The Five Biggest Lies In Wedding Photography

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February is Pop The Question month which officially kicks off the spring wedding rush - by Diamond Farah via Flickr

We’re coming up on Valentine’s Day, which a wedding photographer friend of mine euphemistically calls Pop The Question Day. No matter how you look at it, there will be a lot of rings in a lot of champagne glasses by the middle of the month.

The Valentine’s Day rush will inevitably kick off the wedding booking season, which promises to be a good one in 2012. Wedding photographers I know are already seeing healthy bookings for the season, with one reporting 15 deposits in already.

As brides pull out their checkbooks and the real stampede starts to book venues, arrange catering, find a DJ and book a photographer, this is a good time to review the basics of shopping for a wedding photographer and to be aware of the most common untruths that can slip through unnoticed in the rush.

Sometimes it’s not a deliberate lie. Wedding photographers have a natural tendency to answer every question with yes, yes, yes. That sometimes leads to misunderstandings with brides thinking they’re getting service that isn’t in the contract.

The “Now Or Never” Lie

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"Now or Never" is a love song, not a negotiating strategy - by I.A. Walsh via Flickr

If a wedding photographer tries to tell you that you have to book today or the slot won’t be available tomorrow, leave. Anyone trying to bully you into signing a contract is a major red flag.

The best photographers will book early but that doesn’t mean you need to be in a rush. There are many great photographers out there and cancellations happen. In fact, be suspicious of any photographer who tries to use fear of availability as a pressure tactic to get you to sign a contract without giving you a chance to sleep on it. The best photographers will show you their calendar, show you the dates they have open, remind you that bookings are only finalized when they get the deposit and let you leave with the contract to read at your leisure.

The very best wedding photographers will also have a shelf of books you can sit down and page through at your convenience.

The “Sure, I’ve Shot That Venue Before” Lie

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Sure I've shot that venue before...where is it again? by Photos In Cancun via Flickr

Some photographers will say they’ve shot a venue knowing they can figure it out. If they really have shot that venue before, then they’ll be able to show you a wedding album shot there.

If they haven’t shot a venue before, an honest photographer will just admit it and the really good ones will swing by on their own time beforehand and take some background shots to make sure they have the proper lighting gear on the big day.

The “Preferred Vendor” Lie

This is a big one and usually comes from a caterer or venue operator, but sometimes a photographer will trot out a list of local venues and caterers that claim them as a preferred vendor. Those endorsements are almost always paid.

Carters and venue operators rarely get to the see final pictures anyway, so why would you take their word in the first place?

The “Top Rated Wedding Photographer” Lie

Some wedding photographers will trot out some really impressive ratings and endorsements from groups with names that sound really impressive. Anyone can manufacture endorsements and there are companies specializing in what’s called “online reputation management” that can boost vendor ratings in online forums and rating sites.

The best wedding photographers have a blog and post a few pictures from every wedding they shoot so you can see consistent quality from one wedding to the next. Pick out your favorites and ask for the bride’s contact information as a reference check.

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If their assistants were that good they'd be running their own business - by Harold Hoyer via Flickr

The “My Assistants Are As Good As I Am” Lie

Really? Then why aren’t your assistant photographers running their own successful wedding photography business?  The real pros are members of a professional association or a guild and when they need help, that’s where they go.

This is a topic to approach with some caution. After all, if the photographer you really want is sick or ends up under a bus, you want someone there, right? Many photographers do have hand-picked teams doing most of the work while the top person goes from wedding to wedding inspecting the shots and maybe adding a few of their own. That’s okay as long as they explain that all up front and you agree to it.

Sometimes there are really good reasons for a person not to be available and you want to be a little flexible. What you do want in writing is some reasonable assurance that the photographer you want isn’t merely handing the paper off to someone else while they’re out playing golf.

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19 Responses to “The Five Biggest Lies In Wedding Photography”

  1. KG February 4, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    The top image here is horrendous! I hope that was put there as an example of terrible wedding photography??

  2. A wedding photographer February 8, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    From a wedding photographers perspective, this is advice is bad. Bad.

    I’m sure there are lying, crappy photographers out there, but most are good and honest.

    1. Top photographers book first. The real advice here is to ask your photographer to contact you if someone else becomes interested in your date so that you can act first. The real red flag is if they won’t do that.

    2. If they’ve really shot that venue before they’ll have an album to show you. Totally bogus!!! Albums, even the samples, cost easily upwards for $300 to produce. I’ll be darned if I’m paying that for every venue that I’ve shot. I’ve got ONE album sample, to show my design work and the quality of the album. Not to show off a venue.

    3. Any vendor that I have ever recommended to a client has been because I LOVE what they do. I have never, ever and will never take money for something like that. If a vendor that I suggest to a client SUCKS, that has a negative impact on my reputation. Not smart business.

    4. Being a good photographer and being able and willing to run a business is entirely different. Not every good photographer’s assistant can or will run their own business. If you’re really worried, just ask to see the assistants sample work.

    I have NEVER, EVER lied to a client. Period.

    • Pittsburgh Wedding Photographer February 8, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      I second all of the points made by Jessica.

      This post is giving bad advice and may make brides-to-be overly paranoid about the wrong things. The two MOST important thing when it comes to booking a photographer for your wedding are 1) that you LOVE their work and 2) that you connect with them and feel comfortable with them.

      Of course, you may get a few bad apples in the bunch but over all, the majority of us would never lie to a client. Ever.

  3. Yorkshire wedding photographer February 8, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Well said! I was looking at a website today where the photographer claimed to be one of the best wedding photographers in the region. Says who?!!! Funny thing is this particular photographer is actually an aquaintance of my husbands… my husband has previously said I should have a natter with him because he doesn’t shoot weddings, he shoots fashion. So, how did he get to be “one of the best local wedding photographers” when he’s hardly shot any weddings?

    People should just be honest – if you’re starting out say so, if you’re experienced say so.

    The only thing is disagree with you slightly on is having stacks of sample albums. I usually show people my work from the laptop. A sample album can be borrowed off a friend, or bought.

    I know another guy who claims to be “an award winning photographer”… but I know that his award is a monthly image of the month award from an online club in a little landscape photography competition (no prize).

    You are spot on with those “venue recommended suppliers” – what a scam. I’m not paying anyone to recommend me, I just think it’s wrong. The problem is, some are genuine and there’s no way of knowing which hotels are being paid by the photographers and which are genuine recommendations.

  4. Chicago Wedding Photographer February 8, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    1. Couldn’t there also be the possibility that some of us actually DO have dates that multiple brides are inquiring about? And that all we are doing is informing them that someone else is looking at that date? I realize some wedding photographers out there are, in fact, lying about it. No wedding date is finalized unless a deposit is received. While one bride goes home to “sleep on it”, the other bride (who already knows my work and doesn’t want to lose me) ends up booking me. Just sayin’.

    2. A good photographer doesn’t mean he/she has shot at a certain venue xx times. A good wedding photographer knows to be prepared for ANY lighting situation. A good wedding photographer knows how to change gear quickly to accommodate sudden lighting changes.

    3. I don’t know anything about this. Not something I practice nor care about. Although there are vendors that I personally recommend to my brides when asked of me. Anyone I recommend is someone I have worked with and had an enjoyable experience with. Also, I know there have been a number of times where a wedding planner, venue or other vendors have recommended me to their brides solely based on their past experiences with me. And what is wrong with that?

    4. Places like Wedding Wire or The Knot can be somewhat easy to get great reviews, but they are real reviews and cannot be manufactured. Also, why not mention places that actually place importance on being qualified (strong portfolio, amazing customer service, etc…) before being listed with them? i.e. Junebug Weddings, WPJA, etc… Not all online wedding listings are fraudulent, you know.

    5. I don’t do this, so this doesn’t apply to me and I have nothing to say about it.

    In general, this was a very disappointing article to read as I believe it generalizes quite a bit and places unnecessary paranoia in brides reading this. When searching for a wedding photographer, brides can search on weddings blogs with great reputations or on photography organizations and guilds like the WPJA. Find a few photographers you like, and look through their blogs to see their current, most recent work. Go with the one who’s work you love, who you connect with most, talk/meet with them over the phone or in person and if they “get you” and are genuine (use your instincts here), book them. If you don’t, that’s fine! But don’t let this article fool you. To me, it sounds like the person who wrote it is bitter from a possible past experience with their own wedding photographer and probably chose them based purely on affordability. Which is fine, but… you get what you pay for.

  5. Derek February 8, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    You are misinformed and no bride should listen to this. You had some OK points but you ruined them all with ignorant comments like saying photographers should go to a venue they haven’t shot to take “background shots” to see what lighting they’ll need. Wedding photographers should always have the lighting they need at a wedding, and the good ones know that lighting conditions change so much that just taking a few shots prior will not reveal anything. Brides should not think that if a photographer stops by the venue for 3 minutes all will be ok. The photographer should be confident in all environments and lighting conditions. Perhaps the bride should ask to see shots from a similar venue that the photographer has shot?

    Also not all venues have paid lists. Some refer photographers based on quality of work. And most photographers have blogs so caterers and planners can easily see the images.

    Maybe you should have interviewed some wedding photographers and brides (and done actual research) before writing this article. Not all wedding photographers “lie” like this.

  6. Santa Cruz Wedding photographer Mike Murrow February 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Aside from the previous comments this article does nothing more than add more anxiety to an already stressful process.

    I don’t know any photographer who lies to clients. Period. Lists like these are always pointless.

    Hands down the best way to choose a photographer is by his/her images. Look at entire weddings they have shot. You can’t fake an entire wedding. If you like the style of photography then hire that photographer.

  7. Low Earth Orbit wedding photographer February 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Getting to low earth orbit is very difficult. I try to avoid making redundant trips. I have a plan for lighting equipment that is optimized for weight and being prepared for situations. And my lighting skills are applicable to a broad variety of situations–not just exact ones that I have encountered before.

  8. Chicago wedding photography February 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    I am always up front if I haven’t shot in a particular venue. I show interested clients photos from similar venues that might pose the same challenges. If I had a wedding album from every venue I’ve shot in, I’d need to build an extra room to store them in.

  9. The implication that wedding photographers are habitually lying to their clients, that there is enough precedent that this article is even necessary is simply not true. Certainly people need to be able to make informed decisions about anyone they hire for their wedding day. However to suggest that wedding photographers lie so much to their clients that a top five list is necessary is completely preposterous.

    1. If you meet a photographer and want them to shoot your wedding, book them. A photographer doesn’t need to be fully book to be unavailable for your date, they just need to have your date booked. And unfortunately as luck tends to have it, inquiries tend to gravitate towards particular dates. Don’t leave it to chance like this article suggest. Certainly you shouldn’t book anyone whose sales tactics make you uncomfortable, but waiting until the last minute is not good advice.
    2. Can we just please dispel this myth that having previously shot at a venue before is always a good thing? Photography is about creativity, and shooting at the same place over and over again is not always the best formula for creativity. People really should consider this before ruling out a photographer who has not shot at their venue. And who lies about it?
    3. Venues and other vendors do have preferred vendor lists, but the whole point of being on these lists is to make finding a good professional easier for people. Once a photographer is meeting with a client, what good is it going to do them to make a big deal about being on some list? The point of the list is to get the meeting. This makes no sense.
    4. I have never met any photographer boasting that they are “Top Rated.” Of course anyone can fake reviews, they can even fake web content. But is it really good advice to encourage people to approach hiring a photographer with that level of paranoia?
    5. Assistants hold reflectors and carry bags. Get your terms straight. What you’re implying is that a primary photographer is going to say their second shooter is as good as they are. What photographer would say this? People who have second shooters or associate photographers don’t charge the same rate for that person as they charge for themselves. Even if the associate photographer was better than the primary, this would not be advertised. It doesn’t even make sense.

  10. ken kienow February 8, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    I agree with you on most of this, and I’m a wedding photographer.

    1. Totally agree here. OF COURSE the first couple to sign and pay gets the date first, but saying it over and over and using it as a sales tactic is lame. If ANY company did that to me I would be going elsewhere fast. I tell my couples that I’ll let them know if someone else is interested in their date, and they appreciate that. I make sure they know I’m not going to book it out from under them without giving them a chance to book if they inquired first.

    2. This one’s true, and I agree about showing up early and familiarizing yourself if it’s a new venue. But you shouldn’t imply that it’s a big deal if a photographer hasn’t shot at a particular venue before. It’s not really a big deal if we’re talking about a talented photographer.

    3. TRUE. It may be old school, but the whole “preferred vendor” thing is lame and causes stagnation in the industry.

    4. Totally true. There are SO many “top photographer” lists out there.

    5. Mostly true. Just because someone takes great photos doesn’t mean they’ll be successful at doing things on their own, or that they WANT to do things on their own. But it’s mostly true.

  11. Maja Hoffner February 8, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

    Ehhh, First of all from where i am this whole article is a LIE !!!. Surely not a wedding photographer or even a photographer wrote it. It is TRUE that if you want a really good photographer you better book well ahead of time !!!!
    I do agree that if a photographer is trying to be overly pushy to make a client sign a contract it is bad business manners. A great photographer would not worry about filling that date anyways.
    Do I show my clients my booked dates. No, this would ruin my chances of being able to send referrals to others
    2. I have never known nor do I know a photographer who has a sample book of every venue they shoot at, i hardly remember every venue I shoot at
    3. OK, I agree to the most part. However i can understand the venue wanting to recommend vendors they know and have worked with not all preferred vendor list are pay offs.
    4. Pretty well true, however it is impossible for a photographer to give you contact info for any
    other brides with out their permission. I would NEVER !!
    Ask to see blog or some full galleries
    5. Mostly true however I would never keep a second shooter who doesn’t get great stuff of what their job is, like groom getting ready. And yes second shooter has more experiance than i do capturing the guys !!

    If a bride who had seen this blog sent me a request for my photography, having all these requests and expectations I would not WANT to book her, BRIDEZILLA red light would go on!

  12. Mordor wedding photographer February 9, 2012 at 1:50 am #

    Where I serve it is difficult to make a special trip to the venue.

    After all, one does not simply walk into Mordor.

  13. Consumer May 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Sorry to be odd man out, but I actually agree with most of what this article says. From my own experience, I can confirm that the best wedding photographers (and vendors) do book out early on, since we didn’t get our first choice and we were looking about a year prior to wedding date.

    We did speak to a photographer in Orange County who claimed she shot at our venue, but later admitted it was not for a wedding. Her online images were wow, her actual wedding books were underwhelming.

    We had so many vendors (not just photographers) give us the “someone else is inquiring about your date” line, which just turned us off. I mean what are the chances of that truly happening within one week of speaking with us? Really??

    We did speak to photographers who touted their rankings as one of the “World’s Best Photographers” on wedding websites and blogs like Junebug Weddings, which I would not consider a credible source since they don’t have the ACTUAL best of the best like Christian Oth, Jose Villa, Marcus Bell, Bambi Cantrell, etc. listed on their “best” list. I have a suspicion their list is based on who pays their marketing fees rather than talent.

    The “assistant is just as good as I am” line doesn’t apply to our situation, but overall, I would say to new brides, take what you want from this article, but the best thing to do is just to do your own research and most importantly, listen to what your gut tells you because most of the time, it is probably right!

  14. wedding photographer pittsburgh May 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    I do believe all the ideas you have presented in your post. They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for starters. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  15. Kim August 30, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Probably the worst article I have ever read. Do you know how often I have several inquiries for the same date? Im too exhausted to respond to all the other points in this, but its frankly disappointing.

  16. Shane Shepherd August 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Wow. Just wow. I don’t even know where to begin. This post is all kinds of wrong. As a fictional piece though, it was excellent.

  17. Nice August 30, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Amateur journalism 101.

  18. Destin Wedding Photographer August 30, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    I am at a loss for words. Perhaps you were trying to gear the article for those couples on a very small budget? And I am hoping that your image you posted was there as an example of what NOT to look for in a photographer.

    First of all, I will say I have been photographing weddings for 20 years. I have not and will not lie to any of our couples. Personally I find liars to be a huge pet peeve of mine and wish not to be associated with any.

    Now let’s talk about this date thing. There are dates that are popular. There is no doubt about it. And our couples begin their process securing that date and vendors they love at least a year in advance. If that date has not yet been booked, chances are, someone is also looking at it as well. Why do you tell them to wait? I do understand giving them a night or the weekend to think about it. I do that with all of our couples. It is a very intimate bond we will be forming. I want to make sure they love us before they book. But why chance losing a vendor you love? Is it that you think if we don’t book that date we’ll go down in price for them? That is absurd.

    Like many have already said, if I had an album for every venue I’ve shot, I would have to build a warehouse. Light is light. Either you know how to use it or you don’t. Going to the venue won’t help with lighting if you go when it’s sunny and it’s rainy on wedding day. Get real! A professional photographer can be dropped into a dark abyss and know how to create the lighting needed to make a good image. It’s called knowledge and experience.

    We are a preferred vendor at some venues and with some planners, but I refuse to pay to play. If they want us on their list and we have worked with them, that’s great. If we don’t like the planner or venue, I have actually asked to be removed from the list.

    Couples and other vendors have written us testimonials on Wedding Wire and other sites that are watched and I would imagine hard to rate without being a client. If you want to read our reviews, go there. We also post them on our website. However, I will not compromise my client’s privacy so you can call them and bug them at all hours of the day and night. I will however allow you access into any full wedding gallery you wish so that you can see we have a very clean and consistent product.

    My assistants are often times as good photographically as myself. I hire professionals with their own businesses many times to second shoot our high end weddings in order to fully make sure our clients have the best experience and products.

    Please take the time to actually find some decent wedding images to go with you blog post and then think about rewording. There are some valid points on what to watch out for in a newer or lesser known photographer, but the gist of the article to me appears to be that you are wanting to creating mass hysteria and fear for all hard working professionals.