Venue Competes with Photographer
Business, Photography, Real Weddings

Venue Crosses Line, Directly Competes With Hired Photographer

As a wedding photographer you sometimes run into fellow vendors that will — to put it politely — step on your toes a little. Maybe it’s a DJ who brings along a photographer to shoot party images to throw up on their big screen TVs, or maybe it’s a wedding coordinator shooting a few photos on a DSLR to have something to post on Facebook right away. While things like this are more annoying than anything else, they are small problems that can be addressed and dealt with through client education, tightening up your contract, and having better communication with your clients and fellow vendors.

This week, however, I heard of an incident from a fellow wedding photographer that broached a new level of WTF. Dan Dalstra, a wedding photographer based in El Paso, Texas, was shooting a wedding at a local hotel when he discovered that the venue was actively shooting photos of the reception and then printing out 5x7s in the lobby to sell for $8 a pop. Dan has shot at this venue before and never encountered this, so he was confused to say the least. Here’s Dan recounting what happened:

So I was shooting a wedding at one of the nicer venues in town. It’s a large hotel with a gorgeous ballroom. I have shot several weddings there over the last few years, some small, some huge. As with all weddings, there are always people snapping pics with all types of cameras so I paid no mind to the older gentleman rocking his Nikon and using the pop up flash, other than the fact that he was moving in close at certain parts of the first dance. But again, I see this every weekend, so I ignored him. The same guy was standing right by the entrance to where the wedding party was being introduced, but since most of the family was in the bridal party, I assumed he was an uncle or some other relative.

About 2 hours into the reception, a guest approached me and asked how much I was selling the prints for in the lobby. I was really confused, so I went out to take a look. Just outside of the ballroom was a table set up, full of 5×7’s of the reception, mostly couples looking at the camera and smiling, but lots of candid moments as well. I asked them what they were doing, they said they worked for the hotel, and photos were $8 each. I went to ask the bride and she had no clue who they were or what so we asked the groom. He said, “Oh, yeah, they told [us] about an hour ago what they were doing but I didn’t think anything about it.”

At this point, I’m getting mad. I don’t do a lot of print sales, it’s not really my business model, but I usually sell a couple of hundred dollars worth at most weddings. But after seeing the mother of the groom walk away from the table with a handful of prints, I was livid. Had it been an outside vendor, I would have raised all sorts of hell, but since it was the hotel, I was unsure of what to do. I don’t want to piss off the venue and get banned from shooting there. I do several events a year there. My couple didn’t set this up, so I couldn’t really be mad at them. So, I did nothing. Except get mad. I went to take a photo of the whole set up, but they got pissed and told me I was absolutely not allowed to take pictures of their set up. I told my second shooter who is in from out of town, and he said, “I’ll do it, I’ve got nothing to lose!” So he snapped a pic while they were yelling at him not to. After that, a member of the hotel staff stood by their booth for the rest of the night.

My couple apologized to me profusely, but they didn’t put a stop to it. Oh, and the whole time this is happening, the DJ is walking around with his point and shoot, snapping pics and putting them up on screens above the dancefloor. Awesome.

Two days later I called my next bride that has a wedding there to tell her that in no way did I want this happening at their wedding. She said ok. She remembers nothing in the contract with the the venue about them bringing in their own photographers to take party pics, but promised me she would have a conversation with them when they meet to finalize details.

When it’s an outside vendor providing competing services, it’s something that can easily be addressed with a good contract and with good client communication before the wedding. I’ve run into a problem in the NYC area with DJ photographers, but once it happens I add that vendor to a short list and check it against any future vendors that I’ll be working with. If a couple has hired anyone on my short list, I give them a heads up about the problem I’ve had in the past and it usually sorts itself out.

But when it’s the venue, what do you do? This is a tight line to walk, but personally I would contact the event manager or general manager and meet with them in person to have an honest conversation about my concerns. What would you do?

Jon Lemon is the Editor-in-Chief of Resource Weddings and head of JC Lemon Photography, a wedding photography studio based in New York City. Known for capturing true moments of love in a modern and relaxed style, Jon also specializes in elopements (intimate weddings) in the NYC area. Being a self-taught photographer that slowly built up his business while working a desk job, he knows that any insight into running a better wedding photography business is advantageous in this competitive area of the photography industry.