Last May, I read about Meagan Kunert, an Arkansas-based photographer who was caught stealing photos from several photographers, putting them on her website and claiming them as her own to promote her new wedding photography business. After an overwhelming public outcry, Meagan fessed up in this blog post, apologized to everyone concerned and then shut down her entire online identity.
I was shocked. I could not even imagine claiming someone else’s photos as my own. I’ll admit, I will sometimes see a photo from another photographer and wish that I had taken that shot, but I would never actually TAKE the shot from their website and claim it as my own! I was sure that this must be an isolated incident. The internet makes the world a very small place, so you’d have to a be living under a rock to think you could get away with stealing work from another photographer and claiming it as your own… wouldn’t you?? Not to mention, one photographer stealing from another is just lower than low… it’s like dating your best friend’s X-boyfriend: YOU. JUST. DON’T. DO. IT.
Last December I became aware of another incident which hit much closer to home, with a photographer I knew personally and had once admired: Montreal photographer Hera Bell. Hera had always spoken very highly of herself and gave the impression that she was a successful photographer who did commercial work, portraiture and even weddings in Montreal and abroad. In an extensive discussion on DP Review here, it came out in December 2012 that Hera had allegedly stolen several photographs from a number of photographers around the world – and claimed them as her own, often accompanied by invented stories on her blog. In one case she had even used one of the allegedly stolen photos in an art exhibit in Montreal!! While Hera initially denied the accusations, within days she had taken down her blog and her website, and seemed to have gone into hiding. You can decide for yourself if she’s the fraud she has been accused of being by reading through the evidence that has been compiled at www.whotookthisphoto.blogspot.ca.
Then just a couple of weeks ago in early January 2013, yet another Montreal wedding photographer was outed as being a fraud. In the case of Paskal Thériault, he was so oblivious about the wedding photography industry that he stole a photo from one of the most well-know wedding photographers in the world: Jerry Ghionis! And then he actually used the stolen image in multiple print ads in wedding magazines including Marions Nous and Mariage Québec. It didn’t take long for Paskal to be called out by fans of Jerry’s work and soon evidence of his fraud was featured on the Stop Stealing Photos blog when it was discovered that he had stolen LOTS of photos, from LOTS of photographers, claiming them as his own in an effort to lure brides into hiring him to photograph their weddings. When I called Mr. Thériault earlier this week he informed me that “The company is having big problems” and that he “Will no longer be able to practice photography”. He has subsequently shut down his website, removed all his images from 500px and effectively erased his entire online presence.
Unfortunately, this type of fraud is rampant in the photography community… so as a bride, looking for someone to capture the priceless memories of a once-in-a-lifetime wedding day, what can YOU do to make sure your photographer is legitimate? Here are a few suggestions:
- Ask About the Photos
- See a photo that you LOVE either on the photographer’s website or at a wedding show? ASK where it was taken, who shot it, how it was set-up, and if you can see more photos from the same event.
- If the photographer cannot answer basic questions about the photo, that’s a definite red flag and could mean that they didn’t actually take it.
- If the photographer cannot produce more images from the same event, that is a HUGE red flag. It could indicate that either the photo was obtained fraudulently – or that it was just a lucky shot and all the other photos from that event are so bad they’re embarassed to show you. Neither of those scenarios should inspire confidence! Any legitimate photographer will archive client images, often for several years, so they should be able to go into those archives and show you more images from the same event.
- Look at Printed Products
- Although you may not want to purchase a wedding album, reviewing your photographer’s albums offers some assurance that they actually took the photos you’re looking at, since photo thieves most often steal images from the web, which are too low-resolution to print.
- Make sure you look at albums that showcase an entire wedding. Even my mom, with her point & shoot can get a couple of lucky shots (no offence mom!), but it takes skill and knowledge to get consistently good shots throughout the entire wedding day and into the reception. Make sure that you’re not looking at an album of “lucky shots” from multiple events…
- Speak to References
- It’s easy to write up fake testimonials and slap them up on a website or blog, so ask to SPEAK to past clients who have worked with the photographer.
- Go through their website or blog, pick a wedding that you like and ask to speak to THAT bride (or groom).
- To be sure that the “client” you are speaking to is not just a friend of the photographer, ask for their full name and send your request through Facebook - where you can see photos of the person and match them up to the wedding photos on the photographer’s website. Even if the person is not your Facebook friend, you can still send them a message.
- Speak to at least 2-3 references to be sure the answers are consistent.
- While some clients may not want to give a reference, if your photographer cannot find 2 or 3 clients who are willing… that should concern you.
- Ask About Business Practices
- A professional photographer will have things like; a website, a place of business, a contract for you to sign, GST/PST numbers, business insurance and memberships in professional associations. Some photographers will have all of these things, some will have only a few… but if your photographer has none: RED FLAG.
- While most brides these days are on a budget, don’t let PRICE be your only deciding factor… many newbie photographers have no idea what is actually involved in photographing a wedding or the amount of work involved in retouching the photos afterwards, not to mention the equipment necessary to do the job right. If a photographer’s price looks too good to be true… it just might be.
- Does your photographer have a plan in the event that something happens to them and they are unable to be at your wedding? A fly-by-night photographer will not have thought about this, but a professional will have a carefully thought out contingency plan that they can discuss with you.
- Trust Your Instincts
- You should never be afraid to ask questions, and your photographer should be willing to give you the information you need to feel comfortable.
- If you get the impression that they are avoiding or changing the subject… or that they are trying to hide something… or that they are just not being honest with you, trust your instincts and move on.
There are many, many, many photographers to choose from. Unfortunately, the recent epidemic of frauds and “Faux-tographers” has made it even more important for you to do your homework before entrusting someone with the responsibility of capturing every precious moment of your wedding day. Be diligent – and choose wisely.