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. I’ve gotta say, when your budget is tiny, that’s the time when looking at craiglist for photographers becomes much more useful, because you will find people who are just starting out and are *honest* about why they are only charging $100 — and usually will at least have pictures of non-wedding work to show you. But the caveats about checking for stolen images still apply, and frankly a just starting out photographer isn’t going to have that kind of spectacular portfolio yet unless they are coming from a different line of photography (journalism, concert work, etc.)

  2. Scary but i guess very easy to do!
    We have to post out wedding photography online to attract new couples and i hate slapping © across the middle of an image of a bride but what else can we do to protect our work?

    Bryan

  3. For years, I was an amateur photographer, only taking pictures as a hobby. Last year (2013) I was hired for my very first wedding. I was completely honest with the couple that hired me and told them that I had never shot a wedding before. With that, they were just about sold. When the question of price came around, I honestly had no idea what to charge them, so I said, “How about $100 for my time, editing, a cd with all the pictures I take, and the rights to print them where ever and however you wish?” That sold them completely. I ended up having to give them a jump drive with their pictures instead of a cd because I took so many pictures, but they seemed pretty happy with my work. My point here is, I was totally honest, and it paid off for the couple and myself. Great article!

  4. I feel like this is the nature of the beast when work is online and easily shared by absolutely everyone. It’s especially important to meet vendors in person and let yourself trust your instincts, whenever prices are too good to be true, there is a reason for that.

    On another note, there are many ways photographers can protect their work:

    1. As annoying as you think it is, do place a watermark of some sort on your images. Most people think that without the watermark, the image is a free for all (it acts more as a deterrent than anything else).
    2. Learn how to send a DMCA (take down notice) to anyone who stole your photos. They are sent directly to an internet service provider who takes on liability if they do not remove infringed content. Also, if the same website receives more than 3 notices, it tends to shut that website down for the most part =)
    3. Search by image through Google or TinEye to see where your image have been shared and take necessary steps to have them removed
    4. There are also image tracking companies (for a fee) that send you weekly alerts as to where your images have been shared

  5. I’m glad this article was here! I read it a couple weeks ago and didn’t think anything of it; most of the photographers I’d checked out so far were ones I’d met in person so I didn’t think it was applicable to me. Lo and behold I got a solicitation this week from a photographer who was an absolute steal for my area, so I went to check out her website and then thought of this article and decided to reverse search her pictures. Turns out her good pictures were from weddings from two different countries…

    Thanks for posting this article! It saved at least one person from this dire fate 🙂

  6. I also recommend focusing on their blog. This is where images and stories and real people’s names come together and is very hard to fake.

  7. This does not surprise anyone in the industry and may even have been rampant before we all went digital. Regardless of the type of photography these are good tips to follow.

  8. Hijacking pictures this way is a trick of con-artists who lure in brides and gets a hefty deposit, and then just runs with the money.
    These tips aren’t just about avoiding a lame photographer. It’s important to avoid being robbed!
    My nephew is a high-end wedding photographer based in L.A. And his images were used in this way.

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