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Photography Question 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
 

What would you do if this happened to you?


An acquaintance of mine came by this morning asking for advice about something that happened to her family this weekend. Unfortunately, because I mostly do nature and travel photography, and have never shot a wedding, I really am unsure of what to tell her. But, I promised to come here and ask for your help. So, this is for all you wedding photographers:

On Saturday her daughter was married in a local church. The family had made and confirmed all their plans over the course of the past year, including hiring a photographer. According to the terms of their contract with this photographer, he was to arrive at the home at least 2 hours prior to the wedding; was to photograph the wedding party as they prepared for the wedding and then complet the standard wedding images during the service and the reception. The agreed upon payment for this work was $4500 – of which they paid a deposit of $2500 with the remaining $2000 due after the final images were presented. The wedding was scheduled for 3 p.m. which meant that the photographer was to arrive by 1 pm. By 2 p.m. when he still had not arrived, the mother attempted to reach him via his cell phone but was unable to reach him. Long story short – the photographer they hired never arrived! He did, instead, send another photographer who had never shot a wedding before and who arrived at the church five minutes before the wedding began. Apparently it quickly became clear that this guy had no clue what he was doing - he forgot to bring a flash, had no tripod and seemed unsure as to what he should shoot. Another long story short and I guess the guy stayed for the service and about fifteen minutes of the reception without taking more than about 20 pictures before he disappeared.

Needless to say (but, I will say it anyway!) the family is very upset and very angry. They came to me to ask what they should do and if there is some professional association to which they could report this incident. I told them that they need to file a report with the BBB and the State Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs, but that I am not aware of any pro association that would be able to intervene on their behalf. I also said that I think that they might be able to take the photographer to small claims court to get their money back, but that I was not sure what other actions they might take. The original photographer (the one with whom they contracted) has not returned their phone calls and remains “unavailable” – whatever this means, it is just the words on his voice mail.

So, all you folks who offer such good advice about wedding photography (Kerry, Mark, Gregory, et all…) any ideas/advice to offer this poor family? I know that what this guy did was incredibly unprofessional, unethical and down right nasty, but what steps could the family have taken to protect themselves and what can they do now? As always, thanks for the help!

Irene



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9/4/2006 6:37:11 AM

 
Rebecca A. Steed
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/6/2005
  I could very well be wrong here, but it sounds like they could sue for breach of contract and get their money back, plus damages (hopefully). Hopefully, it was a written contract and your frined has a copy. I think this could be handled in small claims court, I'm not sure. But, I do think they should seek advice from legal experts. This isn't just a photography thing.


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9/4/2006 7:24:20 AM

 
Jerry Frazier   WOW! That's unbelievable. You should sue him, and report him to the BBB. You should get your money back, but it really depends what was in the contract they signed. Read it carefully. By send someone, that could have been all he had to do in order to keep the retainer fee. It just depends how the contract reads. Your friend will now hope that they had read that contract more carefully. In any case, however, I'd sue him to get the money back, plus expenses. But, hiw contract might limit damages to the price paid.

This sounds really unprofessional. I wonder what happened. Is this person established? Or are they new? $4,500 is a pretty good pop that newbies usually can't get. So, I have to assume that this person is somewhat established and knows a few things. I'm really curious as to ALL the cicumstances surrounding this. Did they meet a week before hand and talk about the details? How was the communication between the client and this photographer?

There are a lot of details left out to really say what had happened. But, the fact that he didn't show is deplorable, and I would take him to court and get everything out of him you can. Unfortunately, though, usually all you can get are real damages. You can't sue for the memories that are lost forever.

Scumbag son of a bitch. This kind of person continues to degrade our profession, and give us all a bad name.


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9/4/2006 7:51:02 AM

 
dave    Irene, if you can get me the name of the photographer (or the company), I'm pretty sure I can make it so he never gets booked again (at least in that city).

Might even be or be related to our Dr. Evil character (you never know).


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9/4/2006 8:43:26 AM

 
  hey I resent that! If someone books me for 6 hours (my cheapest package), I still show up and will even stay longer without charging if I'm not satified with all that I have. I would never send someone in my place which alot do. They say the contract didn't say that they would shoot it and then book a bunch of weddings (sub contract them) and then shoot the most expensive one.


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9/4/2006 9:14:45 AM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  SOMEBODY GET A ROPE !!!!!!!! BP is gonna have a lynchin' !!!!!!!!!!

First Irene, I'm a photojournalist and I DON'T shoot weddings although I'll take that minor error as a compliment. .

Next, remember there are three sides to every story. I'm not saying Irene's version is wrong, but what did the guy say who showed up on behalf of the primary shooter? Has has anyone even tried to contact the guy to get his version of what happened and to ASK HIM whether he's going to refund the deposit?

I find it interesting that everyone here is so quick to castigate the guy, almost reflexively, BEFORE anyone gives him a chance to explain why he didn't show. Lawsuits, BBB, attorney general, that's pretty scarey before even trying to talk to the guy. Yikes !!! I mean one guy is willing to have him ridden out of town on a rail, another thinks this guy's mom is a K-9, someone just called Tony Soprano and no one even mentioned whether any of the guests took any photos that might help with the central issue which I think is not having an opportunity to recreate the whole deal and get the deposit refunded. Good grief !!! Listen to what you guys are saying here.

Sooooooooooooooooooo....I nominate Irene as the person who should try and locate the guy and if his phone is still working, I recommend that she start checking local hospitals. Maybe he had a heart attack, stroke, car accident or got arrested and only got one phone call so he called someone to pitch hit and an explanation is forthcoming. Give the guy a chance before you break out the rope.

Let's not get too hooked into the drama here. First find out what happened, then go from there. Take it light.
Mark


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9/4/2006 11:24:32 AM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Update to above: The family who hired this photographer is fairly well off – nice people, well educated and not without resources to go after someone. As to the contract: according to the mother, the contract stipulates that the photographer (the person they thought they were hiring) may be accompanied by an assistant, BUT will not appoint another to photograph the event.

Mark, sorry, I actually thought that you did wedding photography in addition to your other field! You make some very good points, it is always important to get your facts together before you attack someone, even if the attack is only with words. Because I am not close friends with the family and because I have yet to see a copy of the contract; and because, at this point, I do not even know the name of the photographer, I am simply trying to get some handle on what options the family might have. I did call our town’s police dispatcher (someone I know) and asked if she could check the log for any mention of car accident or other emergency that would quickly explain what happened. Nothing in the log, but since the photog comes from Boston; this is not the final answer.

According to the mother [just to explain, again; I was not there, I am taking the info from the family and have heard only the one side] she and her husband have been calling the two telephone numbers that they have for the photographer and have only reached a voice mail system that reports that he is “unavailable”. What this means ?????? They did hear from someone in the guy’s office who told them something along the lines of “tough luck”; at least something that only made them angrier.

Personally, I cannot imagine a situation that would adequately explain/excuse what happened. If, as Mark suggests as a possibility (however remote), something awful happened to the guy, then at least make an effort to contact the family and explain. I guess one of the things that puzzle me is why the person who was sent in the original photographer’s absence seems so lame. Even I, with my limited experience, know that I need a flash and a tripod for such an event! Oh well, as several people correctly point out, there is more to this story than we have at the moment. Please stay tuned, I’ll update you as I am updated. The mother has promised to bring me a copy of the contract later today and I will read it and see if anything jumps out at me – not being an expert about this, you have given me some idea of what to look for. And, Dave, I will get you the guy’s name, but let’s wait for more facts before you take action – although, again, I am hard pressed to come up with a good excuse based on the side I have heard.


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9/4/2006 12:04:01 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  No sweat Irene.

You know what I'd do, in all honesty? I'd politely thank the family for seeking your recommendation and support and then bow out of this whole thing. I know, I know, you're trying to help them out and certainly that's admirable, but it sounds like these folks are sophisticated enough to figure this out and help themselves.

And absolutely, if someone in this guy's employ told me "tough luck" I would be REALLY pissed off. But they still need to get ahold of the guy or find out what happened.

I don't know any pros I work with who've bailed out on assignments without very good cause. They always found someone competent to cover with their editors agreement. That's a whole different deal though, covering a news event vs. a wedding they're really dissimilar situations and I can feel a bit of angst for the family.

But nonetheless, you shouldn't let yourself be inadvertently injected into the dispute resolution process. Other than helping them out, you might just find yourself as a witness in a very ugly dispute or dragged into it by proxy, say if the guy wanted to file an action for slander, libel or just straight up defamation.

Sooooooooo, I doubt that your reputation as a photographer yourself would benefit at all from any of that. Besides, these things are kind of like a tar baby; the longer you get involved and the harder you struggle to get away from the whole situation, the more you get pulled in.

I'd just suggest to them to call the various photographer associations, Wedding, Pro Photog. of America, etc., and if they can't reach the guy, the better biz bureau if he's a member, and they should call someone in the local consumer protection unit at the local District Attorney's office. Beyond that, I really would bow out of this situation.

Take it light.
M.


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9/4/2006 2:51:46 PM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Thank you, Mark, for the VERY good advice! Actually, as the afternoon has worn on and I have taken time to think more about this, I had reached pretty much the same conclusion: I really don’t want to become embroiled in this mess! I gave my advice – which was to call the AG Consumer affairs and ask for their help. These folks are nice people with good intentions and I feel bad for what happened to them; however, beyond this, there is really nothing I can do for them that they cannot do themselves (better). They most likely already have a family attorney who can better advise them as to what recourse they have. In the beginning, I was simply outraged that anyone would do this to a family and I wanted to bop the guy for making all photographers look bad. But, things happen and as you so rightly pointed out – there is another side to the story and, frankly, I don’t want to hear more. I’m having enough a struggle getting my own fledgling career off the ground; I don’t need to make enemies. On the other hand, should it turn out that this guy really did screw these people with no good excuse; I wouldn’t mind seeing him paying for his bad choice. Anyway, thanks, again, to everyone who took time to offer advice!


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9/4/2006 3:06:02 PM

 
Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  I applaud both your good sense and integrety in wanting to help these folks. You're right on all counts. And sure, on the surface, while this is an outrageous thing for a photographer, especially one who holds himself out to be a professional, it's likewise outrageous for one person to do to another unless, of course, there were significant, intervening circumstances or events. So, feel free to let us know how this eventually turns out.

But in the meantime, even on the surface, there are a number of lessons to be learned here including buyer beware; aside from just looking at photos, always get and check personal and professional references for wedding shooters; and avoid giving large deposits, say anything over 25% or maybe 30% before retaining someones services. The other thing is that as professional photographers, our credibility is our reputation.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. And now, I gotta go clean lenses and get packing. Happy Labor Day kids.
Hug a union (or professional association) member today. 0\:>)
Mark



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9/4/2006 3:40:17 PM

 

BetterPhoto Member
  if he was a professional, the assistant would have told them what happened. They probably got scammed. There was a bride in my town that got ripped $7299, because you have to pay the whole thing upfront. They cant even find the guy and hes got a years worth of clients money.


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9/5/2006 9:44:27 AM

 
Jerry Frazier   Mark,

Let's not get too carried away with your advice - someone who doesn't shoot weddings.

I get 1/3 for the booking, and the other 2/3 due 2 weeks prior to the wedding date. With weddings, you have to get paid in advance. It's just the way it is. Clients will screw you left and right because they blow their wad on all the other stuff, and when they come to get their photos, there's no money left. Then what happens is they get pissed off at you for holding their stuff hostage.

A professional, especailly in weddings, but I would imagine in any of the fields, would not behave this way. So, that's a red flag there. Now, if he is dead, or in the hospital, that's a totally different issue. I do have backup plans for that, but if it happened that day, like a stroke on the day of, they likely would not hear from me until the smoke cleared, a few days or weeks later. Priorities and all that. But, there is a plan in the event of my death, and my future clients would be taken care of through a series of questions on how they would like to proceed, including money back, or we'll help you find someone suitable.

But, in the wedding business, reputation is it. That's what you live and die by.

If his office or studio is telling these people that they are out of luck, I don't even know what to say to that.

Just begin the legal process to find out what happened. There could also be other reasons. For instance, lets say that I died, and my kids were left holding the bag, and my clients were calling asking what's up. I could see them telling an angry client to go pound sand, and hang up because they are emotional. And, they can't take it, and can't even think about that stuff.

So, until the other side speaks, there's no telling. I would start from just being inquisitive, and not angry. Report him, get an attoney, whatever you need to do to get the story. Once you have the story, you can proceed with the appropriate emotion.


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9/5/2006 10:43:28 AM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Well, I think it is safe to assume that this guy was not a true professional! I have learned that although he has an office and supposedly has good references, this is not the first family that he has screwed. Apparently when the mother finally got through to his “office” this morning, she was told that he had left town and that the person answering could not help her. He told her that she needed to contact her local police department and file a complaint since the state was investigating the “photographer” and the wedding planner for whom he worked [thankfully, this family did not use the planned] for fraud. The police here referred her to someone in the AG’s office who told her that this guy and others have a real scam going whereby they collect money; send a legitimate appearing contract; take the money and disappear or send someone like the person who came to their wedding! The family has contacted their own attorney and was told that they could get their money back IF the guy and his cohorts can be located – something I rather doubt.

I thought I had heard of all the scams – well, of-course, not, but this is a new one for me! I am not even sure how one would protect against this type of thing. The mother told me that her husband had the guy checked out, called his references and saw his work and all seemed legit. I suppose the “references” were in on the deal themselves. The price, $4500 doesn’t smack of scam around here, but… I’m just glad that I did not get in the middle of this one! [Thanks, Mark!]


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9/5/2006 10:45:47 AM

 
Jerry Frazier   You don't have to get real specific, but I'm curious what state is this in? Is this in the US? I would just like to know because this is my business, and I do like to let my buddies in their respective areas to know this so they can be aware.


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9/5/2006 11:27:06 AM

 
Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  Massachusetts - as in the Boston area. At this point I do not even know the guy's full name. That is assuming that he even gave his real name or that the business was truly registered - all fiarly dangerous assumptions to make at this point. I suspect that I will never know the full story since I have pretty much taken myself out of the picture. The family has consulted their own attorney and I can only assume that he has taken charge of everything. I might ask around and see if this type of thing is common or not - since I rarely have contact with direct clients [I work for magazines as a writer and sell my images with those articles when I can. I also sell some work locally but then to conservation/nature groups and again, I have yet to do contracts. So, to me all this is odd and well out of my range of knowledge. It simply smacks of a well run scam.

Irene


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9/5/2006 2:38:12 PM

 
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