Legal Question: "Force Majeure"

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Matt Gordon, Jun 20, 2003.

  1. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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    My new wife and I met with the photographer we hired and saw our wedding pics last night. Allow me to vent in chronological order:

    1.) Before the ceremony, they brought the lights down. He didn't take another light reading and so the pictures before and at the beginning of the ceremony were extremely dark and grainy.

    2.) During the ceremony, he had equipment problems, so he missed the following shots: the scripture reading, the lighting of the unity candle, the kiss, presentation of the new couple, and us walking back down the aisle. In other words, practically every major event in the ceremony.

    3.) After the ceremony, he didn't properly adjust for the lighting for the posed pictures, so it looks like my wife's dress has an amber fringe on it. He thinks he can fix this in Photoshop.

    4.) He lost at least one roll of film somewhere, because we all (including his assistant -- his wife) remember several shots that we didn't see in the proofs. He's going to try and find them.

    5.) The proofs he showed us last night were printed from a computer at an extremely low resolution. In group shots, we couldn't even tell if people's eyes were closed or not. We told him to show us better proofs before we can select pics for the album.

    6.) Yes, we paid him in full in advance.

    As we were sitting there talking to him, my bride almost started to cry. I was in shock. The more I think about it, the more I want to take action. He hasn't even offered anything to try and make amends. I'm thinking about what I want to say to the guy (trying to keep it clean) and what I want out of him.

    We do have a written contract, and he gave himself the typical "force majeure" loophole (acts of God or war, outside his control, that kind of thing) that limits his liability to almost nothing. My arguement is, his equipment should be entirely in his control, and this doesn't let him off the hook.

    What can I do about this and what should I ask for?


    Thanks.
     
  2. Ryan Wright

    Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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    What do you want? Do you want the pictures at a discount? Are you willing to have no pictures at all?

    If he won't refund your money, you can sue him in small claims court. Chances are good that you'll win. But then you won't get any of the pictures.

    It's a bad deal however you look at it. [​IMG]
     
  3. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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    I'm trying to decide what I want.
    There are three ingredients to the deal:

    1.) The wedding album.
    2.) Additional prints for us, friends, family, etc.
    3.) The money.

    He did take some decent shots that will turn out great, but, let's face it: he failed to take a number of shots that we really wanted that can't be recreated, like the ones during the ceremony.

    So, yes, we want the ones that he did get. But I believe we are entitled to some percentage of a refund because he fell down on the job.
     
  4. MickeS

    MickeS Producer

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    Yeah, the only reasonable option here IMO is that you get the pictures at a discounted price, and make sure you get the negatives, so you can make your own copies somewhere else.

    If he refuses, small claims court is probably the way to go, like Ryan points out.

    I know this situation sucks, but try and focus on what's really important. The memories you have of the ceremony will be with you forever, and will be better than any photograph could ever be. [​IMG]

    /Mike
     
  5. Keith Mickunas

    Keith Mickunas Cinematographer

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    I'd ask for a big heaping discount and insist on getting the negatives. Take those to someone else to see what can be done with them. You shouldn't have to purchase any of the prints or the album from this guy since he did such a crappy job. I can't believe he missed the kiss. That is pure incompetence.

    If the guy gives you a big run around, take out ads in the local wedding magazines telling what a poor job he does. Put up a website about him, do what you have to do. This guy shouldn't be in business.

    Did any of your guests bring cameras? Hopefully someone else got some decent photos of those important moments.
     
  6. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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  7. Mark Frank

    Mark Frank Stunt Coordinator

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    Dude, that SUCKS! I feel for you two big time.

    Photography was the ONE thing we didn't skimp on at our wedding. We found one of the best studios in our metro area and paid their going rate. We've seen many, many wedding albums of friends/family since then and haven't seen one that comes close to the quality of ours.

    Did you by chance get video of the ceremony? Is it possible the video can be downloaded and make up your missed photos from that? It's a long shot, but I thought I'd ask.
     
  8. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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    Nope, no video. [​IMG]

    I sure didn't think -- and still don't -- that we were "skimping." We did talk to other photographers who weren't as good. No, we didn't find the most expensive guy we could, but we found someone who looked like they could provide something that we would be happy with at a competitive rate.

    At this point, I think I'll be asking for return of a large percentage of what we already paid, the album, and a discount on any other pictures we order.

    I don't know if I'll be able to get the negs; most studios we talked to consider that their copyrighted property and do not release that material.
     
  9. Ryan Wright

    Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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  10. Mark Frank

    Mark Frank Stunt Coordinator

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    Matt-

    I sincerely hope my post didn't come across as implying that you skimped on your photographer. That was not my intent at all.

    I'm not a lawyer, but almost all of the problems you mentioned sound like things that were completely in the photographers control - wrong lighting settings, lost film. Even with equipment problems, I would think most professionals would have backup equipment on hand. This is something that you can't just reschedule.

    P.S. I like Ryan's recommendations.
     
  11. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    I'd second what Marks said, this guy seems like a complete amateur. Any true professional would have at least one backup camera on hand, and would be adjusting for the lighting, after all, that is what he is being paid for. He was hired to photograph the wedding, which it sounds like he completely missed.

    If he is unreasonable about giving you your money back, I'd sue. Depending on your judge, he may award you prints of some of the pictures if you state your argument well. You'd have to see what kind of contract you have, and whether it's worded for professional negligence.

    As for the negatives, you won't be getting those, since they belong to the photographer, paid or not. These guys make a good deal of their living selling the prints, not just doing the photography.
     
  12. Michael Warner

    Michael Warner Supporting Actor

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    We had a similar situation at our wedding. The professional photos were all underlit, out of focus, and poorly reproduced. The few pictures we actually have on display were taken on the fly by a friend's grandfather with his standard auto-focus 35mm camera. His pictures all look great so complaints of poor lighting and environmental conditions just didn't fly. It didn't come to a court fight as we agreed to pay a small amount for the proofs and a handful of shots that we didn't otherwise have. After the usual whining about his contract the photographer eventually got the message that he could recoup a few bucks or pay out the wazoo for legal fees and rightly decided to take the money. He never did admit to any problems with his photos or even apologize.
     
  13. brentl

    brentl Cinematographer

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    Don't let me get into this fight about who owns the negatives. If anybody remembers I'm not very forgiving on people that rip me off.

    As for CD roms ... Not as big a problem! I don't think the quality is there, and once the contract is done it's rare that the wedding party wants photos 5-10-15 years down the road anyways.

    As for your problems Matt, here's my take;

    The way you desribed it the photographer printed the proofs on a photoprinter?? If that is true my first thought would be that he's a scammer. I don't know 1 photographer that does this. It's very amateur. He's also trying to maximize his profit. Check the contract, as I bet that it says "proofs" in there somewhere.

    Demand the proofs be on photostock at full resoloution. Preferably done at a photolab!!

    ANY phtothrapher worth his skills knows how to adjust exposure "on the fly" with changing light. I'm sure you'd be satisfied with some detail in the background no?? That would take a little drop in shutter speeds(2 stops give or take) and you'd be fine. Although that would make the exposure relatively long(1/30th of a second), it's more than quick enough for a wedding.

    The camera problems are a little sticky. The least he should have done it has a good quality 35MM as backup. I'd then offer 20% discounts on any of the photos that they wanted from the photos taken with the 35MM. He should have done a complete check of his system before the event. I've been known to use a whole roll the night brfore a shoot, just to be sure.

    I can' believe he lost a roll of film!! %10-15% off the total just for that! If they were the bride/groom shots that would demand a full refund, but if they were more of the incedental shots no a big deal. Was it a 12 or 24 shot roll??

    If this was me, I'd ask to cover the basics. As the photographer(on a $2000 wedding) I'd offer a %80 discount and I'd throw in the negatives. This means that you paid for some of my time, but I leave everything else up to you. I hand you the negatives, the proofs(which appear to be of little value) and the $1600 cash and offer my apologies and be done with it.

    I say this because he deserves something for his work. Some fo the VERY important shots turned out well, and he deserves something.

    The worst thing is, his assitant is more the cause of the film and exposure problems in my mind.

    Brent
    This way, after his costs, he'd make about $150-200 instead of the $1200 he was going to get!

    RARELY do photogs offer negatives, but since you won't be using him for anything EVER again he shouldn't have a problem giving them to you.

    I'd be the first to spread his name around as a bad risk ... he give good photographers a bad name.
     
  14. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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  15. Josh Lowe

    Josh Lowe Screenwriter

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    He thinks he can fix the amber dress tint in Photoshop? If he can't then he should be more than willing to farm out the job to someone who can, because it's not a tough thing to do for someone with skill in PS to do.
     
  16. brentl

    brentl Cinematographer

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    "I don't see any reason to give a discount for 35mm, since I doubt a photographer charging only $1200 is using 4x5 anyway."

    Not true. I've done lots of weddings that came in a $1500 Canadian out the door. I use all Bronica equipment, but keep a basic 35MM for emergencies, and for some of my metering(don't have a spot meter).

    Brent
     
  17. Chris Lockwood

    Chris Lockwood Producer

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    Oh, well, maybe things will work out better at the next wedding. [​IMG]
     
  18. Patrick_S

    Patrick_S Producer

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  19. brentl

    brentl Cinematographer

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    I think the question was whether the background was a coplete void. Sure, the people turned out fine, but you don't want wedding photos to look like concert photos.

    Brent
     
  20. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Supporting Actor

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    Here's the lighting issue... I don't believe he was using a flash for the beginning of the ceremony.

    After the ceremony, during the posed pictures, he was using a fairly large lighting setup. The problem was that my church has stage lighting, and the white spotlights had been left on, and that threw him off because, apparently, of the kind of light that they give off. I don't know, obviously.


    And yes, I would have been a lot happier with a 35mm backup than no picture at all!

    I will be consulting at attorney about this issue, but my hope is that this will never go to court.
     

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