How to Handle Bad Reviews by Photography Clients

May 26, 2015

Topic: Client Relations
Time Investment: 12 Minutes
Suggested Product: Cancellation of Contract Bundle, Cease & Desist - Defamation


You have a killer session and a seemingly awesome client relationship. Then all of the sudden you see the client negatively discussing your business, work, or even you personally on the internet.  What can you do? 

Negative reviews can be placed on a variety of platforms ranging from Yelp to the Facebook Page feedback/rating function. Even without these review functions, customers can say what they think on the Internet by status, blog post, and other mediums – most of which are available publicly.

Unfortunately, we don’t want to just focus on the “clean-up on aisle four” – so let’s walk through the steps of preventing these types of issues, and your possible remedies if this does occur. 


1. Don’t give your client a reason to talk negatively

This seems like common sense, but often issues arise because of a failure to fulfill a contractual commitment to the client or simply not offering the best customer service.

It is important for you to have a written workflow to ensure you don’t miss any steps.  This will ensure all clients receive a consistent experience across the board. This will also keep you from wasting your office-time trying to figure out what needs to be done. Lastly, this will hopefully prevent any negative reviews by your photography clients.

Many times clients just want to be heard – make sure that you include a feedback mechanism in your workflow so they can provide you with their comments. Not only will this work to deter public displays of frustration or dissatisfaction, but you can then have a pulse on what needs to be adjusted in your business for future success.

We can’t always keep clients from talking negatively, even when we’ve done everything by the book. Life is just not that predictable, but how we respond is the mark of a good business owner.


2. Non-Disparagement provision in your photography contract

NOTE: This used to be allowed. This is no LONGER valid in the United States. Read the Article here.

These provisions are NOT recommended by TheLawTog® – this is just merely providing you an example of what you could do. What you choose to do is up to your business decisions!

Non-Disparagement clauses have historically been placed in employment contracts and settlement disputes.  These clauses have only recently been emerging in personal services contracts, such as those used in the field of photography.  The rising popularity of these clauses is due to the onslaught of social media and other web-based platforms that make it easy for individuals to bash publicly and tarnish the reputation of a company, whether deserved or not.

This type of provision outlines the financial responsibility a client would face if a negative review surfaces about the photographer.


Non – Disparagement Provision Example:

For the purposes of this Section, “disparage” or “disparaging” shall mean any negative statement, whether oral or written about Photographer Company Name. The Client agrees that no disparaging communications shall be made about the Photographer, whether through online or offline mediums.  Disparaging communications are defined as criticism, ridicule, or any statement that disparages or is derogatory of the Photographer and the photography business.  If the Client violates these terms, a liquidated damages of $____ shall be assessed and remitted to the Photographer. The parties agree and acknowledge that this non-disparagement provision is a material term of this Agreement, the absence of which would have resulted in the Photographer refusing to enter into this Agreement.

This provision is only for educational purposes.  Use of this provision is of your own accord and should have a local lawyer review prior to use.  Use of this provision and reading this article does not create a lawyer-client relationship with you and TheLawTog.


Some recent examples of “disparagement” being pursued can be found here:

In fact, due to these recent events, The Knot even published an article warning brides from signing contracts with these provisions, which can deter brides from engaging in your services.  Realistically, who wants to give away their right to leave a negative review, especially if it is deserved by the actions of the business?  In fact, courts tend to agree.

In 2014, California proposed (and won) legislation to limit and possibly punish non-disparagement clauses in online consumer contracts (also known as the Yelp Bill) on grounds of free-speech. Yelp stated “A five-star rating for a business who had used one of these clauses to simply scare all negative reviewers into removing their comments wouldn’t really represent the experience a consumer could expect to have at that business in our opinion.”  So California has found these clauses to be invalid and unenforceable.

For this reason, among others, non-disparagement clauses are not always recommended for inclusion in photography contracts because they are hard to enforce, and it is also difficult to identify the fine line between a legitimate disappointed customer and one out to tarnish a reputation.

While some displays by customers online can be clear cut, enforcement of such a provision may lead you back into court.  Including a provision like this is a decision you, the photography business owner, would need to make.

Keep in mind, if the disparagement becomes so severe to your reputation an action can be taken in court with a contract that is silent on disparagement.


3. Cease and desist for harassment

There is a fine line between an unhappy customer and a harassing customer.  Unfortunately, the computer makes it super easy for individuals with chips on their shoulder, nothing better to do, or no manners to reach out into the webspace and to crucify the reputation of an undeserving business.  This is where a cease and desist document can enter to deter further damage.

If the words and threats become too severe, a call to the local police may be needed as some states have harassment laws in place to safeguard their citizens.


4. Talk to your client

But if you want to take a more pro-active and nicer route – reach out to the individual who gave the bad review to see if you can smooth things over. In fact, we recommend this action plus good professional behavior the best course for preventing and remedying bad reviews.


5. Ignore the review!

If this happens to be an obscure outlier, you may not even need to worry about a negative review.  Just encourage all of your happy clients to leave reviews to balance it out.  The general client will look at a bunch of good reviews and not put much stock in the negative one.  Yes, the bad review hurts and you may lose a few clients, but overall if you’re doing your job professionally and have mostly happy clients – one bad review won’t kill your business.

As you can see, staying on the straight and narrow with clients is the best way to avoid negative reviews, but if you do encounter someone who has taken the negative reviews to an extreme you have a legal foundation with the options available to you.

It is recommended should you have a rocky relationship with client to cancel the contract with them (See: Cancellation of Contract document here) and both parties be bound to confidentiality about the relationship.  This won’t always stop someone and you could remove this provision – but your client may be happy to have you bound to not discuss the terms of the bad relationship as well!

Explore more