How to Spot a Fauxtographer

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.

yourdayphotographymd_0010A 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!

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Linda - I couldn’t have said it better myself. I have really seen this happen for fauxtographer’s Facebook pages as well as when they offer mini sessions. Such a shame for their duped clients.

Paul Keppel - A great blog post, another photographer stolen not only one of my images, but 20 other peoples. I used photostealers to help take him down. I wrote a whole blog post about it.

Paul Keppel - Not sure if you allow links in your comments box but here is my blog post about my photo stealing experience.
http://paulkeppel.co.uk/cornwall-wedding-photographer/photographic-inspirations-stolen-photographs/

Michelle Squier - Thank you so much for your efforts! Please keep it up, so many brides need to hear these things!

VOX Photography - Good article… With so many “pros” in the market… search carefully. After all. that person will not only responsible for capturing moments that happen only once but, also, will be interacting directly with your family, relatives and close friends…

Mrs. Hancock - Photographers aren’t the only people who help themselves to other people’s property (unfortunately). Great post! Some people have no pride and certainly no scruples.

Lisa Vidrih Bish - Well written! Thank you for all you do and continue to do! It’s so appreciated by so many

Nicky Jansen van Vuuren - Thank you for doing what you are doing.
We appreciate it at lot!
It is not a nice job, and you work hard at it, so THANK YOU.

Robb Simmons - In my opinion, the best word to describe those who steal, offer to buy works, and commit plagiarism is SCAB.

Susan - Really good job on this article. It makes me incredibly ill when I read these stories and see what these fauxtographers are doing on their FB and website pages (oh and a flag for me of a poor photographer is one who is *only* on FB!). While I have been a fine art photographer for many years, I’ve been working to get into portrait photography for the past year and am about to launch my own web site. And I’ve been busting my ass to build my own, decent, portfolio. In fact, I constantly worry about it..lol. Then you have these f*ckers who are lazy, untalented liars. Thank you a million times for doing what you do. You have a legion of support that I am sure will only continue to grow.

Robert - I have to say that I very strongly disagree with the second point.

When is it ever ok to divulge personal client contact information to strangers? Never.

It’s a two-way street. Potential clients don’t know me, I don’t know them. I’ve had other photographers pose as potential clients to try to gain insight into how I work. I have no way of knowing what someone will do with that information beyond just “checking up on me.” No way am I giving out contact info of previous clients to people.

Also, if I’m get a call from a stranger and discover my number was given out by a vendor? I’m going to be PISSED OFF at that violation of privacy.

So no. No way, no how.

If not giving out a client’s email addy or phone number costs me a booking, so be it. I value my clients’ right to privacy higher than that.

Corey Ann - Robert, I didn’t think I had to put in a clarification that you must ask for permission from your clients before giving out information but apparently I do. I have had to do this in the past and I’ve always talked with my past clients before passing on their information.

stephanie Necessary - Very well written! Excellent points and suggestions on what to look for 🙂

Sarah - Robert, I’m a past client of Corey’s. When I was looking for a wedding photographer I asked each of the final candidates for references. I can’t imagine why this request would be unreasonable, it’s standard business practice across industries.

If I ever ask for a reference and am told no, it’s an immediate no for future business. I really don’t know why so many professional photographers act like God’s gift to the world. Your clients are God’s gift to you not the other way around.

Robert - This isn’t *just* about giving out information with or without permission. My other point, which I guess was missed, is that you have no way of knowing who you are giving information to.

Before transitioning my career efforts to my lifelong enthusiasm for photography, I’ve been in the graphic design industry for over 20 years. All the stuff photographers are dealing with? Nothing new. Fly-by-night “businesses,” stolen artwork, people with new technology thinking they can be an overnight pro. ALL stuff we dealt with in then 90’s when people realized they could pirate Photoshop and steal logo designs.

A lot of the stuff in this article has come up before and discussed ad nauseam – and I would say that the majority of this is good, solid advice. So my opinion isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction.

I have a very different view of giving out client information, permission or not, and differing opinions / experiences is a good thing, no?

Besides, if prospective want to contact past clients, it’s not like current technology doesn’t make that easier than ever. Blogs and Facebook invite interaction.

Karen Steyn Drayton - How do you report a photographer that says they are a professional but cant even edit or take proper photographs? I’m so disappointed with my wedding photographs 🙁

Neri Layco - I’ve read about the “Unplugged Wedding…”. I thought, I’m the only one who feels this way. I’ve covered a wedding once, not only THEY ruin the pictures, THEY would even ask me to take their pictures using their cameras…

5 Tips For Choosing Your Wedding Photographer - Offbeat Oklahoma Wedding Photography by Robyn Icks Photography - […] for or paid for results.  The best information about how to spot a fauxtographer can be found in this article written by Corey Ann […]

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