Dear DJ AJ9: How Can I Spot a Fake?


Last week, a bride asked me for advice on hiring a photographer.  In reply, I gave her a few names of local pros who said they were available on her date, as well as a little advice about how to spot a “fauxtographer” — someone who uses other photographers’ photos, representing them as their own.  It was something she hadn’t even considered.  She was surprised, saying:

“I sometimes forget that people are not always truthful!”

It’s understandable to be impressed by beautiful images, and — especially while planning a beautiful, meaningful day for our weddings — it’s normal to want to believe the best of others.  Still…  There’s no harm in doing your due diligence!  It may save you from priceless regret, down the road.

Unfortunately, this practice is not limited to unscrupulous photographers.  People working in many creative fields have been found to be using photographs representing work that is not their own within their creative portfolios to give them a boost on marketability.  From fauxtographers to wedding planners to — yep — even entertainment companies!

Uplighting and Lighted Monogram by Something New Entertainment.  Photo by Visions by Swain Photography.

Uplighting and Lighted Monogram by Something New Entertainment. Photo by Visions by Swain Photography.

Case in point: as many of you may already know, another entertainment company recently “borrowed” content from Something New Entertainment’s site.  While we appreciate that imitation is the highest form of praise, we also know that misrepresenting one’s portfolio is unfair to that company’s prospective clients.  Especially because, in this case, the content they had “borrowed” from us was photography captured by a professional photographer and that photographer’s logo watermark had been cropped out for display on this unrelated website, we asked this company to remove work that was not their own.

Before and After.  The Using Only One's Own Work in a Portfolio Rule Can Be... Limiting... to Some "Artists."

Before and After. The Using Only One’s Own Work in a Portfolio Rule Can Be… Limiting… to Some “Artists.”

Later that day, they did remove our work, as well as “borrowed” photographs of work done by several other entertainment companies from their page, leaving only a fraction of their “portfolio” in tact.  Hours after receiving notice from us to remove our work (image outlined in blue) and that we had alerted other companies whose work we recognized, only a very few images remained.  Those struckthrough with a blue line, above, were all apparently “borrowed” from other sources, as well, leaving only a sparse portfolio behind.

So, how can brides and grooms spot a fake?  Well — the truth is: you may not always be able to spot a fake, BUT, if you follow a few simple and sensible rules, you’ll make yourself dramatically more difficult for a scammer to scam!

Read on for tips and tricks to spot a suspicious portfolio.

  1. Tip 1: Know the Market

    It isn’t *always* true that you get what you pay for, but… if you’re looking at a portfolio full of gorgeous images accompanied by a too-good-to-be-true price… it just may be.  Be sensible and smart.  A low price isn’t always a good deal.  A really good deal only happens when you ultimately get exactly what you want.

  2. Tip 2: Pay Attention to the File Names.

    One factor above all others causes people to claim another person’s work as their own: dishonesty.  However, there’s a close second that will help you more, here: laziness.

    Because of this, spotting a fake can sometimes be as easy as right-clicking the image and choosing “Open Image In New Tab” from the drop-down menu so you can see the file name.  In the case of our work that was “borrowed,” the file name of an image with the watermark cropped off was actually “Screen-Shot-2012-02-22-at-11.45.07-AM.png”

    I Can't Make This Stuff Up. Original Photo by the Very Talented Mr. Daniel Swain of Visions by Swain Photography. Lousy Crop and Re-Title Job by Someone Without Talent Doing Those Things, Either...

    I Can’t Make This Stuff Up. Original Photo by the Very Talented Mr. Daniel Swain of Visions by Swain Photography. Lousy Crop and Re-Title Job by Someone Without Talent Doing Those Things, Either…

    Uh — well — I guess that’s *one* way to crop an image…

  3. Tip 3: Go Ahead; Google It.


    Click on the Image, Above, to Visit Google Image Search.

    Did you know that you can search with an image through Google just like it was a keyword?  It’s true.  Now that you’ve got that image you like opened up in a new tab, just copy and paste the URL and then visit Google Image Search.  When you get there, click the little camera icon to the right of the search field and then paste in that URL where the image is hosted.  Google will search the web for that image and very similar images.  If you find a match on an unrelated website, further scrutiny is appropriate.

  4. Tip 4: Check the Credits.

    Is a non-photographer’s site peppered with professional-looking, crystal-clear images with no watermarks or credit to any photography companies for capturing these photos of their work?

    Ask them about their photography equipment, where they studied photography, and maybe even why they aren’t offering photography as a paid service.  What about cell phone shots or snapshots to match the pretty pro shots – do they have any to match?  If they didn’t take the photos, themselves, and they don’t know the name of the photographer who did… that’s suspicious.

  5. Tip 5: Ask for Specifics.

    There’s rarely enough time (or enough disk space) for a creative to put an entire, comprehensive archive of all of their work on their website.  That being said — make sure you ask to see work that isn’t available publicly.  Perhaps ask to see all the images from an entire wedding that has a stylistic element you identify with.  Also ask to see images of weddings in your venue or in venues similar to yours that you recognize as being from this area.

    Already looking at images of your venue with your colors on their site?  Ask about their execution.  Why did they choose this color, flower, shape, technique, etc.?  What were some of the challenges they experienced, during the project?  What did the client think?  Can you contact them, as a reference?

  6. Tip 6: Ask Your Friend… the Internet.

    Opening up the process of choosing vendors to the opinions of friends, family, and online review sites can be a real mixed bag, simply because each couple’s style may vary so much from another’s.  However, keep your question (or research) focused on knowledge of reputability and reliability for best results.

    Pay attention to ultra-specialty review sites like PhotoStealers ( which “outs” fauxtographers who have “borrowed” images from other photographers’ portfolios.  You can search by company name in the upper left-hand corner.

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