What is a fauxtographer? It’s a photographer that misrepresents themselves to clients appearing like they are a trustworthy business when their galleries are made up entirely of images that are not their own works or they are vastly misrepresenting their experience and capabilities.
For the past two years I have been running a website called Photo Stealers and every day I’m more and more amazed how many photographers there are out there that are not using their own work to “sell” themselves to a client. Instead they are cherry picking select images from blogs and Google Image Search to toss in their portfolio in hopes of wooing their ideal client and making a quick buck. While it is becoming a well known occurrence in the photography industry, the people that are also hurt by this practice are their clients so I’m writing this blog in hopes that the word gets out there. It is sad how often I get an email from a client that has been hoodwinked by someone I feature on Photo Stealers and hopefully by reading this blog, you won’t become a victim to what the industry calls a fauxtographer.
A fauxtographer I outed yesterday used Mark Zuckerberg’s wedding image in their portfolio.
1. Ask to see an entire wedding. It’s easy to show a few good frames from an entire wedding day but it’s not as easy to fake an entire wedding. Before hiring a photographer, make sure that you’ve seen at least one example of a wedding they photographed from beginning to the end. Note that this is not just the select images that make it to an album but the entire set the client was presented with. This not only will ferret out the photographers that took a few good images from a wedding online but also will show you if they have the skillset to photograph under various lighting conditions throughout the day. If possible, ask to see a wedding that was similar to the venues that you will be using the day of your wedding (i.e. a church ceremony with an indoor reception).
2. Ask for references. Don’t go by reviews online as they are quite easy to fake (and HAVE been faked numerous times, see #3). Ask for emails and/or phone numbers and names of past couples and follow up to see what their views were of working with the photographer. Of course the best way to find a photographer is by word of mouth! Photographers, make sure that you talk to past clients and get their OK before handing over their information.
3. Don’t trust review based awards. Sure, they look impressive but the review based rewards are a popularity contest. The newspaper/tv based ones that win are solely based on popularity contests (i.e. Hot List) and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen photographers shamelessly beg for votes from other photographers and friends online. The Knot and Wedding Wire “best of” awards are based on reviews but they are incredibly easy to fake and I can’t count how many times I’ve outed a thief with one or both of these awards that were won with fake reviews.
4. Look for patterns. We all grow as photographers and things change over time. When we first start out we pretty much try every kind of editing but generally we fall into a pattern and if you open up the “photos” tab on any legitimate photographer’s Facebook Page, you should see a pattern emerge. If you notice images that jump out at you as really good in comparison to the others – chances are that they may be stolen images especially if the images that are better than most are images that are in the header and/or profile image. Fauxtographers notoriously will also use stolen images in ads for mini sessions or for a new branch of photography they are going into i.e. weddings or boudoir.
5. Facebook comments. When looking around on a Facebook Page you should see comments from clients on the images shown, keep a keen eye out for people being tagged in the image. While my clients don’t always tag themselves, they often do and if they don’t they still generally share the gallery and friends and family comment below about the image(s). One of the things that tips me off about a fauxtographer is when they have a lot of really great images on their Facebook Page but there are little to no comments beneath the images. If there is, usually it’s “beautiful picture” or something of the sort – never a comment that is from the pictured client or loved one.
6. Too good to be true. If the price for their services is too good to be true often there’s a reason for it. VERY rarely do I out a fauxtographer that has market standard prices, typically they start around $500 for entire wedding coverage (or $50 for portraits) yet are showing images that are simply breathtaking. The old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true more often than not in photography.
7. When in doubt, Google! If you think you’ve stumbled upon a fauxtographer, you are welcome to email me or you can easily search yourself. Go into Google Images and click on the camera icon where you can either upload the image or insert the URL and Google will show you all the places where that image shows up online. It doesn’t always work but it usually gives you a pretty good idea if the image is stolen or not. There is a really great extension in Google Chrome that allows you to right click and search most images with Google Image that I highly recommend.
I hope that you never stumble across someone you suspect is a fauxtographer and have to use this blog! Sadly though in the digital age it is all to easy to fake-it-til-you-make-it in photography with a few choice right clicks and a new SLR. Please let me know if you have any tips or suggestions about sussing out fauxtographers in the comments!