Brides claim a Middle TN photographer cancelled before wedding

WSMV4's Joylyn Bukovac reports.
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 7:51 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Dozens of brides want to warn others about a wedding photographer based in Robertson County. Several people have claimed they spent months planning a wedding.

Then leading up to the big day, Madelynn Helm, the photographer they hired said she was not going to make it.

“It just felt, at that moment, like everything was crashing... Like what else is going to go wrong,” Caryn Crawford Brazier said as she described the frenzy, she experienced on her wedding day when the photographer who showed up was not the photographer she hired. “I was instantly shocked and kind of astounded like, what’s going on here and then she told me that Madelynn double booked herself which really floored me.”

The bride said she did not see this coming, especially when the contract she signed included a ‘failure to perform clause’.

The ‘failure to perform clause’ stated: “If the photographer cannot perform the services outlined in the contract due to illness or any other cause beyond the control of the photographer, the photographer will refund all monies paid, including retainer, and have no further liability with respect to this contract.”

Several other brides from a private Facebook group called, “Wedding Everything Middle TN” said wedding photographer Madelynn Helm canceled days before their big day. Then Helm scrambled to find someone to fill in for her. Many of those brides were left hoping a photographer would show up and create the pictures they had envisioned.

“The photography was something I was really really intent on getting right and now here we are,” said Kassandra Davers Wence.

Wence said Helm made the nearly four hour drive from Robertson County, Tennessee, to Sullivan, Indiana, for her wedding in October.

“I guess a red flag was that she seemed to be too good to be true in the beginning... Too good of a deal. Too good of a discount. Very very minimal travel fee,” Wence said she paid helm for a full day of photography, but was only sent photos from the ceremony.

She wants to get the rest of her pictures back or be compensated for those lost memories.

“I want the photos of me and my family and me and my extended family because I can’t just do that again. There will never be pictures of me, my mom, and my dad and my husband on my wedding day. If the pictures are gone, then they are gone,” Wence explained.

Helm told WSMV4 she sent that bride all the photos worth editing.

“I never included eyes closed/ blurry/ things that you wouldn’t want anyways,” Helm said.

Helm did admit, she owes people money after overbooking and setting her prices low.

“I’m working on paying them back because I work minimum wage outside of this. I am working on paying them back,” Helm said.

She has taken down her photography website and is not booking weddings at this time.

“I messed up. I know I messed up, but I am human and I am fixing it,” Helm said.

The Tennessee Professional Photographers Association sent this advice for those looking to hire a photographer:

  • Always ask about a business license and liability insurance. All legitimate professionals will have both.
  • Do not hire based solely on photographs seen on social media sites. A Facebook page with a few photos is not the mark of a professional.
  • If the work seems inconsistent from wedding to wedding, use a reverse image search on Google to see if the posted photos are from another photographer. Scammers often steal photos from other photographers and post them as their own.
  • Google Reviews! Always check reviews to learn what others have experienced.
  • Most pro photographers will schedule an in-person or online consultation prior to booking to ensure that they are a good fit for your special day. If you are being asked for a deposit before the meeting, it’s a good indication they are only looking for your money.
  • Check with your venue to see if they have worked with the photographer or if they have any recommendations. Other wedding vendors are also great resources such as florists, musicians, and caterers.
  • The Professional Photographers of America offers multiple accreditations, look for a Certified Professional Photographer or a Master of Wedding Photography for someone who has proven skill and serious dedication to the art and craft of photography. PPA hosts for a list of professionals in your area listed by specialty.
  • Ask for references and to see work from recent bookings. They should be able to show printed work or have a website with a portfolio to view.
  • Never place a deposit without a written contract.
  • Ask a local photographer that does not specialize in weddings for a recommendation. Many photographers belong to networks and associations and are happy to refer you to another professional that is a specialist.
  • A professional will offer multiple options for your finished work including a variety of albums, prints, & wall art and some may offer finished files for social media.
  • Ask for referrals from friends, family, and coworkers who have previously hired a photographer they loved.
  • A great wedding photographer is someone you will have a rapport with and will inspire confidence. If you don’t feel comfortable with someone, trust your instincts and walk away.
  • Always remember that hiring a photographer for your wedding is an investment in something that happens once in a lifetime. Someone who is experienced in wedding photography knows the amount of work involved and will charge accordingly. The extra money spent will save heartache later.