Wedding Photographer Sued Despite Doing a Great Job

A wedding photographer in Washington state was recently issued a wake-up call when it comes to client contracts. The photographer had made a verbal agreement to photograph a wedding and give the couple all of the raw images files rather than prints–a practice commonly referred to within the industry as “shoot to burn”– so they could make the edits themselves. Once they received the images the couple posted them to their personal Facebook pages, receiving many positive comments on the quality of the photography. That didn’t stop the couple, one of which is an attorney, from writing a threatening letter to the photographer demanding a large sum of money or else be faced with an $300,000 lawsuit on the grounds that the photographer ruined their wedding by taking poor quality images:

“Lesson to be learned here, use a contract when you shoot a wedding. Here’s the big lesson, even if you’re an expert photographer and you do an incredible job you could get really screwed. Even if you had a contract, there are people out there who will take advantage of you.”

The case has already drawn the attention of many and has caused a public outrage among photographers who are sympathetic for the recipient of the letter. As Gary Fong points out the photographer did make a couple crucial mistakes; however, the couple have made a few mistakes of their own. How do you think this case will or should turn-out?

Update – more details on the case as it develops. The photographer’s name is Nelson Tang and he continues to fight against the attorney trying to intimidate him:

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48 responses to “Wedding Photographer Sued Despite Doing a Great Job”

  1. oliver says:

    Since there is no contract, photographer can claim to be worked unpaid and as a friend, as long as he won’t deposit the check, if it’s the payment method. After that, building a web page about this couple, publicly announcing them as “awful friends” would get them to the point, since they have a quite bit of fame by this.

  2. Ed Pereira says:

    This would never happen in England, it seems the suing culture is rife in America?

    • PD says:

      You’re absolutely right Ed, we are a bunch of selfish crybaby spoiled brats in this nation who think we have the right to sue over the STUPIDEST things, with the motive always being dollar signs in our eyes. It’s embarrassing.

    • MIchael says:

      I agree, I run a commercial photographic studio in Australia and we would never come up against issues like this. Unfortunately the wedding industry is rife with amateur photographers that don’t realise that the business of photography is as important as the creative.

      I would think the client does not have a leg to stand on, The Lawyer is abusing his privilege. The letter itself sounds more like extortion and a threat then someone genuinely disappointed with their images. That in itself should be reason enough for any court to through it out.

      Good Luck Nelson.

  3. Amy says:

    Wow, sounds like the attorney is blackmailing him to pay money or else he’ll sue. That’s illegal in itself. You don’t threaten to sue or demand money. You either sue or you don’t. What a shame! Poor photographer!

  4. Ron says:


    What a bastard and poor wurm that attorney is! Really this should be send to all Judges in his area with his name attached ccing the head of the company he works for … That alone should get him fired!! Also this should be forwarded to local news.

    I also agree if it ever comes to a court case, please lets set up a donation site for this poor dude!

    All the best to him!

  5. Thanks for info, althought I don’t belive it will happen in my country.

  6. Natalie says:

    1) I don’t shoot weddings. This is one of the main reasons why. Everyone is so frickin sue-happy in the US – brides likely moreso than anyone. 2) Gary Fong – your commentary is awesome! 3) The fact that this ATTORNEY didn’t ask for a contract or even allowed the booking without one tells me that he was planning to extort/sue from the start. I shoot boudoir exclusively, and I still ALWAYS have clients sign a contract stating they understand exactly what they’re getting. If I knew my client was a LAWYER, I would be triple-sure everything was dotted and crossed!

  7. CC says:

    This guy should be reported to his state bar for unprofessional (or worse) conduct.

  8. Jacques says:

    I hope that the lawyer gets disbarred for being such an unethical piece of “work”.

  9. Mary says:

    This is a VERY sad example of rotten-to-the-core apples in the litigation community. God willing, if this dispicable attorney should lose his case, he should be sued for charactor defamation by the photographer. I wish this photographer a great outcome to this terrible situation.

  10. marissafh says:

    Seriously?? This sounds like a good candidate for Anderson Cooper’s Ridiculist.

  11. Gary says:

    Sounds like blackmail to me.

  12. NOT-wed-photog says:

    Although I’ll simply state that this is yet one more example of why I refuse to shoot weddings in today’s ‘sue for any reason you can come up with’, here is an opportunity to send a message back to the wedding community.

    Gary, if you’re going to start a fund, consider rolling ALL remaining funds if they do not sue and/or all remaining funds to either a counter-suit or a stand-alone civil suit. It would behoove the entire photog community for this couple to immediately file a suit against the attorney/client solely on the criminal & civil violations committed in the extortion letter, which is exactly what it is in many states. The letter is a clear definition of extortion due to the illegal and unfounded threat to cause damages with the intent to illicit gain from the victim along with the intent to destroy the livelihood and in theory well-being (dependent on the state’s statutes) of the photog.

    Regardless of the attorney’s actions, if a lawsuit were to be successfully and intelligently followed through to the end, a message could finally be sent back to the litigious happy and unscrupulous scam artists out there that the tide can and is being turned back on the real criminals in many of the illegitimate cases. I for one am much more interested in funding a counter-suit, or flat out stand-alone lawsuit for anything another attorney could find applicable to destroy the @ssholes threatening this suit. Seriously, lets send a message back to not only the industry that you will not be the victim IF you do your job correctly and professionally, but also those who are often retaining services with the intent to find any reason to take legal action regardless of the quality and/or outcome of services rendered. This is all too often the case now where people are in fact hiring services with the intent to find any reason to get out of paying for something they could not or did not want to afford. I have personally encountered a conversation that entailed this exact tactic. This is real, and our society and culture all too often viciously supports ANYONE claiming to be a victim, both morally and legally.

    To be honest, I wish I had the backing to start an insurance and legal organization that not only protects clients from unscrupulous and unfounded legal actions, but is intentionally set up to immediately go after and destroy those threatening to, or actually taking, legal action against a professional photog that either deliver exactly what was contracted and/or delivered services far exceeding what was expected or promised. It would be nice to start seeing the outcomes and youtube videos of court decisions delivering crippling verdicts against those individuals willing to destroy people with nothing more than the intent to generate income out of greed and malice. Destroy them!

    • Gary says:

      I’m not sure that all this anger, that is, suing, counter-suing, etc., is ever going to make a difference. It seems to me that the lawyer who is threatening the photographer is trying to pay for his wedding somehow by trying to blackmail the photographer. I wonder what kind of letter his caterer received.

      The photographer is trying to make a living by doing something creative. This is very hard to do and the dark side seems to be doing it’s best to make sure this doesn’t happen. I really don’t think, to stay in the Star Wars metaphor, that going over to the dark side to join this person by counter-suing, is really going to help.

      We have laws that don’t seem to include humans into the equation. If I were a judge and this case came to me, I would take the intent of the attorney’s letter, again, blackmail, and send the attorney to some place where he can learn empathy. I want to make a joke here about attorney’s and empathy, but I’m sure there are lawyers out there who have feelings.

      And yes, the photographer needs to learn something from this: have some discretion and only hand off the final images. People don’t understand that it often takes 10 images to get one really good one. Can you imagine reading a book that hasn’t been edited, or a song that hasn’t been produced? This is part of the creative process. We are generally shielded from that process, as we should be, and only see/hear the final. Keep that in mind when handing off files or images.

  13. Dean says:

    This attorney needs to lose his law license . Once they posted the images on the website (1000) it’s proof they liked them enough to share. I think he finds the best attorney in Washington and sues the shit out this bastard for being such a mean spirited SOB.

  14. Can you say “EXTORTION” !!!
    I pity the fool(s) who hire this guy as their attorney.
    what a LOSER!
    In my opinion the photographer should countersue for extortion.

    Gary, thanks for the enlightenment.

    It is too bad that he gave the couple his RAW files.
    Big Huge NO NO… Hell to the NO!
    I don’t even allow my clients to SEE my RAW files.
    I don’t even allow my own family or friends to see my RAW files… [that I shoot of them]

  15. @ NOT – Wed-Photog;
    You accurately and completely, expressed my own thoughts.
    Right on!

  16. Thomas says:

    What was the bride thinking when she married this cheap jerk ?????

  17. Thomas says:

    BTW Gary that was just too funny for words. I’d say the 2nd mistake this photographer made was selling himself short and working for that bargain basement crowd. It’s been my experience they are a big pain in the ass. Not even worth the time of day.

  18. Suzanne says:

    Unbelievable! There are some crazy, GREEDY people out there. I do wish this so called “attorney” reads these reviews. Who knows… he might just reflect on it and say “This is NOT ok”. And yes, good luck for the bride…ouffff. She’s in for a ride with this cheap …. you know what!!!!

  19. Miguel Denyer says:

    Clearly this couple is trying to use whichever one’s status as an attorney to threaten this photographer with a huge (although apparently groundless) lawsuit in order to avoid paying their bill. Why would they have put up their photographs on Facebook if they were unhappy with them?
    Additionally, why are they asking for only the fee plus $15,000 then threatening a $300,000 suit? Why not ask for $300,000?
    Personally, I think this photographer should either A: Contact law enforcement and have the couple charged with blackmail and provide evidence including the screen shots of the couple’s facebook photo album.
    or B: reverse the tables on them by getting an attorney and suing them for threatening with a frivolous lawsuit.

  20. George says:

    Why not publish this jerks business name and phone number and his facebook address so that we can contact him and let him know what we think of his extortion. If I were him I would be afraid that any judge that saw that letter would move for a disbarment hearing immediately!

    • Josh says:

      GREEEDY MISERABLE LAWYER!!! I agree that we need to know who this couple is and show their greedy faces to the world.
      I also agree that if this person goes on with that extortion, then I would join the fund and get people to contribute to get his licensed revoked!!

  21. Lee Reeves says:

    The State Bar has rules that attorney’s must follow. I would email a copy of the threats to the State Bar, and carbon copy it to the attorney. Threaten to file a “charge” against the attorney if the bullying continues. This is what I did for my wife who was getting threatening letters from an attorney regarding a bridal event we produce. After contacting the State Bar, we never did hear from the attorney again.

  22. Kathy says:

    ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have the client READ and SIGN a WRITTEN CONTRACT. I don’t care if you’re shooting a wedding for just a family member or a friend. I have learned this from personal experience. This is a MUST for up and coming photographers (Newbies). Spell out in DETAIL what you will be offering, what you expect of the client and what THEY should expect from YOU. Also, and this is just my personal opinion here; If you are an up and coming photographer don’t be afraid to say so. Don’t wait until the day of the wedding of course; do it in the initial meeting. (Place This In The Contract As Well.) Many seasoned professional photographers may advise against this or disagree with me but I personally think that this statement should be mentioned because as an up and coming photographer with little to no experience shooting weddings you may wind up facing legal issues if you total bum out on or blow the wedding which could open you up to a lawsuit because like I mentioned earlier you can’t redo a wedding. Also, by doing this they (the client) will understand up front what/who they are getting. Don’t get me wrong just because you (the photographer) are being open and honest about your photography experience or lack there of doesn’t mean that you can’t and/or won’t be able to create professional quality images and capture the client’s wedding beautifully and create stunning images that the client will be proud to share with their family and friends for years to come. However, if you (the photographer) neglect to disclose this information before hand (during the initial meeting) you can, may and possibly will be setting yourself up for a lawsuit. Again this is just my personal opinion but this opinion IS backed up by experience. I to am an up and coming photographer who has been shooting weddings as a freelance photographer for the past 3 years. Also, before you choose to go out and start shooting weddings for pay make sure you have dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s. In other worlds get LEGAL. Establish yourself as a business not only by creating a name and business model for yourself but most importantly apply for and get a business license and apply for a Sales Tax ID Number, maintain accurate sales records and retain all invoices and receipts for your records and file a Sales Tax Report every month on time and in a timely manner. However, if you want to avoid all of the red tape that is involved in operating a photography business and just be able to enjoy photography you can achieve this by doing one simple thing; DON’T CHARGE for your services or if this is not an option consider working as a photographer’s assistant that way you will be able to still do what you love but will be protected by your employer’s contract with your client and not your own.

  23. Brian says:

    Sounds like someone is trying to sell something .

  24. Richard says:

    I rather photograph animals and nature, they can’t sue you :)

  25. PD says:

    MISTAKE #1. Never, EVER give RAW images to a client, ever. Half of your art is the shoot, half is the post work. There is ten times the image data in a RAW file than what any monitor can display and that RAW image needs to be nurtured into the final art to present to a client. Shoot to Burn is suicide, no photographer should ever agree to it. Never ever EVER deliver an unfinished image to a client, ever.

  26. Tony Portal says:

    This infuriates me and is down right extortion on the part of the attorney who wrote this letter of intimidation. He should be dis-barred if he has a licence to practice. The photography community needs to reach out and give the photographer (whoever he is) support by bring this to the attention of whatever groups (such as the Bar Association) that can put rofessional pressure back at him and put his livelyhood at risk.

  27. Neil (not that Neil) says:

    **My experience with lawyers**
    My wife and I were selling our condo. We took a lowball offer from some people who nit picked every tiny little fault in the place. They ran the bath faucets full and claimed the tub didn’t drain fast enough, that’s how bad it was. When we refused their offers we got a phone call –after returning home from a funeral– threatening to sue us. Yes, sue us for *not* selling our condo to them.

    At a wedding consultation I ask the couple what they each do.
    If one of them is a lawyer or either has layer parents I DO NOT TAKE THE JOB.
    I’m not kidding here, I did one wedding with a lawyer groom. The pictures were fabulous and I had not shot at the venue before so I asked for permission to use the images.
    They refused. This is the only time this has ever happened.
    The best way to deal with them is not to deal with them, period.
    Think I’m over reacting? After reading this article, you tell me.

  28. kurt dreas says:

    As P.D. said, Never sell / loan / give unedited images to a client. Who he shows them to, or puts them on the website, (etc) will show YOUR work as unedited, unprofessional, and sloppy examples of your “un-talented work”

    There are waste baskets and editing software for a reason. Only show your clients & potential clients your edited, finished work. If you are desperate enough to show all your work, the clients will think to themselves: “I could have taken these shots”, and not be appreciative of your talent and creatively.

    You know as well as I do, that NOT all your shots are “keepers”. people walking in front of your lens at that moment, blinking people, bad unpredictable lighting, — there are many ways to take a bad photo, but few ways to create good ones. You are NOT in control as much as you wish you were.
    If it were so, (being in control), you would need only ONE SHOT of every group, portrait, scenic, landscape, flower, sunset, flying birds in formation, cute or angry animals, athletes, car races,
    — whatever you point your camera at. ONE SHOT EACH. (forget it–not even in your dreams).

  29. Brian says:

    sounds like the letter should be forwarded to the State Bar Association – they might do some self policing and yank the guys license

  30. Michael says:

    I think my first step as the photographer would be to pass this letter along to the state bar and file a complaint against the lawyer. It was clearly penned as nothing more than an abusive attempt to intimidate the photographer, and should be handled as such.

  31. Susanne Jerome says:

    at the risk of appearing rude … well, the certainty of being rude. Is this for real? Do the photographer and the lawyer really exist? And if so why not publish the lawyer’s name. using just his letter not editorial content? The letter appears to me to be some sort of felony, and what photographer would ever give his client his out takes? Also you are selling something on the basis of the story about the letter.

  32. Susanne Jerome says:

    I bet you don’t allow my previous comment

  33. Ken says:

    Obviously this so called lawyer is trying to get the photographer to pay for his wedding and/or a good sized portion if not all the purchase price of a house. It may be interesting for the photographer to see if the other wedding vendors (flowers, caterers, venue) are being sued also.

  34. rick says:

    This is why a person who photographs weddings should be a member of PPA. The indemnification policy is worth the cost. Imagine this attorney getting a letter from a firm that specializes in photo mishaps. I’m pretty sure he’d pull the plug on his scheme.

    They went to bat for me with my one trouble situation, and my client (lawyer as well) backed down real quick.

    BTW, what kind of lawyer hires a shoot and burn wedding photographer? How can he complain? You get what you pay for pal.

  35. umoruh says:

    Cheap publicity gimmick ! That’s my opinion. It’s worth it.

  36. Justin says:

    Any update?

  37. joe says:

    This sh.. can only happen in america, what a joke!

  38. mntx says:

    Never, ever, ever give out RAW images. This is akin to giving out a blank canvas and paints as the final product. It will always come back to bite you. Even if the customer is experienced in Lightroom or Capture One, how they edit is in no reflection of your eye. It is basically a paint-by-numbers set. It takes years of training to produce quality post from RAW formats. If the customer simply converted them to .jpg and didn’t fine tune the white balance, shadows/highlights, exposure, etc, they will always look bad.

  39. mntx says:

    For those who doubt this is real, it is on the photographer’s Facebook page. Nelson Tang Photography. He also has images of the letters and complaints to the State Bar Association.

  40. Jan says:

    wow!!! this is why I returned deposit to my client who was lawyer after 1st red flag appeared. Never mess with lawyers … they are biggest pro liars.

  41. Mixshot says:

    oh yes, the work of a photographer is wonderful. I do product photography and it brings a lot of job satisfaction

  42. The thing with the photography profession is that the more you know, the harder it is to go further :)

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