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).

  1. 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.
  2. He then tagged the clients as well as the official photographer in the photos posted on the Umbrella Syndicate Facebook page.
  3. Shortly after posting the photos, the official photographer sent a private request to have them removed – which was denied.
  4. 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.

  • Rich

    This: 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.

  • earl jules

    Brian…
    your post here is the first I’ve heard of this sort of thing… let alone the case in question…
    Where do I live. . .?

    Fayetteville. . . (sigh)

    then again, I’m always the last to know almost anything, so this sort of discussion and turmoil without my involvement isn’t anything new. . .

    LOL
    * * *
    It is a bit disturbing. . .
    I blame Mrs. Cratchit. . . (Bewitched reference) … for sticking her nose into everyone else’s business…
    she started it all. . .

    Curse you, Mrs. Cratchit. . .!

    (wink)

    • Brian Mullins

      Haha! Wait, Fayetteville, NC? That’s less then an hour from me. I’m packing my bags and moving!

      • earl jules

        Gayle…
        with apologies to you and Mrs. Cravits. . .
        she is still, and will always be, my most excellent example of a butt-in-ski. . .
        thanks for keeping me on the straight and narrow… (wink)
        * * *
        Brian. . .
        please come down. . .
        we can always use yet another professional photographer in our midst…
        (grin)
        if for nothing else than to raise the level of standards for the rest of us
        to bit higher degree…
        * * *
        I like what you said in the article…
        but for a father who invited 4 other photographers to my daughter’s wedding
        in Wilmington to shoot to their heart’s content and share any they’d like with my
        daughter for free, I’m not sure I can feel any sympathy for a photographer
        who is contracted, is paid, and wants absolutely no one else in attendance
        to take any pictures at all – for sharing or otherwise …
        * * *
        I guess we’ll just have to agree that we disagree…

        I’m a laissez faire kind of guy… (a handshake and free-market sort)…
        personally, I prefer 1200 photos from 5 different photographers’ perspectives
        (two of whom were professional wedding photographers at the time) on a wedding
        day to choose from than simply 4 or 5 dozen from one photographer with his own notion
        of what s/he “thinks” I want. . . or canned images identical to the dozens of other weddings
        s/he has performed in the surrounding area…

        contracts are a necessary evil, I understand . . . but I’d rather not, if possible. . .

        until that time. . . Earl J.

        • Brian Mullins

          Haha.. I’ve got over 1000 advertising wedding & portrait photographers where I am. I doubt it’s going to be worse in Fayetteville. 🙂

          You invited 4 photographers to shoot? They all knew about each other I assume? These were all photographers who, Im guessing, needed portfolio material or were people you knew right? One of the big differences is that in the scenario I wrote about, that is NOT how the photographer works. It’s explained in the contract and the DJ (who should be DJ’ing, not photographing), started taking photos with zero professional courtesy to the main photographer.

          The issues in the scenario I wrote about are:

          Brand Confusion (someone potentially representing your company)
          Poaching (A non-hired photographer posting images as if they shot the wedding)
          Ethics (unwilling to work with the vendor hired to do that job)
          Marketing (making such a big deal about it that it’s gone viral).

          If you contacted all of those photographers for your daughters wedding and they all knew about each other, and they all agreed, I nor anyone else has an issue with that. It’s up to me, as the photographer, to decide if I was ok with that arrangement. In the above scenario however, that opportunity wasn’t given and the DJ well knows he’s treading on an ethical boundary. He is trying to equate himself with a guest however he simply is not one. He was paid to be at the wedding and, as such, should adhere to the job he was contracted for IMO. The hired photographer does NOT prevent any guest from photographing the wedding at all. There is a very large difference however with someone taking a few photos for their personal usage and a vendor photographing the entire day then posting the images in a professional capacity.

          If you apply the same rule for everyone – that anyone can photograph in that capacity, can you see how quickly that would turn into chaos? Wedding photographer is one of the only careers i’ve ever seen that people think it’s ok to “do our job” when we are right there. Again, if all of your photographers knew and agreed, then i’m all for it. However the guerrilla style of the DJ, shooting thru the bushes while the hired photographer was photographing formals, the unwillingness to work with a vendor because he “wanted” to photograph everything, etc is disruptive, unprofessional, unethical and potential legally actionable.

          I don’t think we need to agree to disagree at all. I think we agree on the main point – communication is key.

    • Gayle Harris

      Cravits

  • Mark Laing

    Wonderful, well written and thoughtful article on a thorny subject. I had a similar unpleasant experience two years ago as a wedding photographer. This time it was the DJs wife who slyly slinked about and shot the whole wedding, posted it on Facebook the next day before I had even returned home from the overnight wedding destination. Needless to say I was crestfallen. Numerous polite requests via email and phone conversations were ignored: “I’m just trying to build my business. The photos are only for marketing purposes.” The DJ and his wife now have a DJ AND wedding photography business largely built, I imagine, on the backs of the real photographers who actually booked, won and worked the weddings.

    • Jimmy

      That’s exactly why it’s important this photographer takes the DJ to court. He has shown through his continued FB posts that he will continue this practice until the industry changes to his lower standards. As one of his friends/employees wrote on his wall, “marketing at it’s best,” which doesn’t say much about the marketing field in my own opinion.

    • Brian Mullins

      Thank you Mark! I’ll be honest, I struggled with the line between emotion and logic on this one. I’m a full time wedding photographer so this struck particularly close to home. I appreciate the kind words!

      • Mark Laing

        You’re welcome Brian. You’ve been very measured, dare I say it restrained, on what is for me a very thorny topic.

  • Jimmy

    As Mr. Rochon’s friend wrote on his FB in response to the Forbes article, “Marketing at its best.” If this is marketing or more like guerrilla marketing brides and grooms should run fast from these types of companies who are trying to turn weddings into celeb photog catastrophes. The crazy thing about this is that the issue could have been resolved if it was for the fact that the DJ insists on pushing this issue until he is deemed correct. His best path would have been to apologize and be professional in the future instead he’s picking a superfast highway to the court room.

  • styleprdiva

    I have worked with this company and i will only say he loves himself.
    .

    • Jimmy

      I have not worked with him but Ken Rochon offended me more than I thought possible today. On the anniversary of 9/11 he creates a facebook business page titled “Freedom to capture love” all wrapped in the American flag and has pushed it out to his followers. So not only does he hijack weddings, he hijacks a solemn day like 9/11 all for his own personal benefit. What an embarrassment.

      • styleprdiva

        That’s Ken! I’ve never met a more self absorbed human being than him. We will never use him or his company for any events

  • Markthetog

    I have every sympathy for the photographers in the wedding business. However, good contracts and clear communications with the client will prevent the bulk of this nonsense. But looking at it from the laypersons viewpoint this is another “disruptive” business model that “benefits ” the client. IOW, people get screwed but the client gets a WalMart price.

  • Jimmy

    I wonder if Ken’s actions will hurt the CEO Space brand? The only support Ken has received so far has been from members of that group and I know his actions and their defense of him have negatively changed my impression of CEO Space. I don’t want to be involved with that group anymore if some of their employees push for these illegal policies.

  • Theresa Klein

    Eh… to me a lot of this sounds like whining about comeptition. Weddings are overblown and generally over-priced affairs as it is. These days everyone has a high-quality dignital camera and can shoot pretty good pictures, so the photographer is going to feel threatened by anyone else stepping on their “turf”. Keeping out multiple-service providers, such as a DJ that also shoots photos, just seems like a way to limit competition to keep the price high. He probably should have asked the couple for permission, but the other photographer insisting “Nobody is allowed to take photos but me!” and the justification that it would cause “chaos” otherwise? Um no, I’m not buying it. The photographer (and I’m sure other wedding-service people who are on her side), are just afraid of having business “poached”. And “poaching” is just another word for competition.

    • Brian Mullins

      The photographer never stated “Nobody is allowed to take photos but me”. The issue comes in when you have another vendor working as a photographer in this fashion because of the brand confusion, delivery of the work and ultimate effect it has on guests. Wedding photographers compete with every person who has an iPhone, iPad or SLR at the wedding. The issue we are addressing here is when a vendor oversteps their contracted responsibility and encroaches on another vendors job.

  • infamouscrimes

    Wow so much text over such a stupid story. First of all, you work in a useless and pointless industry. 50% of marriages fail. They’re a waste of time and money. They’re selfish self-aggrandizing affairs where people rudely expect their friends and relatives to waste their time off work to give them money, praise, and gifts. These jerks deserve to have their stupid photos splashed all over the internet. They staged this ludicrous event and then hired total strangers to be there. Of course leeches like that DJ would be salivating to get every last dime out of these dunces.

  • jaguar717

    “Photographers are expressing their shock and disbelief”. Another symptom of our generation being raised without any real problems, and trained to invent fake ones. “Shock and disbelief” that technology has let anyone with a halfway decent camera take pictures adequate for the 99% of us who aren’t photographers?

    Complaining about some freelancer is like cab drivers angry that Uber’s ruining their cartel. If you really offer a better service, some amateur won’t be able to upstage your professional skills.

    • Brian Mullins

      The DJ was not a freelancer but a vendor hired to do their job. This story has so little to do with the actual work that was produced and everything to do with ethics. Would you condone a photographer bringing a DJ rig because they wanted to give the couple a gift?

      • jaguar717

        If it works and saves the couple a few grand, absolutely. I understand it causing pushback from people used to having their lucrative fees rolled into exorbitant wedding costs, but with the number of heavily indebted young couples, and parents pushing back retirement, I welcome anything that brings such unnecessary costs under control.

        • Jimmy

          Actually that does the opposite. If a bride & groom would like to have the exclusivity rights removed from their contract so that other professionals can shoot the wedding as well than the cost of the contract goes up not down. Maybe what the couple should do as it seems you may suggest is not hire a photographer at all, they can hire Ken and pay him to be a DJ and he will happily shoot the entire wedding for free.

        • Brian Mullins

          The couple had already hired a professional photographer; paid the money, etc. I understand what you are saying but that’s an entirely different discussion. In this case, the Dj’s actions interfered with the hired photographer so, in that respect, he was actually detrimental to the entire process. People spend their money in places they feel are important. If they were happy to spend that money on a highly skilled photographer then who is anyone to judge?

        • Laura Short

          Perhaps you don’t need to feed your guest $50 plates at weddings? Who remembers the food? But you will always have your photographs for the rest of your life. 😉

          • jaguar717

            The food is one of the first things I suggest. But right after that it’s avoiding blowing thousands on vendors (pictures, music, cake, flowers) just because you’ve seen others ruin the financial start of their marriage.

            It’s too easy to ignore vastly inflated services when they’re rolled into a giant OMGWEDDING budget. Surely you’ve heard of couples giving disposables to everyone as one alternative…

          • Jimmy

            Of course and the disposables are a very fun thing to do but it’s not related to the issue that happened where a contracted vendor illegally breaks a binding contract.

    • Jimmy

      Another symptom of our generation is the inability to read and comprehend.