Lessons Learned: Will Your Wedding Photographer Show Up on Your Wedding Day?
See this amazing couple? Just look at the bliss they're giving off. :) Just look at the calm in their eyes, the confidence in their stance. This is a happy couple. Cut to about 4 hours before this photograph was taken by me. There I was, enjoying my cup of coffee at 7am this past Saturday morning. Surprisingly my phone rings and it's our good friend and colleague, Eric Wenning, a local DJ. Eric wants to know if we're free to photograph a wedding....today. Seems the photographer that Beth & Matt hired a year ago, the one they paid in full for, would not be showing up that day. No, he wasn't in a car accident, he didn't fall down a flight of stairs, his mama wasn't rushed to the hospital and there were no dramatic tragedies or acts of God that prevented him from showing up. Apparently this is what he does: he takes your money, assures you he will be there and then either sends an amateur to replace him without telling you or just doesn't show up at all. You can imagine the panic Beth & Matt were in. All that money, all those details, all that planning and no photographer. Luckily Beth called Eric immediately and, being a total pro, Eric immediately got on the phone and Facebook trying to get it out there that a photographer was needed ASAP. We had that rare weekend off and couldn't imagine saying no. :) So, off to a wedding we went! It was a gorgeous day, a gorgeous venue at Greendance Winery with the reception at Bell's Banquets. This was our first time shooting at a vineyard and we were thrilled to be able to help out for the day. It was a perfect day. Not a blip or skip in the day. Thankfully, Beth & Matt had the day they dreamed of thanks to Eric's quick thinking. :) So, of course this has inspired me to write a post about what you can do to ensure your vendors are the professionals you trust them to be. Who in the world could have guessed this guy wasn't going to show up the day of their wedding?? He had been in contact with them (minimally but somewhat) and for most couples this is their first time doing this so it can get hectic and certainly overwhelming.
So, how do you ensure your wedding day doesn't start off like Beth & Matt's? Here are a few tips to answer that question:
1. Google. Every wedding professional on the planet should be findable on Google. They should have a website, maybe a blog and you should be able to find them listed on certain directories and wedding sites. This is probably how you found them in the first place. Here is the most important thing you should search for on Google once a photographer (or any wedding vendor) catches your eye: REVIEWS. There are a ton of sites you can peruse looking to make sure the photographer you want to hire is getting good feedback. And not just a few good words from a few happy couples. You should see a lot of reviews from a lot of couples. A terrific site to go to for this is Wedding Wire (also part of Wedding Bee, Martha Stewart Weddings, Best City Weddings, BridalBuds and WeddingAces). Now I will be honest here: apparently if you are a vendor that has received a bad review you can fight to have it removed, however, there are still things you can look for to identify if a bad review is what it seems to be. A vendor should have A LOT of reviews. We have over 50 because we ask our clients to review us. If a vendor has at least 20 reviews and you see 1 bad one, well, there is a chance it was simply a couple that could not be pleased. If the vendor has 5 reviews and 2 are bad...well...you see where I'm going here (and this is the case for the photographer from Beth & Matt's day). If a vendor only has a few reviews this shouldn't necessarily be suspect, but know that you're going to have to dig deeper. The Knot message boards are a great place as well. Bride's talk and I'll bet if you post a question about a vendor you will get a response. Even just Googling the photographer's name should result in something coming up about him or her.
2. Ask for references. Yes this means the vendor will only give you the email addresses of the clients that liked him or her but make sure to not only ask for at least 5 references, but ask the dates these people got married. Your photographer should be able to supply this information from couples they have worked with within the last 60 days. A few should even be from the past 30 days. And make sure to verify the dates with the couples. For all you know, that couple could have used their services 5 years ago when the vendor was running things professionally.
3. Trust your gut. In the case of Beth & Matt, there were a few red flags when they met with this photographer. All he wanted to talk about was the fact that his life was a mess because he's been going thru a divorce. All he wanted to talk about was his current, nasty situation. Beth & Matt thought this was odd but since they've never hired a wedding photographer before they pushed their instincts aside and hired him. Beyond if you can trust your photographer or not, you need to always make sure you connect with them on a good level. Your photographer will be with you all day and we run the entire first part of your day, ensuring it goes smoothly and keeping you on time, all the while capturing amazing photos. So if your gut is telling you that you are not connecting to this photographer, or for goodness sakes, if you start thinking things like, "Huh. That's odd that he said that." or "Hmmm....he just seems a little off." LISTEN TO YOUR GUT!
4. Read the contract. In our contract we have a clause that states that if we cannot make it to your wedding for some reason (act of God, a bus hits us, aliens come and take us away) then we will find a suitable replacement or refund all of your money. Suitable means someone that shoots like we do, is professional like we are and would handle your day the same way we would. And if we are taken in a spaceship far away and our cell phones don't work in space, we will refund your money. All of it including the deposit. This has never happened and I don't personally know any photographer that couldn't (not purposely wouldn't) make it to the wedding day but protecting ourselves and our clients is a priority for us. Is it a priority for the photographer you're about to hire?? Some couples say "I'll sue him!" but know this: in PA you are responsible for your own attorney's fees. In most states if you win your case the other party is responsible for your attorney's fees as well as whatever damages were awarded. This is not the case in PA. If your damages are less that $5000 you can take it to small claims court but the process can be grueling so you really have to be geared up to fight the good fight. If there is no section in the contract that states what happens to your money if the photographer fails to show up, for whatever reason, then you either need to make sure to get something in writing or move on.
5. Make sure the photos in the album the photographer is showing you, or the photos on their website and blog, are photos they actually took. This can be tricky because if you ask them if they took the photos they're showing you, the answer will probably be Yes. This is why, among a host of other reasons, an Engagement Session may be a good idea. In the case of another bride that came to us from this very same shady photographer (Yep--this is the 2nd couple we've had come to us for our services after dealing with this photographer), they were tipped off that he was not who they thought he was once they saw their Engagement photos. They were nothing like the photos he has on his website and were, according to this couple, very poor quality. They attempted to contact him for months because of their justified worries and he never responded. Giving up, they finally sought out another photographer. In the case of this shady photographer, it became suspect that the photos on his website actually belonged to his wife, as they were a husband/wife team before they divorced. Sometimes photographers are hired out of entertainment companies and those companies will supply them with sample albums with photos that are beautiful, but weren't taken by the photographer you're interviewing. So be sure to ask if the photos in the albums were photos that were actually taken by the photographer.
6. Look for updated websites, blogs and Facebook pages. There are a lot of good photographers out there that don't take time to update their blogs regularly (not like John and me...we're a bit obsessed. :) We both blog 5 days a week) but if they are posting things on their blog, make sure to read the posts and look at the dates to make sure they are posting current work. In the case of this shady photographer, his blog has some current posts, but if you read the posts they are actually all work from last year. He has posted absolutely nothing from this year's work. That should raise some red flags right there. He claims to be too busy to post, yet when he does post it's all last year's work. Red.Flag. And this is also the case with his Facebook page. Same thing: old photos from last year.
7. Referrals from friends you know and trust. This goes without saying and really doesn't need an explanation. If you're lucky enough to be the 3rd or beyond friend getting married, talk to your friends who are already married about their vendors. Did they like them, would they recommend them, what would they change about the services they received?
To me, it all comes down to instinct. If you feel even the slightest bit weary of any wedding vendor, move on. And yes, sometimes your gut doesn't speak loud enough so use your smarts and do your research. For Beth & Matt it all worked out in the end. They had a replacement (and a good one at that, if I do say so myself) before their day really even started so they were lucky. After reading a few reviews on Wedding Wire about this photographer, I can see others weren't so fortunate.
And to all you couples out there that have had this happen to you PLEASE do other couples a favor and get on those review sites. Yes, it may get taken down but it's worth the 10 minutes it takes to leave a review on the off chance it's left up. Get on The Knot message boards and warn others, put it up on your Facebook page....get the news out there because others will appreciate your feedback.
My goal is to never have to write a post like this again.