You may have already heard about, and if you’re a wedding photographer I’d be very surprised if you haven’t, the wedding in Maryland where a DJ brought his camera and photographed almost the entire day of events. By the “entire day,” I mean the ceremony, formals (through the bushes no less), cocktail hour and the reception and then the next day posted his images on Facebook under a 3rd party company name that offers photography services for weddings.
If you haven’t, please let me know where you live – I want to move there!
There are so many facets to this story that it’s been very hard to keep up, so I’ll just list out the facts:
- Ken Rochon with Absolute Entertainment (a DJ company) was hired to be the DJ.
- Carly Fuller Photography was hired to be the wedding photographer
- (Names are being used as both the DJ and Photographer have publicized this story under their names on social media)
Simple enough, right? Well let’s complicate it a bit more. The owner of Absolute Entertainment also owns the Umbrella Syndicate which is a marketing service that who also advertises photography services (but was not hired for any aspect of the above event).
- The DJ, Ken Rochon, took photos of the wedding throughout the day (the ceremony, the formals and the reception). These photos (over 230) were then posted on the Umbrella Syndicate Facebook page, with the umbrella syndicate logo.
- He then tagged the clients as well as the official photographer in the photos posted on the Umbrella Syndicate Facebook page.
- Shortly after posting the photos, the official photographer sent a private request to have them removed – which was denied.
- The happy couple’s family got involved and requested them to be removed, which was honored.
Ok, so let’s break this down. A wedding photographers job, first and foremost, is to make our clients happy. On the best of days, this is a challenge as we have to overcome unique obstacles that are most times out of our control. Timing, weather, people running late, drama, you name it, the photographer has to adapt and overcome. The client’s happiness is job # 1 because if they are unhappy, it’s not like we can go back and re-do the event. Because of this, experienced photographers use the entire process, from booking to interactions with guests to the unveiling of the professional photographs to promote their business, their talent and gain future business. How many times have you seen a bride on Facebook say “I can’t wait until I see my professional photos”? In the above instance, this bride was robbed of that experience by a vendor who had no business doing so and for the sole purpose of greedy self-promotion. A talented professional photographer the couple had chosen and paid was there, so the posting of images by the DJ not only lessened the experience of the client, it’s caused a backlash in the photography community (and beyond).
So how big of a deal is this? Well, to date, there have been articles in Forbes, Petapixel and numerous blogs by well known photographers, and hundreds of Facebook threads with commentary in multiple communities across the country. Photographers are expressing their shock and disbelief at this practice in the hundreds, maybe even thousands. There are even hashtags trending from this debacle: #weddingphotogate, #teamcarly. Wedding photographers are up in arms about this because not only were multiples lines crossed and jumped over unapologetically by a fellow professional wedding vendor.
No photographer (I’ve been in business for 10 years) or anyone I’ve spoken with during the course of writing this article has an issue with any vendor taking photos of their specific duties or elements. Florists, bakers, DJ’s, venues, lighting specialists, rental houses, etc. have always been welcome (and still are) to photograph their services or products. In a perfect world, how convenient would it be to have a professional photographer who is already there who may be able to do this for you? Photographers are almost always happy to provide a few photos to a vendor in exchange for a little good press. Even still, any vendor is generally welcome to take a few photos for themselves of their role in the wedding but would it be weird for the florist to hang around all night and photograph random guests dancing? Probably so…
Weddings are highly organized events. There are contracts, checklists, timelines and job roles that must be clearly adhered to for an event to be successful. They are so complicated that many couples hire coordinators just to help run the day. In addition to the massive amount of planning and details, the amount of nuances each vendor brings to the table cannot be overstated (not just their job, but how they do it). For DJ’s, it’s knowing how to get a crowd dancing or getting the crowd pumped up, for caterers, it’s how to prepare and present food for large groups. For a photographer, it’s knowing how to capture an event in the style of which you were hired for. Hiring a wedding photographer is an intensely personal choice. While the couple may not care about what brand of steak is used, or where the chairs came from, photography is not a wholesale commodity to most couples.
The personality of the photographer, their style, interactions and methods are just as important as the photography itself. In other words, wedding photographers are not commodities. There are so many unspoken aspects to wedding photography that I can’t go into them all but I will give one example. If you’re a wedding guest and had been asked to take 5 photos with your +1 over the course of the evening, how excited would you be to have a 6th photo taken? Probably would be a bit annoyed, right? In other words, there are intangibles involved that have to be acknowledged and the organic experience of every wedding guest is a big part of managing a room and event for a photographer.
Imagine, for a moment, the chaos that would ensue if that a wedding, there were 2 caterers trying to feed each person, a band AND a DJ playing at the same time, or, in this example, 2 photography companies. Who is responsible for what shot? How will the images be delivered? Who took a photo of the couples great aunt that got our of her hospital bed to attend. CHAOS.
This brings me back to the above scenario, where a DJ, contracted solely for DJ services, decided to overstep his contractual obligations and play photographer for the day. Not just taking photos of the parts they are responsible for (playing music, announcing guests, people dancing), but photographing almost the entire day (ceremony, formals, cocktail hour posed photos, etc). Doing so with zero coordination with the contracted photographer, shooting what they wanted, formally posing guests and providing general “event” photography coverage despite being formally asked to cease by the contracted photographer. Let’s fast forward to the next day, when the images were posted to a company’s Facebook page that was not hired for the event (the Umbrella Syndicate). A company that provides photography services amongst others. How would a casual guest or even a family member know the company that posted the photo wasn’t the hired photographer or even what company each photographer worked for?
Can you start to see where the confusion comes in?
The opportunity to devalue one person’s business/brand or poach potential business is ripe. In the wedding business, reputation is everything. EVERYTHING. Do a great job, business will keep rolling in. Do a bad job and your business will suffer as word gets around. This is the couple’s one special day, and instead of doing your contracted job to the absolute best of your ability, we are now seeing a disturbing trend like the above scenario – that it’s a cross promotional opportunity to gain business from an event service that you’re not contracted to provide.
So, let’s virtually “attend” this wedding in Maryland as a guest. As a casual observer at a wedding, you’d assume all the photographers are all working together, right? So what happens when you see images posted? You’ll assume that whoever posted the images is who was hired for the wedding. That’s a pretty safe assumption as this event is not a press worthy (most of the times) event. When you have another photographer posting images as though they “won” the job, in creates confusion. We call this “poaching” (when you take credit for an event that you were not hired for).
A guest’s good or bad experience with whomever they interacted with will then be levied onto the company that they “know” was hired. Why is this important? Well beside the obvious (good or bad publicity), it’s a way for a company to siphon off reputation, prestige and referrals from the hired company. Whoever posts first on social media is going to get all the recognition from people who are not aware of who the hired photographer was. Moreover, if the photographer gave a bad impression to a guest at the wedding, and DIDN’T post images, then that would hurt the hired companies reputation. This is one of the many reasons why many vendors have exclusivity clauses. It’s not to prevent the couple from getting photos from guests or limit competition, in fact its quite the opposite (in Texas 2 photographers were awarded $750,000 on a counter suit after being sued by another photographer for invoking their exclusivity clause at an event). It’s a contractual statement saying that for the photographer to do their job to the best of their ability, they have to be in control of that specific aspect (photography, music, etc). DJ’s, photographers, caterers all have this contractual statement (and if they don’t they probably will now). Two or more companies doing the same job (in competition with each other) does NOT equal twice as much good stuff, it results in chaos.
In this particular instance, when the DJ posted the photographs he took on Facebook, he stated he was hired to DJ the wedding, but how many people read between those lines? It didn’t say he wasn’t hired to photograph the event. Moreover the Umbrella Syndicate’s facebook page, where the images got posted on, had zero involvement in the event, so there are legal questions regarding liability, being at a private event without being invited, dilution of the hired photographers brand, misleading potential clients and, finally, not having a model release from anyone to post photos in a commercial capacity. While it’s absolutely legal to photograph everything you can see while standing on public property (in most cases), this was a private event, on private property at a venue that requires a million dollar liability policy to photograph professionally while on its grounds.
Weddings are a big business, no doubt. In the US it’s a $55 billion industry and it’s almost entirely based on personal service, connections and reputation. Every wedding vendor I have ever worked with (over 200) in my career takes their relationship with the client very, very seriously. Vendors must work together as a team to provide the best service to their clients on the wedding day. Make no mistake, we are all there for our clients because, without them, we have nothing. We all work very hard to make their day as special and important as possible. When we treat the wedding day as primarily an opportunity to promote our own business, we no longer are putting our clients first and instead act on our own behalf, as in the case above.
As the troubling trend of blurring job roles continues (especially where it comes to photography), I have almost no doubt we will see more court cases involving tortious interference, brand dilution, potential business loss and contractual interference. This is a sad statement as the ultimate losers will be the clients because we’re bringing our business squabbles and aggressive tactics into a day that is supposed to be all about them, not about how this event can best benefit our companies. With the wedding day being about celebration and emotions, even broaching this topic can be dangerous for any company because of the bad press it can bring.
All of this begs the question – “So what can I do if this happens to me”? Assuming you aren’t ok with it, the first step is always asking the other person, in a professional and polite manner, to cease taking pictures in a professional capacity. Again, documenting their role is one thing but photographing the entire event when their role is limited is definitely crossing a boundary. If that fails to work, then you have to make the decision on what is the next best step. As wedding photographers, we are being entrusted to document not only two families coming together, but the creation of a new family.
These are moments we can not replicate or re-do and we, as the professionals, need to educate our clients on exactly why we need this level of control.