When your client flies a Zulu tribe to the UK for their daughter’s 21st Birthday Party and you majorly F***k up! 

By Hannah Freeland


I’m not going to lie to you, this still hurts. I was commissioned at age 17 having been recommended by another photographer friend to photograph a 21st birthday party. I jumped at the chance as this was going to be one of my first “big” paid jobs I had done. Sharp and keen, I jumped in with two feet and was confident that I could produce a nice set of images from the party. I was promised £500 to do the job.  


Keen as mustard, I turned up early, got familiar with the surroundings; the various marques; the amazing flower sculptures; the gigantic fire pit; and oh so much more.  


The party started and hundreds of people arrived. The Zulu tribe made a surprise entrance at around 9.00pm. Wow oh WOW, how incredible, and what a photographic opportunity this was for me.  


Buzzing and unable to sleep I downloaded my images onto my laptop about 1am in the morning.   


The next morning, I happily trundled off to my next job- an equine event that lasted almost 12 hours. I was exhausted but still filled with the previous day’s excitement.  


Fast forward a couple of days. I was on my spare bedroom floor (my home office in those days) sobbing my heart out in front of my mum and dad. I had not backed up the party images and they had all been lost. They were nowhere to be found. Not on a card, not on my laptop, nowhere.  


I cried for almost 2hrs non-stop, unable to figure out what to do. I had made the fatal error of not backing up my images. I only had one copy of them- on the laptop that had died. My laptop was sent to London in the hope that they may retrieve the images but no – there was no such luck. That was the end of the road and I had to go to see my clients and confess.  


That day was one of the biggest, bravest things I had ever done. My mum and dad being the wonderful parents they are asked if I want them to come with me. But in my mind, if I was big enough to get paid £500 for a job, I was big enough to confess to my clients that I had lost all their images (in fact I actually managed to find about 15 shots that I printed large for them in the hope this would lessen the blow). But nonetheless, I would be turning up, alone, to say I didn’t have their images.  


Unsurprisingly, they were disappointed. But the 3 children were wonderful to me, saying they had loads of friends that had taken photos, so they would rally around and gather them up for their collection. The father (the one paying me) was a gentle giant, who obviously felt I could have been one of his own children, being around the same age as them. He even tried to insist I kept the £500 Coutts cheque. The mother tried her best to hide her disappointment and anger that I had not produced the images she had been so desperately excited to see, but I couldn’t avoid the harsh reality that she was bitterly upset by the whole experience.   


I walked away that day learning a very harsh, but valuable lesson. There is no room in business for not knowing your business.