Singaporean photographers and artists share horror stories with their clients

Horror stories from creative industry clients


Creators in the art industry all have one thing in common: they shudder at the thought of this customer from hell. Whether it’s stealing designs, requesting a million reviews, and even fishing like another client. The antics and hijinks are endless.

For photographers and artists new to their industry, encountering and coping with these situations can be trickier than expected. So I asked a few of my friends in the industry for their customers’ most egregious horror stories. Hopefully, after reading some of them, you will learn how to spot the patterns and avoid these situations in the future.

Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect the identity of the creators, but rest assured these are all true stories. Images are also used for illustrative purposes only.


Client wanted another tattoo artist to use my design



Image for illustrative purposes only.
Image credit: Kaizen Nguyễn

Felicia, a local tattoo artist, once had a request from a potential client for a design, only to complain about the cost of it after Felicia completed the design. This happened before she inked it on her client’s skin.

While that’s usually not a problem as everyone has different budgets, this client was about to make a faux pas and take the design to another tattoo artist to get inked instead.

“It’s pretty common in the industry where people order a design from a tattoo artist and then run off to a cheaper place to have it inked,” Felicia said. To counter this shady practice on the part of clients, most tattoo artists will demand respect for their work. If that fails, the industry is small enough for any artist worth their salt to know that this is a stolen design.


I complained about not following the brief and made rude remarks


photographer client horror stories
Image for illustrative purposes only.

Most photographers hired for gigs will tend to have a creative brief on hand so they won’t miss a shot. “It was one of my first shoots with clients, so I followed the brief that was approved by the clients all the way,” Denise, a photographer who works for a media agency, told me.

Once she finished filming and returned to edit the photos, the client’s point of contact commented that he hadn’t followed the brief based on what he wanted. Cue a fit of understandable confusion.

“The main focus was their birthday and their present, but they insisted that we didn’t take any pictures to show off their products, even though we did,” Denise recalls. “They also made sarcastic comments about my talented friend, saying she didn’t smile enough.”

Her breaking point came when the client told her manager about it and complained that she hadn’t gotten what she paid for with the wrong photos and the wrong choice of a model. “I got a huge breakdown because it was my first negative customer review and it sucked,” Denise said, adding that she went home and cried after receiving the criticism.

This story is a story as old as time, where clients try to micromanage the project and although they have approved the plan, they are still not satisfied with the end results.


I had to redo a client’s video 5 times


talking on a macbook

Although it is common for a client to have feedback and want to make changes to a commissioned job, it is not normal that they ask for endless series of revisions. Aaron, a freelance videographer, took on a project for a friend’s business only to realize that most clients don’t know what they want; they only know what they do not do to want.

After filming and editing the first draft of the video, the client asked Aaron to modify the entire structure of the project. “That’s no problem,” he thought at first. But after sending the second draft, they again asked him for major changes. This happened over and over again until five different versions of the video were edited.

The client even asked him to do two versions of the project to see which is better.

“It got to the point where I considered dropping everything because they would ask for an in-person meeting to change the whole structure, and that took a long time,” he said reflecting on the incident. .


How to avoid customers from hell


while speaking

It is inevitable that anyone who does creative work for a living will encounter a client with unreasonable demands. Content creators sometimes deal with people who don’t respect their intellectual property (IP) rights – to steal their work and pass it off as their own or not to give due credit.

Those who felt story #1 hit a little too close to home can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the news copyright law, which entered into force on November 21, 2021, is on their side. Changes to copyright laws aim to strike a better balance in how ownership, commission, and attribution are done for creative work.

Under the new Copyright Act, content creators must be identified when their works are shared publicly. They will also now own the copyright to all content ordered by default if the commissioning agreement is silent on copyright ownership.

As the default owners of commissioned works, content creators would have more bargaining power to negotiate with clients for better compensation. This will be useful if clients wish to have more rights or wish to use the works for purposes other than those originally agreed.

new copyright law 2021
Image credit: IPOS.

This then brings us to the crux of avoiding customers from hell: get everything in writing.

Negotiation is an important part of doing business, but don’t just get verbal agreements that can be easily forgotten. Follow up with emails, Whatsapp messages or, to play it safe, get a contract template that protects your job and your rights. You don’t want to end up frustrated like Denise and Aaron in stories #2 and #3.

If your client decides to use your photograph or artwork for more than what was originally agreed, you can use it to demand appropriate compensation. You can also discuss terms such as being able to include photos you’ve taken in your portfolio even if the client has claimed copyright ownership.

If you need preliminary advice on intellectual property litigation, you can arrange a session with a professional lawyer at Intellectual Property Legal Clinics offered by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). They would be able to advise you on IP litigation before you decide on the next course of action.

Learn more about the Copyright Act 2021 here


This message was brought to you by IPOS.
Cover image adapted from: Kaizen Nguyễn

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