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How to Make Clients STOP Editing Your Photos | #AskShootProof

14 min read

Have you ever had a client put an icky filter on one of your perfectly-edited photos? #AskShootProof helps one photographer decide how to respond… 

“Help! My clients put filters on my photos without permission!”

Dear #AskShootProof,

I photographed a wedding a couple months ago. The couple was really sweet, and everything seemed to run smoothly. But then last week this client tags me in a bunch of photos on Facebook. At first I was excited, but then I see that the bride has uploaded a bunch of her wedding photos with some kind of weirdly colored filter on them. They look horrible! Nothing like the basically perfect pictures that I spent so much time editing!

I’m so horrified that someone might think this is MY editing!

Obviously I’m going to add a new clause to my contract that tells people they can’t edit my photos. But I also want to make this client take the photos down. Or at least can I make her remove my tag? I don’t want people thinking this is the kind of work I do! I’m so stressed out, I can’t even go on social media because seeing those photos makes me feel sick. How should I handle this?


Two photos are displayed side-by-side. On the left is the original photograph of a bride photographed from behind. She is standing on a cobblestone street facing the warm mountain sunset while her dress billows behind her. In the second photo, the bride's image is displayed on an iPhone where it has been overlayed with a fushia filter.

Aran Prime (portrait) and Tyler Lastovich (iPhone on table)

*The photos in this article are for illustrative purposes only.
They do not represent Overwhelmed‘s clients.

Here’s how to handle clients who re-edit your photos.

Dear Overwhelmed,

UGH. I’m SO sorry this happened to you. As photographers—as artists—we’re deeply connected to our work. It feels like we put bits of our hearts and souls into the photos we make and deliver. So when someone comes along and casually throws a filter on top of one of our photographs, it hurts. It feels disrespectful and downright rude.

The good news? Most of the time (maybe even, like, 99% of the time) our clients aren’t trying to upset us or disparage our work in any way. Your clients likely didn’t think twice about adding a filter to that photo—not because they are careless, but because they have no idea how that impacts you.

So take a deep breath. Your clients are still good people. YOU still did great work. And there are solutions to this that don’t require confrontation or heartache.

If my outrageously expensive portfolio school education taught me anything, it’s that—wait, no, I didn’t learn any of this in photo school. But after about 20 years of photographing clients and 11 years of shooting weddings, I did learn a few lessons that may just help you out.

  1. Happy clients are your most valuable asset
  2. Your brand isn’t what you think it is
  3. A couple of FREE mini scripts!
  4. Contracts are way cooler than you may think

But before I dig into that stuff…

This is what you should do RIGHT NOW:

Overwhelmed, go to your client’s Facebook post, click that Love emoji, and type:
“I had such a great time photographing your gorgeous celebration! You both look incredible!”
Just trust me. Or don’t trust me, but do keep reading. You deserve a little encouragement.

Two brides stroll under a tree. They are backlit by the bright sun, and surrounded by their wedding party.

Danyel Stapleton

#1: Happy clients are your most valuable asset.

I’m guessing that, right now, you feel like those filtered photos are out there destroying your chances for a successful future as a career photographer. Let me assure you: that is NOT the case.

Do you know why your client plastered weird filters all over their wedding pictures? Because they love their photos.

They love them enough to share them. Enough to play with them and put filters on them and post them on social media. They love them enough to tag you, essentially telling their friends, “Hey, look at our awesome photographer!”

And here’s the thing: a happy client who excitedly puts filters on their photos is more valuable to your business than a client who never shares their photos at all.

One of my favorite writers said it this way:

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

—Oscar Wilde, swoon-worthy Irish playwright, poet, and author

In two side-by-side photos, a bride walks up to a groom who is waiting for her outside, and they embrace.

Danyel Stapleton

(Obviously there are scenarios in which publicity is not good. Like getting arrested for smuggling pygmy owls into Paris, or trying to slip the Crown Jewels into your bra. Do not do those things.)

But if your clients are happy about the photos you made for them, the very last thing you want to do is disrupt that happiness in any way.

If you send your currently-happy wedding photography clients a strongly worded warning to “take down those photos,” you’ll have nudged that client toward dissatisfaction.

Is it worth it? 

In some cases, sure. Like if you have a commercial client who has purchased specific rights for certain images.

But for wedding photos? Nah. As a whole, the photos themselves have no real, tangible value to anyone but your clients. As long as your clients aren’t reselling your images for commercial purposes, I believe it’s best to let go and let God (as my Granny used to say.)

Now on to the second lesson I learned…

Two brides stand under a paper umbrella laughing

Danyel Stapleton

#2: Your brand isn’t what you think it is.

Overwhelmed, I 100% feel your frustration when you say, “I’m so horrified that someone might think this is MY editing!” You’ve worked hard to define your style. And, yeah—it IS horrifying to think that someone would mistake some random photo filter as your finished product.

But your brand is so much more than your editing style. In fact, did you know you can build an entire brand without ever having a logo, a website, or a social media presence?

I once booked three high-end weddings in a single week simply because an influential vendor liked me. She had never even seen my photos. But she referred me to people who trusted her, and those people spent close to $20k with me.

The most important facet of your brand is how you treat people.

A bride and groom stand nose-to-nose with their eye closed. The bride's veil is draped over their heads and puffed out around them like a cloud.

Danyel Stapleton

I did some research (i.e., poked around on the internet), and I found some inspiring data that supports this statement.

Lucjan Kierczak over at Survicate explains that our loyal clients are worth up to 10 times as much as their initial purchase. Just think about that. One happy $1,000 client could be worth $10,000 in free marketing if you play your cards right. 

For Inc., Logan Chierotti describes how 95% of a customer’s purchasing decisions are driven purely by emotion. Your clients want to feel good about their interaction with you.

Finally, the Magical Goddess Poet Queen** herself said,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

—**Maya Angelou

What does all this have to do with your brand and your business?

Simply that it’s easier, cheaper, and more profitable to make your existing clients happy than it is to get new ones.

So if you do need to have a tough conversation with a client, making them feel good about the dialogue is more important than proving your point.

Two brides walk hand-in-hand across a shady lawn. In a second photo, a close-up of one bride's bouquet is depicted.

Danyel Stapleton

#3: Use these simple scripts for awkward client conversations.

Because I know those challenging talks do occasionally have to happen, I’ve put together a couple of scripts that you can use. Customize them to suit your voice, of course. The point is simply to make your clients feel good about their interaction with you.

Script: Remind your client of a contract clause

Anything that has to do with your contract should probably be handled in writing. At the very least, you’ll want to follow up your in-person chat with an email overview of what you discussed.

“Hi, Client!

I LOVED seeing some of your wedding photos pop up on Facebook! I’m sure you totally forgot, but there’s actually a little clause in our contract that prohibits editing or adding filters to your photos. I know, it may seem silly, but it’s how I ensure the consistency of my brand so I can keep my business healthy.

Please don’t worry about the photos you’ve already shared. I love that your friends and family are liking and commenting! But I’d be so grateful if you’d only share the photos with their original toning from here on out. Thank you so much for understanding!”

A newly married couple walks down the aisle carrying their fluffy white dog as their guests stand and cheer.

Danyel Stapleton

Script: Request something that wasn’t in your contract

Overwhelmed, you mentioned adding a “no editing” clause to your contract. LOVE that idea. But you can also ask your client to respect your “no editing” preferences even though this isn’t in your contract. Your client, of course, won’t be obligated to honor this request; but there’s no harm in asking.

“Hi, Client!

I’m so excited that you’ve started sharing your photos on social media! I’m absolutely in love with your images, and I’m glad you’re enjoying them.

I was wondering if you’d mind not adding filters to the photos before you share them. I know filters are SO MUCH FUN, but I worry that people might be confused about my style! Obviously you’re under no obligation to share only unfiltered images, but I thought I’d ask. Either way: I appreciate you and I’m so thrilled that you’re happy with your photography!”

A two-photo series depicts two brides smiling and hugging during their first dance after their wedding.

Danyel Stapleton

#4: Contracts are way cooler than you may think!

This final part is short, Overwhelmed. But it’s awesome, and it changed the way I did business.

I used to think of my contract as a protective legal document for me and my business. But there’s more to it than that.

Your photography contract lays the groundwork for your human-to-human relationship with your client.

So, yes: add a new clause to your contract. Add 20 new clauses. Fifty new clauses! What matters is that you use your contract as a roadmap for communication.

Talk it through. Encourage questions. Find out what stresses out your client. What worries and fears do they have? How does your contract alleviate those fears? Which parts offer insight and reassurance?

#AskShootProof - an advice column for photographers, by photographers

A very wise friend once told me something along the lines of:

“Every client has a pain point. And if you can address that pain point—that fear, that worry, that need—then you’ll have a happy client for life.”

Nothing you do can keep a crazy client from being crazy. But there are so many things you can do to prevent an awesome client from deciding you suck.

Obviously, you’ve moved past the contract stage with your filter-happy client. But this approach can guide you through future interactions, and hopefully set the stage for a ton of wonderfully happy clients.

Because wonderfully happy clients are what you deserve. Really.

A bride and groom stand outside on a shady sidewalk. The groom embraces the bride with his face pressed against the side of her face.

Danyel Stapleton

Remember how awesome YOU are.

You’ll make thousands of photos for hundreds of clients over the course of your career. Some clients will move on and never contact you again. Other clients will invite you into their lives, into their homes, into their stories.

Hold those happy clients close to your heart. And don’t let the occasional oddball throw you off your game.


—Anne Simone

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The photographs of two VERY happy couples were graciously shared by DANYEL STAPLETON | The photo of the iPhone on the table was made by TYLER LASTOVICH | The filtered bridal portrait example was taken by ARAN PRIME | Additional thanks to: ABRACADABRA JEWELRY, GABRIELLA NEW YORK, NEWPORT VINEYARDS

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Apr 2024

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