Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Expert Advice: Avoid a Wedding Rip-Off

In my past interviews with expert L.A. photographer Damien Smith, he’s shared his insider tips on finding and hiring a stellar photographer who’ll transform your special moments into lasting memories. But what about the photographer who only wants your money and couldn’t care less about delivering on your special day?

“You want to look for signs that they can actually afford to deliver what you are being promised,” says Damien. “If this is not apparent, don't hire them.”

Here, Damien shares a few potential "red flags," plus the best ways to avoid falling into a trap. Happy hunting!

Red Flag: The photographer wants to meet up at a coffee house or restaurant.

It may be the “in” thing to go to Starbucks or Coffee Bean to meet folks, but really, is that the proper venue for signing a contract worth several thousand dollars? Do you really want to write out a large check, or dish out a large sum of cash, at a coffee house? Also, how will the vendor give you a copy of your signed contract – by asking the coffee house if he can use their copier? It's simply a bad idea.

Instead, meet at the vendor’s place of business. For a photographer, this may be an office studio, or a home office studio. The most important thing is to know the physical location of the business. If a vendor doesn’t want you to know where she’s located, it's a really bad sign.

While you’re there, check to see if the meeting area is neat and clean. If you use the restroom, note whether it's clean. If all is well kept, this is a good sign. It means the vendor is likely always expecting to have clients at her place of business, and therefore must keep these areas looking nice.

If the meeting area is not well kept, she probably doesn’t do a lot of business, and this can translate into her not having the necessary funds to deliver your portraits and albums. You may think, “She’ll have the money I paid her!” But if she’s are not doing enough business, that money may go straight toward paying her bills, and not toward delivering your pictures.

Red Flag: The vendor’s business card or website looks like something your five-year-old nephew threw together.
Take a good look at the vendor’s business card and website. Is the card professionally done, or something the vendor created on a home printer? What about the website?

A photographer who doesn't have professional-looking business cards is not someone you want to hire. If he can’t afford professional business cards and a professional website, he probably can't afford to deliver your pictures. Please note that not having a website at all is not necessarily a problem. Lots of good businesses do not have websites. However, having a poor excuse for a website is a big problem.

Red Flag: The photographer’s office is bare of any photo-related items.

When you visit a photographer’s office, make sure you see wall portraits and wedding albums in plain sight. If he can't show you actual samples of what he says you'll get, how do you know you'll actually get it?

Plus, don't be afraid to ask about his camera equipment. Take a look at it. Make sure it's professional-quality gear, and ask whether he has backup equipment. You don't want to be surprised by him showing up at your wedding with a compact digital camera he picked up at Wal-Mart for $279. You know, the kind you might keep in your purse when hanging out with friends.

Red Flag: The photographer is dressed like she’s headed to the beach, rather than to a business meeting.

Pay attention to how a vendor is groomed and dressed during your meeting. If she appears not to care how she looks, that's a problem. Of course, she doesn’t have to be wearing a full business suit, but she should look like she cares about her appearance.

Pressed pants and a nice shirt, for example, are appropriate. Jeans, a tee and slippers are not. It’s true that most photographers like to dress comfortably, because they have to do a lot of running around and standing while shooting. However, photographers can be comfortable and neatly dressed at the same time.

Have you ever encountered a vendor who tried to scam or take advantage of you? What are some “red flags” that might make you think twice about hiring someone, and what do you think about those listed here?

(Photo & Graphic Credits: Google Images)


  1. Great tips! I actually wouldn't hire a photographer without a blog, but that's my personal feeling. It's just nice to get to know their style, and get inspiration for some of the shots you would like him or her to capture at your wedding.

  2. Really great tips!! It sucks to think that people would try to rip you off on your big day but its the cold hard truth. Thanks so much.

  3. We actually met our photographers at a Starbucks but they were in the middle of renovating their house (they're a married couple) so I didn't mind. Their companies webiste looked professional and they had great reviews on wedding wire. They did a great job with our engagement pictures so I'm pretty confident about the wedding photos. Fingers crossed!

    Great tips though, definitely things to keep in mind!

  4. So far we have been lucky and no one has tried to scam us. These are great tips to keep in the back of your mind when you are vendor-shopping!

  5. Great tips! So many people don't understand that the website is so so so important. I've seen some REALLY bad ones in my travels.

  6. This is so funny. 2 of the 4 photogs I met with met me at a coffee house and 2 of the 4 DOC's I met with also met me at a coffee house :) And checking out a vendor's web site was a huge must for me...if it was cheesy looking, I wouldn't even bother setting up a meeting with them at all. I actually went with a photog who had an amazingly nice home office studio and fabulous photos all over the office and on a DVD slideshow he showed me.

    These are great tips...hopefully brides know to look out for this stuff.

  7. Thanks for sharing. These are great tips!

  8. I met with a couple of photographers at coffee shops and I didn't mind it. I still checked out their wedding wire reviews and website/blog and they looked completely professional. I don't think they have to have a studio. That just adds to the cost of their photography.