I haven’t blogged in a few days. I had to face it, I just don’t enjoy coming up with random things and then writing like I actually care about the topic. But I am posting today because I do have a subject that I want to write about with conviction. Yesterday, I was told a story about a bride and her wedding photographer. It is not a happy story, and I am both sympathetic and angry at the same time over what was done to this poor young bride. I am sharing this story so that if any potential bride reads this blog they at least have an awareness that not every vendor has the bride’s best interest at heart.
To begin with, I obviously know the person who told me the story, but I don’t know the bride and I don’t know the photographer, nor have I ever met either one of them. I will tell the story based on my best recollection and as straight forward as I possibly can. Any conversation between the bride and the photographer is just a third hand paraphrase of the conversation. I will not use the name of the bride or photographer. Draw your own conclusions about the incident.
The photographer ran a contest with the prize being free wedding photography. The bride won the contest and the photographer shot the wedding. A couple of weeks after the wedding the photographer contacted the bride and informed her that 360 pictures had been chosen out of all the shots taken at the wedding and told the bride where she could find the proofs online. Then the photographer informed the bride that she could get the 360 pictures unedited for a payment of $1,500 to the photographer. If the bride wanted edited photographs, the photographer would edit and hand over the pictures to the bride for $1,600. The bride is stunned because she is operating on the belief that her wedding was being photographed for free. She emailed the photographer expressing concern and dismay over the situation and wanted to schedule a meeting with the photographer. The photographer emailed back saying something to the effect that the bride couldn’t expect the photographer to shoot for so many hours and not get some type of payment. The photographer also informed the bride that there would be no face to face meeting and that their contact with each other was essentially over. And now the bride cannot even view her proofs online.
My Thoughts and Opinions
My thoughts and opinions are based on the facts as I know them at this moment. I am going to look at the facts and draw my own conclusions and share them with the reader. If facts become available at a later time that change my conclusions, I will post those changes if they occur. Read the facts for yourself and draw your own conclusion.
In the name of fairness, I will tell the reader that I have not seen the contract, nor do I know the rules and the conditions of the contest, or the discussion on the day of the client-photographer meeting. What I do conclude from the information I have is that the bride left the client-photographer meeting believing that she owed no money, that everything was going to be free. If the photographer was expecting a payment for the prints, it is up to photographer, in my opinion, to make sure the bride understands what is owed to the photographer before the client-photog meeting breaks up. After all, the photographer IS the expert in the room and I believe photographers bear the final responsibility for the client fully understanding what she is getting and the way of service and how much that service will cost.
Let me continuew by examining the contest aspect of this story. I have seen these contests on Facebook, and I have even participated in them to help out my friends. Contests are used all the time, from beginners in the profession to the rock stars of wedding photography, as a means of advertising and expanding their business Now I don’t have the details of this specific contest, but let’s look at what we do know about it. The contest was for free wedding photography. In law, there is the “reasonable man” test. In my opinion, a reasonable man would assume that getting free wedding photography would also mean getting the pictures as part of the package. But let us assume for the sake of argument that the photographer meant the shooting was free, but a fee would be charged for the printing. This photographer’s starting package is $1,500. So if the bride gets the actual shooting time for free, but ends up paying the full package price to get the prints, where is the advantage of winning the contest? This would be like me winning a contest for a free haircut. A haircut runs $30 and includes a shampoo. I go in for my free haircut and at the end my styler charges me $30 and when I say but I won the free haircut, she tells me that only the haircut was for free, that she is charging me for the shampoo. And charging me full price. Ask yourself, how many brides-to-be would even enter a contest for the chance to win their wedding photographed for free but the prints needing to be purchased? At full price!
When I was starting up my wedding photography business, I took classes on the business and have talked to other professionals to get the knowledge of the best and most ethical business practices; the business practices that work and keep the customer satisfied and get those good referrals so my business can grow and be successful. So when I was told this story, I was asked what my business practices are. Would I do something like this photographer had done? My obvious answer is no I wouldn’t. I want happy brides and good reviews. The bride’s wedding day has to be almost as special to me as it is to the bride. So what would I have done differently?
This is what the bride would have experienced with me if I had held the contest and she had won. This is “What if she had gone to Poole Photography…”
To begin with, I would have made sure when I advertised the details of my contest, that I provided full disclosure on what winning the contest meant. Let’s say I have a $1,200 package. I would state in the contest literature that the winner would get free wedding coverage worth $600, or half off my $1,200 package. The winner would be responsible for the rest of the fee. This would be known to anyone who entered the contest. The winner is picked and announced. As my bride and I start to communicate, we would set up a client meeting. At this meeting, along with all the other client meeting items, I would absolutely make sure that the bride understood what exactly she won and what exactly she still owed and make arrangements for the payment. My standard wedding contract, amended to include the details of the contest, would be signed by both of us. The last agenda item of the meeting would be to review the meeting and to have one final reminder for my bride of my responsibilities and her responsibilities. When my bride left that meeting there would be no doubt in her mind that she was getting my photography time for free and she was financially responsible for $600 and a fee collection plan would have been in place before we parted company.
The scenario I related above is how most wedding photographers, with individual differences of course, conduct their client meetings. A wedding photographer who is using good business practices and believes the customer is the person he or she is working for would never, NEVER leave a client meeting or shoot the wedding without the client knowing exactly what services she is getting and how much she is paying. And more than just being good business practice and such, it just isn’t right that the bride doesn’t have full disclosure and knowledge of the services she is getting and what she has to pay.
No bride should have her memories held hostage.
I am fortunate to have learned from some really solid professional wedding photographers. Most of the suggestions I am going to give I learned during the classes I took from one of the better local wedding photographer, Diana Elizabeth. I tell the reader this so that you don’t think I came up with these suggestions all by myself. Some pretty good people have taught me these suggestions and I want to pass them on to future brides so they don’t have a similar situation put a black cloud of despair over their happy day. The overwhelming majority of wedding photographers are righteous people and have nothing but the best interest of the bride at heart. But there are swindlers and hustlers and people who just don’t know what they are doing in the business. A bride needs to be alert for the hustlers and such when choosing a photographer. As the old business adage goes, “buyer, beware!”
So in no particular order of importance, here a few of my suggestions for the future Mrs’s out there.
1. The devil is always in the details, so make sure you know them. Don’t let a photographer gloss over anything you don’t understand that is either in what he or she says or what is in the contract.
2. Make the photographer earn your trust. Don’t just give your trust away to a total stranger. A little harsh, but it is a good rule to keep bad things from happening. Now the majority of the photographers out there are trustworthy people, but make them earn your trust. Nobody has your best interest at heart except you.
3. Make sure you know what is in the contract. This is kind of repeating #1, but it is so, SO important that you don’t leave the client meeting without knowing the services the photographer is providing, and how much you are paying for those services, and when you are expected to pay. A good wedding photographer will do one final read through of the contract and have you initial all the important points of your rights and responsibilities and the photographer’s rights and responsibilities.
4. When meeting a potential photographer, come with a list of questions for the photog. I know this drives some photogs crazy, but Google “questions to ask your wedding photographer”, and find a list or two that you like and have them ready. Remember, the photog is APPLYING for a job. You are the client, and the photog wants to work for you. He or she should be willing to answer any and all questions you have. You are the one spending the big bucks.
A side note to the above is that it is quite alright to ask the photographer how they dress when they shoot a wedding. A complaint about the photographer in our story was that this person did not dress appropriately. It is up to you. If you don’t care how they dress, don’t ask. But if you do, ask. It’s OK.
5. Never assume anything. Because when you assume…
6. See rule #3 And along with that, it goes without saying, make sure you have a written contract. It is for everyone’s protection
My belief, and I run my business this way, is that once I have a bride as a client, I work for her. I am also the “expert” in the room. It is incumbent on me as that expert to make sure my bride is thoroughly informed about all the aspects of me and my photographic services. In the story I have told, the evidence tells me that this was not done in the case of this particular photographer and bride.
The hardest part in writing this blog was not to venture into the area of speculation as to why this happened. I haven’t seen the contract nor have I seen or heard any of the pre-wedding communications the bride and photographer had, nor have I seen the contest rules and regulations.
The facts as I know them right now are these: the bride won a contest for free wedding photography only to find out AFTER the wedding that the only way she could get her photographs was to pay $1,500 for 360 unedited photographs. Draw your own conclusions.
Applying the “reasonable man” theory, if I found out ahead of time that I would have to pay $1,500 for UNEDITED pictures, contest winner or not, I would be looking for a new wedding photographer. But our bride found out after the fact, after the wedding, after it was too late to find someone new.
My hope is that this situation gets resolved fairly and equitably and that no other brides have to go through a similar situation.