This past week the wedding photography industry and beyond have followed the story of two vendors through social media. Dubbed #weddingphotogate and giving rise to dozens of other hashtags and memes, the discussion on this topic has taken on a life of its own.
The topics and issues at the heart of this debate are essential for photographers and clients to understand. The story is difficult to follow without some background information, so here’s a recap. (I’ve used the vendors names here, because both vendors names are well known at this point, and have hidden the client names, for obvious reasons)
- A Maryland couple hired, among other vendors for their wedding, a well known DJ and a well known wedding photographer
- The DJ was Ken Rochon with Absolute Entertainment, hired as a DJ
- The Photographer was Carly Fuller of Carly Fuller Photography was hired to be the photographer
- Ken Rochon also owns the Umbrella Syndicate,
- The Umbrella Syndicate is a marketing and branding company that advertises photography services, social media marketing and other service
So far the most important things to note are that there was a DJ hired, and a photographer hired. Both are professionals and neither are new in this industry. The Umbrella Syndicate is not hired anywhere in this. To continue:
- The DJ did his job as a DJ. He also brought his camera along and spent time photographing the event.
- The Photographer noticed the DJ’s camera work and did speak to him during the event. Since they were both professionals, and since it’s never been an issue in the past, the Photographer focused her attention on creating the best images possible for her clients.
- While the Photographer was focused on her clients, the DJ took more than 230 images throughout the day, the ceremony, the formal posed shots, and the reception
- Missing from the shots were images of the DJ booth, him working the DJ booth, or images of his equipment.
Everything up until now is not unheard of. It does happen occasionally and the DJ and photographer usually work it out so that the DJ doesn’t infringe on the Photographer. Sometimes a Vendor will bring a camera along to photograph their cake, or their flowers, or to grab a selfie with the couple. Sometimes the Vendors who do this are in the Photographers way, or valuable time is spent waiting for a Vendor take poor quality pictures, but it gets worked out. Some photographers are uncomfortable with Vendors also photographing during the event, and that’s ok! Common practice, and law allows the photographer to specify that if they prefer. There are also many photographer who are fine with Vendors taking a few shots of their part of the event. We understand that Vendors must show new work. The really smart Vendors will hand the photographer their card, and follow up with the photographer the next day to make arrangements to share and promote the photographer’s professional images.
That’s not what happened here. Instead:
- The next day, the DJ posted a gallery of images to his Facebook page, the DJ company’s Facebook page, and the Umbrella Syndicate’s Facebook page
- The DJ put the Umbrella Syndicate’s logo on the images and tagged the DJ company, the clients and the official photographer
- Shortly after posting the images, the official photographer sent a private request to have them removed, when that attempt proved unsuccessful, she made a public request, to no avail
- Only once the couple’s family became involved and requested the images to be removed.
- Days after the issue became well known, the DJ conceded that he was willing to speak to the photographer about the issue
This DJ is not the only one to engage in these activities. There are a few others in this area who use similar tactics. It’s happened before, and usually photographers and event planners simply blacklist that particular DJ and explain the risks to the client. So what’s the big deal anyway?
- By posting the images to his other company, the Umbrella Syndicate, the DJ allowed images he does not have a release for, to be released to another company.
- The DJ was not hired to be a photographer, a “social media photographer” or “social media promoter” as he has tried to suggest his role was
- The Umbrella Company was not hired or granted access to the event. No one gave permission for the images to be used by this company
- The DJ claims there was no damage or impact on the photographer’s exclusivity clause because he stayed behind his DJ booth all night
- There is picture evidence of him making photographs while NOT at his DJ table (the resulting images he posted are obviously also not all from his table)
- The DJ claims that photographers don’t actually create anything during an event, so there’s no way he could be interfering (decades of legal rulings say otherwise)
- The DJ claims he was only documenting his part in the day, but the images he posts shows the majority of the images have nothing to do with his part in the event
- The DJ claims that it’s his right to gift the clients with this extra set of images and that by posting them to his various social media pages, he was only giving a gift
- Photographers claim that if the DJ wanted to provide a gift to the clients, he would have done so after the photographer had delivered images, and done so privately direct to the client
- By posting the images to the Umbrella Syndicate, the DJ forced his clients to be in marketing ads, without compensation.
- By ignoring the photographer’s request to remove the images, the Vendor compounded the problem.
- By later posting public statements, and having an article written about the issue, the Vendor further confused the issues and arguably caused more damage
To anyone outside the industry, this may all look to be insignificant. We’ve all had that friend who posts a bad picture of us on social media before, right? Well, of course there’s more to it than that. When it comes to companies, businesses, photography, images and advertising, there’s a lot of law involved too. And in the small, small world of wedding industry professionals, there’s also a lot of ethics, courtesy and respect required in order to make these beautiful events a success.
The Legal Issues
Copyright – Photographers in North American own their copyright. This means that photographers can make a living by selling their images. In North America, we recognize that images are valuable, and the creation of unique ones requires expensive investment in equipment and training. Skills are compensated. Unique skills and unique access are compensated at a higher rate. Those are economic basics. If a photographer sets up an image, arranges the setting, the circumstances and the subject, they own the copyright of the image they created. Anyone else making a picture of the same scene owns the copyright of the image they created, but the practices of photographing someone else’s work is shady at best, and in some cases has been ruled copyright infringement by the courts.
Restricting business – Photographers have different business models. Some charge a flat rate up front and the client receives a lot of digital images. Some charge a smaller fee for their time, skill and artistry and sell products, albums and artwork afterwards. The market and the law allows for a variety of business models, all with the intent to compensate the photographer for their work. If a consumer can purchase a shirt for $25 from one vendor, and another will give it to them for free, most consumers will choose free. If a Vendor hands over a free gallery of images after the event, he has effectively damaged a photographer’s chances of income, if the photographer’s business model includes selling products, keepsakes or services after the event.
Working conditions –To make unique images that people want to buy, the photographer must have some degree of control in their working environment, it’s one of their tools for getting work done. A seamstress must have her sewing machine, and a large surface to work on. A chef has his pots and pans, but he also needs an uncluttered kitchen, surfaces to work on, and perhaps even exact room temperatures and air circulation in order to create a specific dish. In contracting and employment terms, this is called “Working Conditions”. If a Vendor changes those working conditions, whatever they may be, or impacts those working conditions, he’s interfering with a Photographer’s ability to fulfill their contract with the client. Even if the Vendor doesn’t agree with whatever the Working Conditions may be in the photographer’s contract, he does not have a right to change them.
Client Privacy – Photographers and companies who wish to use images in their advertising must have a model release to protect them from being sued by the subjects in the images. Not everyone wants to be the “Face” of a particular company. Some require privacy for employment or personal reasons. (Approximately 40% of the weddings I am hired for have some sort of privacy related restrictions that are negotiated with the client.
Usually the DJ does not have any possible way to know these privacy concerns in advance, as was the case in this situation. Unlike official photographers, the other Vendors do not have a months, or years long relationship with the couple and their family. The detailed questionnaires, the multiple meetings, phone conversations and even portrait sessions in advance give photographers hours and hours of discussion time with our clients so we can learn about these details.
Exclusivity – 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.
Beyond the potential legal issues in this debate, there are a number of other reasons why this has become such a hot button issue, so quickly. First and foremost is the client’s privacy. There is no reason why the clients (or their family) should have had to be involved in this. The fact that they had to support their photographer and specify to their DJ that they did not want images posted should have never been an issue. When you hire a mechanic, you don’t expect a haircut.
Typically a couple will select their venue, then their photographer. Their photographer’s style and all the details the couple and photographer discuss in advance will help make the only tangible thing that remains after the wedding day (besides the couple’s rings, if they exchange them). DJ’s and other vendors have an important role in the day, but they play a small part compared to the work a couple and a photographer puts into documenting their day. The DJ’s agenda to “share the love” or his desire for “freedom to capture love” should never have been so important that his clients had to ask him to stop.
For a DJ to fraudulently imply to guests that he was a hired photographer (by posting his images on social media and tagging the clients) is, in my opinion, ethically wrong.
In the many statements the DJ has authored, sponsored and published in the past week there has been a consistent condescending narrative. Photographers can feel frustration, anger and annoyance when a vendor puts out statements belittling the work they do. (Claiming that a photographer creates nothing during an event is hardly accurate.)
In the world of business, what goes around comes around. If a vendor consistently has trouble obtaining freebies, perks and gifts from other vendors, there’s a reason for that. A photographer is not going to gift another vendor with hundreds of dollars worth of free marketing images if they want nothing to do with the vendor.
Small business relies on word of mouth, good will from our colleagues, and help as a community to get out business “out there” because we do not have the marketing dollars that large companies have to promote our work. Cooperation and respect go much further than money when it comes to promoting a small business.
What Should Have Happened
What should have happened in this case, was that the Photographer and DJ chat, before or during the wedding. The DJ should mention to the photographer that he’ll be making a handful of images of himself, his team and his booth, and perhaps the couple, if they also consent.
If the DJ and Photographer wish to work together again in the future, if they’ve each done a good job, then they may agree to cross promote each other. The DJ goes on the Photographer’s Recommended Vendor list, and since the photographer is generally one of the first vendors hired, the photographer shares their recommendations with their clients, when asked.
If the DJ or other Vendor wants images to promote their business, then the DJ and Photographer could exchange business cards, and get in touch after the event to negotiate the usage terms of those images according to the client’s previously negotiated privacy clauses, the photographer’s willingness to continue a business relationship with the Vendor, and the Vendor’s offer of compensation. Compensation from the Vendor could include a similar level of cross-promotion, it could include social media mentions, or placement on the Vendor’s recommendations list. Photo credit or monetary compensation are also common.
If for some reason the Vendor got carried away and swept up in the joy and found that they captured the entire wedding day and they now have hundreds and hundreds of images they are excited about, the first thing to do would be to contact the client and ask permission to share them publicly. Confirm whether they have a contract with any other vendor that might prohibit another company from sharing images. A very thoughtful Vendor would also contact the photographer and ask if it would be interfering if watermarked, branded images were posted online before the Photographer did so. And, a Vendor who wanted to gift the couple with something different and surprising, would wait until after the photographer had wrapped up the contract, delivered the images and products and then send the couple a gallery for their personal use.
Unfortunately, none of this happened.
Further 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)