My name is Ryan Horban and I’m a wedding photographer based in Southern California. I shoot 30+ weddings a year, drink IPAs because they are tasty and get me buzzed, have an amazing family that I absolutely love, and won’t be staying at a Sheraton Hotel anytime in the near future unless I’m kidnapped by terrorists and held against my will at a Sheraton property.
So you might be asking yourself right now, “D*mn Ryan, why are you throwing so much shade on Sheraton?” And well, that’s the purpose of this article. So let me start from the beginning of my story.
A couple of weeks back, I’m sitting in my office editing wedding photos and listening to punk rock music when an email jumps into the inbox. Now, nothing makes me feel inner turmoil more than seeing that little red number on my Mail application, so I quickly read it to remove the anxiety building up in my body.
The email is from a woman named Terri who is a director of some sort for Sheraton Hotels. Terri was looking for wedding photos captured at their property they could use for an advertising campaign that would be launching in Exquisite Magazine. Somehow she must have come across a wedding I photographed at the Sheraton and thought, “these are pretty rad photos, I think I will use them!”
So Terri likely got the info of the couple from that blog post, reached out to the bride and asked if Sheraton could use the photos for an advertisement. Unfortunately, the photos my bride got were a little less than 300 dpi, which is a standard number print shops will work with. This is why Terri was contacting me. She wanted me to get her the photos they planned on using for the ad, but at a resolution of 300dpi. She even showed me a mock-up of the ad which you can see below.
Obviously, the first thing any photographer is going to notice when looking at this ad is the lack of a photo credit. Now, this was disturbing for a couple reasons, the first being that it’s 2016 and everyone should know by now you give a photographer credit for their work, especially a large business such as Sheraton!
The other is that I believe the ad would have been run, without a photo credit or notification to me, if Sheraton had access to the images at 300 dpi. It seems I was only being contacted because they needed my help, and I highly doubt they would have reached out if they had the photos at 300 dpi. Here is what Terri stated in her email:
The photos she sent us are not of the dpi we need. Can you help? I have attached the ones we wanted to use but we need at least 300dpi. We will give you photo credit. Please let me know. Thanks terri
I hope you are doing well and life on your side of this email is fantastic! So first of all thanks for reaching out! Your venue was cool and I had a blast working with J***** and C**** last October. That wedding actually got featured in My Hotel Wedding. Also, the ad looks fantastic! I thought it was interesting you used a prism shot of the ceremony. I dig it. I do have a couple quick questions. One is you said you would provide photo credit but on that ad I do not see any credits? Where were those photo credits going to be placed? And YES I can get those images over at 300dpi for printing purposes. No issue there at all.
I will ad to the bottom. I didn’t on this as I did not know who did the photography. Thanks. The pictures are beautiful.
Now, this part is interesting because a business really shouldn’t be this far along in the advertising campaign and not know the identity of the photographer behind the content being used (and if Terri didn’t know who the photographer was how did she have my name and contact info?). Yeah, I thought it was weird as well…
Here was my response:
The name works perfect for photo credit “Ryan Horban”. Also, I really do not extend copyrighted images for promotion without compensation even if it is shared copyright. However, the ad looks fantastic and you’ve basically got it completed and ready for print so I would hate to slow that process down in any way. I am of course close with C**** and J**** (the bride+groom) and we both recently had children (boys Reid+ Porter). We could totally use a little stay-cation some time during a weekday. If you could secure us both a promo code for a room at the Sheraton for sometime this year I can get those images at 300DPI sent over today. Normally, my commercial licensing fee is $1500 so it is actually a pretty good deal for Sheraton and it works out well for us. Think it over and let me know.
Sorry we will pass on giving you an advertising opportunity.
Maybe it was because I was day drinking, upset about the season finale I DVR’d of Game of Thrones or maybe I was simply having an emotional day. Regardless, I felt like I was totally more than fair to Terri and Sheraton Hotels even in the face of some questionable things at the start. Needless to say, her response pissed me off.
So I figured I had two choices: I could write about my feelings in a journal while shedding tears into a cup of warm cocoa, or I could stand up for myself and every other artist who has tried to be exploited for free labor by a large corporation. So after I cried for hours into my warm cocoa, I closed my journal and I emailed Terri back.
No problem at all. However, you have to understand it’s not a real advertising opportunity for me because the ad promotes Sheraton not the photographer. It’s an advertising opportunity for Sheraton hotels. A bride isn’t going to see that ad and say “I want this wedding photographer”. That’s not how this business works and I think you know that. I can guarantee I wouldn’t book a single bride from that ad. Sheraton on the other hand would book many brides.
I’m actually deeply disappointed that such a large corporation would try to basically take advantage of an artist by not compensating them for their hard work. In fact it’s quite shameful. Is the marketing budget that tight at Sheraton where they can’t compensate artists? Of course not. It’s just that they would rather employ a poor ethical standard and do whatever is necessary to avoid paying an artist for their work. I’m sure you can find someone who will give you their art for free because I mean that is your end goal correct? Sheraton wants beautiful images to promote their wedding venue, book more brides and make more money. I understand that, but you really don’t think it’s fair that the photos that are going to represent your wedding venue and your brand in the best possible light don’t deserve compensation?
I love what I do and give it my absolute everything and I believe that’s the reason why brides book me. I believe this passion is what allows me to create beautiful images, like the photos Sheraton wants to use for their marketing campaign. However, I am a principled man and will stick up for my industry even though we let ourselves get taken advantage of by large businesses every hour of every day. So when a large company such as Sheraton wants to take my art, use it for self-promotion, financial gain and not compensate me, the artist…
The only appropriate response in this situation is: F*CK NO!
Naturally, pushing send on that email felt fantastic and was better than any hotel room or commercial licensing fee I would have received. But the point I am trying to make is this BS happens every single day and it needs to stop. I don’t want to sound like Bernie Sanders here and spend all my time attacking big businesses and corporations, but this practice has been commonplace far too long and it is making it impossible for artists to make a living — especially those trying to start their careers and who might be persuaded by businesses to see these situations as an opportunity rather than what it really is: exploitation.
Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough to provide for my family through art and am established enough to where I can tell Sheraton or any other business trying to take advantage of me or a situation to go f*** themselves. Because I really don’t give a s*** if I ever shoot another wedding at their venue or hotel ever again.
I hate being a person who thinks or acts negatively, so let’s end this on a positive note. We are all worth something. We are all special and have gifts to give. And as artists, we have the right to be treated fairly. Don’t let anyone ever try and take advantage of you or your art. Remember: they need you; you don’t need them. You are special.
I would love to get your feedback on this situation so please feel free to drop a question or comment and I will do my best to respond to them. Oh and here is a photo of me just because.
About the author: Ryan Horban is a wedding photographer based in Southern California. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, blog, and Twitter. This article was also published here.