An exceptional portfolio is key to business, allowing you to pique the interest of prospective clients or submit work to a publication for consideration. For some disciplines, this practice is straightforward: Fine artists, for instance, can typically digitize and circulate their images for portfolios with ease, as they often own the rights to their work. But interior designers and architects, who work on commissions, usually need to get their client’s approval to share images of those projects. That’s not always the easiest thing to do, especially if the project is a private residence.
Sometimes—in fact, oftentimes—you’ll end up working with clients who refuse to have their space photographed because they want to maintain their privacy. In those cases, it’s essential to arm yourself with some techniques to handle such situations, since, as New York–based designer and illustrator Jason Grimesnotes, “You’re only as good as a photograph of your last project, especially at the Instagram-sharing pace the world has adopted.”
Here are several strategies to keep in mind when trying to convince clients to have their space photographed.
Put photography in your contract from the start.
The best way to work around a no-photography situation is to avoid it completely. Lawyer Alex Ross, a partner at Ross & Katz, PLLC,who works closely with designers, highly recommends including a clause about photographing a space—both before and after the project—in your standard contract. “This way we’re able to manage expectations from the beginning, so the client knows that photography is important,” he says. Work closely with an attorney to hammer out the details—you want to be sure you’re getting the rights you need.
Negotiate. Suggest stricter terms, such as ensuring anonymity, or offer a first right of refusal.
Even if you have a clause about photography in your contract, the client may strike it out before signing. That’s the time for negotiation. If your original wording didn’t mention anonymity, it’s a great place to start. Offer your client complete privacy, ensuring that no identifying details about the home or its owners will be shared with publications, on your website, or on social channels. Work on finding a middle ground with your client that still allows you to add photographs of your project to your portfolio.
It sounds obvious, but sometimes long discussions can change your client’s mind. Again, having a lawyer in this situation would be advantageous, as he or she could help negotiate specific rights.
Ask to photograph details only.
Say that your client is standing his or her ground during negotiations. The next tactic to try is to give in, just a tiny bit. “Aside from slowly convincing the client over the course of the project, the best solution I’ve found is to focus on the details,” says Grimes. “All of my work is super-detailed and hyper-custom, so detail photos go a long way. These cropped photos may not make a publication, but they can at least be used in my portfolio.”
Go to court.
Or at least threaten to. “I haven’t any seen any designers who actually go to court about this issue, but we’ve certainly threatened it,” says Ross. Going to court is probably more expensive than it’s worth (and will also cost you a client relationship), so it’s not always advisable to do so, but the option is there.
Work with brokers if the property goes up for sale.
If you’ve lost out on negotiations and the client simply won’t budge—and you decide not to take the matter to court—it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If the client decides to sell the home, there’s a chance the space will be photographed to woo prospective buyers. In some instances, you can negotiate a deal with the broker to retroactively add those images to your portfolio.