Imagine getting your wedding photos back and having them… well… suck. Blurry shots, bad lighting, cheesy poses. What happened to the gorgeous shots you saw in your photographer's portfolio?
Welcome to the scary new trend in wedding photography: Fraudtography.
Here's how it works: a brand-spanking-new photographer wants to shoot weddings, but it's kind of hard to book a wedding if you don't have any wedding photos in your portfolio. So they "borrow" a few fabulous images from established photographers and pass them off as their own.
It's illegal, but that's the photographer's problem. Your problem is that you see a portfolio filled with dazzling images, but you actually get an inexperienced photographer who's cutting his teeth on your wedding day.
Just last month, Offbeat Bride reader Marian Schembari wrote:
I had been speaking with a few wedding photographers… one in particular caught my eye. He had a ton of positive reviews and great examples on his website. He was also the least expensive by a lot. This worried me since I've always been taught "if it's too good to be true, it probably is." So my friend and I asked [to see a full wedding]. The photographer got back to me right away with TONS of examples… photos significantly better than what he had on his website.
But my friend and I have sensitive bullshit radars. I immediately did a reverse Google image search on the photos he had sent me. Lo and behold, they were all over other people's websites. They were taken from photographers from France and India and Miami. Some had even won awards, and he'd just stolen them. Thankfully I lucked out.
That brought back bad memories for me. In 2008, a Russian photographer copied my website, added a few images from Moscow for that "personal touch," and used my logo and images to promote his company. When I contacted him, he blamed his web designer.
Photographer Corey Ann, who launched the Photo Stealers website — StopStealingPhotos.com — to combat this trend, told me, "My best guess would be 5% of all photographers are using stolen images of some kind for advertisements." Yikes. That's no Minor Threat.
So here are 10 ways to figure out if your photographer is the real deal, or if they're faking it:
1. Look for consistency
The best photographers have distinctive personal styles. If one wedding has a vintage wash, one has a deep matte edit, and one is clean and vibrant — and they're all equally amazing — there's a chance you may be looking at photos from three different photographers.
2. Meet the photographer in person
Trust your gut when meeting with a photographer. If something seems off, it's a sign that you aren't a good match. If they don't have sample albums to show you, take that as a red flag — it could mean they don't have access to the high-res image files.
3. Ask for references or reviews
If you don't see many reviews online, ask for references. If they have lots of raving fans, it's a good sign.
4. Check their social media
If the style and the quality of the photos on their Facebook page seem much better — or much worse — than what you've seen on their website, that's a bad sign.
5. Look for the wedding party
Bridal parties and guests usually make their way into at least a few photos in a photographer's portfolio. If you don't see anyone except a bride and groom, there's a chance your photographer's wedding "experience" only comes from workshops, styled shoots, and hired models — totally legit, but not the same as shooting a wedding in real-time.
6. Ask to see an entire event
When you see a whole event, you'll get an idea of the type of photos you can expect on your wedding day. Online wedding portfolios are wonderful, but they're a highlight reel of every wedding the photographer ever photographed. Ask to see a few full weddings, and you'll get a better idea of their abilities.
7. Consult with a wedding planner
Wedding planners have heard plenty of feedback from past clients and can recommend photographers who play nicely with others. [They can also save you money. -Eds]
8. Pay attention to geographical clues
I always would cringe when The Office would show driving scenes that were obviously shot in Southern California, not Scranton, PA. Unless the photographer is a destination wedding photographer, their photos should match the local scenery. A gorgeous mountain wedding in Idaho? Yes. A gorgeous mountain wedding in Florida? Not so much. Feel free to ask the story behind photos that don't match your local area.
9. Google the photographer's name
If your photographer has been caught stealing before, there's a chance that someone like Photo Stealers wrote about it.
10. Use a reverse image search tool
If you're still unsure about a photographer, run a few of their photos through Google Reverse Image search or Tineye.com, and it'll list any URLs where the photo has been used. (Photographers use this, too, to catch people who have stolen our photos!)
Bottom line: Trust your gut
If it seems too good to be true, don't be afraid to ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. Check out these other tips for choosing an amazing photographer:
- 12 things wedding photographers want to tell you, but can't
- Don't want to hate your wedding photos? Here are the 11 things you need to do NOW
Have you had experience with a fraudtographer — or any other shady vendors? What tipped you off? Let us know in the comments!