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Insights & Thoughts

Wedding Business Wrongfully Attacked on Public TV?

By Matthew Saville on January 20th 2015

Wedding photography rarely makes the news for bad reasons, thankfully.  This recent story from Dallas, Texas has raised a lot of commotion, however unfortunately the initial TV report was very one-sided: A newlywed couple in the DFW area was shocked to discover, months after their wedding, that their photographer was trying to collect a “cover fee” for a 40-page album that they had already paid for in their ~$6,000 photography package.

UPDATE: What we’ve got here is, …failure to communicate.

As is often the case, unfortunately, the story first heard on TV was a dramatized and mis-informed version of the whole truth. The wedding photographer being accused has taken the time to respond regarding the situation, you can read that HERE. In the open letter we are given some very important and surprising details:

We had taken action to make things right, and instead this bride went directly to the media , bragging about the upcoming news story on all of her social media accounts and creating a very large following, which was boosted by her business as a professional social media expert.

If this story were truly based how upset and hurt she was, she would not post statements to humiliate me or harm my business. Statements like, “I’m pretty sure her business is ruined,” “I hope this goes viral,” “feeling excited,” and “justice has been served” are not the actions of a concerned and hurt bride; they are actions of an individual trying to take someone down and instigate a lynch mob of negativity across the nation. To make matters worse, I responded with a lengthy statement to the reporter on Thursday morning because I was out of town for work, and was told in writing from the reporter that “I will do my best to sum up your position to give your side of the story.” In the interview that aired, this reporter only included the very last sentence of my statement completely leaving out key information in the story.

In short, in my opinion, the television report was entirely wrong to paint the photographer in such a bad light; the bride was clearly out for blood, and went to the media without warning the photographer at all.

Are your actions truly one of justice? Justice is defined as: just behavior or treatment, “a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.” In my opinion, these actions have not brought any form of justice to either of us.

You may still bring up the business advice that a post-wedding album cover fee is still a poor choice of pricing strategy, so this article’s take-home message remains the same even if the photographer didn’t actually make this mistake:  Try not to surprise your clients with fees after their wedding.

slr-lounge-news-wedding-photo-album-cover-5[Via NBCDFW.com]

According to the bride, the cover fee wasn’t listed in the signed contract, but was mentioned verbally somehow, or was at least written down in a standard album order form that clients use when picking an album in their package.  Either way the couple, understandably in my opinion, was upset by the thought that the album they paid for didn’t include a default, no-frills cover.

The TV story painted the photographer in the light of “playing hardball” with the client and refusing to budge on the issue, however the photographer has explained that they personally weren’t given a chance to make things right, and the bride went from being friendly to vengeful very rapidly.

I Wasn’t There – May I Have My Grain Of Salt?

Okay, first things first-  I wasn’t there; I don’t know the actual truth.  There could be any number of other factors that shed a completely different light on things, strongly favoring one party or the other.  Off the top of my head, here are a few possibilities:

(UPDATE: Looks like my suspicions were correct, probably.)

The photographer might have actually been very clear, verbally, about the “cover charge” in the pre-booking and pre-wedding planning.  They might have even clearly written it in all their price sheets and order forms, too, if not the signed contract.

So if the client quietly noticed this wasn’t in the signed contract, they could have schemed to try and get something for free. This sounds very accusatory, I know, but this world is unfortunately filled with sue-happy people just looking for a fight, or a free ride.

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Oppositely, the use of the phrase “storybook album” tells me that this photographer might be following a business model that relies heavily on post-wedding up-sales, with extra album pages or similar add-ons.  The “storybook” term is common among followers of famous photographer Gary Fong’s own wedding business model in which album sales are highly promoted. Not necessarily in a sneaky or confusing way, mind you, but I’d definitely use the word “complex”to describe most of the up-sell business models I’ve seen along these lines.

So, this photographer may have simply never had a problem getting folks to pay extra for an album cover after the wedding.

…Then again, the clients might have simply been not paying attention when the photographer quietly mentioned a cover charge, and were indeed caught off guard by the bill.

Either way, in my opinion going to the media was a bad idea. Both parties would have been much better off by resolving the matter privately.  Since I wasn’t there though, I can’t really say who is more to blame.

The Importance Of Transparency (And Written Contracts) When Booking A Client

The lesson that I learned just by first hearing about this story was that all professionals need to be sure to put everything in writing in the signed contract, especially when money and deliverables are involved.

Also, legal ass-covering aside, I feel like it is extremely important to not just be open and communicative and friendly towards your clients at all times, but to actually think about your packages, pricing, and overall customer experience from within their shoes.  Maybe your pricing sheet isn’t well-written enough, and could stand to be updated, simplified, or even dramatically changed.  (Then again, even if you do all of these things, there will always be troublesome clients that you have to deal with.)

In my own personal business, I avoid post-wedding fees like the plague.  I never charge my clients overtime fees if I happen to stay a little late, and I try and get all album, print, and other product orders completed or at least thoroughly explained in writing before the wedding. It’s just a better overall experience for the happy couple that way!

slr-lounge-news-wedding-photo-album-cover-2

When To Recognize Your Mistakes, Or At Least Save Face

The second lesson, the one that more hardball-playing veteran pro photographers might disagree with me about is, that when you encounter trouble with clients, the thing to do is to swallow your pride and make your clients happy.

The best possible outcome I can imagine would have been this:  for the photographer to immediately realize that the album cover fee wasn’t a good idea, swallow the cost, and change their contract and/or their pricing for future clients.

Could this have been the outcome?  Only if 1.) the bride had a little more patience, and if 2.) the photographer had been more quick to respond and negotiate.

Like I said though, I don’t know the whole story.  But that’s OK, I’m not a news reporter or investigator, I’m an opinion writer who is simply trying to help other wedding photographers (and engaged / newlywed couples) avoid getting themselves into a similar situation.

Whoever is at fault, the moral of the story is to communicate quickly and clearly, and try your hardest to ensure there are no surprises at any step along the way, especially post-wedding.

The Ramifications Of “Holding Your Ground” As A Small Business Owner

I’m sure every small business owner in America has encountered at least one or two crazy customers who threatened to sue, or go to the media, if they didn’t get their way.

Usually these are idle threats from, well, crazy people, however if you want to survive in the long run, you do need to be able to sniff out the serious situations and take appropriate action as soon as possible. Sometimes a client is unfairly asking for way too much, and you simply can’t afford to give them what they want.  Other times you simply can’t afford NOT to give them at least a small concession, and fast.

In other words, as one of my greatest mentors in wedding photography once told me, “Be quick to bend over backwards for ALL your clients, even the tough ones, otherwise sooner or later one of them will bend you over ‘the other way’…”

slr-lounge-news-wedding-photo-album-cover-1

So, fellow wedding photographers, what do you think?  Whose side would you take, in a dispute that involves written versus verbal communication, and/or “surprise” fees?

I’m not just talking about the recent news story specifically, since we’re hearing two conflicting stories, but in general- how do you run your business when it comes to pricing your packages, and dealing with unhappy clients?

Happy clicking,
=Matt=

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Sam Nait

    I think we could all learn something from this. In any case this will impact her business or yours if it happened to you. As business people, we all want to to squeeze more for profit but you have to know when to stop. I would love to take her side of the story but to be honest, if you have not done anything in the grey… this wouldn’t have happened.
    Question…
    Would you ever go back to a fancy restaurant if they served your dinner on a paper plate? Or say something like “well.. what kind of plate would you like that served? That will be $5 extra plus $2 if you want to use metal cutlery, otherwise you can use plastic forks”

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    Bridezilla was channeling off Dire Straits Money for Nothing (and the Chicks for Free)”

    Perhaps, the photographer should’ve bought a photo album from Walmart and printed 5×7 photos for the album and given that to Bridezilla.

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  3. Diane Colquhoun

    Oh goodness, I think both people here are at fault but the bride went to overboard. To set out to ruin a persons reputation and business because you are unhappy about something actually quiet small that could be sorted out with a simple phone call is just being a full out bitch. If I was that bride I would be ashamed.

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  4. Michael Old

    How would these actions benefit your reputation and business?
    If there were to be some restitution, it (in my opinion) should be for the bride to run a social media campaign promoting the photographer for a period of time.

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  5. Michael Old

    I would suggest that the album cost include the basic cover, with an option to choose another, either before or after the shoot, this way you still have an option to upsell, but if it turns pear shaped, the customer still gets an album and there is no extra hidden costs.
    It seems to me that from what the photographer wrote, that they were willing to eat the cost of the cover, but the customer had already gone to the media.
    The time line is not quite clear to me, however as it seems to have been about a 4 month process back and forth? To me this is way too long to drag it out.

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    • Eric Mazzone

      My understanding is a basic cover IS included, the $150 is a premium cover. Sounds like the bride wanted that for free. She also claimed that she never received images, yet she has images of the wedding with the togs watermark all over her social media, so she lies yet again.

      IMHO the tog needs to file libel suits against the couple AND the news station seeking damages, along with a permanently stickied post at all current and future social media platforms and websites the bride is or will be involved with in any capacity detailing the fact that the lies bridezilla made against the top are false. I’d further hire a personal security service because of the death threats received and bill bridezilla for the service until I decide it’s no later needed, no matter how long I feel it’s appropriate.

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  6. Samuel Seth

    Mad props for the Cool Hand Luke reference. One of the best movies ever.

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  7. Stephen Jennings

    On one hand, I understand the photographer and despise individuals such as the bride; taking their tirade to social media to attack a persons livelihood over a simple dispute. On the other hand.. this reminds me of my wedding. I wasn’t shooting “professionally” when I got married, so I was just as blind as everyone else when I chose my photographer. I went with a well respected extremely expensive photographer.. after all was said and done the “print credit” covered I think 3 photographs, everything else was marked up around 800-1000% (I use the same print and hosting service now haha).

    The “full resolution digital files” were so degraded in quality they look grainy on my ipad let alone printed. It took almost 7 months to get the material we purchased from the package as well as files (which come on guys.. it doesn’t take that long to edit photos and put in your orders. I swear, I never understood the “it takes a few weeks to edit the pictures” line, that’s a load of horse crap). My wife informs me we never actually got a 11×14 that was supposed to be included.

    I actually use my experience as a consumer to shape how I in turn act towards my clients. I spent thousands of dollars and they took amazing photos, amazing.. and then acted like asshats the next day onward. I try my hardest not to be like that.

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    • Jim Johnson

      “It takes a few weeks” depends on many factors not the least of which is size and style of the final prints. Also, my turnaround time depends on how booked I am.

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  8. Jason Boa

    I would like to make a couple of comments –
    1st this would appear to be a flawed package being offered by the photographer . How can you have an album that doesn’t have a cover ?? would you go into a book store to get a book and expect to buy the cover separately ? The photographer needs to be clearer in what they are offering , also if you wish to up sell have options and prices listed this eludes to the fact that although the “basic ” package has 40 pages the couple could add others for ex $$$$ each .
    Another thing that always bothers me is getting paid after the event ! I always got full payment up front as part of my wedding contract. The client will always have the law on it’s side as far as getting that money back. But some lovely people can get pretty ugly after they have spent all there money on honey moon and don’t want to pay for photos and it is very hard for a photographer to sue for payment without looking like the baddie

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  9. aaron febbo

    Sounds like a case of Bridezilla !! I read the photographers side. Best part was the part that said a random person rated her on YELP because of the story and said “She gave me AIDS. Photos were okay. 2 stars.” hahaha

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    • Eric Sharpe

      I usually don’t find that type of humor funny, but that was so random and ridiculous that it gave me a good laugh. People are so ridiculous man… LOL

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    • Eric Mazzone

      That random aids review is reportedly writen by the groom!

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  10. J D

    There are reasons I have avoided doing weddings and this is one of them. It sounds like the client would have found something else to be unhappy about in order to get “free” services or product.

    As for a cover fee, that’s not entirely uncommon. Not all clients will want the same kind of album or cover. I’ve delivered albums that are just a standard “yearbook” type album, all the way to a fancy leather bound album. It’s hard to have one cost for the album when there a myriad of options.

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  11. Ben Perrin

    Even if the photographer did verbally state that there was an additional cover fee it’s appalling that she didn’t have it written down. She says that she’s shot 600 weddings in the last 10 years, so has she been cheating other couples out of money as well. Hidden costs are always a recipe for disaster and just plain dishonest. It seems from the emails as well that she was trying to hold the couple to ransom. $250 archival fee? Silliness.

    Having said all that it was obvious that the couple was so dissatisfied that they no longer cared about talking through things properly. Their goal really was just to take the photographer down. Not justifying the couples actions, but this all could have been avoided with transparency from the photographer.

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  12. Eric Sharpe

    Yeah, I’m more inclined to believe the photographer’s account. I’ve dealt with some of this in the past myself. In fact, I’ve had a client that I didn’t even know was unhappy, and caught news of it through the grapevine. It was just a simple conversation that could’ve been had. Instead, the client just went around expressing frustration about our shoot, and never even brought it up to me. People are vicious.

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    • aaron febbo

      I hate when they do that ! I always try to communicate the best I can but some people can be so belligerent and would rather complain than give you a chance to make it right. Kinda like the bride in the case! Sad story.

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  13. Tyler Friesen

    I would just include the cover, change the contract and move on!

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  14. Samuel Seth

    Oh gosh. Not you guys too. Feel free to read the photog’s side of the story: http://www.blogpolito.com/?p=5757

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Samuel,

      Done, and updated!

      To be honest I had my suspicions from the very beginning that this wasn’t the whole side of the story, and I hope you can tell that I spun it that way. I’m not a news reporter, and this article was meant to be advice to wedding photographers, not just the regurgitation of a shocking media story.

      Either way, I don’t think either party is blameless. In short, I think that the take-home message for me, and for other wedding photographers, is that post-wedding fees or up-sells, let alone holding final delivery of $6,000 in photos / albums, is a risky business tactic that is bound to attract this sort of shock and anger eventually.

      As Tyler commented below, most wedding photographers out there would just include the cover and be done with it. Personally, I’ve photographed a handful of $6K+ weddings in my day, and let me tell you when a client is paying that much, it wouldn’t break my bank to just start including a cover up front! ;-)

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