I was screwed over by my photographer--what can I do?

Discussion in 'Wedding and Event' started by kristin_cook, Apr 14, 2008.

  1. Hi Everyone,
    I am going through a nightmare-ish experience with my wedding photographer,
    and would really appreciate the input and advice of people in the business.

    I paid out wedding photographer a $500 deposit prior to the wedding, and was
    to pay another $500 after recieving the photos. I know this is really cheap,
    but I liked his style and he seemed like a great guy at the time.

    He was at our wedding for over 9 hours, taking photos the entire time. We had
    a large wedding with about 250 people at a beautiful church and reception hall
    downtown. He took many fun outdoor group shots, and a lot of candids. After
    the wedding, I was super excited to see the results! He told me (and stated in
    the contract) that the proofs would be available in 2 weeks (seems like an
    extremely quick turn around I thought).

    3 weeks passed, and I emailed him to ask how the pictures were coming. He said
    he had them done and we set up a time to view everything. He then cancelled
    that day and said he had to go on a last-minute trip. I politely told him that
    if he needed more time, to just let me know and I would be fine. I asked him
    how many proofs he had, and he said 200 or more. To make a long story short,
    after 2 months of excuses, he finally said he was ready to give me all the
    photos. I asked exactly how many proofs he had to give me and he said "54." 54
    total photos!! To make matters worse, the photos are horrible--I mean, blurry,
    people's heads cut off, bad lighting, etc. There is not a single photo of my
    mother and I, no first dance, no bouquet toss, etc.

    I emailed him and asked him why there were so few photos when he was there for
    9 hours. His response was "not enough happened at your wedding to take more
    than 50 photos." I told him I would not be paying the $500 balance. He then
    threatened to sue me. I said, go ahead.

    I was obviously extremely upset, but decided to just leave it at that and move
    on. I was out $500 with no pictures worth having, but I figured it was my own
    fault for hiring someone so cheap. A few months went by without hearing from
    this guy.

    Then, about 2 weeks ago, my husband and I got a letter from a collection
    agency, demanding we pay the photographer $700!

    What can I do to end this?? I am not going to pay this guy, but do not want my
    credit being ruined by this either. Do you think it's necessary to take this
    to small claims court and get our original $500 back? More than anything, I
    just want to move on from this!

    Thanks for letting me rant. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
  2. Bottom line - small claims court. You don't need a lawyer, costs around $150 in court fees and usually, for something like this, you will probably be done in a hour.

    Hopefully you have a contract, which is signed by him, and in the contract there is something stating more than 50 pics. Of course, all email correspondence is very useful. Paper the file - that is the important part. Even getting him to say "nothing happened at your wedding" in an email would be important.

    I would guess that going to small claims, if you "sue" for your original $500 back, and a judgment that he remove the credit agency report and for all the photos he took - you would get at least the first two. If you're lucky, he will not delete all the photos you took and you can pay someone else to edit them (plenty of people on this forum will help) and you can get some good photos out of it too.

    Oh, and I would "sue" for the court costs as well.

    Anything other than small claims, i.e. using a lawyer, probably makes this whole thing an economic loss even if you "win".
  3. Call an attorney about the collection letter.

    Call the consumer advocates at your local television and radio stations and see if they can help you out. Also find out what it takes to bring a case to small claims court as it sounds like he did nothing that a reasonable person would consider fulfilling his side of the contract.

    Don't ever threaten to sue someone unless you fully intend to follow through with it.
  4. I would ask any local news stations to get involved and then any other places that will look into it for you.

    If you don't have a good contract, then you may well be out of luck.

    Small claims court will work, but may find in his favor.

    Long and short of it:

    Did he/she do what was stated in the contract in a reasonable way? If the answer is yes, you might struggle with it.'

    Sorry you had this bad experience.
  5. Howdy!

    I think small claims would definitely be your best bet. TV and radio can be very selective about which consumer interest stories they run, and your case might not rate very high on their scale.

    However, you may wish to discuss the matter with the collection agency first, because they may choose not to press the debt if they know that they and the photographer will have to meet you in court, and you have the bad pictures to back up your story.

    I had a similar situation occur with a doctor that gave substandard care. The collection agency sued, but I explained the case, and they decided that since they probably could not win, they dropped it.

    In many jurisdictions, if the other party does not show up, you win by default. If the guy knows the pictures are bad, and knows you will show them to a judge, he might just chicken out and not show up at all.


  6. Something is odd here. You're a photographer. As the bride you were busy at your wedding, but did you notice your wedding photographer doing something wrong? If the photos you saw were that bad, maybe he was doing something you would have noticed. Did he drink at the wedding? Were his hands shaking? (A bad sign, particularly with flashless candids.) Afterwards, he first said he had about 200 photos, then finally showed you 54 awful ones. Is is possible that he lost the disk with your good photos, and somehow only managed to salvage the discards?

    Whether you hire a lawyer, or go to small claims, try to find out what happened. If he did discard the wrong photos, the best outcome would be for him to somehow salvage them. As I said, it's probably too late, but that's what I would want. At a minimum, I would want to want to have the whole story.

    Finally, where did you find this guy? You had checked out his style, and liked it. Is there a reason why his work on your wedding would stink? It would be good to know why this happened.
  7. What does your contract say about the number of images to expect? If it is not clear (does not state a number or a range), you may have problems with a counter suit. At this point you just want the collection agency to stop harassing you, let alone getting your deposit back, so you might try Paul's suggestion. If there is a number or range stated in the contract, you would have a strong case, otherwise...

    It is also not clear whether you took delivery of any images or proofs, whether in print format or files. If you did, and did not formally settle the bill (in whatever form), you again may have trouble getting anywhere legally.

    If you do decide to take any steps, including seeing a lawyer, I would sit down right now and write out exactly what happened and continue to document everything.

    In my opinion, you do owe him the remainder. Too late now, but you should have at least expressed, in writing, your displeasure upon receipt of the existing images, and advised the photographer (again in writing) that you would not be paying him the balance, and why. As it stands now, you took delivery of the images he produced (he has fulfilled his side of the contract unless there is a number of images stated in the contract), and you have not. but I'm not a lawyer, so ultimately, if you can't get anywhere with the collection agency, you should contact a lawyer.
  8. Kristin - sounds like this person didn't know what they are doing. Even when I was working at $1000 a day, I produced far, far more than 54 photographs in nine hours!

    Do you have a contract? What does it say regarding how many photographs would be delivered?

    What is the $700 being collected for?

    It sounds like you and your photographer need to sit down and have a good talk.

    Lawyers are good, but it is a good idea to get some background first.
  9. I am very sorry this happened to you. It sounds like he did not know what he was doing. I was curious if you asked him how many weddings he had shot and if he had any references to give? I know people want to save money, but there is a reason why pros charge several thousands of dollars to shoot weddings. Yes, take him to small claims court. You will win. You might even get a judgment against him for you hiring another photographer to re-shoot some of the photographs. You may not get it, but if you don't ask, you won't for sure. I would consider that if you can afford it. I am also guessing he did shoot about 200 shots as he said to you early in the process. I think what happened was that he knew they were extremely bad shots and did not want to show them to you, so he narrowed it down to the 50. If they were bad, then the others he took must of been really bad. In the future, if you ever hire a photographer, you have to do your homework. Sit down if the person, and if possible, bring along someone who knows alot about photography. Ask alot of questions and get references. Good luck.
  10. This is a routine but frustrating breach of contract matter. There is no special photographer advice to give. Bring him to court if there is no prospect of resolving the dispute.
  11. I'm sorry to hear about your problem. I can't believe your photographer got the guts to ask you for money after not delivering his end. Definitely something you see on Judge Judy show and the like. Like what everybody else recommend go to small claims court. I can't believe he was at your wedding for 9 hours and only got 50 and blurry too? I did an engagement for a friend and took almost 300+ photos in just 1 hour and half and only had few junk photo. Goodluck!
  12. Kristin, the more I think about this the more I think this guy has never shot a wedding before. Thought it would be easy, (the anybody can do it attitude) and a quick way to make a fast buck. Find out if he has shot other weddings. If he told you he has shot other weddings and he hasn't, this could be considered fraud and would help you sue him. Run an ad in your local area and see if you can find out if any other people have hired him or had the same problem with him. Also, check with your local Better Business Bureau for any complaints against him. Also, the photos he showed you that you liked, may not have been taken by him. He probably got them from some other source, maybe the internet. That too would be fraud.
  13. One additional note, if you have copies of the emails and one says he has over 200, and the other says he haas 50 because nothing much happened then you would have a good chance in court. Obviously people expect more than 50 pictures and since he said he had hundreds, something is up.
  14. You should discuss this with a lawyer, not in public on the internet.
  15. First, write to the collection agency and dispute the collection. Ask for copies of all contracts, paperwork, correspondance and anything else related to the alleged debt. The disputation will put collection on hold while you get legal advice and decide where you are going with this.
    If you can, post the full contract here for everyone to see.
    That way we can at least get an idea of what you actually agreed to.
  16. Howdy!

    If you choose to post details of the contract, please do not identify the photographer here. You do seem like you have genuinely been wronged, but this guy should not be tried via the Internet. You may end up hurting your case if you publish his name, and he may even seek damages against you.

    I know it sounds crazy, but it's happened here before, so please err on the side of discretion.

    A few things to consider:

    Few (if any) of us are lawyers. We don't even play lawyers on TV.

    Your case, as John Henneberger so aptly stated, is indeed frustrating, but it is also routine. We see complaints from brides frequently.

    I agree that it is definitely a good idea to notify the BBB, if for no other reason than to prevent some other person from having the same bad experience.

    My recommendation for small claims court is based solely on the dollar amount involved. I have no idea whether or not you can seek more in damages than that. If you have a contract that specifically limits damages to the retail value of the order (as the PPA contract does) then you might not get more than a full refund no matter what action you pursue.

    If a lawyer will give you a free consultation, it would be time well spent. If not, there's always small claims.

    Best of luck,

  17. Kristin, guys like this give the rest of us a black eye. I'm so sorry this happened. You need to go sit on this guy's doorstep and confront him (with your husband) to get to the bottom of things. Anybody who shoots for 9 hours and seemed to know what he was doing MUST have produced more than 54 awful shots. My 9 year old child could walk around with a camera at a wedding and produce better results than what you describe. My suspicion is that he lost the images somehow, thru a corrupted drive or incompetence. Corrupted or failed hard drives can often be recovered, and if that's the case, he should pay to have that done. If the (good) images can be recovered and given to you, then and ONLY then should you pay him the rest of the money.

    Does he have a web address you can post? What did you see of his portfolio when you selected him? Does he have ANY satisfied customers? If so, that will be very valuable when you take him to court to dispute things. If 5 other brides were happy with him, why did YOU get the shaft?

    Best of luck.
  18. Kristin-be careful about identifying the 'photographer' (and that includes posting his website
    if he has one) in case you go to court and lose-you don't want to expose yourself to a charge
    of libel and slander. Good luck. cb ;-)
  19. This is the whole reason that PROFESSIONAL photographers stay sooooo busy. Its the reason that newbies have a hard time breaking into the real biz. When some person buys a camera, tries to do the job, messes it up and botches the customer service, then doesn't have errors & arrears ins... The customer is like a Billboard for y all her friends should hire a real pro from then on.

    Did this guy have a biz lisc? If not you may check with the city & state, they may be interested in investigating, it could be illegal to operate w/o them in your locale, IRS may be interested in how he conducts biz as well. Consumer protection dept of teh state atty general may enjoy taking this on.

    The thing is, people should hire a pro, pay for what they need, and READ every detail of any contract, so they know what they will get for the money. They need to research if its a photog, is he showing work he purchased from an album company or his own? Does he have some great images but no complete wedding to show? Is he charging used car salesman style with a low up front fee and a high reorder surprise later? Or do they charge fair, upfront, all inclusive pricing? DO they have business insurance, and a biz lisc?

    I know a bride that hired a photographer that did have decent work, he showed up the day of the wedding at a local resort to shoot her wedding, the resort required insurance, he did not have it, I was called at the last minute to see if I could help,,, I was of course already booked, but was able to refer a lisc'd and ins former student of mine that saved the day.

  20. Also check out the "collection" agency. Many are dissreputable "scammers". They (and your photographer) know that people are very afraid of having thier credit scores messed with. And some would take advantage of that fear. Get legal council on both the contract disupte with the photographer and the threats from the collection agency. You may also want to alert Equifax, TRW, Experion or whatever they are calling themselves these days that a potentailly unfair/ungrounded reporting may be in the works. You can file a dispute.
  21. What kind of camera/lens combination was this guy using? Anyone with a rebel and a 50mm 1.8 (maybe $500 in equipment) would be able to take AT LEAST 50 good quality pictures over the period of 9 hours. To me, there is something pretty seriously wrong here.

    I'd assume:

    A) had no bloody idea what he was doing, maybe shot the whole wedding at 1/8 handheld on a rebel/kit lens combination.
    B)lost all the pictures somehow (something I have nightmares about!)
    C)was really just out to rip you off from the start.

    Either way, something seems really 'off' about this one. I've heard plenty of horror stories, but usually the photographer at least tried to do a good job.
  22. A collection agency can't try to collect for $700 when the contract remainder is $500. If they are, a letter to that effect should stop them in their tracks and give you good legal ground if it actually goes to court.

    A collection agency alone can't hurt your credit if you write a letter disputing the bill. All they can do then is drop it or chose to pursue it through an attourney which you might desire anyhow if you're considering suit anyway.

    Something isn't adding up in this story though. It seems highly unlikely that a seemingly good guy that had enough good work to get you, a photographer, to sign, would then mess up this bad and actually pursue the balance, through a collection agency no less, that is acting unlawfully. This all seems far fetched to me.
  23. tdj


    Hey Kristin,<br>You know we're a forum of photographers, not lawyers. I know you are upset (and rightfully so), but I would discuss the details with a qualified attorney and determine a course of action. I can't believe he delivered only 54 images from a 9 hour day, and then sent you an invoice for $700!?! I think this guy is asking for a whipping...in court. What type of work did he show you? Website, albums?? How long has he been in business?<p>Paul: I'm not a lawyer, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night..does that count??? :)
  24. A couple things will help settle this:

    Kristin needs to reply to all of these helpful answers and post a sample photo or two she received as proofs. Or were these never handed over in any form to her? How did you manage to see the proofs?
  25. If Kristen has legal counsel, and she should, she has probably been advised to not discuss it any more. Even if she doesn't, yet, public statements and discussions may not be in her best interests.
  26. "If Kristen has legal counsel, and she should, she has probably been advised to not discuss it any more."

    Highly unlikely.
  27. Kristin

    Real sorry to hear what happened. Accept you've lost your $500 deposit cheque. It's not worth the time or aggro chasing, even in a small claims court.

    As far as the debt collector is concerned, they work purely by fear and pose no real threat to you or your credit rating. Write them a polite letter explaining to them what you've told us. Make sure you add that under no circumstances will more money be forthcoming until the work paid for so far is completed. Tell them you are more than happy for them to take you to court if they wish. Copy the letter to the photographer and send them both recorded delivery.

    Once the debt collector realises why you're not paying and that there is no real guarantee that they'll win if they take you to court (because of the circumstances) they won't bother. Don't forget they're only in it for about 10% anyway!! Would you bother with a court hearing for a maximum payout of $70? Think how much it will cost them if the court finds in your favour, which it probably would do if what you've told us is a fair representation of the facts.

    Do this and I promise you won't hear from them again.

    The deposit you have to put down to experience.

  28. Hi Kristin - sorry to hear about your day but you get what you pay for. Did you go over a schedule prior to your day so that your photographer and you knew what was supposed to be happening, and when? (You can't expect a pic of the bouquet unless the photographer knows this is important to you). I would certainly check your contract and see how many photos you can expect. Sounds like your guy is inexperienced hence the price - and although it can never be made up completely, does he allow any options to put it right for you? Perhaps he will be happy to retake your couple shots at your convenience, and accept photos from your guests to put something together to at least give you a memory of your day, along with him throwing in a nice album. Did you take out insurance? If not, then you should have. If you did, make a claim and get another photographer to help if you have lost your confidence with the first guy - it won't be the same but better than nothing. Or, by all means take him to small claims - but I suspect the ruling will be along the lines of 'he attended your wedding and has provided some shots - what did you expect for $500?'. By the way, he won't get his money either but you could always let a third party make an independent judgement. You won't get your court costs back either as they are negligible for small claims and I suspect the case will be dismissed. I think Darren has it about right - either let it be and move on or try and work something out. Good luck.
  29. Hey, Kristen. First off, I agree with Darren that you don't have to worry about a lawsuit from the collections agency. They'll make about $70 off the suit, and that wouldn't even cover their expenses. They work (as Darren stated) by talking you into paying.

    Regarding your potential reimbursement, I agree with others who have stated that only you can judge if it's worth your time to pursue this. I happen to have an overly developed self-righteous streak that would probably push me to go to small claims court.

    For what it's worth, I have to say I strongly disagree with Jo's sentiment that "you got what you paid for." $1000 is not an insignificant amount of money, and furthermore, the exact sum is entirely inconsequential. If the photographer gave a false impression of what he would deliver for the agreed upon amount, to me that constitutes a breech of contract.

    To win the judgment, you have to show that the photographer broke the contract by not delivering what he promised to. So, if the contract stated he would deliver 200 photos, he's in clearly broken it. However, if the contract states he would be at the wedding for x hours, and he was, the case would be a bit harder. In that case, you'd have to show that the photos he showed you of other weddings implied he would deliver similar content and quality to you. When he did not, he broke the contract. It would help your case if you took his portfolio from his website. Or you could subpoena the portfolio he showed you! (Not sure if small claims allow subpoenas or not...) At any rate, you might have a leg up on him because he already broke the contract on the amount of time it would take him to return the pictures.

    So, overall, you can see I'm getting a bit too excited about this. I just find the line between right and wrong very interesting. You obviously have to judge your own interest and frustration.
  30. OUCH !!! First, if you signed a contract, you are required to pay because he showed up at the wedding. Does the contract state the # of photos in the album ? no ? still gotta pay. You could get another unbiased photographer to look at the pics to help you two come to an agreement. Even a attorney to look at the images.
    Second, $1000.00 for a photographer does not mean it is a bad photographer. My smallest package is $825.00, my images and assistant are as good as any around.
  31. "OUCH !!! First, if you signed a contract, you are required to pay because he showed up at
    the wedding. Does the contract state the # of photos in the album ? no ? still gotta pay."

    That certainly wouldn't be the case here in the UK and I'd be amazed if it's the case
    anywhere else. The fact that you have signed a contract does not mean that you have to
    pay if the goods are not of merchantable quality.

    Just turning up at the wedding does not mean that he has performed his side of the
    contract, and if he hasn't come up with the goods to a satisfactory standard he has most
    certainly not performed his part of the contract.
  32. Not sure you're entirely right there, John. There's no question that if the guy never showed up or cancelled and couldn't supply a replacement that Kristin would get her money back.

    But he did show up and put in a shift - that's why I said earlier that he will get something for his time - the $500 already paid. And when I commented earlier that you get what you pay for, $500 barely covers anything these days. However, I suspect that if this went to court that he is unlikely to get his other $500 - the problem is that we are hearing only one side of the story and these things are subjective - we don't know what the quality of the photos are - certainly only 50 seems a scant amount for a wedding that size (or just about any size - even the pretty small ones).

    It also depends on what the initial $500 was for - if it was a booking fee, as opposed to the other $500 for say, goods and services, then there's no chance of the money being handed back to Kristin.

    However if I was Kristin I certainly wouldn't hand over the other $500 - let it go to court. If it is as bad as Kristin says, I doubt she'll pay a cent more.

    The bigger problem is the fact that Kristin doesn't have any decent wedding shots. As I said before, I think I'd either try and work out something with the photographer in terms of reshooting what would be possible, asking guests to contribute what they have and getting an upgrade in goods for the sake of having something from the day, or go to my insurer and make a claim.
  33. So sorry you had a bad experience.

    I just saw your profile and mug shot. You look amazing, it's hard to believe anyone could get a bad photo of you!
    If you're anywere near me here in Raleigh North Carolina, I'll be happy to recreate some bridal shots for free if you let me use them in my portfolio. :)

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