Photographers: What do you do when the client doesn’t show?

We’ve all been there before. You spend a good hour or so getting the studio all set up for a portrait session- backdrops, lighting, remote triggers, cameras loaded with memory cards, and have shot some tests before the appointment. You’re all set as the time approaches. And you wait, five, ten, fifteen minutes and still no client. At twenty minutes after the agreed-to time, you call the client to ask if they are on their way or did something come up? At this point you are totally at their mercy. Now I know several other professions charge full-fees when a client cancels at the last minute but this policy would just about kill a portrait studio’s reputation in a very short time. So what do you do now?

A month or so ago, I had three separate portrait sessions not happen because the clients simply ‘forgot’. All were rescheduled but each one said it had just slipped their minds. As crazy as this sounds, people today have so much going on that they can often lose track of the days just getting everything done. I tried to take the frustration I felt and turn it into a solution for my immediate problem. Do I charge them for the session anyway and thereby ensure that they would never use me again and trash me to their colleagues? Do I charge them a half-fee to justify to myself the time I’d already put in, which would probably result in the same results as above? That might make my ego feel better short-term and for sure lose the client long-term. Or do I try to be pro-active and find a better solution on my own?

Around about this time I had a dentist appointment coming up. I’d had it on my calendar for six months, yet on the day before my appointment, the dentist’s office called with a friendly reminder of the time of my appointment the next day. Bingo! It immediately clicked that this is what I should be doing in my own business! And it’s so easy! I even took it one step further and created a PDF file with tips on clothing selection, make-up & hair styling, props and a reminder of my payment policy. I now email this to my clients a coupla days before the shoot and follow it up with a brief phone call to ask if they have any questions. I’m happy to say since I started this small little exercise, not one client has ‘forgot’ to show up for their portrait session!

I’m still curious though, whether you’re a photographer or not, what do you do when your client doesn’t show up? I’d love your feedback :)

6 thoughts on “Photographers: What do you do when the client doesn’t show?

  1. Debbie Schley

    Great post, I have faced this and your analysis is wise and helpful. Thanks to you, I am going to start instituting a pre-party phone/email contact! Better for everyone!

  2. Andy Swanson, ND,LAc

    We at Nature Cures Clinic give reminders to patients the day before their appointment. They get a text, phone call, and/or email. This cuts down on missed appointments, but inevitably people still forget on occasion.

    On the first missed appointment, we notify the patient and if they reschedule there is no further action. If there’s no reply we let them know that the NEXT missed appointment will involve a $50 no-show fee.

    We rarely have to charge the no-show fee, because people realize that your time is valuable. In addition, the fee motivates people to pay attention to appointments.

  3. Tom Szabo


    Yes these missed appointments can happen! Generally, when the client books the sitting, I make a point of getting all the billing info, phone numbers and an email address. Now I can be ready with the invoice when they show.

    I usually send an email confirmation for the sitting. The confirmation includes:
    Subjects name
    Sitting Location
    Sitting fee amount
    Reminder all minors must be accompanied by a legal guardian
    Link to blog post for hair, make-up, clothing and props
    Link to google map to locate the studio
    Advisory that all sitting fees are due at the time of the sitting

    If it’s been a while since they booked the sitting, I’ll give them a reminder call.

  4. William Morton

    I send a doc of wardrobe tips/etc as soon as an appt is booked – that gives them time to plan. A confirmation call about 24-hrs before is a MUST. But honestly I’ve found the best success with requiring payment of the session fee at the time of the booking. I’ve never had someone who has already paid “forget.” (I still do the reminder call the day before, and solidify their clothing colors/etc for choosing background and such.)

  5. Andrea Wolf

    I am having this problem more often than not and even though I did call to verifty the evening before my client’s appointment, they canceled within the hour of their appointment the next day. This is very discouraging to me. I set aside a day, dismiss invitations from friends and family because I have an session booked and then they cancel the same day.
    I feel there’s is nothing more I can do but it’s frustrating. I don’t want to send them a cancellation fee because of fear they might get upset.
    Thanks Andrea

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