When choosing a wedding vendor - be it a photographer, florist, or planner - a portfolio is one of the most important things to consider. There are several aspects you'll want to consider when looking through a vendor's book of past work, and several questions you'll want to ask yourself.
- Does the vendor have a style that meshes well with ours?
- Do the photographs show that the vendor is professional, creative, and versatile?
- ARE THE PHOTOS REAL?
"Wait," I hear you say, "are you serious? Do people really fake their portfolios?" Oh, you bet they do.
Just to make things clear, I'm not talking about "inspiration shoots". This is when several vendors work together to create an ideal or example wedding. They stage a carefully crafted wedding, hire models to play the married couple, and everyone gets to use the photos as examples of what they can contribute. While there is some disagreement about staged shoots among members of the wedding industry, those aren't the images you need to worry about.
I'm talking about images that straight-up lie. The slimiest are photographers who steal photos directly from the competition, because they're not just stealing a photo of a product. The photo IS the product, and they're ripping their victim off entirely. (You can see some pretty egregious examples of photographer theft here and here.)
Engaged couples have to be especially wary when it comes to the portfolio of a wedding planner because, unlike cake decorators or lighting companies, a planner doesn't get paid for material creations. It's very easy for them to grab a photo from the internet and claim, "Oh, I designed this! My florist put it together for me, but the idea was mine!"
What's got me all fired up? This. It comes from the website of a local planner who, based on geography and price range, could be considered my competition.
It's a very pretty photo of a very pretty guestbook. But look closer... do you recognize the signature? And can you make out the first line? It's Barack Obama, and the message is addressed "To the people of Norway". Unless this person organized the President's visit to the Norwegian embassy, it's a complete deception. They've taken the image down now and replaced it with something new, but I'm sure that it's just as fake. And in the end, I'm sure it actually won't matter that much. It's the principle of the thing that outrages me. While most visitors to their website probably won't catch that they used such a blatantly false image, it burns me up to know that they're competing against me by using photos that don't give an accurate impression of their services.
So what can you do to combat this? Ask for more photos from the event. Ask for ALL the photos from the event. Ask if you can contact the people in the photos. Ask them to describe the event to you, where it took place, what other vendors were there. And if you find a faker, do the rest of the community a favor and call them out.