Ethics And The Never Ending Pursuit Of Wedding Photography

Things always seem to work in trends. When one person has a question, comment or rant on a a particular subject or niche, I get the in multiples within that same niche.

That’s the way its worked lately with the niche of wedding photography, and in today’s post I thought I would share a couple of comments I’ve received in the past week on wedding photography that really opened my eyes.  Take a look:

“This past weekend we shot a wedding in Seattle, and had a girl there with a Rebel shooting. I didn’t mind, in fact, I got her involved instead of her stuffing herself in a corner and avoiding eye contact with me at all costs (because she knew what she was doing was incredibly disrespectful.) But that all changed when I jumped on to facebook to upload some sneak peeks for the bride and groom, only to find pictures already up…..and logo’d…..with the name of her photography business.

And the bride and groom signed a contract stating we would be the only photographers at the wedding.

Half of me wants to send a legalistic letter saying take em down right now, or die a legal death. The other half wants to take this poor, misguided stay-at-home part-time photographer with a kit lens to the side and explain having a Rebel doesn’t make you a business. Snapping someone’s wedding doesn’t make you a photographer. And if you’re willing to put a shot that you snuck of the first look up on facebook that you took through a window with glare and reflections….then….well….I feel bad for you.
*rant ended*” ~Stephanie

Stephanie has every reason to rant. This completely gets into a legal issue of what’s right and wrong, and how far some people are willing to go.

The key point is the bride and groom signed a contract stating Stephanie would be the only photographer at the wedding. With that in hand, she has all she needs to carry forward, and should definitely do so.

The first thing I would do is to find out if the “photographer” is related in any way to the bride and groom. Was she just a friend shooting to get some prints ready for her own business, or did the bride and groom know she would be there shooting with that idea in mind?

If the bride and groom knew about it, you obviously have to tread a bit lighter. In this situation, simply remind the bride and groom of the contract they signed for you to be the exclusive photographer. Explain that you don’t mind friends and family there shooting a few photographs for their own use; but you must be the only one who credits the wedding as a professional, and uses the images in any way for public view and marketing.

Usually a simple reminder is enough. The bride and groom will talk with the “photographer”, and everything will be down and off the web in no time.

If the “photographer” is just a friend and the bride and groom had no idea what she was up to, that’s when the legal side of things kick in. Send her a cease and desist letter immediately, asking for all photographs from the wedding be taken off the Internet, and never used again in any capacity to market her business. Continue on up the chain, getting a lawyer involved and even filing a formal complaint if action isn’t taken in an appropriate way. Yes, it may take time, energy and money to make this happen, but from an ethical point of view its always important to make sure you protect what is yours, both business and copyright information.

I wouldn’t appeal to her personally – even if she is just inexperienced, a threat of a lawsuit should open up her eyes enough to start down a path of learning right from wrong in the business world. Because you are too close to the subject matter, have her approach someone else or learn the “rules” from another party instead of taking that on yourself.

“Well I have shot some of my friends weddings with my kodak camera and they allways end up happy with the results, specially since I’m free, I usually have a list of 6 to 8 pics that must be taken, next weekend I will get my 21st wedding and really don’t know what the fuss of hiring a “pro” photographer is, those guys just offer mirrors and smoke to steal peoples money” ~Amateur Photographer

Dear Amateur Photographer, all I can say is  Wow. I’m not even sure of what to say or where to begin, as I could talk for the rest of the year based on your comments. So lets just start by addressing specific things you had to say.

6 to 8 pics that must be taken? Wow, hopefully your brides won’t be crying some day when you’ve missed all of the perfect moments throughout the day. A true professional doesn’t need the list to know what images need to be taken, and what should be left to creativity.

Hopefully your lighting is spot on in the dressing room, outside, and in the darkest of reception halls.

Hopefully you know how to deal with the out of control mother in law, and the bride who ends up in tears because something didn’t turn out quite the way she expected it.

Hopefully Grandma doesn’t fall down when you have her walk outside for a photograph, and she ends up suing you and wiping you out because you have no business insurance.

Hopefully nothing happens to your one camera, and you’re left with nothing to shoot with as the bride walks down the aisle with her dad.

Hopefully you enjoy spending hours working again and again for free. It’s very difficult to replace your camera equipment for free. Its also increasingly difficult to give up all your free time to shoot weddings when you’re always doing it for free. Do you have a reason to improve at what you do? Probably not because free just isn’t that motivating. Yes, you probably care about your photographs, but if a few don’t turn out, oh well. You’re doing it for free. Professionals don’t have that luxury, so they are always improving, backing up, and looking for the best way to do everything to make sure it turns out the best possible.

Okay, that’s enough from me. Anyone else have some comments for Amateur?

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Comments

  1. I’m so glad I’m not a wedding photographer.

    I have the utmost respect for them (the good ones anyway)

    Personally I could not handle the stress and pressure. I would probably have the bride in tears and the groom punching me out.

    Ok, so the contract was broken. In this day and age everyone gets all American and wants to sue everyone else. Think about it long and hard. Will you lose money or credibility as a photographer if you sue? Can you wait the years it may take? can you afford the legal team?

    Take it from me. Lawyers are expensive and at the end of the day right and wrong play no part in the legal issue at hand. It’s who has the better lawyer.

  2. On the topic of the “friend” photographer, it is becoming more blurry where those lines are crossed and the “Norm” of this sort of thing is changing rapidly that I do not see legal action continuing to be an option or should be. If the “friend” is selling the images back to the bride & groom – that is a whole different story and legal action is warranted.

    As an Amateur (I don’t make a living but it is a large hobby) I have been to weddings and been asked to take photos, and mostly asked me to take photos some photos when the Pro leaves late in the night. My skill set and gear does rivals most of the Pros, (yes I have been around Amateur Kodak above making money as the “Pro”) but I do try to extend out that I’m there basically having fun and in no way using them to make money or compete with them. It is a very enjoyable hobby of mine and I do not sell a thing but do offer them the shots to use, share etc.

    Sharing is the new issue that technology has created. This is why I would extend my middle finger if the Photog sent me a “cease and desist letter” and watch them drown in legal bills while laughing.

    Issue 1: I logo (copyright) them to ensure they are not used for stock since I know the issues that can arise with that. I have a Right and Duty to protect the images by logo/watermarking and tagging them rights reserved to ensure they are not stolen and used without consent. This is to protect me as much as the Bride and Groom.

    Issue 2: Technology sharing has created the issue that I can not reasonably control where the images are posted, sent, nor can I have any say if they are to be taken down. They are are on facebook, google+, Flickr and anywhere people choose to share them with family and friends. Individuals can no longer control where images are posted, could be posted, if copied or shared. End of story. Many lawsuits and Judges have tried to control this, but the realization that internet can not be controlled, has proven that an amateur like me has no reasonably ability to control who sees the images that others share. Thus no liability. Just because I make a photo, I can not be held accountable for a use that I did not initiate.

    Going after an amateur is pointless unless they are making $ off the images. Honestly to those of us who are the “advanced” amateurs and hear pros cry about this and are scared of loosing business, then you need to brush up on your all of your skills – start by understanding what the bride wants.

    I never hear these arguments by the really good pros out there. Their work speaks for itself.

  3. Now – throw another scenario – Uncle Bob – He shows up, takes a fair amount of photos, edits them, posts 1-2 low res to the web (NOT claiming on being a pro) and gives the rest to the bride and groom – Now, You, the photographer comes across the 3 low res photos – There is that same no other photographer contract – now what do you do?

  4. with all respect but this whole article sounds super arrogant and
    not sure how far you will come with your law suit. There is nothing on earth (as far as I know)
    that restricts someone to take pictures as long as the host allows it.
    I am sure you can sue them but no one else.

  5. The key behind all of this is who this person was and what motive they had when they photographed. There is nothing you can do about Uncle Bob or anyone else from that matter who wants to shoot and put the images on Facebook. And there is nothing wrong with that – share away. The key comes from another professional photographer shooting on the sly, then putting the work out there as her own when it was anything but. She simply followed another photographer around and shot the image the “real” photographer created, then took the credit. Watermarking an image with a business watermark means you are in business, and are using those photos to promote your business and showcase what you can do. If you didn’t have legal rights to be there as a professional, you should never showcase the work as a professional. No problems putting some up as a family member or friend – its using it as your business images that is the problem.

    If Coke or Disney or any large company catches someone using their business names, they will start with a cease and desist letter, and move to a lawsuit if necessary. A small business should do exactly the same, and do anything possible to stop people from using their own work, products, names, etc in a professional, business manner.
    Lori

  6. I think Tao and Virtual Photography are on the same page I am. I’m not going to bust anyone’s chops for taking candids at a wedding I’m shooting. I have no problem with guests shooting the posed shots I set up.

    As a photographer who has recently gone to a wedding as a guest, I brought a camera and a nice lens. Nice enough that the hired photographer spotted it and we had a nice conversation. Now, I didn’t shoot any of the posed shots, but I did end up with a few candids that I really liked — one of which may even make it onto my site in some form or fashion. I never thought twice about posting it on Facebook, Flickr, or any other service. I wouldn’t put it online for people to purchase, though.

    I think there’s a middle area when it comes to photographers at a wedding. I’ve always considered the “only photographer” clause to do two things. 1) it makes it easier for the photographer to work because you’re not concerned with getting in anyone’s way or anyone getting in your way. 2) it provides a possible source of revenue for print orders. The second reason may or may not be an issue depending on the pricing model of the photographer.

    I never consider the “only photographer” clause to be there for restricting the rights of what other guests can do with the photos they take at the wedding. That’s just silly in my book. There’s no way I would send a cease and desist to the other photographer – especially if they’re bad photos.

  7. I hate to break it to you, but there are no grounds to sue anyone here but the bride and groom. What exactly would your theoretical cease and desist claim? That the other photographer violated your copyright or a trademark? They didn’t (that would be if they used your business name improperly, or copied one of *your* photos).

    The contract you had was with the bride and/or groom, and if that contract was broken, your only recourse is against them, not against someone else who was snapping photos (especially if you were encouraging them!). So, while you feel offended, and rightly so, this should have been nipped in the bud, not encouraged.

    Overall, there is much less to complain about than you relate here anyway. Did you get paid less for the event? Did the bride and groom order fewer photos? Unless you have some actual damage here, what’s the problem?

    Legal battles are expensive, particularly losing ones, and better spent on a nice lens than being put in a lawyer’s pocket.

    I’m a professional photographer, too, and when I do a wedding, I keep this sort of thing under control from the beginning. The time to deal with the bride and groom on this is BEFORE and DURING, rather than some sort of vindictive thing afterwards. Make sure you’re the one directing traffic and that they’re looking at you for the important shots, and you’ll get what you need.

  8. You can make all of these queries and requests. In the end, the contract is between you and the wedding couple. As their is no contract between you and the other photographer you can find that you have no right to demand anything from the other photographer. These leaves the option of claiming damages from the people you did have a contract with, the wedding couple. Could be a PR disaster.
    It would also pay to clearly define the term “photographer” in the contract so their can be no dispute about interpretation down the track when it matters.

  9. I don’t mind guests posting pics of my wedding.. . they just make my images look better when they get online ;) But seriously, the watermark/logo should be addressed, as should the contract with the client.

    As for the ‘all we do is smoke and mirrors and steal people’s money’, I direct those people to my blog post about the costs (to us) of wedding photography:
    http://brianpowell.info/?p=627

    Once people are knowledgeable of what we ourselves invest in our business and clients, they are usually more appreciative :) Of course, we have to *try* not to “educate” with a huge chip on our shoulder — some of these situations make it difficult to remain positive — but remember two things:

    1) we were ALL there once, to some degree
    2) if you’re a pro, and a good one, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing clients to freebies or cheap, new, rookie photogs. They probably weren’t going to invest in you anyway.

  10. I’m sure that the ‘other’ snapper should have operated with some respect for Stephanie but I’m also assuming that Stephanie was being paid for the event based on reputation and/or accumulated skill (as shown in example images).

    So, contract or not, Stephanie should be the bigger person here and remember that she started somewhere;
    And seriously, I don’t know many pro’s who’d consider legal action against a young photographer with an entry-level DSLR and kit-lens, unless her photos match/exceed your own work?!

    Stephanie got her involved – never thought to ask the girl’s intentions at all? I can see Stephanie’s point but I feel Stephanie could have discussed this with the girl at the time and/or having a quiet word with the bride & groom at the time.

  11. I just stumbled across your blog after seeing a tweet from SmugMug…I will come back later to read more of your posts!

    I completely agree that it is unethical to shoot at a wedding on the sly (i.e. without a contract, or even a small request on the part of the bride & groom) and then turn those pictures into overt public marketing for a professional business. Since I’m just getting started myself, I empathize with the temptation to do so. However, shooting even one wedding for hire teaches you a TON that you don’t know about wedding photography, beyond the financial investments. For example…I make sure I get to know the couple before the wedding, and they get to know me too, usually starting with engagement portraits. I involve myself heavily in understanding the choreography of the entire event beforehand (often attending the rehearsal), and may suggest changes to improve the fluidity of the ceremony and the quality of the photography. During formal shooting after the ceremony, the pro always gets the arduous job of marshaling everyone into position, wishing he could be the one who wasn’t under pressure giving so many instructions and under an extreme time crunch, while still appearing relaxed and in control so as to get good pictures that come MUCH easier to the onlooker. As a professional, you are UNDER THE GUN. I currently don’t have any items about exclusivity in my contract, but after reading this article, I am beginning to see why I may decide to add something to protect my portrait shoots. I believe that during the actual ceremony and the reception, there are just so many great moments to catch, I think it would be a shame to rule someone out of capturing them (so long as they don’t interfere with my shooting), mainly because I just love the “sport” of photography–but I would certainly NOT share them ahead of the person who was asked (hired or not) to photograph the wedding and “steal their thunder”…and I certainly wouldn’t slap them up on Facebook until after the bride & groom have seen them first…which is another policy of mine…I don’t share event photos publicly until my client has seen them first, save for maybe ONE or TWO sneak peaks (which I often send via MMS to the bride & groom before I post them).

    And it is true, amateur photographers are not DRIVEN to create better images. Most of them aren’t even driven enough to edit their images!!! There is a LOT of time spent in post-production, besides the time spent in pre-production and the pressure on the gig itself! Plus, the pros have usually had a lot of practice and have made mistakes they’ve learned from. These are the reasons why you *pay* a *professional* to shoot your wedding. Personally, I love having access to such an awesome event as a wedding, with so many great moments to capture–I always feel privileged to have the opportunity. It’s a shame some upstarts and amateurs do not share the same point of view and respect for their peers. The business is harder than it looks when you aren’t in business doing it!!!

    This was an interesting post. It gives me a lot to think about! Thank you!

  12. I have the utmost respect for wedding photographers and learned early on how special that talent was. I always enjoyed taking pictures as a kid, but I was nowhere near an intermediate amateur when my little sister asked me to photograph her wedding. It was a cheap wedding and the marriage didn’t last, but I digress. I had no idea other than the “usual” bridal party photos what needed to be done, so I did what I knew. I found out later that my step grandmother wasn’t speaking to me because I didn’t get a photograph of her with my sister. This issue split our family for years.

    Wedding photographers- You get all the kudos you deserve from me. I wouldn’t want to navigate that familial minefield ever again.

  13. I have all the respect in the world for wedding photographers. I’m going to a wedding in a couple of weeks, and yes I’m bringing my camera, but only for candids for me and my fiance.

    I’m now a pro at the photography game, but specialize in commercial and night photography. I was asked by one of my friends to one-time do a wedding. This was when I was semi-pro and while I was able to manage all the shots it didn’t feel fun to me.

    I went home downloaded all the photos and just thought for a moment. And then I vowed to never do wedding photography again, because it just wasn’t for me. All the running around with the families, making sure you had the right shots. I had done event photography and it’s basically easy, but wedding photography is another ball field all together.

    I have seen the local amateur wedding photographers works my area. Even when I ventured into my one-time adventure into wedding photography, I had way better pictures than these people do. Yet, they are charging the big amounts and booking the weddings. I don’t understand how people think this is quality or if they are just fine with it because they don’t want to spend the big bucks. I’m getting married next year and have set aside $2500 for a professional wedding photographer.

    They have my respect, and I’ll stick to what I love and know, but wedding photography is another world. I applaud those that can do it well.

  14. Jay
    THanks for your comments! Yes you are definitely right about it being a completely different type of business – weddings are one of the most difficult things on earth! I congratulate you on deciding early that weddings are not for you. So many photographers take them just because they are offered and the money is dangling in front of you. But if you focus on what you truly love, you’ll be that much better – that much quicker.
    Good Luck.
    Lori

  15. If you are such a Pro, people will hopefully be able to tell the difference. This is great publicity for you! If the “amateur” has the same results with a Rebel, you are doing something wrong ….

  16. I am wedding photographer in Hawaii. I specialize in Destination Weddings and photograph about three weddings per week. Guests with cameras are the norm. I think it’s great that they are there. I work with them. The one with the best camera and seems to be the most qualified becomes my assistant. I let him help me. It makes him happy and keeps him occupied. The other ones I direct friendly in a different direction. I ask them not to take photographs during the ceremony and tell them they can take photos after the ceremony of the family groups I already shot. I even give them ideas what a good background would be for them. I move fast, often shot against the sun, without flash they won’t be able to get the photos. By the time I do the romantic photos of just the couple they are all somewhere else, if not I explain to them, that the couple paid me to take these photos and they need their alone time. During down time I often go around and answer questions about their camera settings.