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DPChallenge Forums >> Business of Photography >> Free picture at a paid event (Ethical question)
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03/22/2011 04:52:38 AM · #1
There is a wedding. A photographer is hired to take photos of the wedding. The decision to hire the photographer was based on quality and referrals from other happy couples. At the end of the day the photographer gives the couple a quick preview of some of their photos (Not editing yet) and the couple are very happy with what will eventually become their wedding album. A month later, they receive what they expected at the price they paid. It was worth every dime.

A month later, the couple notices a friend has posted a photo on a social networking site like Facebook. The photo is of a group of the bride and grooms male friends in a 'cool' kind of pose. The photo is extremely nice, well edited and liked by the many who saw it. The couple then asks who took the photo and if they could have a copy. The photo was taken by the photographer at their wedding, edited and given to them for free. In fact, there are a couple more shots they have yet to upload to Facebook.

At this point the couple are unhappy and ask more about how they managed to get the photographer to take the photos. The male companions are in a band and wanted to see what the photographer could do. They asked him if they could pose for a couple of shots so long as it didn't interfere with the days events. The photographer and gentlemen in the photo obviously managed to get a photo taken without anyone knowing.

The couple is not happy because now they feel as though they paid for someone else to get free pictures. The photographer feels that he delivered a quality product and until this Facebook photo showed up, there were no complaints. The photographer MAY have gotten himself a new job via the photo of the gentlemen. The couple feel somewhat cheated but aren't sure what they could do since the album was complete and since there were no signs during the wedding that any attention was drawn away from them.

So the question is, who is right and who is wrong? Does the photographer have the right to take photos that will NOT be used (most likely not anyways) in order to perhaps score a new gig? Do the couple have a reason to be angry? They paid X amount of money for a great album but their friends paid 0 for some very well edited shots. Should the photographer have asked the couple if it would be OK? Should the photographer have said no? Should the couple be happy that they got exactly what they paid for? What's the answer to this question for most of the photographers on DPC?

I'm not in this situation at all but I always wondered. Is it morally/ethically OK to score a job while your attention should be on the job you're presently doing? So long as you do it, is it OK. Or do the couple paying have the right to say "Not on my dime?". Personally, I wouldn't care so long as my album was up to the standards I expected and that my photographer was not overly drawing attention away from me and my wife. If you feel different, what could the couple expect the photographer to do to make it up?
03/22/2011 05:00:46 AM · #2
IMO, the couple should be happy, the photographer should be happy, and the dudes who got the free pic should be happy. Everyone should be happy. Only issue I could see the couple having is if you missed a shot or if they were paying by the hour.

But whaddo I know - I'm not a wedding photographer and I like to pretend there are no a-holes in the world. ;-)
03/22/2011 05:04:35 AM · #3
A month later, they receive what they expected at the price they paid. It was worth every dime.

This for me says it all, and as Art said, it's not like they were paying him by the hour.

Ray
03/22/2011 05:53:35 AM · #4
it's not so much as a "right or wrong" thing as it's a "good business vs bad business" thing.

it is completely understandable for the paying client to feel like, "hey! i wasn't paying you to do that! i was paying for all your attention to be on us and our event! and you & our friends took advantage of that!"

double- or triple-dipping happens all the time, but it's usually easier to swallow if dealt with up front. for instance, i offer fulfillment services to my event clients so that all they have to do is give people a link; that frees them from having to deal with anyone wanting copies of anything. there may or may not be a revenue split - and that is dealt with before the event. complete communication is the key to avoiding this situation.

also, this is no different than getting permission to use client images in a portfolio. it's one thing for a client to expect it, rather than find out about it from someone else. when someone feels exploited, rightly or wrongly, it's hard to make that feeling go away...and that's not good for business.
03/22/2011 09:16:51 AM · #5
It's your business, you can do whatever you want.

With that said, it's not good business practice. The fact that the client is now unhappy is all the proof you need. Which brings up the point: was the freebie worth it to get the next gig knowing that the current client might now be talking bad about your brand, writing a negative review online, and so on?

Wedding photography calls for a personal connection between photographer and client. It's their big day. They want to know that all of the attention is on them. And the best wedding photographer would make sure to follow through with that. Any outside distraction, whether it detracted from the day or not, should be avoided.

Your "product quality" is not just the final pictures delivered: it's the entire experience of working with you. Everything is marketing. Everything you do is your product. I'm sure you delivered great final images and a nice album, but you didn't deliver an outstanding product. You delivered a shady product, because that's what the customer now believes.

And operating with the mindset of "what they don't know won't hurt them" doesn't change that. How does your brand blow people away when you create situations like this?
03/22/2011 10:19:17 AM · #6
I'm curious if they would have been as upset if the band had paid for the image? I'm assuming that they didn't mind that the photographer took the picture -- but that he gave it away, when they had to pay for theirs. I'm betting that if the band had paid for the image, it wouldn't be an issue. Then it would have been someone buying a photo from the day of the wedding -- not a free job on the side.
03/22/2011 10:25:08 AM · #7
The photog could have avoided the tension very easily by also giving the photo to the couple. I'm sure they would have appreciated it, and it would have generated a more positive business impression.
Bottom line, the couple got what they paid for and were satisfied. They really have no cause to be upset, but it's not about the letter of the contract, it's about perception.
03/22/2011 11:14:44 AM · #8
I don't see this as an ethical question, the couple got what they paid for. But looking at it from their side I can see why they might be slightly annoyed. If it was me I would do everything I could to rectify the situation and smooth things over. Apologize and offer a free print or something along those lines. Bad word of mouth spreads much faster than good, so I would nip it in the bud.
03/22/2011 11:23:15 AM · #9
I can definitely see it from the couple's pov. The fact that the photog and band "got away with it" is irrelevant. You were there to shoot THEIR wedding. As for the "possible gig", it was just a possibility, not a certainty. So for "iffy" potential work, the photographer jeopardized an excellent word of mouth source.

The way to handle it would have been to tell the band that this was not a good time, and give them a card with a link to all his images. It would have show professionalism towards the current assignment, and common business sense. Suppose you paid for a shoot with a great model, took a break to move lights/clean camera/etc., resumed the shoot, and a couple of weeks later, saw some fabulous shots of the same model, from the same shoot, taken by the janitor who happened to have his camera with him?
03/22/2011 01:41:34 PM · #10
Two thoughts strike me. The first is that the contract was for a product. You delivered the product. Had the photographer shot nothing but images of the bride and groom and not been able to deliver a satisfactory product he would have failed to complete the contract. That he chose to split his attention to some degree might irk the client, but his is not unusual in professional relationships. If you are in a doctor's office he might answer questions about another patient's case while he is working on yours and no one would be offended. The question is did they hire you to create a product or did they buy your time?

Second point is a business practice that relates more to sales referrals. In remodeling I used to work with a company that had a reward for referrals, a stipulated percentage of the contract price that was given to the client who got us new customers, or new customers found us while looking at the work we did for current clients. It made our customers our sales force. If you had some program like that, and the wedding folks got some percentage of the band contract, everyone would have been happy.
03/22/2011 04:21:28 PM · #11
We don't know if they "got what they paid for" because we don't know what fantastic shot was never taken/printed while the photographer was otherwise occupied. I think there are arguments to be made all along the continuum from "highly unethical" to "not big deal" -- the main thing is that it just seems a set-up for creating problems, which I will try to avoid myself in the unlikely event I'm the "official photographer" for anything ...
03/22/2011 04:47:59 PM · #12
We should be clear on one thing: the photographer owns the rights to the images he makes. Period. Unless specified otherwise in a contract. There are some things he can't DO with the images, absent a model release, but he still owns them. This is true of everything he shoots, basically. So, hypothetically, had he "shot the band" in the covering of the wedding, and subsequently the band had seen that shot and bought it from him (or, for that matter, had he given it to them) nobody would have anything to bitch about.

But that's not what's being described here: no, in this case the photographer took a break from shooting the wedding to pose and shoot the band, at their specific request. HE DID A JOB FOR THE BAND! And he did it while he was working someone else's event, on their dime.

This is really bad practice. It just doesn't smell good. I don't blame the hypothetical B&G for being hypothetically peeved at this. I would be too.

R.

Message edited by author 2011-03-22 16:48:21.
03/22/2011 06:23:27 PM · #13
I disagree with most above..... Partly tainted by the fact a similar thing happened at my wedding in the days when I PAID FOR EVERY ROLL of film they were taking. The fact is that the couple - I can almost guarantee - paid for the coverage time as part of the package.... and double dipping is just wrong IMO.

I found out about mine and freaked so they pulled them from the proof set so no one could order a print but I still paid for the damn film they used [at FAR beyond cost price as was normal in those days]...... and who knows what the opportunity cost to me was while they were stuffing around not taking my wedding pictures. Soo... Pardon me if I am on the B&G side of this :-)

Message edited by author 2011-03-22 18:24:49.
03/22/2011 06:32:47 PM · #14
Robert makes an excellent point. In addition, if the couple had not hired the photographer, the photographer would not have been there to take the "free" pictures. Would the photographer have even been able to find a location, travel, and do everything necessary to do the "free" pictures, had not the photographer not been hired by the B&G in the first place.

It doesn't have to be completely unethical to leave a bad taste in someone's mouth, and cost you business in the future.

My recommendation is if you want to do freebies, then do it on your own time at your own location. Charging one person to take pictures at the same place and same time you do it for free for another, is not smart business.
03/22/2011 06:37:16 PM · #15
Originally posted by ambaker:


It doesn't have to be completely unethical to leave a bad taste in someone's mouth, and cost you business in the future.


On this I think most of use agree... there are several good proposals here as to how the photog could have handled it *much* better than he did. I will restate part of my earlier post... perception is everything.
03/22/2011 07:07:21 PM · #16
Originally posted by kgeary:

Your "product quality" is not just the final pictures delivered: it's the entire experience of working with you.

This is along the same lines of ambaker's comment quoted by kirbic above. This is really the philosophy you should adopt above all else, no matter what your business is.
03/22/2011 07:17:49 PM · #17
I think it was a bad idea. When they asked, you could have just handed them your business card and asked them to call you later, when you weren't busy working.
03/23/2011 12:12:15 AM · #18
Nothing legally or formally wrong based on the description. Without seeing the actual contract between the photographer and bride/groom, nothing more really to say about that aspect.

But it fails the smell test, the perception test, the quality of customer service test. A quick hand-off of the business card with "I'm on the job now, but contact me and I will give you the same undivided attention I am giving the wedding party" might still have won the band business gig (if there was one to be won: sounds like they were using the free shots, not subsequent paid gig shots). If the band shot was a candidate for the bride and grooms collection of shots, if it was offered to them as a selection option of people attending their wedding, it would pass the smell test.

But as described, it really sounds like the photog turned his back on the wedding gig, even if only for few minutes, to pose and shoot a group for the sole purpose of winning another gig later. The photographer lost the good reference of the bride and groom as a result, probably lost more than one wedding gig as a result. And for those few minutes he was not paying attention to the paying gig at all, may have missed some photo ops that he would have otherwise captured and delivered to the paying customers.
03/31/2011 12:02:41 PM · #19
SLightly different scenario, but similar --

This past weekend I did a small, informal wedding. Basically, it was for the granddaughter of a close friend, and there is nothing contractual that would prevent me from using some of the images as stock (not people shots).

Until this thread, I hadn't give it much thought, but am I "overstepping" if I use some of the shots in my stock port? Flowers, decorations, etc?

03/31/2011 12:44:55 PM · #20
Originally posted by karmat:

SThis past weekend I did a small, informal wedding. Basically, it was for the granddaughter of a close friend, and there is nothing contractual that would prevent me from using some of the images as stock (not people shots).

Until this thread, I hadn't give it much thought, but am I "overstepping" if I use some of the shots in my stock port? Flowers, decorations, etc?


IMO, heck no. As you said, non-people shots only.
03/31/2011 02:49:31 PM · #21
IMO
1. the new wed deserve undivided attention on their wedding day
2. every picture taken that day should be theirs and presented to them
3. they should be more than happy to give their friends a picture of them taking at the reception, all guests would like that.

However, what if the band decide to use this picture for promotion? Then it does not seem right for the photographer... shouldn't he get compensated for that use?

Message edited by author 2011-03-31 14:50:56.
03/31/2011 04:52:22 PM · #22
Ok -- related to this:

I was hired to photograph a 90th birthday party. They wanted a couple of family photos and then some candids. It was all family there.

After the requested family photos, certain family members asked me to do pictures of just their immediate families. I didn't think it was a problem since it was all a big family affair. Was this acceptable? I'm thinking yes, and that the band is different since they weren't part of the wedding party/family. But now I'm not so sure...
03/31/2011 05:50:45 PM · #23
You are correct and did no wrong.
03/31/2011 06:33:17 PM · #24
Your contracted customer is upset. That's bad.....
03/31/2011 07:14:08 PM · #25
Originally posted by vawendy:

After the requested family photos, certain family members asked me to do pictures of just their immediate families. I didn't think it was a problem since it was all a big family affair.

This is what I had happen at our wedding... some hanger on distant cousins of my wife used our $$ and time to try and get some of THEIR family group photos (not with bride/groom, not with parents of bride/groom e.t.c.). You know the people that your parents had to invite but you never knew... I was postal and so was my wife..... So I would answer your question... er... :-) That might be different for a bday.... but depends who hired you and what they wanted....
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