20 Tips on How to Avoid Wedding Photography Scams - Part 1
There have been a lot of reports lately in the news and on social media networks about wedding scams. The degree of these scams is starting from fraud planners, fictitious bridal fairs, fake wedding dresses to scams by DJs and wedding photographers. No doubt, it is a horrible experience for both the bride and groom and their families to fall prey and have the wedding day ruined. It also tarnishes the reputation of hard working and legitimate vendors who have built their business and have delivered consistently on their promises.
A wedding is such a memorable and important moment for brides, grooms, their families, friends and relatives. The organization of such event requires elaborate planning and preparation, as well interviewing, hiring and coordinating a number of vendors to make it a success. Because of the number of wedding guests that have to be accommodated, the average cost of a wedding could easily be between $18,000 and $25,000. As with everything involving large amounts of money, there are always unscrupulous individuals looking for an easy way to make money by promising services but never actually delivering them.
The most common complaint from scam victims, according to the reports in the media, are for vendors who look like legitimate businesses and service providers but either never deliver the service or deliver it in a way not consistent with the expectations. While the later could be subjective and due to multiple reasons, the former is a pure form of scam.
There are many characteristics which can help to detect a scam but the main one in my opinion is: Consistency.
Because most scammers are looking for a quick “hit and run” before they are detected and shut down by authorities, they usually don’t spend years laying down their scam and not always coming to the degree of business preparation the legitimate wedding photographers do. In many cases they are somehow sloppy and can be easily recognized, if one is educated on what to look for and how to detect them.
To help educate potential brides, grooms and their families on what to look for and cross check before hiring a wedding photographer, I have created the list below based on my observations and information in the media. This is my best attempt to summarize some, but not all, of the things to be aware of. The list is also not ranked by importance or success rate, so feel free to pick and cross check the ones which make the most sense to you.
Because of the length of this guide, I have separated it into two parts: Part 1 and Part 2.
1. Business Web Site:
Photography is a visual art and photographs are meant to be shared and displayed. A legitimate business is expected to have online presence, especially one marketing photography services. Not able to visit the website of the business you are considering is a big red flag. It could be a sign of newly started and not yet established business.
If you are able to locate and visit the website, look for contact info and picture of the owner. Legitimate business want people to find them online and contact them for doing business with them. And what a better way to get a visual impression of the business owner than to see its picture in the Contact Us page. Scam artists like to stay in the shadows and avoid publicity, so lack of contact information and owner’s photo would be a concern.
While you browse through the website, pay attention to broken URL links or incomplete web pages. It could be a sign of website design made on a fly and with not much attention to the details. Business owner who cares about the user experience and its online presence, would maintain and keep its website functional and updated.
2. Online Wedding Portfolio:
Almost every established wedding photographer has a collection of its best images, carefully curated and selected into online photo portfolio. The portfolio is a way for potential clients to see photographer’s most recent work, evaluate the style and get excited about having their photos taken by this photographer.
Here is an example of Online Wedding Photography Portfolio and how would it represent the style and skils of a certain photographer (example: Trifon Anguelov Photography).
The lack of photo portfolio could mean the photographer doesn’t have enough images in its portfolio because he hasn’t photographed many weddings in the past or doesn’t know how to select and curate its images into a portfolio. Many fraud wedding photographers either steal pictures online from other photographers or buy stock images (images photographed by other photographers and sold online for a price) to make their own portfolios. Obviously, a vendor who is claiming someone’s else work as its own and promising results based on someone’s else skills and talent, it is hard to be trusted.
While is hard to detect by the ordinary consumer if a portfolio is made from stock photos, it is not impossible. More on this point, below.
Every photographer has an unique photography style which defines him as an artist and differentiate him from the competition. While it is not mandatory all photos to have the same look and feel, having completely opposite image looks (modern, antique, dreamy, moody) and styles could be a sign of random photos put together into the portfolio.
A photography style takes time and lots of efforts to develop and polish, so having a consistency is a good sign that the photos are taken from one photographer and he or she has invested lots of time to develop it. Read more on Wedding Photography Styles and how to recongnize them.
4. Geo Location:
Most wedding photographers work with local clients and shoot on locations close to their homes. If you live in San Francisco Bay Area as most of our clients and all you can see in the portfolio of a local wedding photographer are images featuring white sand beaches from Florida or Bahamas and no local landscape or venues, unless this photographer does nothing else but destination weddings in Florida or Bahamas, you have to ask the question: How come no local clients ever hired this photographer?
You should at least expect to see some local landmarks or venues in your area if you are looking to hire a local wedding photographer. There might be reasons why there are no portfolio images from your area, which brings us to the next point below. So when in doubt, ask questions. Legitimate business owner would not a problem to provide you with reasonable explanation.
5. Wedding Locations and Venues:
Weddings involve large group of family members, relatives and friends and require large venues to accommodate them. These are usually golf courses, country clubs, event and community centers, resorts, private residences, historic landmarks, etc.
If the wedding photographer you are interviewing has photographed as many weddings as its website claims, he or she should not have a problem to name few of the most recent venues he or she worked on. Most photographers spend between 4 -10 hours on the location, so would be hard to forget it.
6. Business Email Address:
Most legitimate business keep their business and private related activities separate and usually maintain separate bank accounts, records and e-mail accounts for their businesses. It is also a common practice to have an e-mail address from the same domain name as the business website is registered under. For example: if photographer’s website is: www.wedproduction.com, one would expect to receive an email from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
You as a client have the right to be curious why a legitimate business owner would not communicate with you via valid business e-mail address but instead is using cryptic one from free e-mail providers as (Google: @gmai.com, Yahoo: @yahoo.com, AOL: @aol.com, Microsoft: hotmail.com or outlook.com, etc). Examples of what might be a legitimate business e-mail addresses are: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, etc where you can actually find a website as www.johnsmith.com and www.johnsmithphoto.com
Use your judgement when corresponding with e-mail addresses with cryptic names. For example: john1956@ , mps2004@ . You can go a step further and search for the email address on Google. Simply type the e-mail address and add “scam” or “fraud” to check if there are any websites mentioning this e-mail address alongside scam or fraud reports.
7. Entire Wedding Day Images:
While it is easy to purchase stock images (images taken by other photographers and sold online), unless one has purchased multiple entire collections (which will be costlier) and curated them into online portfolio and featured weddings blog articles, it will not be easy for a scam photographer to provide you with examples of photos from an entire wedding day.
While portfolios feature selected images from multiple days and therefore can be faked by stealing pictures online or purchasing stock images, when a photographer shares photos from the entire wedding day with you, you are gaining insights into the following:
- first, you can see beyond one or two image picks from the wedding day and therefore determine the style and skills you are looking to hire;
- second, screen out the risk by hiring a photographer who cannot show images from the entire day for various reasons: he was actually secondary and not primary photographer so it doesn’t have the complete set of images, or bought one of two stock images only for its portfolio;
There is an exception of course: A photographer who is just starting with wedding photography and doesn’t have the photos to add to his portfolio, but he or she is completely transparent about it, would be an exception. If you are willing to give him or her a chance to photograph your special day and understand the risk that he or she might miss some moments or your pictures not come out with the same quality as seasoned professional would deliver, it is absolutely fine to hire a novice wedding photographer without an established portfolio.
After all every photographer has to start from somewhere which is how most established photographers started. It’s bad business practice when some try to lie about it and fake years of experience and skills they don’t actually have, therefore deceiving its clients.
8. Wedding Photography Contract:
It is a common practice for wedding photographers to present and sign a photography service contract. The contract defines the terms of the service agreement, the deliverables by the photographer along with dates, as well stipulates the rights and obligations of each side.
The lack of contract is a red flag for clients and photographers, so most of the legitimate photographers would present you with one and require that you sign it before booking the wedding date for you. Like a client, you can request changes to the contract so don’t take it as granted that you have to sign immediately especially if you don’t agree with any of the terms. Pay attention to any hidden charges or partial service terms which might open the door to extra charges later.
9. Business Card:
Because it so easy to design and order a business card and it is expected by a legitimate business to share one with its clients, this would be an easy to spot. When a photographer doesn’t have a business card or having one with a very cheap feel, it is speaks for the quality of the business he or she has.
Photographers are creative bunch and all photographers I know have proudly designed their own business cards and included one of their favorite images on the card as well. You can judge by the business card design and quality about the photographer itself. Most likely the time and efforts he or she put into designing their business card or not having one at all, would be proportional to the efforts they will put into documenting your wedding and post processing your wedding photos. As they say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but stay away from a book with no cover or a very bad one.
10. Liability Insurance:
Wedding photography involves photographing different couples and large number of guests on a weekly basis at different locations and venues. The risk of causing personal injury or property damages by the wedding photographer is very high, so having a liability insurance is a must. If the photographer cannot provide you with a valid insurance this could be a sign of liability ignorance, non established or non existent business. Spending additional money on purchasing an insurance so they can present a valid policy to potential clients is not something “fly by night” scammers would actually do according to the media reports.
If you find this article useful and would like to share it with your friends or relatives, use the social media buttons below. The more people are aware of this information, the lower the success rate of scammers would be and more weddings would have the planned happy endings. If you have any comments, feedback or would like to add to the list, email me at: email@example.com and I will consider adding it.
This is the end of Part 1 of this guide. To read the additional 10 Tips on How to Avoid Wedding Photography Scams, continue to Part 2 ...
- Wedding Photography Styles Explained
- Featured Weddings by Trifon Anguelov
- Wedding Photography FAQs and Tips
- Why Wedding Photographers Hide Their Prices
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