Hiring a wedding photographer? Watch out for these red flags!
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
It’s that time of the year where all of the newly engaged couples will soon start their search for a wedding photographer! Perfect timing for a what to look for/watch out for blog right? In truth, the timing of this article is partially due to the time of the year and partially because we just had a dear friend experience several of the red flags we are going to discuss. Ultimately she and her now husband ended up with terrible photos by any stretch of the imagination and overall a bad wedding day experience. Was it her fault? After all, I mean she hired the company right? We’ve briefly touched on this subject before but it’s one of those things that are so specific that unless you’ve seen an article or two like this one, or have already hired a company and had a terrible experience, then you’re not likely aware of what to look out for or not sure when something sounds too good to be true. Have no fear, we’ve compiled a list of common red flags we have seen over the years of having seen others go through bad experiences. Some of these are from personal experiences of having known someone like our friend who recently went through it, and some are from common themes we constantly see on social media community groups and forums. We decided to touch on the ones we see popping up the most that have generally been associated with these bad experiences.
We listed this one first because it’s the most obvious and probably one of the most concerning for consumers. In the words of Ron Burgundy, “It’s kind of a big deal.” Really it’s a huge deal, so much so that a lot of pros we know (ourselves included) won’t even do a shoot for friends or family (even if it’s free) without a contract. A contract is what protects you as a consumer of products and services and sets the expectations for the services that will be provided, the timeline, the format, the delivery method, what’s included as far as final products, and some legalities as it relates to your images. If something goes wrong and you don’t have a contract, you don’t have a leg to stand on in a worst case scenario situation, much like our friend recently experienced. Don’t let this one go, if you’re in the process of booking a wedding photographer, do not pay until you’ve read (and understood) and signed the contract. On the flip side, as a professional photographer, many of the same benefits for managing client expectations and protecting ourselves as well as our companies, also apply to us, so the fact that it benefits both parties tells you right away if your photographer is willing to move on without one, something is likely up and you should probably run!
No Sample Galleries
Hey I totally get it, between our two companies we did 77 weddings last year. Wedding photographers can be BUSY, but not too busy that they don’t have time to send a sample album to show you a full day example(s) of their work. It’s literally a couple of clicks and sharing a link, boom. I remember when our friend I keep referring to told us that she had asked on three separate occasions to see a sample album, but ultimately said that one was never provided, I was like "Seriously!?" If someone is not willing to show you a full day gallery either because they are trying to keep you from seeing it, they don’t have one to show, or they are acting like they literally don’t have the time, this is a huge red flag. In the worst case scenarios we’ve heard of complete crooks who’ve stolen work from other photographer’s sites and presented it as their own for clients. The body of work was so impressive that in some cases couples would book site unseen and before you know it they’ve paid someone, for someone else’s work. I wish I could tell you that these scenarios are urban legend or don’t exist but that is simply not the case. Protect yourselves and your investment, make sure to see the full day albums. By getting to review someone’s overall body of work vs the highlights you see on their website and social media, you can gain and sense of their overall approach to the day, consistency between wedding days and lighting situations, as well as confirm that they are legit.
Most professional photographers are going to have an established style. Over the course of years, they are going to have a consistent body of work, and beyond that, the beginning of an album to the end should be consistent as well. If you’re observing their work and it is all over the place, this can often be a red flag.
They are willing to include RAW images
While I’m sure there have been scenarios for many professional photographers at some point in their careers where they were torn between giving a client RAW files and not giving them RAW files, generally like 99.9% of established reputable pros are not going to provide this to a wedding client. (Fun fact most consumers wouldn’t even have the software to open a raw file) This is one of those almost taboo subjects in the world of professional photography, and the companies that value their branding and final product generally never even consider providing raw files. However, in many of the horror story scenarios that we’ve seen over the years on social media and that you hear about from friends and family (my friend included that I keep referring too) the photographer is agreeable to just give up the raw files right away. Even if you can somehow convince a pro to give you their raw files, it usually takes a lot or in some cases a very special circumstance/scenario (if at all) so for someone to be like “Oh yeah no problem at all,” it’s usually a red flag as we’ve seen this associated with bad experiences for consumers.
No Follow up
As we previously alluded, running a photography business can take up a lot of time. But not so much time that you have essentially no or very limited follow up. If your photographer is seemingly unwilling to communicate back and forth with you, even on simple things, this is usually another red flag, especially if they were quick to follow up before putting down a deposit, and the moment they got a retainer fee/deposit, you didn’t hear from them for days, or weeks at a time. This is another common one we see for people who have bad photography experiences. Now, we totally understand that life happens. Emergencies come up, tragedies happen, major life events can occur that at the end of the day are much more important than business, but as business professionals we believe it is our duty to our clients to at least communicate with them what’s going on. We personally do our best to respond to all of our emails, direct messages, messengers, and phone call correspondences in 24 hours THE LATEST. That’s just a personal choice that reflects our values as we believe in great communication with our clients. We’re not saying it’s the best way, and it’s certainly not the only way, but at the end of the day it works for our company and our clients tend to appreciate it based on the feedback we get. Again, if communication is spotty at best, this can often be a sign of what’s yet to come.
Refuses to meet in person
For so many obvious reasons this is a red flag, it goes without saying, but we have heard of scenarios where people were desperate and decided to hire someone anyway who refused to make time to meet with them. By this point, we all know, business owners are busy and photographers are no different, so in all fairness, if you are trying to meet with your Asheville based photographer in the middle of October, good luck, their families probably barely see them (just kidding…but seriously) during this crazy time of year. In these kind of scenarios, FaceTime or Skype is always a good option. Or if your photographer has a busy travel schedule as well as kids at home, FaceTime and Skype are always good options, but if someone refuses to meet, doesn’t have time to FaceTime, Skype or even talk on the phone, they may just be too busy for you, but more often than not, this is a red flag.
This one should go without saying, but always make sure your wedding vendors are insured. Even if you hire an excellent photographer, great portfolio, personality, etc. there are many venues that require insurance from all of their vendors or they will not be allowed to work there. Most professional wedding photographers we know carry at least a million dollars in liability coverage as well as a hefty amount of equipment insurance to cover their gear. While there will always be someone starting out who hasn't taken that next step yet to solidify their business and get insurance, it cannot be understated how important this could end up being if something goes awry on your wedding day.
Now to summarize for this article, does this mean that if any of the above things happen my photographer is a scammer or bad person? No, not at all (or necessarily). Nobody is perfect and life happens, and everybody operates their business differently. We’ve heard of and even met photographers who were in business for years before ever doing contracts, and during that time they were providing stellar work to their clients and seemingly running great businesses. Just because one of these red flags above happens or one of these things exists, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be dissatisfied with your experience or your final album in the end. However, in nearly all of the the horror stories we’ve heard about or read about, where people were highly dissatisfied with their photos or overall experiences, one of these 6 red flags was almost always present. Just like many other professions, one bad experience can give us all a bad name so the purpose of this article is not to condemn anyone or use scare tactics to keep you from hiring one professional vs another. The purpose is simply to shed light on some of these things that can happen and provide more consumer education on the process of hiring a wedding photographer so you can ultimately make the best decisions for you and your wedding day. At the end the day, when investing in something like professional photography, always make sure to do your research. Ask questions, read reviews, check out their portfolio, communicate with them, and make sure to follow your gut. If any of the previous 6 red flags should arise during the process address it, and if a reasonable solution can’t be offered, be prepared to move on.
Joe and Jenny