Of Dr. Strange and even stranger photo edits

Recently, we had an incident here in sunny Singapore involving a couple who just got married, a photographer and a bridal studio, and thousands of random people with opinions (mine included!).

The bride in question released some poorly taken images of her wedding ceremony to Facebook where it went viral overnight. The album overshadowed many things for quite some time, including the release of Dr. Strange’s much anticipated trailer, which I think right now is way more important than anything else the past week, including some war of words between a certain prime minister and his own sister.

In any case, if you are more interested in Marvel’s superhero offering after the upcoming Captain America 3: Civil War, and don’t wish to read the rest of the blog post on the wedding photography fiasco, here’s the trailer in all its glory:

Oh. You’re still here?

I guess you still would like to know more about how I see this wedding photography fiasco.

Now, before we begin, here’s a disclaimer.
I have written this in the capacity of a fellow photographer. These opinions are entirely my own and I am not making deliberate personal attacks on any party. I am no wedding photographer, although I do work with wedding photographers from time to time.

Now that disclaimer is out of the way, let’s start from the beginning.

The bride, a Jaclyn Ying, uploaded 20 odd images that showed very unflattering photos of the couple and their guests, including images of the groom hiding in some bush, which reminds me of a League of Legends champion doing some jungling, complete with shots of awkward facial expressions (on the couple and the guests).

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One of the images made public on Jaclyn Ying’s Facebook profile

There were even edits that made me go “Whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut?”

The Facebook post went viral overnight.

With over 19K shares at the time of writing this post, it was no surprise that several satirical/parody sites decided to ride on the bandwagon and poked fun at the images. Memes were created. People enjoyed a laugh or two.

But generally, people were angry. They were angrier than Trump’s supporters.

It was easy to understand why the couple was terribly upset, and why our online friends being the self-righteous Internet users that they are, were quick to form mobs to declare angrily and with great conviction that:

  1. The couple deserved better images
  2. The couple should get a refund from the photographer/bridal studio
  3. The photographer should be ashamed of himself for giving such shots to the couple
  4. The photographer should undergo further training in photography if he dared to call himself a professional
  5. They can take better photos with their iPhones or Android devices (ok, fine, Windows, you can come on board too)

Yes, point number 5 did happen.

In the age of Instagram/Snapseed filters, and smartphones whose built-in cameras’ ability to capture images whose quality can rival basic DSLRs’, everyone suddenly felt entitled to make that claim. Everyone can be a photographer.

No doubt the wedding photographer’s edits were bad, and at some point, I was reminded of some scenes from Avatar. You can view the entire album here.

But here’s the thing, and I am about to express a very unpopular opinion.

I believe the fault does not lie entirely on the photographer alone. I believe that everyone involved was to share the blame – the photographer, the bridal studio and, of course, the couple themselves.

The Couple
OK. First of all, don’t take this as a personal attack on the couple. I sincerely hope that whatever horrors they have gone through, they have come out stronger as a couple and moved on from this episode.

The bride made a PSA photo album on Facebook which sparked off this entire thing:

So, what do you do when you finally receive your actual wedding day photos and find yourself sorely disappointed in them?

Get angry? Check.
Shed a few tears over them? Done.
Post some of the best (of the worst) on social media for amusement? Absolutely!

She absolutely posted these images “on social media for amusement”.

Ok. This is an unpopular opinion but to choose the worst images to put them up on Facebook, and not showing the rest of the images (hopefully better ones) that the photographer has given, I wouldn’t consider this fair.

Level the playing field and at least upload some decent images that the photographer was paid to provide and did actually provide.

Let’s take a look at this part then:

Here’s the lowdown – we got one of those “bao ka liao” wedding packages that included actual day photography from a pretty reputable bridal shop. Before we signed on, we were told that while we couldn’t choose our photographer, the standard of the talent pool was consistent. Naturally (and being Singaporean), we asked, “sure annot”. And were promptly shown a portfolio of actual day photos.

They looked alright, and so we signed on thinking, “okay la hor, how bad can they be.”

The bride herself mentioned that she had her doubts. Isn’t this a trigger point to take a step back and do more research? Or at least insist on looking at the possibilities of other getting other photographers? Or ditching the bridal shop altogether and moving on to another vendor who offers more choices and is more forthcoming with choices?

At this point, I think the bridal shop had overpromised by assuring the couple that “the standard of talent pool was consistent”. I still cannot help but cringe when she said “how bad can they be” and signed up for the package anyway.

The failure in technicalities of course remains the fault of the photographer.

However, when it came to choices, Ian Tan, a former press photographer, had an entire blog post to say whose fault it is. But this part here captured the essence of how I feel about this whole thing:

But you had no idea the most important thing – apart from making sure you married the right person – was getting the best photographer you could afford.

That’s right. This is something within anyone’s control. I personally wouldn’t want to spend my hard-earned cash on packages that appear dubious, and I would definitely want to see the photographer’s portfolio to know exactly what I am paying for.

She then goes on to say:

Don’t take this the wrong way though – this is not a flame and shame post. We just wanted to share some of these hilariously bad photos with everyone, so sorry ar if your unglam face is in this.

If this wasn’t a flame and shame post, I don’t know what it is. In her defense, she did not release the name of the photographer, but in this day and age, it’s just so easy to do just th-…

Oh nevermind, the photographer outed himself with a post to defend himself anyway that resulted in the vengeful mob attacking him with their virtual pitchforks and keyboard shields.

Anyway, here’s some good advice for future couples who are getting married and wish to take up a photographer or even a videographer to capture their most memorable moments:

  1. Do your research
  2. Do your research
  3. Do your research

I cannot stress this enough. With Google, you just can’t use ignorance as an excuse anymore. Don’t make this couple’s mistake.

Remember also that you get what you paid for. Caveat emptor. Remember the holy trinity of deliverables: Fast. Good. Cheap. And remember that you can only choose 2 of the 3 at any point in time. You want it fast and cheap? Can’t have it good. You want it good and cheap? Can’t have it fast. You want it fast and good? Can’t have it cheap.

We have also heard of horror wedding vendor stories. There’s plenty online. Look hard enough and you’ll find blacklists of photographers/studios/etc.

A friend cautioned me though, that such blacklists could really be a smearing campaign by disgruntled former employees or unhappy customers who could not get what they want but still got what they were supposed to receive as per the contracts/agreements they have signed on.

So what do you do then? Do more research, of course! Ask friends, seek out portfolios, go to Facebook pages or websites belonging to whoever you want to find out more about and talk to them.

The Photographer
I cannot imagine how the photographer must have felt the moment he woke up the next day to find his images splashed all over the Internet with people mocking his professional standards and capabilities. He had to weather a lot of insults, so much so that I think this was as close as you could get to cyberbullying.

Few would defend him here. He messed up, and when he attempted to defend himself with a post which has since been taken down that included other images that he took which he thought would be better received by the public, he was crushed. The angry Internet mob could not be stopped.

What he thought could earn some sympathy only resulted in him being mocked for a wide range of things – from poor composition, to lack of basic knowledge in photography, to a poor command of the English language. You can see a screenshot of the actual post here on Mothership:

I am the photographer on that day…..
Acouple long 10hrs hard work..for this couple
Edit 900 plus photo for them they use less than 20 pic to URGE not SATISFY wanted to refund cash paid ..but they already collected those photos NOW put up in media to show the whole world and spoil our Reputation which no REASON which not Fair to us..

The guy was trying to defend himself and people still kicked him down by being Grammar Nazis.

Well, personally, I think it’s crazy to produce 900 plus images, and even crazier to have 20 plus images that were badly taken be the main talking point of his abilities.

Let’s be honest. Many photographers would spam their camera shutters at events, hoping that at least one image would be able to capture a particular moment that could disappear in a glance. The rest of the images taken at that point in time could possibly not have made the mark and would be left on the cutting floor. Except somehow, these 20 images did end up in the final reel and delivered to the couple.

It is a good thing then I suppose that his current post which has been made public and has since seen 303 shares is more eloquently written. He probably regretted giving everything wholesale without proper QC, as he admitted in an apology statement he posted yesterday evening:

First & foremost, I would like to apologise to this couple for the 20+ bad actual day wedding photos that they have received. My bridal company & I could have done better by QC & removing them first before giving to you. I received $350 for this full day wedding photography & editing assignment, and I should have done better.

He acknowledged that this whole thing could have been avoided if he had paid more attention to the details. Some have argued that just because he earned $350 from the 10 hours of labour does not give him the excuse to come up with poor quality images/deliverables.

But at least, he was humbled enough by what happened to say he “should have done better”. Everyone, I am certain, would like beautiful photos of their weddings. It is understandable then that when the couple received their photos, they were mortified. After all, for someone who supposedly has 20 years of experience as a wedding photographer, his skills should be better than where he stands now. Experience is the greatest teacher one can ever have, but I wonder if he has been an attentive student.

In conclusion, the photographer did mess up. He should have:

  1. Done a better job at capturing images
  2. Done a better job at editing the selected images
  3. Done a better job at quality checks on the images meant to be delivered to the couple
  4. Not accepted a $350 job that messed up his career as a photographer.

I have attempted to reach the photographer through his Facebook profile to offer his some words of encouragement during these trying times but he did not respond. I guess he’s being flooded at the moment.

Poor guy.

The Bridal Shop
In the first 24 hours of this saga, the bridal shop in question did not take any action. It almost feels like the photographer was thrown under the bus by the very company he was working with.

And then, the bridal shop released this post, accompanied by this statement:

Thanks all, we may not been the best but here we have done our best .

Where were you guys man? The whole saga started long ago. To release those images in a carefully edited manner without a sliver of a statement to protect the photographer, you’ve really done little to mitigate the damage.

It’s quite a disappointing course of action. I was hoping that the shop would take some responsibility and at least provide an explanation to the public. This whole post felt more like another advertising endeavour instead.

What’s worse, based on what I see, the photos are properly edited and colour balanced for that advert. The poor photographer who had to endure so much abuse was completely left on his own.

Furthermore, the bridal shop also failed to QC the images before delivery to the client. Shouldn’t this be their responsibility? It’s just sloppy management to leave the photographer to solely make the call for delivery of the photos.

That being said, personally, I think the images released in the advert were decent. They were definitely not as impressive as others I’ve seen before on other photographers’ portfolios but at least they were usable.

Still, the bridal shop did not manage their client’s expectations well. Overselling their photo portfolio was also a major failure on their part that borderlines deception.

I mean, come on. You show your clients a photographer’s portfolio that is matched with your presentation kit, but at the end of the day, it was just a cookie-cutter template that was meant to entice clients into taking up your packages and when the actual day comes, you provide a photographer with a different skill level.

That’s misrepresentation.

The Media
Various media outlets picked it up, including Cosmopolitan, Mashable and Daily Mail. Most did not paint a very good picture (no pun intended) of what had transpired, and it’s completely understandable.

987fm worked with several teams including Multifolds Photography, Salon Vim and Kazumi – makeup artist with wedding gown by Z Wedding D’sig to make things right. Even the car is provided for.

You can hear what was communicated to the bride here.

I applaud their actions. They really want to make the best out of this situation, and their intention is good – to give the couple a chance at having wedding photos that they can finally be happy with.

But herein lies my concern – what if this sets a precedence? What if all bridezillas or groomzillas out there consider this as an option and try to find their way to getting refunds from photographers/videographers who have come up with great work and get more of the good stuff?

I am not saying that Jaclyn and her husband are like this but I am just laying down the possibility that somewhere down the road, something like this could happen, even to the best of wedding vendors.

After all, something almost eerily similar to this episode (though more malicious) has happened before elsewhere.

As for the couple, I am glad they got the photoshoot (the sponsored one) they deserve.

I just hope that online friends would remember that behind all this, someone who could depend on photography as a means of earning a livelihood has just lost his credibility overnight and may find it a challenge landing his next gig. I just hope he will learn to pick himself up from this and take this in stride, as a learning opportunity, to do better next time.

In retrospect, this whole fiasco is one huge learning opportunity for many of us, new and old to the industry.

Update 18/4/2016: Now, this is an interesting angle. A writer called Jeremy has written in to Redwiretimes with his thoughts based on images released by the bridal shop. He sounds pretty convinced that the couple is really doing what they can to get “free stuff from the bridal studio”. Would you agree? Read it here.

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