Unresolved conflict with wedding photographer… what would you do?
November 21, 2020 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Our wedding photographer tried to pull out of our contract to shoot her cousin’s wedding instead. I was upset but prepared to make other plans and informed her that we would find someone else. She abruptly changed her mind without explanation and refused to speak to me about it any further. The second non-refundable deposit is due next week and I’m torn about what we should do.

My fiance and I were supposed to get married in summer of 2020, but we had to reschedule our medium-sized wedding to early summer of 2021 due to covid. We went ahead with our engagement photo shoot anyway, since it was possible to do that quite safely outdoors. During the photo shoot, I expressed some concerns to our photographer about weddings being possible even that far out. At that time, experts were predicting that a vaccine could be available to the general public by late spring, but no one could say with any certainty.

Maybe that was a mistake. Our photographer had shared posts on social media encouraging clients to come to her with any fears or concerns, because “we’re all in this together.” I had taken that to heart, commenting with heart emojis and my gratitude that she cared about her clients as people. At the end of the photo shoot, she was raving with excitement about how the shoot turned out, and said she’d have a sneak peek ready to share in 2-3 days. We all said goodbye with big smiles. If she’d been fazed by what I said, she didn’t show it.

The next day I saw her name in my inbox, and was giddy thinking maybe she already sent the sneak peek. Instead, it was an email notifying us that “since your wedding plans are so up in the air” and her cousin had just announced that her wedding would be on the same date as ours, she’d be shooting her cousin’s wedding instead. She offered two options: Pay full price for her backup shooter (whose name nor portfolio were offered) or cancel our contract. The tone of the entire email was super breezy, as if she was asking whether we’d like photos printed with or without borders.

I wrote back immediately, saying that we didn’t know how the pandemic would play out, given that even the experts couldn’t tell us how things would look in a year, but our plans were still very much in place. I reminded her that we’d put deposits down and signed new 2021 contracts with the venue and all our vendors. I thought she knew this, because many months prior, I’d checked in with her to ensure she would be available on the new date before confirming it with our venue. About a week after that, she asked me if I was 100% locked in with my venue, because there was another couple interested in hiring her on the same date, and I told her yes. In my reply I told her I was in some shock that she’d taken my words to mean we didn’t have real plans for our wedding, and very sad because I was so in love with her photography, as well as worried about finding another available photographer with her style and skill.

Her next email was markedly different in tone. She wrote about how much income she’d lost due to covid, and how she had other couples who were still getting married “NO MATTER WHAT.” Then she said her cousin was her first client who truly supported her and believed in her as a photographer, and she had done all of her cousin’s family photos since the beginning, and she would "be heartbroken" if she missed the chance to shoot her cousin’s wedding only for us to cancel ours. She then admonished me to make a speedy decision, because her cousin was waiting.

Having seen that, there was no part of me that wanted to force her to shoot our wedding. I quickly consulted with a good friend who is an experienced wedding planner and forwarded her the email chain. My friend and all her peers in the wedding industry have been hit hard this year, so I wanted her perspective. Maybe I was being unreasonable. My friend shook her head and said that no, unequivocally, this was a really crappy way to treat a client.

The next morning, I wrote the photographer back letting her know that she was free to shoot her cousin’s wedding. I said I wanted to see her backup shooter’s portfolio to assess the quality of their work. I also asked her to help recommend other photographers in her network so we could make an informed decision. I requested a phone call in order to go through this in detail. She replied not ten minutes later, and said it was all just a misunderstanding. Her cousin had already booked a different photographer. She wished us “a cozy weekend.” I replied again, saying that I still needed to speak to her and asked her to please give me a call. No answer.

At this point I realized that she still hadn’t sent us the sneak peek as promised. I kept checking my inbox for those sneak peeks. Over a week passed and we saw nothing. I emailed her asking if she was working on our photos, and again requesting a phone call, this time giving her my availability for the week. Still no reply. In the meantime, I saw she was very active on her social media, replying to comments and sharing posts of other couples with sappy captions, including one caption where she applauded the couple for going through with their wedding, “no matter what.”

Then a few more days passed and finally I got an automated email. No personalized message from her, no apology for the delay, no response to my phone call request. Our photo gallery was ready for viewing. And as I looked through the photos, I wondered if they were rushed through, I wondered if she had put any heart into editing them. On the day of the shoot, I had a dark bruise on my leg. She promised it would be easy to photoshop it out of any photos where it would be visible. Well, she did in some of the photos but not in all of them. And she never posted any of our photos to her social media or portfolio, which isn't conclusive in itself, but would be consistent with the notion that she didn't take pride in them as a product of her work.

I cried about it to my closest friends. I had put so much planning into these photos, and was so excited for it after the disappointment of not being able to have our wedding. I know, they’re just photos. And so many people have had much worse things happen to them this year. I mean, even I’ve had objectively worse things happen to me this year. I’m not a fairy tale, ballgown and tiara, “been dreaming of this day all my life” kind of woman, but it meant so much to me to have this experience with my fiance, just a little bit of normalcy and celebration. And yet when I looked at the finished photos, all I could feel was the stress and sadness that came in the days after.

I decided to give my feelings time to settle, and after a couple of months, though I’m no longer so acutely sad, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to enjoy the photos. My mom asked to see them and I’ve been putting off showing her because I know she’ll sense that something’s wrong.

I’m even more torn on what I should do. Having great wedding photos to look back on was one of the most important things for me, and I have a very picky eye when it comes to photography. Do I give the photographer the benefit of the doubt, because this pandemic has been so hard and crazy-making for everyone? Do I get out of this while I can? Do I insist on a phone call and ask her to tell me honestly, what happened? Do I tell her I’m still worried that, if weddings are a go by next summer, she’ll bail on us at the last minute to go to her cousin’s wedding? Do I ask her to address that? And if I do "fire" her, what do I say?

I guess I'm trying to figure out if there's some way to resolve this, and if that's worth pursuing. It just doesn't make sense to me that she doesn't like us and doesn't want to shoot our wedding, but also wouldn't take the out when I gave it to her.
posted by keep it under cover to Human Relations (26 answers total)
I think it was fair that she worried you’d bail on her next summer, but now I think you should try to extricate yourself from this arrangement. Your interactions with her and tone about this give me a bad feeling, it all feels a little “extra” and like it is doomed to blow up in your face. Hire another photographer who can handle this crazy time a little more coolly and professionally, and remind yourself as many times as you need that your wedding will be wonderful but not flawless and you are going to dislike how you look in some pictures because you’re a human being.
posted by cakelite at 11:19 PM on November 21 [24 favorites]

She has really jerked you around here and ruined any possibility of you enjoying the photos she took.

I’d hold her accountable to her actions in a short one paragraph email (no more than three sentences) and let her and this whole experience go.

Start over with wedding photography. It’s been a terrible year, but you have a bright, exciting future ahead of you and that deserves to be honoured with all the joy and respect of a true professional. Congratulations and good luck!
posted by iamkimiam at 11:51 PM on November 21 [5 favorites]

This all sounds way too stressful. I would look for another wedding photographer, as well as someone who can touch up your engagement photos (maybe the same person) and leave it at that.
posted by lunasol at 1:13 AM on November 22 [11 favorites]

That email she sent you sounds really unprofessional, and I wouldn't want to work with somebody who, frankly, sounds like drama. Personally I'd find someone else.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:40 AM on November 22 [13 favorites]

She hasn't been treating you well, and to be honest, even though I know that this year must have hit her hard financially, I'm pretty disturbed by her pressuring people to go through with weddings - one of the bigger vectors of covid spread - "no matter what". I'd feel considerably less guilty firing her than I would someone who told people "safety first".
posted by trig at 1:55 AM on November 22 [49 favorites]

Well, she has given you a taste of what it's like to work with her.

Even if she doesn't pull off any more stuff like this, you'll probably be on the edge all this time wondering whether or not she bails again or does a half-assed job on your wedding day.

Part of what you pay for with a professional service is to have stuff taken off your plate so that you can stop worrying about it. Shooting pretty pictures is just a part of the whole package. Being reliable and prepared for the unexpected is another part.

I would cancel in any event. Not sure it's even worth it to mention the reason(s) but if asked I would mention I wasn't happy with the quality of your engagement shots and lack of responsiveness.

And yeah, I would feel bad for firing someone in normal circumstances, but she threatened you for implying you might cancel your wedding if it interfered with public safety. She is pressuring you and other couples to go through with your weddings even if it would endanger other people to do so. She deserves some pushback for that. It might not change her mind but maybe she will be slightly less inclined to bully other couples in this manner.
posted by M. at 2:24 AM on November 22 [46 favorites]

You spend most of your wedding day with your photographer; it’s worth it to have someone you’re comfortable with.
posted by songs about trains at 4:10 AM on November 22 [14 favorites]

At this point, even if the wedding photos she took ended up stunning, I wonder if you'd be able to fully enjoy them. Or would you even be able to pose naturally and comfortably with your worries in the way? She needs to be fired.

In terms of wording, I would keep it simple, professional and honest. Your engagement photos didn't live up to your expectations, and you still can't love them even after living with them for a bit. Apologise for breaking the agreement, thank her for her work so far and sign off. Then simply do not engage further, other than in the briefest possible terms, to say you have said all you have to say. Considering how you describe her, she may well react angrily or dramatically - I don't think there's any point getting into an argument, you will never convince her to agree with you.

If you are someone who hates confrontation (like me) this will not be fun. But it's better to grin and bear it for a short time than to put up with a lifetime of bad memories and photos you don't like to look at.
posted by guessthis at 5:47 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]

She's already demonstrated that for whatever reason she's not going to do her best work for you. So you'd be putting up with the worry and stress of dealing with her for, at best, no benefit over choosing another photographer. Agreed with guessthis, she needs to be fired.
posted by hazyjane at 6:09 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]

Her interactions with you, her basically ghosting you, and finally her sub-par edited results all paint her as highly unprofessional. It sounds like she is an amateur who is way out of her league.

For all of the above reasons, this is not someone I would feel comfortable trusting with photographing my wedding.
posted by blueberry at 6:09 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]

The photographer is the only vendor involved in your wedding that you have to like as a person. You can think your caterer is a jerk, and that doesn't matter as long as the food is good. But you are going to be spending your entire wedding day with your photographer - it will make everything so much harder if you don't want to hang out with her.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:14 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]

It sounds to me like the both of you got a little too far into your feelings of perceived hurt and let that colour your interactions with each other. I don't think her email sounds all that bad from where I'm sitting (and I sympathise with her wanting to be there for her cousin right now), but it also doesn't sound professional.

It's clearly been very stressful for you, but I would caution you against projecting too much of your own feelings onto her -- you note that you want to be told "honestly" what happened, but why are you assuming you're being lied to? You're even stalking her social media and taking her offhand comments and even what emojis she's using personally. I get that feeling, I've been there myself during interpersonal crises of various kinds, but it's important to realise that 90% of this is coming from within you. She's clearly busy and trying to keep her business going, it's very likely she's not spending half as much time thinking about this as you are, and I very much doubt she's trying to send you subtle messages through which photos she's putting online.

For your sake and hers, I would definitely call off your arrangement. Double check the contract to see if you'll have to pay a percentage to cover cancellation and try to make it professional and polite. Don't let your personal feelings get involved, don't ask her to account for her actions, just thank her for her time and let her know you've found someone else. Treat this as an unfortunate thing that happened and try to set it behind you so you can concentrate on your future and your wedding.
posted by fight or flight at 6:54 AM on November 22 [7 favorites]

This should have been ended the minute the unprofessional photographer told you she’d rather shoot her cousin’s wedding. She showed the contract means nothing. Tear it up and move on.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:27 AM on November 22 [7 favorites]

Break the contact, the photographer seems to think that her backup person is acceptable and I would worry that she’ll decide to go to her cousins wedding and send them at the last minute. They might be great but wedding photography is a pretty personal service and I wouldn’t want the upset. Plus there is no way you’re going to not worry about this vendor from now on.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:45 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

I wonder if she had the backup person edit the photos as well.
posted by corb at 9:23 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

First address the engagement photos. Let her know that they weren't what you were expecting and thought you had agreed to, for example the editing of the bruise on your leg. Ask her to edit them.

After that's done, let her know you won't work with her further.
posted by medusa at 9:30 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]

I'm so grossed out at the fact that she's pressuring people to recklessly hold their weddings "no matter what," when we know they are currently a threat to public safety. For that reason alone I'd give her the boot. Add that to her flaky attempted backout (which sounds like she only backed down from because her cousin picked someone else anyway) AND the disappointing job she did with your photos, and I'm wondering why you're hesitating to go your separate ways?

Even if you've seen other pictures of hers that were really well-done (photos she hand-picked as the best of her best), the evidence in front of you is that she's not using her A-game on your photos. Nthing everyone who says that sticking with this person is only going to cause you stress - and since nothing is ever 100% perfect, no matter what she did with your wedding photos, you'd be looking at them through the lens of these bad experiences and any flaws would be amplified accordingly. You deserve to get a different photographer.

(As to what to say? Tell her that since her plans seem so up in the air, you've decided to have your cousin take your photos instead don't really do that)
posted by DingoMutt at 10:01 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]

You paid 1 payment, have received no photos, and do not feel confident this vendor will take pictures at your wedding. I was married to a wedding photographer, this is a difficult time and I have sympathy. But covid is real, weddings are superspreader events and it's irresponsible to have gatherings in general, except small, brief, outdoors, masked. Who knows what summer will be like. Get familiar with your state's regulations and Health Dept. guidelines, a swell as the CDC's.

Might you be willing to accept the engagement photos for the cost of the 1st deposit?

I would tell her you have lost confidence in her willingness to show up and request a full and complete refund. Maybe negotiate for engagement photos if you want them. Be prepared to go to small claims court. My ex- was a crappy businessperson in 1,000 ways, but never, ever pulled this nonsense; he showed up and took great pictures even when he felt like crap, also missed many family events. Find someone new and reliable.
posted by theora55 at 10:11 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

> you note that you want to be told "honestly" what happened, but why are you assuming you're being lied to? You're even stalking her social media and taking her offhand comments and even what emojis she's using personally.

Maybe this will come off as defensive, but to clarify these two points...

She went on at length about how important it was for her to be at her cousins’s wedding because of how close they are. So what changed? Even if she’s no longer planning to attend as the photographer, why not as a guest? This is why I have concerns about her good faith intentions to actually show up at my wedding, as well as be present and engaged during the 7 hours of her time that we will be paying for. Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but based on the facts that she’s presented, it doesn’t make sense.

I follow her on Instagram, as do all the other couples who have booked her. She follows me too. Her photos and stories showed up in my feed every day as she posts very frequently, often multiple times a day. I know she has not posted our photos, because she always tags the couples she posts. I’ve actually muted her posts now. Because yeah, it IS hurtful to see her gushing about how wonderful and special all of other clients are, only to get the cold shoulder from her. Wedding photography is highly personal, and yes I do expect a higher standard of care from a wedding photographer, or at least the same standard I see her extending to her other clients. That standard of care for her clients was one of the reasons why I booked her in the first place. I have had literally no other issues with any of our other wedding vendors. And I never said anything about her emoji usage, not sure where you got that from.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:57 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]

Much of the confusion and miscommunication could have been avoided if YOU called HER instead of repeatedly emailing her and asking for a phone call. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. She's likely concerned about still being in business next summer if all her current clients are postponing, which makes a lot of sense AND is not a reason to be crappy to a customer. You should be comfortable with your photographer from a personal and professional standpoint. It's a long, intimate day you'll be spending together, and you're the customer and should be confident about what you're getting. But to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result (waiting for her to call you) is ridiculous. Call her.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:42 PM on November 22

I would end the relationship immediately. She sounds like a lot of drama, and weddings are stressful enough. There are other photographers who take beautiful pictures, will honor their commitment to showing up on your wedding day, and who won't tell a client they're backing out and then come back once they realize the opportunity they thought they were moving on to is no longer available.

How to do that? In my mind, the photographer ended things when she told you she wouldn't be performing her end of the bargain (by telling you that you had two options, neither of which involved her taking your pictures). Not sure it's worth getting a lawyer over this, but I would if it seems likely that she'll try to charge you the full amount and if that amount is large. If you do this, you might ask the lawyer whether the photographer repudiated the contract and whether that released you from any obligation to perform your end of the bargain. IAAL, IANYL, and this isn't legal advice--repudiation is tricky and really depends on the facts, the contract, and your state's laws.

If there's no financial obligation, I would just tell her that I don't think the relationship is right and that I'm going to search for someone else. If she asked why, I would say that I expected more consistent communication and felt that her priority wouldn't be my wedding that day.
posted by saltypup at 2:47 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Make sure you get everything that’s owed to you thus far (photos, retouching etc) then fire her with a clear explanation as to why - she’s already expressed she probably won’t be shooting it, hasn’t done a proper hand over to the person who will and hasn’t communicated anything clearly. Block her from all your social media and if she kicks up a stick, tell her you’ll be lawyering up to get any money owed and your online reviews will be honest in your experiences with her. There is no way in hell I’d be letting her photograph my wedding at this point, the well has absolutely been poisoned.
posted by Jubey at 3:43 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]

Okay, this is what I think happened: her cousin called with the wedding date, and your photographer assumed she'd be taking the photos. She was so excited that she mentally went ahead with thinking your plans were tentative. So she emailed you, half-pretending it was on you. Because what if she said no to her cousin and then you all changed the date again?

Then, her cousin told her they had already lined up a photographer, and the photographer was embarrassed and wanted to pretend she had never cancelled with you. She truly might feel embarrassed and foolish because she really needs the work. I don't think you should insist she tell you more what happened. It sounds like she told you as much as you need to know.

I do think you need to talk to her about the engagement photos. You are doing a TON of mindreading. Is it possible she hasn't shared them because you haven't formally approved them? Did you go back to her with feedback and ask her about the bruising and such? She may have rushed through because she wasn't sure if you'd want to keep working with her or not. If you're so upset about this situation that you're crying with your friends, it's certainly worth giving her some feedback and asking her about the bruising, at the very least.

I hear you feeling defensive that you're not a "bridezilla" or whatever... but I think those same emotions are in play here. You and this woman are both having really complicated experiences right now. She's trying to be upbeat and perky with clients when her profession has been decimated. You are trying really hard to find the "bad guy" here, and you are trying really hard to make it her. I wonder if you were a bit brusque with her in some of your interactions. But I think it's worth owning that you are having a very strong and complicated emotional response to this because of a conflict with her, but also because it's a pandemic and all this is terrible and you were putting a LOT of these photographs to MEAN EVERYTHING.

What if there's no bad guy? What if you're just two people who had an unfortunate communication? Did you like working with her at the shoot? Do you like her other photos that she posts? It might be worth seeing if you can call her from a place of kindness and understanding, and not blame. Let her know you didn't love the photos, and could she work on them some more. She might be able to make the fixes you want. Then she might gushingly share them on social media (I think you are putting way too much on when and how she shares them).

This has become a huge THING, and you have been part of making it a THING. Can you move past it? Are you going to let this mar your entire wedding? There's a lot we can't control right now, and you are definitely not giving her any benefit of the doubt. I'm not saying she was right, but she's also not an evil monster, you know?

If you really can't move forward, then it's okay to fire her. It might be worth trying to mend the relationship first, though. I think it might feel better and more resolved than just moving on without another try.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:49 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]

This is too much drama. Just cancel the booking and move on. But get copies of your engagement photos first, if you want them!
posted by eloeth-starr at 9:00 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]

She went on at length about how important it was for her to be at her cousins’s wedding because of how close they are. So what changed? Even if she’s no longer planning to attend as the photographer, why not as a guest?

I mean this as kindly as possible: this is none of your business. Maybe the cousin changed the date of their wedding or has decided to do something smaller where she's not invited. Maybe there's something else going on. Either way, you don't deserve an explanation nor should you ask for one. It has nothing to do with your relationship with her as a client.

Because yeah, it IS hurtful to see her gushing about how wonderful and special all of other clients are, only to get the cold shoulder from her.

You're reading not having your photos posted as "getting the cold shoulder", but I promise you that it's very unlikely it has anything to do with you, personally, as a person rather than a client. Yes, wedding photography is personal, but it's not this personal. You're acting like you're dating this woman. You're not, you have at best a client/professional relationship, even if she is going to spend a day with you. I promise you that even if she were present on your wedding day, she wouldn't be doing it as a friend, but because she's getting paid to be there. Maybe she could be nicer about it, but at the end of the day, you're her income, not her bestie.

Again, I hope you're considering letting her go and just drawing a line under this whole thing. As others have said, this is way too much drama that you don't need right now. You have a big event to look forward to, try to concentrate on that and let this go.
posted by fight or flight at 5:24 AM on November 23 [3 favorites]

It's entirely possible that there were misreading and misunderstandings in both sides, and I would absolutely advise you to not interpret her Instagram activity personally. Shut down the part of your brain that's speculating -- about her cousin's wedding, her feelings about you as a client vs other clients, her intentions toward your photos, or whatever else.)

She lost my sympathies when you asked for a phone call to straighten things out and she ignored you. Look, no-one likes to get that terse "we need to talk" email from a client; it feels like getting sent to the principal's office. You absolutely want to just hide and ignore it. But as a professional, you suck it up, brace yourself, and just agree to the damn call. And half the time you can get things right back on track.

So, now it's your job to be the professional about this relationship. Just sew it up as neatly and pleasantly as you can. Cancel her services for your wedding day; just say you're going with someone else. Ask for the bruise to be retouched on the engagement photos where it's still visible, get your engagement photos, and remember how much you enjoyed the initial shoot so that you can enjoy the photos.
posted by desuetude at 9:27 AM on November 23 [2 favorites]

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