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I-Team: Brides beware when hiring self-employed photographers - do the homework first

The Better Business Bureau recommends that brides and grooms do their homework before hiring a wedding photographer. (WWMT/Photo Credit: Parios Kirby)

It's wedding planning season and the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan has a warning: Brides-to-be beware.

“Cheapest is not always the best," said Troy Baker, the bureau’s manager of communications.

When it comes to choosing a wedding photographer, Baker said, "get at least three estimates and then look at them. Meet with them. Make sure you're comfortable with the person and don't just go with the cheapest offer, because there's usually a reason they're the lowest priced.”

That's a lesson Caitlin Looman learned the hard way, after hiring a photographer to shoot video of her wedding on the beach in Holland, Michigan. After she paid Jesse Tanner $650, she started reading some terrible reviews.

"I saw all these horrible reviews," Looman said. “People weren't getting their pictures. So, I reached out to him and said, have you seen this? And he said there are two sides to every story."

Looman said her Jesse Tanner story didn't end well. She said he was late to the wedding and sank his drone in the lake. Then, she said, he never sent the video.

"He came and shot the video. He just won't send it to us," Looman said. "Texting, calling, emailing, Facebook, Instagram, and he's not responding.”

Desperate for help, Looman turned to a Facebook site called Michigan Displeased Brides run by Amber Henry, and Henry, who is a photographer, was aware of Jesse Tanner.

"The wedding day is a once in a lifetime thing," Henry said. "It was actually getting to the point that there were so many that the brides wanted to connect to one another because some of them were taking him to court."

Tips for hiring wedding photographers

  • Consider style
  • Read reviews
  • Interview photographers
  • Review previous work with a critical eye
  • Request references
  • Ask about rights and ownership of photos, videos
  • Establish post-production details and deadlines
  • Be clear on day-of timing and expectations

Sources: Better Business Bureau, TheKnot.com, APracticalWedding.com

When Newschannel 3 tracked down Tanner, he was selling used cars in Jackson, Michigan. On a recorded phone call he told us he'd become homeless in recent months and lost everything, including the computer that contained all of the photos and videos wanted by several unhappy brides.

"I just was backed into a corner,” Tanner said, when asked about the missing photos. “I didn't know what to do or what to say or how to get out of it. I didn't have the capital to refund anyone."

The Better Business Bureau reports that such stories, of self-employed freelancers going bust, are nothing new. And, it could have saved Caitlin Looman and many other brides a lot of heartache had someone reported Jesse Tanner to the bureau which, Baker said, is a more effective way to get results.

"Instead of just posting it online, one of the things we do is we reach out to the company on your behalf and try to mediate this and try to make it work," Baker said.

It might be too late for Caitlin Looman and several other brides. Looman said she never expects to see her wedding video, nor her money, ever again.

"There are so many brides that never received anything," Looman said.

The Better Business Bureau also recommends ensuring that all wedding details are in the contract, especially a date by which your photos or video should be received, and to always request references before hiring someone.

Follow Andy Dominianni on Facebook and Twitter.

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