In what may be a record-setting level of attention-to-detail, a newlywed couple in Hong Kong created a printed, 30-page feedback document for their wedding photographer. Did the wedding photographer deserve such harsh criticism, by failing to deliver an acceptable final product? Or is the couple just turning nit-picking into an art form?

30-Page Feedback

A newlywed couple in Hong Kong sent their wedding photographer 30-page feedback.

Posted by DigitalRev on Friday, January 5, 2018

Via DigitalRev

This is one of the worst nightmares for wedding photographers everywhere. The “feedback overload”, AKA, the unsolicited brutal critique.

Apparently, the couple provided annotated image diagrams, with rule-of-thirds overlays and other notes on both technical and creative aspects of numerous images. The photographer is accused of ignoring the rule of thirds (which should be followed at all times, allegedly, according to the couple), and making other egregious errors such as cropping off the heads of certain participants in candid moments such as a tea ceremony.

The question of the hour is, is the couple justified in delivering such an elaborate critique? Who is to blame for this situation? Or, as an insurance adjuster would ask, “What percentage of blame falls to whom?”

I Wasn’t There = No Armchair Judging

First and foremost, let’s be clear: I will not say very much about who I think is to blame, because there isn’t nearly enough information for me to make a worthwhile assessment. Neither am I qualified to offer any sort of legal defense, prosecution, or deliberation / verdict delivery.

I will only say one thing, which will segue immediately into the main teaching point of this opinion piece: I noticed when watching the video that a (the?) photographer is seen shooting a (the?) wedding wearing jeans and a short-sleeve shirt. If this is indeed the photographer in question, then the lack of professional attire is just a faint glimmer of one indicator: my suspicion would be that maybe they failed to deliver an overall professional experience to the couple. The photographer may have thought they were taking a “chill”, relaxed approach to documenting the couple’s big day, (which is an entirely normal approach to wedding photography!) …and instead it gave the impression of being amateurish or even sloppy. (Of course depending on the culture, it might be totally acceptable to wear designer jeans and a Tee / short sleeves to a wedding; again I’m not ripe with information here, so, not judging, just a slight hint of a likely scenario.)

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When this happens, unfortunately customer dissatisfaction is almost inevitable, even if the final images are impressively artistic and technically flawless. This is because the images, perfect or not, remind the couple of the experience itself. No matter what, they are going to view the images with a bad taste in their mouth.

Once this happens, there is no easy way for the photographer to rectify the situation. Some might attempt to “explain their style” to the couple, and respond to such a detailed critique with their own highly-detailed explanation for each and every creative or technical decision they made.

Unfortunately, unless you are an absolute master wordsmith, (or, even if you have a way with words verbally, and call the couple on the phone) …the photographer is at a high risk of appearing to be defensive and protective of their work. To the point- unless the clients are actually very friendly, understanding people, they are not going to be easily “educated” about why they should not have expected different results, no matter how fair or logical the photographer’s points are.

A Wedding Photographer’s main Goal, before Booking

A professional wedding photographer’s goal should always be to avoid such heart-stopping surprises in the first place. The simple truth is, many folks are highly detail-oriented. It is the photographer’s job, not the client’s, to understand any expectations the bride or groom may have. This should all come to light before even accepting a retainer fee, or signing a contract.

Of course it is entirely understandable if a wedding photographer prefers to only do business with clients who give them full creative liberty, and don’t nit-pick. There are plenty of couples out there who would tell their photographers, “we totally trust you, do whatever you want and we’ll love it!”

However, depending on your geographic area and desired clientele, doing business with clients who “give input” might be a very lucrative and rewarding path to choose.

Make no mistake, some customers may intentionally “plot” to throw a curveball without warning, because they know they might get a partial refund, or some free retouching or physical products. Many people go through life with a “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” type attitude towards everything. But, again, it is the photographer’s job to attempt to sniff out these potential problem clients, and simply refuse the booking in the first place. If any artist gets a sense that a potential customer is seeking a final product dramatically different from what their artistic style normally delivers, then it is the artists’ prerogative to refuse the commission.

Rising To The Challenge Of Detail-Oriented Clients

If the photographer is up to the challenge, there are steps to take that ensure customer satisfaction. Talking to the couple during an initial consultation is extremely important, in-person whenever possible. Simply get to know them as people, and see if any red flags go off in the back of your head.

If there is a feeling that the clients really know what they want, then talk about it. Are there creative tools they appreciate or expect, such as the rule of thirds? Are there other technical expectations, such as retaining detail in bright skies / backdrops, or in dark shadows? What about depth of field and background blur?

It may seem like a terrible idea to get this detailed and technical, and thankfully 99% of the time it shouldn’t be necessary. However in this particular instance, it could have either allowed the photographer to deliver a more satisfactory product, or at the very least it would have given the photographer a reference point for later, if for example the client claimed that they didn’t want any heads cropped off in any photos, only to complain about all the photos being too zoomed out or something.

Lastly, one thing that photographers can always do, even in the most “full creative liberty” situations, is to show clients a few photos on the back of the camera here and there. This provides at least a small amount of affirmation for both the photographer and the client, and again provides a reference for later. (Or, maybe the bride or groom is a little self-conscious about something, and image review can help to correct issues on-the-fly.)

Bonus Tip: To bring this opinion piece full-circle, here’s one last subject to bring up with your potential clients as you’re getting to know them – wardrobe! Ask the couple what kind of affair the wedding will be, IE, black tie versus more casual. Inform the couple about how you usually “attend” weddings, both as a hired pro and as a guest. A lot of successful wedding photographers prefer to dress like a guest, while still bringing their own personal fashion / flair, and looking classy. Designer jeans and Doc Martins might be perfect for some weddings, whereas for others you’ll need an actual suit or even a tux. Either way, the key is to talk about it in advance, so there are no surprises later!

WEdding Photographer Discourse

What do you think? Without jumping to any wild conclusions, what are your overall thoughts on these types of situations that wedding photographers can find themselves in? Please comment below!