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

Kristin Cook , Apr 14, 2008; 04:38 p.m.

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.


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Hooman B , Apr 14, 2008; 05:03 p.m.

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".

Ellis Vener , Apr 14, 2008; 05:06 p.m.

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.

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Apr 14, 2008; 05:10 p.m.

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.

Paul Thomas , Apr 14, 2008; 05:34 p.m.


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.



Hector Javkin , Apr 14, 2008; 06:15 p.m.

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.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Apr 14, 2008; 06:15 p.m.

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.

Conrad Erb - Philadelphia, PA , Apr 14, 2008; 06:24 p.m.

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.

Steve Abrams , Apr 14, 2008; 06:25 p.m.

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.

John H. , Apr 14, 2008; 06:51 p.m.

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.

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