We need that by Monday: How To Deal With Rush Turnarounds (Hint: You shouldn’t)

We need that by Monday: How To Deal With Rush Turnarounds (Hint: You shouldn’t)


A notorious sticking point for any photographer, the rush turnaround can be a great tool in your bag or it can turn into a living nightmare that threatens to create a rift between you and your client. Over the years I’ve been able to transition from the rush turnaround being a dreaded ‘ugh’ moment into something that is relatively effortless.

I know you’ve been there: it’s the end of the shoot and the client asks for a couple of shots rushed because there’s a “publication deadline” or “email newsletter going out” or “some arbitrary thing” and because it’s the end of the day and you’re tired and want to be a ‘yes-man-or-woman’ you, well, say yes – enthusiastically enunciated but internally defeated.

I generally try to get jobs done in around two weeks from the shoot date, but sometimes it turns into “it’ll be done when it’s done” because I’m on the road so much or have so many other jobs in the queue that it’s just not feasible to get them done within two weeks. Recently I did a shoot in North Carolina, flew to Mexico to shoot six days in a row, and then flew to Los Angeles for two shoots, then directly flew to London to shoot even more. Yeah. They’re done when they’re done – and most clients are okay with accommodating this as long as they know it up front. They’re happy you’re busy and successful, and understand that things come in waves and that we’ve got to take the work as we can get it.

If any one of those clients absolutely needed files rushed, I would have been happy to accommodate them had I known at the time they booked the shoot. For example, if I know a couple weeks in advance that I need to get files ready ASAP, I’m not going to book another shoot right behind it. I get so, so frustrated trying to rush files when I’ve got other stuff going on that I’ve learned to avoid doing it and one of my rules is that all rush requests need to be communicated well before the shoot date.

So, in my contract, I have a line that says:

If rush turnaround is required, this must be communicated at the time the shoot is booked. Otherwise, rush turnaround cannot be guaranteed.

Rush fees are as follows:

(make up whatever it’s worth to you, and insert here)

Simple and straightforward. 

This heads off three problems:

1) I’m not, well, rushing. No matter what, on rush files, things get missed, they don’t get cloned, colors might not be perfect, vertical lines might be a degree off, etc. You’re RUSHING for cryin’ out loud. Don’t you remember fourth grade writing lessons? Your writing gets sloppy when you rush. Same deal here.

2) If you must rush, you are compensated for it. It’s hard work, so you should be paid fairly. And if you have to hire an extra hand or third party retoucher to help you get it done in time, you’ve got the budget to do so. And it’s right there, signed, and agreed to in the contract you presented before the shoot (you did that, right?)

3) It prevents me from having to stress myself out and exhaust myself. This leads me to being off my game for other clients who expect me at my best. How am I supposed to focus on the job at hand when my phone is blowing up with edit requests on a rush job that for some reason has to be done today by five when I’m on location with another client? It’s an awful feeling and I hate it, so I try to avoid it entirely.

Honestly, these fees and contract language attempt to solve the problem by encouraging my clients not to rush files. At all. You read that right – I don’t ever want to rush files. I hate doing it. I’ll do it if I have to (we all do sometimes, award season anyone?), I’ll do it for my favorite clients that I’d go to battle for, but it’s hard. It’s 1am after a 14 hour shoot. I don’t want to be sitting there collating files and eye-dropping whites to get the colors perfect while I’m delirious, and neither should you.

So how do you deal with the rush when it comes up?

When it’s communicated in advance and I know I won’t have time (or desire, lol) to deal with it, there is a network of retouchers I can fall back on who I can pass off work to. Remember we are being compensated extra for it, so the budget is there for bringing on some hired hands to get through it. I can also mentally prep myself if I know ahead of time: preparation is key!

It’s all about making sure you know what’s coming and what you can manage.

I recently shot a job in China that had to be rushed. It was a twelve day hotel shoot, and every single day we had to upload and send files to be retouched while we shot the next day. I knew this well in advance, and I knew it would be crazy, so I tried to de-stress myself as much as possible before the shoot.

Email auto-replies were in full effect so things happening back stateside weren’t even getting to me. We had a hard stop of 7pm every day so that the client and myself could get dinner and discuss the day’s shots. There was essentially no ‘pollution’ of my mind while I was on the job, which had us up at sunrise every day and shooting til sunset – crazy schedule. I was 100% there because the client communicated what they needed in advance and I accommodated because I knew what it would take.

My assistant would oversee the upload process, or chat with the client while I uploaded the images at the dinner table. There wasn’t a single wasted second on this shoot and everyone knew it. Once the import was complete – over the main course at this point – the client and I would go through and make our selects. We’d head back to our rooms after dinner and I’d send the files overnight to be retouched and delivered the next day. It cost a bit more, but the client ended up extremely happy and everything worked like a well oiled machine because we had a plan and the infrastructure in place to make it happen. I can’t imagine what a disaster it would have been if I hadn’t prepped adequately. Did we miss a few nitpicky things? Absolutely; we were rushing and that’s a side effect. But we got the job done and delivered on time and everyone went home satisfied.

So, in essence – advance communication of rush needs is essential, and don’t be afraid to say no if it’s something you can’t deal with at that moment in time. Get it in your contract and make sure it’s agreed upon by all parties before you start taking pictures.

And for you real estate photographers who are reading this and have groomed your clients to expect next day turnaround: there’s a saying about a bed and lying in it that I can’t fully remember right now 🙂

Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.
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