As I write this post, I have just finished slogging through a tedious and time consuming photo edit that could have been 100% avoided. Here’s the story of what happened.

A couple weeks ago I bought a new studio monolight. I was really excited, and I couldn’t wait to step up my portraiture game. At that same time a friend of a friend reached out looking for headshots.

Whammy! Here we go.

The preliminary talks moved quickly. Date, price, aesthetic all get knocked out over the span of a few emails.

On the shoot day, I show up ready to rock with a white backdrop as the client had told me they wanted.

Molombo the Mighty

I secretly thought that a black backdrop would be cool. So I show them what black looks like.

And whaddaya know, they LOVE it!

The woman I’m working with asks if I could shoot everyone on both backdrops. Absolutely. I aim to please. There are a million photographers in the world, and I want you to have an extraordinary experience with me.

At some point during the shoot she mentions that she likes black and white photos a lot. That’s awesome — I love black and white photos too! A super contrasty image with faded blacks makes me melt inside. So I tell her! “Hey, of course I can give you a black and white version of the images”. And since I want to flex my photographic muscles, I tell her “I’ll even give you two versions of B&W for you to decide on!”


All of this then prompts her to inquire how this all works with the final images. So I tell her that I’ll send her two versions in color and two in B&W and she can decide what she likes the most.

Perfect! She’s happy, the photos turned out tight. I head home with an SD card full of photos.

After running the photos through Lightroom, I send her some examples that I’m really proud of. She goes to her staff asking for their input, and it turns out they like all of them! Some people’s skin tones sing in Color V1 against the black back drop, some people look incredibly regal in B&W V2 against the white backdrop.

She comes back to me and says, “Hey we love ALL OF THEM!”

GREAT! I’m the man. I’m such a good photographer and Lightroom wizard. I have gone above and beyond. My client loves everything I do!

She then asks if she can have both versions of color and both version of black and white. While we’re on the phone I quickly do the math (I’m really good at math too): 2 versions of color plus 2 versions of B&W = 4 photos per person. That’s more than I was expecting, but I’m happy to accommodate a little extra work so that the client is happy.

As I dive in, something’s not adding up… I then realize I’ve buggered up my whole math equation.

Each person took photos with both backdrops.

– 2 Backdrops
– 2 Color/B&W
– 2 versions of each color and black and white

I’m no professional mathematician (too busy being a professional photographer) but 2x2x2=8. That means I’m delivering 8 photos for each person.

I’m delivering 88 photos for 11 people. Jesus, that’s a lot of Molombos.

I successfully talked my way into the completely avoidable problem of having to deliver 88 photos.

I’m sure your next thought is: “Well, ask them to pay you more,” which I could have done. But I feel that this whole situation is my fault, the client should only pay when they make a mistake. They didn’t talk me into two backdrops and they didn’t talk me into sending two versions of each photos — I did. I was the one who walked us up the road where the logical choice was either giving them 8 photos/person or yank away a bunch of options at the finish line.

Now that the work is done, which honestly wasn’t more than a few hours of extra work, I think that there are a couple of good lessons here.

First, the client is paying for your expertise. They’re paying you to make difficult creative decisions for them. The only reason I was hired is because they can’t do what I can, so why should I ask them to solve problems that, by virtue of them hiring me, they don’t want to solve?

I could have delivered 22 photos, given each person a B&W and a color with the white backdrop and they would have been happy. And if a couple of people weren’t 100% happy with their shot I could have noodled away at those specific photos until they were happy. They would have never known that there was a whole world of black backdrops and alternative ways to color the image.

Second, on film and photography projects in the past I’ve always found that the more decisions you have made before you show up on set, the more successful that shoot will be. Making creative decisions the day of always results in more work for you later. The best shoots are those where everything is decided beforehand and all you do is show up and check to-do items off the list.

Finally, this whole ordeal goes to show the importance of specifically outlining deliverables early on in the process. If up front we had agreed on 11 people, 22 pictures, one B&W and one color, then I can always come back to that and say, “Hey, I’m happy to deliver more, but we agreed on 22, so you’ll have to pay more.”

In my mind, this detail was so simple that I completely glossed over it.

If I’m going to do 4 times as much work, then ideally the client is 4 times as happy. Now, I’m sure they’re very happy with what I gave them, but probably not 4 times happier than they would have been.

They got in touch with me because they wanted great photos for 11 people. I was so busy trying to do everything that I couldn’t get out of my own way and just give them what they asked for.

Bonus picture of Molombo

About the author: Woody Roseland is a Denver based filmmaker and photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his Instagram. You might remember him from this post about taking photos at a concert.

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