the exhibition. I was surprised. I was shocked.

I was surprised because I thought we had an understanding (albeit unwritten) about me using the pictures for my marketing purposes. I was surprised because the only compensation I got for the shoot was a nylon bag of snacks from Mr Biggs. I was upset because the first and best family portraits eloPhotos ever had would be considered too beautiful for the world to see. I was speechless.

For the sake of peace, I would eventually give them the framed pictures at no cost as a token of how sorry I felt for hurting the wife’s feelings. It was a painful gift. More painful now that I know that its one of the best family portrait sessions I have ever taken. The thought of the beauty of the pictures almost always brings out a tear in my eyes.

Ever since that day, I learnt the hard way not to photograph any client (even if its Michael Jackson or Tu Face) without a written documentation of the expectations of both parties: photographer & photographee :). Sometimes I’ve lost some jobs because of the fact that I put things in writing. But I have no regrets. One of the major bone of contention is the argument of who really owns the right to a picture. That’s why I try to put it in my terms & conditions the following clause before a client decides whether they really want me as their photographer:

“The fee we billed for the wedding coverage entails us having the right to use the pictures for our portfolio, samples, self-promotions, entry in photographic contests, art exhibitions, editorial or for use on any of our social media platform. We usually try to clarify this to clients before any job so as to avoid any arguments in the future. Usually what ends up happening is that we use a few of the best pictures to promote what we do. Clients that usually don’t allow this pay an extra premium for us to relinquish those rights. Please do let us know what your on that is.”

The lesson has been learnt. The deed has been done. Thanks to the family portrait session of the century & Mr Biggs, I’ll always try to remember to put things into writing before bringing out my camera to SHOOT anyone.
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