This has been a sad week in the wee bubble of photography, in the last 7 days my colleagues have caught out two photo stealers. For some reason, there are people out there who feel it's acceptable to take other photographers' photos and pass it off as their own. They then try and lure clients into booking with them and paying deposits, when I guess the client will either get terrible quality photos or maybe the scammer will disappear altogether with the money.
The first one we found this week was someone who pretended to be a bride on a wedding forum and posted asking other brides for their opinions on a photographer they wanted to book. My friend saw it, was suspicious and within 5 minutes we traced the original photographer who duly got "londonweddingphotographer" "tom" taken down. A few days later another colleague saw a young girl who I am ashamed to say does a photographer degree at my uni in Nottingham. She had just graduated and set up a FB business page. She proceeded to advertise her wedding photography services on FB wedding pages but her page largely contained photos from American wedding photographers. As if the disparity in the photo's weather conditions didn't give it away already, once warned by my friend that people were aware she was stealing photos, she made a post on her page claiming other people were stealing HER photos. That's right, a full time professional Californian photographer stole beach wedding photos from a student in Nottingham (which for those who don't know England, Nottingham is bang in the centre and no where near a coast). Nice one.
Photographers are very closely integrated in a network, so luckily as soon as this kind of scam is spotted a lot of people know about it very quickly and action gets taken within minutes. However it's a crying shame that we even have to police our own industry and it keeps happening time and time again. So, here's my message for you readers:
To anyone considering passing someone else's work off as their own.
DON'T do it. As soon as one photographer spots it, it'll be all over the network and your site will be taken down to Chinatown. There is a website dedicated to naming and shaming these kind of sites: www.stopstealingphotos.tumblr.com so your silliness will be immortalised on the tinterweb and if you actually are a photographer you'll find it hard to make a name for yourself in the industry again. In short, you just gotta not do it foxy (sorry Wes Anderson reference).
To couples out there looking for their wedding photographer
Here's how you can protect yourself from being scammed:
When looking at the website, ask yourself if the photos in the gallery have consistency. The actual resolution of the photos shouldn't differ greatly (e.g. One fauxtographer had hi res photos next to what looked like mobile phone photos), and the style shouldn't wildly vary. Sometimes if the person is a newbie, there might be a bit of inconsistency when they are experimenting with their style, but if they are inexperienced hopefully they would be up front about this on their website.
On the newbie note, make sure their story makes sense. For example this girl on FB was transparent about being a newbie, yet her photos looked like Jerry Ghionis' (recognised as one of the best wedding photographers in the world). That clearly doesn't add up. Similarly, "tom" claimed he was a fashion and event photographer, snapping celebrities and wanted to move into weddings so he was charging £450 to start. No established professional photographer in any other field is realistically going to be working for dirt cheap if they've photographed Katy Perry. They will know what fee they can command and notably I am pretty sure their events/press/fashion photos were also stolen because again, any legit professional would know not to steal other people's photos.
Also, try and meet the photographer in person or hole a Skype call with them, if they have something to hide they won't want you to see their face. Furthermore, always always always ask to see several full wedding examples of at least 50+ photos but nearer a few hundred. This takes a photographer hardly any time to produce either in person or digitally, so if they refuse outright, you have a right to feel suspicious. Don't necessarily accept customer testimonials from the photographer as these can be faked as easily as photos. In case the fauxtographer is hardcore and has somehow managed to steal full galleries, make sure there is consistency between the galleries.
These aren't surefire ways to protect yourself but hopefully it should mean any half hearted scammers are easily thrown out. I hope those tips help you feel confident in booking a real and lovely wedding photographer to avoid any nasty surprises.
Are you a photographer or married-to-be who has had encounters with any fauxtographers? Share your experience in the comments below!