How can I get photos from one of my wedding photographers?
April 27, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

How can I get the wedding photos from one of my wedding photographers? My wedding was in Oct 2007.

I got married in October of 2007. I had two wedding photographers, one was a professional photographer (with an assistant), the other was an amateur photographer whom I know through a certain online community. Their skill is very well-regarded and they take amazing candid photos for said community. They are not in the business of photography, but agreed to work with us for candids, which is what they're known for in the first place. The pro photographer provided the majority of event coverage.

I got the photos from the pro shortly after the event. With the exception of two jpegs via e-mail, I have never received photos from the amateur photographer.

Of all the vendors I dealt with this is the only person with whom I did not arrange a paper contract. I felt it was a friendly arrangement due to the previously mentioned online community, and the fact that this photographer did not have a business meant it would have been additional work to write up a contract (the pro, for instance, had this provided).

My SO and I met with both photographers a few days before the event to outline the day and script specific coverage. Payment was made in full before the event by personal cheque, additional cash tip was provided at the end of the event.

The photographer showed up for the entire wedding, had a great time, and took lots of awesome shots. They even decided on their own to come to the rehearsal dinner just because they wanted to get some additional candid shots.

No prints were requested - just a CD/DVD of the files in whatever form the photographer was comfortable with. Full reprint rights were requested and agreed to. Post-processing was at the photographer's discretion, but not requested or required.

I have had multiple contacts via e-mail to this day. Early contact indicated they were working on the files. Later contact indicated some delays due to general life issues. Most recently I have received no response.

This situation is troublesome for a number of reasons. I feel like my trust in this person, as a result of their well-respected position in the online community, was violated. I paid but did not receive anything in return, of course. Most of all, though, I know there are awesome photos out there and I am without these photos.

I have limited contact information; name, e-mail address, and their connection to the online community, but no physical address or phone number. How can I actually get these photos? I'm not so much interested in a refund, or in taking legal action, since it's the photos that are important to me. On this point I'm not even sure a contract would help.

Have you dealt with a similar situation? What worked in your case?
posted by odinsdream to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ask for a mailing address so you can fedex an empty thumb drive with a return fedex envelope.
posted by iamabot at 12:32 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say if it's really important, offer money.

This sounds like something where the person got involved thinking it wouldn't be a big deal, and then just let their responsibilities slide.

You've tried being nice, but you're at "carrot or stick" time, and really without a paper contract you don't have much of a stick.

Tell them you don't want any more work done, you just want the pictures. You can post-process them, crop them, whatever yourself. You just want the pictures. Then offer money to expedite the situation. I don't know your situation or how much you want these photos, but I'd say $100 would be the least I'd go, possibly more depending on desire of the photos.

Then arrange an easy way for the person to give you the photos. Given that they are close enough in geography to you to come to your wedding, drive to them. Take a thumb drive, or pick up a DVD, and trade the cash for the pictures in person. (certainly not by mail as the person seems the type to take your money and then delay in giving you the pictures).

And just tell them like you told us, these are important pictures to you. Apologize for their life issues, but state you want the photos ASAP, however you can get them.
posted by arniec at 12:44 PM on April 27, 2009

Given that they are close enough in geography to you to come to your wedding, drive to them.

Sorry, I forgot to mention this part. I live in NC. The wedding was in CA. The photographer in question lives (at least at the time) in CA.
posted by odinsdream at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2009

I've been that "friendly photographer" at several weddings. Didn't get paid, didn't ask to be. Just took pictures for my own fun. Later, the bride hounded me for copies until I relented and mailed a DVD, which (somewhat unreasonably) I was never thanked for. And this is why I don't take pictures at weddings anymore. Too much pressure.

I had a bride offer me money (which I turned down), but it prompted me to get her those pictures, because it made me realize how badly she wanted them. Perhaps a polite letter with an offer of payment or some other kind of reward.

Chances are the guy has the pictures, but is just unmotivated to get them to you. Be nice.
posted by ColdChef at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2009

My SO and I met with both photographers a few days before the event to outline the day and script specific coverage. Payment was made in full before the event by personal cheque, additional cash tip was provided at the end of the event.

I paid but did not receive anything in return

They were paid.
posted by iconomy at 12:51 PM on April 27, 2009

ColdChef: The photographer was paid, in full, before the event. Though I am probably biased, I would consider the amount paid to be completely fair for the work done. In any case, price was negotiated well before the event and I don't think it relates to this question.
posted by odinsdream at 12:57 PM on April 27, 2009

I think ColdChef's advice still somewhat applies. You have made it clear here that you care about the pictures, not any monetary outlay. At this point there's not much you can do besides a) track down the photographer and show up at his house with a portable hard drive to transfer the pictures on to, or b) offer him money and another relatively easy way to get the pictures to you ASAP.

You should also start preparing for the fact that pictures may be lost or destroyed by this point. Stuff happens, especially to digital media.
posted by muddgirl at 1:00 PM on April 27, 2009

FWIW I don't think he's trying to make this into a guessing game. The mention of the online community was to reinforce that this wasn't done through business channels, or wedding planner, or friend-of-a-friend or whatever.

You know the photographer's name - can you google to find his place of work/school now and contact the photographer that way?

Or, do you have other mutual friends in the community that can point you to a "better email address" or phone number? If you couch it that way -- "trying to get in touch with x, they took some photos of my wedding and I'd like to have them" then it's not really about you crossing too many social boundaries.

I'd also follow up with the offer to send the thumbdrive, fed-ex box, AND give the photographer an 'out' if the files were irretrievably lost, to let you know -- then you're not out there wondering.

Good luck - must be frustrating.
posted by barnone at 1:35 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh, I'm sorry. My sister-in-law was put into this position once, too. She even had a contract (loose one, but at least it existed). What finally worked for her was she got in contact with an acquaintance of the photographer and this person physically went to the person's house, got on their computer and burned the photos to a disk.

The photographer was OK with this, but I think that she got psychologically painted herself into a corner by wanting the photos to be perfect, wanting to post process all of them and then not having the time to do it to her satisfaction because of life issues. And for that reason, she felt ashamed and stopped responding to my sister-in-law and really just hoped the problem would go away. It finally took someone to go over there and take care of it for her.

Perhaps your photographer feels the same way, especially if they have a tremendous reputation to live up to?

I wish you the best of luck and hope it works out.
posted by bristolcat at 1:45 PM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oops. Sorry for not reading the question better. I didn't see that payment had been made. Hmmm...still, as in all things, be as polite as you can be, and be prepared to find out that the pictures have been erased. And ask for a full refund.
posted by ColdChef at 2:04 PM on April 27, 2009

I'm amazed at the suggestion to offer more money to someone who was already paid in full, just to do the job they agreed to do. Personally I'd rather not have the photos than encourage such appalling behavior. (though, I'd never pay someone in full up-front either)

First I would try to find out if anyone at this online community has real contact details for the guy. That would at least give you some options.

If you had real contact details I would talk to a lawyer (assuming the photos are more important than the cost), just because you don't have a paper contract doesn't mean you don't have rights. Take with you all your emails from him, they essentially add up to him admitting that he owes you the photos. A lawyer will be able to advise you on your legal standing. It might be worth talking to a lawyer even if you can't obtain real contact details. They might be able to help.

If you don't want to go the legal route and you really cannot get any more contact details through any other method (talking to the community/googling his name) then I'd say realistically you're SOL as far as the photos go, you can't coerce him via email or force him to respond so personally (and not suggesting you should do this, its just what I would do, stuff like this brings out my mean streak) I'd go with the public shaming. To take money for a job and then not come up with the goods and then stop responding after 18 months is unacceptable and if he has a good reputation in the community then it deserves a bit of tarnish. In my industry if someone did this, most clients wouldn't think twice about a public shaming (I've seen it happen several times and it goes both ways, my peers are not shy about shaming bad clients either)
Its not just about revenge, its about warning other potential clients so they don't have to go through the same thing as you have.

You could try the strongly worded "threat of legal action" email (I find them to be very effective as a last resort) but you have to be prepared to follow through, which means checking with a lawyer if you have a case. Even if verbal agreements are legal binding in your jurisdiction (or his, I've never been too clear on whose laws apply in these cases) they're near impossible to enforce because the terms aren't in writing, but your email correspondence might be enough proof of breach of agreement.

At this point though I think its likely that either your photos have been lost/deleted and he's just not man enough to admit it, apologise and return your money or its as bristolcat suggests, he just can't bring himself to bung the raw photos on a DVD but doesn't have the time to do a proper job of it so he's burying his head in the stand and hoping he'll go away.

How many emails has he not responded to? If its just one I'd send him another, maybe he meant to reply but forgot (I do that sometimes, you get an email and read it but it requires more than a simply reply and then you forget - which is why I try to remember to flag all my important but undealt with emails as 'unread')
posted by missmagenta at 2:15 PM on April 27, 2009

I'm guessing they are in over their head. I'm a photographer, I don't shoot weddings on a regular basis, but occasionally I do if a friend begs me. The first time I shot a wedding my realization afterward was: "dear god this is a lot of work and files to process, I should have charged triple what I agreed to!" Doing a wedding is more work than shooting an ad campaign, pays less, is more stressful because you don't have any control over anything, and the clients (no offense meant here) don't generally know anything about photography and you have to deal with them and their expectations which is an important part of doing that kind of work.

If this person is an amateur (or even a pro who just doesn't normally shoot weddings), no matter how "good" they are, they are probably just in way, way over their head. People who shoot weddings all the time have really refined workflows and ways of working and speaking from experience, if you're not using to doing it it's overwhelming. I don't know what the solution to your problem is since you don't have a contract, but I have a feeling that is the problem on their end.
posted by bradbane at 3:09 PM on April 27, 2009

You state that you've recently had no response from the photographer; has the person been active in the on-line community through which you met him? (I'm guessing not since last year). If not, it is theoretically possible that something may have happened to him. Have you tried using the google to see if that is the case?
posted by dersins at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2009

If he has a reputation for taking great candids (without being a full-time professional with workflow systems, higher ratio of good-to-bad raw shots, etc.), he probably spends an enormous amount of time post-processing his files (cropping, color balance, the works)-- and most photographers share the disease of perfectionism. Someone like this could be easily spending two hours on post-processing 25 amazing shots from a meetup-- and find themselves overwhelmed at the prosepect of trying to maintain the same high standards for post-processing 200-400 wedding shots.

You can ask him to burn the files as is and pass them along (which he probably won't do, in order to preserve his reputation, and due to his own standards-- no one wants crap images floating around under their name when they've been called "amazing" in the past)....or you can tell him to just pick 25-50 of his favorites, and call it a day.

I wish you weren't being so coy about what you paid and for how many images; if his time is averaging out to $2/hour given the shots he's expecting to deliver (your expectations or his), I don't think it's unreasonable to either revise the number of images you'd like from him, or offer to pay him extra. He should have had someone mentoring him through what to charge for his time and how.
posted by availablelight at 4:15 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

On second thought -- yeah, the photog is probably way in over their head and now that it's taken so long, they think they should be PERFECT if they're going to send them out. Basically it's like a mental block to them even dealing with it.

Maybe send a final letter:
- I know you don't want to deal with this anymore, I don't either! But I really want the photos
- do you still have them? if not, just tell me so I don't have to keep worrying and bugging you
- I know you think there is too much to do on them, but believe me, I just want the photos
- we won't put them online with your name on them IF you don't want
- no more post-processing needed - just shove them onto a DVD and send off
- supply your address and I will send a pre-paid fed-ex box to make this simple
- I know it's now just this thing you don't want to touch, but we paid for the service of just the photographs - please just send us that end of the bargain and it'll be OFF YOUR PLATE!
- maybe a line about not wanting to take this further

Again, good luck! I'm sure they would make a nice 3rd anniversary present.
posted by barnone at 4:38 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

To answer a couple of the questions raised so far:

Ask for a mailing address so you can fedex an empty thumb drive with a return fedex envelope.

This is a great idea that I will suggest, but I suspect it would only be a good solution if the problem is a lack of funds to purchase and mail the media.

How many emails has he not responded to?

Several. This discussion started about three weeks after we returned from the event. It began as a simple logistics discussion then progressed into the less-defined territory in which we now find ourselves.

...and the clients (no offense meant here) don't generally know anything about photography...

Again, though I'm biased on this front as well, I am a photographer and am versed in the time-sink that post-processing can be. I have also been a secondary photographer for a few weddings. At this point, of course, I would be happy with the raw digital files and I'll handle them in Lightroom myself. I have made this clear in my communication, both initially and in recent discussions.

I wish you weren't being so coy about what you paid and for how many images; if his time is averaging out to $2/hour given the shots he's expecting to deliver (your expectations or his), I don't think it's unreasonable to either revise the number of images you'd like from him, or offer to pay him extra. He should have had someone mentoring him through what to charge for his time and how.

I consider the amount agreed to a private detail, that's all. It was an amount that I would have easily accepted for the same job. We did not request a particular number of shots or have any stringent requirements. I asked that he be present for the event and shoot whatever caught his eye. He was our guest. We worked with the other pro photographer to coordinate where he would not be expected to provide coverage. For instance, the pro and her assistant handled all "official" shots, such as the actual ceremony, group photos, arranged portraits, etc. We defined his coverage as anything that appealed to his particular style of shooting. After all, he did not present as an official wedding photographer, and that was perfect.
posted by odinsdream at 6:42 PM on April 27, 2009

Don't worry about whether he has lack of funds for a DVD or not. You want the photos so you need to go the extra mile. If a DVD and a pre-paid envelope shows up then he may well be motivated to just burn the disc and get it off his plate.

I think Barone has some good wording above. After you have tried that and also an end-run through the community to find out what the story is on this guy from someone who might know him, you'll need to escalate. I'd ask for half the money back. I'd want the full amount back but you're unlikely to get it. If the fee was under $5000 then you can take him to small claims court in California, no lawyer necessary. This is pretty cut and dry -- no need to worry about contracts. Trading of emails on this issue as well as payment (bring your cancelled check to the judge) will be just fine to make your case.

Ugh, sorry you're going through this. There's really no easy answers.
posted by amanda at 9:17 PM on April 27, 2009

Thanks for the clarification-- sounds like you've handled this well and your expectations were reasonable.

This is a great idea that I will suggest, but I suspect it would only be a good solution if the problem is a lack of funds to purchase and mail the media.

I think your instinct is correct on this-- he's not dragging his heels because he lacks $15 or whatever in DVD+postage. I'd go ahead and, as I mentioned above, offer to accept less images (give him a number)-- and then I'd do what others have suggested and find someone who knows him and can contact him about it. It sounds like he may be depressed, overwhelmed, etc. and needs pressure on this from a more immediate presense in his life (maybe even someone who will come over and burn the images themselves, as another poster has mentioned).
posted by availablelight at 12:58 AM on April 28, 2009

Supplying the fed-ex box and media isn't really about the funds (in my mind). It's another level of urgency and step-by-step process. And reinforcing the whole - no more work, just throw the DVD in the box!

And it might be a good "first step" to ask the photographer to agree to -- OK, post-processing and finding photos and putting in a box, and apologizing. Just too overwhelming/guilt-laden at this point. But sure, responding with an address - that is an easier firs step to agree to. Then the box arrives, then it's SITTING on their desk, a big reminder/instigator.
posted by barnone at 1:43 AM on April 28, 2009

I would write a really heartfelt letter. Dear photoguy, I'm so frustrated. I paid you to do the work, and I have every confidence that the work is great, but you have not given us the wedding pictures. It's an important day, and I am incredibly disappointed. Would you please mail us a cd/dvd, upload to, or mail a USB key to us at [address]. I've tried hard to be patient, and I can't understand why you haven't responded.

Meanwhile, I'd enlist any help I could find to get the real life address, and follow up the email with a letter from a lawyer. It can be any lawyer with letterhead. Dear Photoguy, You were paid x amount to produce x work, and have not provided the work. etc. It's a pretty standard thing.

After that, maybe you could hire someone to go to the address to ask for the photos.

It's possible he accidentally deleted them, lost the files, or is otherwise unable to produce the work. This is really bad behavior on his part.
posted by theora55 at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2009

Maybe something happened and he lost all the files? I can't imagine why he'd be hoarding RAW files if he's already been paid for his work. You could also go to small claims to get your money back. Not ideal, I know. (Though, without a proper contract it might be tricky?)
posted by chunking express at 8:27 AM on April 29, 2009

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