The scary new wedding photography trend: 10 tips to avoid getting burned

Guest post by Mike Allebach
(Photo by Mike Allebach)
(Photo by Mike Allebach)

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:

Check out the photo element data: That's Mike Allebach's photo on another photographer's website!
Check out the photo element data: That's Mike Allebach's photo on another photographer's website!

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:

Have you had experience with a fraudtographer — or any other shady vendors? What tipped you off? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments on The scary new wedding photography trend: 10 tips to avoid getting burned

  1. We’re using a photographer who was recommended by OBB, so I’m feeling pretty good about our choice. 🙂 Jenny GG has been amazing so far and we’re looking forward to her work on our wedding day! But even besides the OBB recommendation, she is constantly posting new work on her website and Facebook page, so it’s easy to see consistent style and quality.

  2. Another way to avoid this is to go with a photographer recommended by someone you trust. If you have a wedding planner or a venue saying, “We’ve had great results with X,” then you can trust that they’ve actually got some experience. Our photographer came with our venue’s package, and we were thrilled with his work.

  3. Does anyone know how to do a reverse image search on a flash-based site?

    • You can always do a screen shot using the print screen button or your computer’s snipping tool, then upload that image to a photo hosting site (say, tinypic.com), and then use that URL for the image search. Works just the same.

      • You can also just drop the image into google image. That is the easiest way to do an image search. I imagine a cropped screen shot would work for this as well. No need to upload photos to a hosting site, in fact that probably isn’t the best idea if it isn’t your photo. If you do upload to a hosting site… I would be sure to delete the photo. I know if I found my images hosted somewhere it would make me freak out a bit.

  4. That’s horrible! It’s always shocking when I see these things but it’s true, it happens! I like that part of my job is to help people choose the right vendors. Part of that is telling them who truly is good and who maybe just got lucky with good lighting.

  5. Get to know the vendors you plan to work with! We are blessed to live in a small town so our photog was/is a personal friend and I knew our baker as well.

  6. Sadly, this kind of thing gives legit professional photographers who are just beginning a career in photography a bad rep. Some photographers have many years of experience, but only for family and friends, before starting out. I can’t imagine stealing images. Why be a photographer if you aren’t creative and passionate enough to take your own pictures? There are a million ways to build your own personal portfolio.

    • I don’t think this is true. We’ve worked with a ton of new wedding photographers, and as long as their honest about their experience and skill and set their prices accordingly, there are tons of couples who love working with newer vendors.

  7. HIRE A PRO! A friend with a fancy camera and a fb page does not a pro make! Realize that real professional photography is an INVESTMENT! You get what you pay for! If you pay $100 you get $100 worth of product and service and experience! If you pay real professional photography prices, you get real professional service and experience and products!

    • I think the problem is that consumers do not know how to tell the difference. I am a photographer myself, and I was trying to help my little sister find a wedding photographer in another state. I came across more than one photographer in my search that was using stock images for their portfolio. One of them priced their weddings like a pro, $3000+, but when I asked for more examples of work they could not provide it. Everything else was stock.

  8. Make sure that you get engagement photos from the photographer right away. This is your first opportunity to see the quality of their work.

    A trend I am seeing now is photographers purchasing stock images from websites like shutterstock. I knew this happened, but I did not realize how much until I helped my little sister look for a photographer. It’s crazy!

  9. It happened to me! A photographer stole some of my images to pass to a bride as his own work. Luckily, she did an image search and discovered the problem. But since I published my blog post about it I have been contacted by two of that photographers brides/victims who have been supplied with rubbish wedding photos. They both realise now that he showed them a stolen portfolio.
    http://ww2.ollievision.co.uk/wp/index.php/steve-jackson-photography-stolen-portfolio/

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