Guerilla-style marketing technique
As the power of visual marketing and social media is increasingly recognized by small businesses, photographers in the event and wedding industry are witnessing a new trend. Vendors are hiring their own photographers or tasking their staff to work as photographers during events and weddings and sharing the images instantly, or near instantly on websites and social media.
These vendor-photographers are generally less experienced (or completely inexperienced) and less familiar with a professional photographer’s workflow during a wedding or event. They are often fiercely combative about their “right” to photograph a client’s event, with or without the client’s knowledge. Supporters of this marketing technique cast themselves as victims of a cruel and difficult market where it’s impossible to gain clients, and necessary for them to do this kind of self-promotion. There are catchy slogans like “freedom to capture love” “Gifts are Gifts” and “free the photograph” that attempt to frame their efforts as an extra gift to clients. There’s even a and even a catchy hashtag #weddingphotogate on Twitter and Facebook. And there is an increasing effort from photographers to educate clients and vendors about the damage these vendor-photographers and their new marketing technique is having on client’s experiences, and photographer’s work (see linked articles below).
Risks and impact
During a recent northern Virginia wedding, Jessica and Brian Montrose hired the usual array of vendors for their intimate family wedding. They felt “violated” and “overloaded” when nearly all of their vendors chose to send their own photographers to the event. In addition to the photographer that they spent months researching and selecting, their other vendors collectively sent along three more amateur photographers who interfered with their professional’s work. “The photographer we hired spent loads of time helping us get comfortable in front of the camera before the wedding. We arrived at the venue to see the DJ, florist and caterer all brought their own photographers. Jess spoke to two of the extra photographers and they refused to leave, saying it was required. The florist still hasn’t removed the pictures from their website, saying they own the copyright, since they took the pictures. We didn’t give these people access. We felt surrounded by paparazzi, instead of having a quiet family wedding.”
Rachael Spiegel, a Maryland area event photographer specializing in bar and bat mitzvahs, explains that clients are not always aware of these additional photographers and may not be given a chance to refuse their ad-hoc services. During an event that she was hired to photograph, the DJ was focused on capturing the action instead of doing his job as a DJ: “While the parents were in another room for cocktail hour, the DJ spent most of the time the kids were supposed to be dancing and playing games having them make a promo for his company instead. He had the kids shout “I love xyz dj company!” over and over while he shot a promo video. The parents had not been asked in advance, or informed on site this was going on.”
This raises some important privacy concerns for clients, but it also has some significant impact on photographer’s contracts, our ability to perform our job, and our ability to earn a living based on our work.
Vendor-photographers can also wreack havoc with the hired photographer’s contractual obligations, says Chris P. a New York area photographer who prefers to remain anonymous. “…the videographer’s photographer managed to step on my lens bag during the ceremony, right before the first kiss. My gut reaction, to rescue $10,000 worth of gear, meant that I missed the first kiss shots.”
On it’s own, interfering with a photographer’s ability to perform their job (tortious interference) is actionable in the courts. One recent case focused on a photographer’s exclusivity clause, that granted the hired wedding photographers exclusive access to photograph the event. Wedding photographers Jennifer Lindberg and Jennifer Nichols were sued by another photographer Jerry Hayes, because Hayes wanted to photograph the same event and argued that he couldn’t be prevented from doing so because of the photographer’s contract with the client. In their counter-claim, the courts found in favor of Jennifer and Jennifer and they were awarded $750,000 by a jury (which later was later reduced to 100,000). Hayes also started an extensive email campaign with wedding vendors about the dispute and posted details on Facebook—which gave rise to Lindberg and Nichols’ counterclaims.
Vendors turning to social media to vent their frustrations is nothing new. When vendors, social media marketing companies and vendor-photographers set out to slander, destroy or harm a photographer’s business, this guerrilla-style marketing technique becomes more serious.
Exclusivity clauses are essential
Most wedding and event photographers have an “exclusivity clause” in their contract that grants them the access to the event, and ensures that they are the sole business at the event, hired to capture still images. These clauses are not new, nor are they exclusive to event and wedding photographer’s contracts. They are legal and they allow clients to be protected, and allow photographers earn a living by creating something unique.
A sample clause look like this: (The photographer) will act as the sole and exclusive photographer retained by Client to photograph the event. No other professional photographers, aspiring photographers, or other companies, will be permitted to photograph during the time that (The Photographer) is photographing.)
Additionally a contract may specify what will happen if another professional, or company crashes the party, interferes with the photographer, or works during the same event: “If Client allows another professional photographer or company to document any portion of the event, the Photographer has cause to discontinue photography coverage of the event, with no refunds or additional compensation provided. The Client authorizes the Photographer to instruct any other vendor, or photographer to cease and desist any photography activities that impede the Photographer’s ability to perform the agreed upon services.”
The purpose of these exclusivity clauses are to protect a client’s needs and desire to have professional imagery, on their terms; and for professional photographers to perform their contracts and earn a living. These clauses do not generally apply to guest-photographers. Granny is still free to take a snapshot of the flower girl, but vendor-photographers should not be providing additional coverage of an event in an effort to promote themselves.
Additional reading on this topic:
When This Photographer Posted Wedding Pics To Social Media, Mayhem Ensued (this article has a follow-up article: Event Photography, Client Support And The Law)