The Hawaiian island of Maui features some of the most picturesque wedding venues in the world, but some of those highly-sought-after venues are implementing policies that professional wedding photographers aren’t happy about.
We spoke to five wedding photographers working in Maui who feel that certain guidelines and restrictions being put in place by venues are “devaluing” photographers and videographers. The photographers wish to remain anonymous due to fear of being blacklisted by venues and coordinators on the island.
Certain venues take huge cuts (sometimes 25%) out of what’s paid to photographers and other vendors, and they won’t work with photographers if you don’t pay up, the photographers say.
One venue in particular that caught the photographers’ attention recently is Haiku Mill on Maui’s North Shore. Here are copies of the venues latest Vendor Guidelines and Preferred Photographer Program Handbook:
“Any photographer who shoots at the venue is a preferred photographer,” a photographer says. “So if you’re not in the list, they will not allow you to shoot there.”
Here are the policies that are most troubling to the photographers we spoke to:
- Photographer-Client Communication: The venue coordinator “must be always be copied” in all emails between the wedding photographer and client.
- A $500 Annual Fee: All wedding photographers who shoot at the venue must pay a flat $500 “annual marketing fee.”
- A $50/Hour Fee: All wedding photographers are required to pay $50 per hour (up to a max of $500) for each event they shoot at the venue.
- Required Photo List: Photographers must shoot a number of mandatory photos during a wedding (e.g. bar and cocktail setups and wide-angle views of areas prior to guests arriving).
- Sharing Restrictions: Photos can’t be shared with vendors without getting permission from both the venue and the event’s coordinator.
- Publishing Restrictions: Photographers can’t publish final photos from weddings to their websites or social media without getting permission from the venue first.
“[These policies] undermine the experience of the bride and the groom on the best day of their lives,” one photographer tells PetaPixel. “Instead of our commitment to our couples, we are forced to take images to promote their venue. AND we have to pay them to do so.”
The Venue’s Explanation
We reached out to Haiku Mill, which said that its policies were developed after speaking to many photographers about how they could partner on marketing costs.
The $500/year and $50/hour fees “contribute to the overall costs of marketing and advertising of the venue – which all vendors benefit from, including photographers,” a venue spokesperson tells PetaPixel.
“[M]aintaining a 150-year-old historic property, as well as paying for marketing and advertising opportunities, is quite costly,” Haiku Mill Director Kimiko Hosaki says. “Being a part of Haiku Mill’s new program not only assists us in continuing to function as a world-class, premiere event venue, but also allows our participating photographers and videographers to shoot at a highly sought-after and renowned location, benefit from exposure on our robust social media channels and be a part of our marketing, advertising and PR efforts.”
Haiku Mill says the required shot list both assists in submitting wedding photos to publications and ensures that clients don’t miss out on “important creative details of their special day.”
And regarding the restrictions on publishing photos, Haiku Mill says it only restricts photographers from public sharing final edits and not from sharing those photos privately with clients.
“The vast majority of wedding and lifestyle publications require exclusivity when it comes to publishing finished photos,” the spokesperson says. “The publication of real weddings are excellent marketing opportunities for all of the vendors involved in the event, so when photographers decide to post finished images to social media before even an attempt has been made at submitting to a publication for consideration, they’re putting at risk many of the vendors’ chances at an excellent publicity opportunity.
“Too often, vendors have lost valuable publicity because an opportunity fell through due to a photographer posting finished photos.”
Finally, the requirement that the Haiku Mill coordinator be CCed on all email communications is “vital to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to wedding day,” the venue says. “Ultimately, the coordinator is involved in every aspect of the client’s day and must be kept in the loop on all details, including photography. Failure to do so could impact the timeline and overall execution of the event. We are simply acting in the best interests of the client.”
Fighting the 20% Cut
Both the photographers and the venue say that it’s standard practice on Maui for coordinators to take a 20% cut for photographers who are booked through them — a fact that clients may largely be unaware of.
“The client is never made aware of this and if you tell the client that part of your fee will be going to the coordinator, you WILL be ostracized,” one photographer tells PetaPixel. “It is a unique situation that only Maui wedding professionals deal with. There are around 50 weddings PER DAY on Maui, but I doubt that any of our clients know that we are not getting what they think they are paying us.
“When coordinators take payment on behalf of the bride and groom, the subtract the 20% and give us the leftovers.”
Haiku Mill says that its policies help push back against this 20% cut.
“We developed this program at Haiku Mill in part to separate ourselves from the unethical way in which many venues and coordinators around the island take upwards of 20 percent from photographers who work with them, leaving photographers to figure out how to recoup that lost income,” Hosaki says. “We are working hard to eliminate this practice, and create an honest and transparent industry here on Maui, in which our high-end vendors can make a great living through the hard work they do.”
Photographers: Things Are Backwards
The photographers we spoke to say they’re unsatisfied with Haiku Mill’s explanations.
“At the end of the day, the venue should be paying us, the photographers and videographers, for the free (sorry – paid for) marketing materials we provide them during our times photographing events at the Mill,” one photographer says. “Without the images we provide the venue, they would have no way to sell their location. This line of thinking is completely backward.
“The venue should have no say in what transpires between the photographer and the client. […] The shot list should be between the client and the photographer/videographer. The venue is not the client and they should not be dictating any part of the shoot.”
“Insinuating that what the Mill is doing is different than the 20% commission industry standard is ridiculous,” a photographer says. “It’s the same thing, just done differently. It’s running a mile versus running 5280 ft. […] Both ways do not benefit the vendors; both ways take money out of my pocket to benefit the venue.”
“In what world am I responsible for maintaining your venue?” says a photographer. “Or paying for your advertising? If you believe your venue is worth more — charge more to the client. Increase your fees. It’s as simple as that.”
The Hush-Hush Secrecy of Commissions
“There’s a hush-hush kind of secrecy that surrounds commissions on Maui,” one photographer says. “We aren’t allowed to talk to our clients about it and I HIGHLY doubt the Mill is forth-coming with this information.
“Can you imagine if the Mill told each and every bride and groom that their vendors have to pay $500 per year plus $50/hour to shoot at the venue? Or if other coordinators on the island said ‘yeah, we take up to 20% of your money from every single vendor. And then we charge you for our services too.’? There would be a HUGE outrage.”
“This isn’t just about the Mill. It’s about the slippery slope this creates in the industry. Soon all venues will begin charging a premium for professionals to shoot there. It’s truly a priced-out-of-paradise situation.
“We need the backing of the professional community worldwide. We need people in the industry to stand behind us and support us in this endeavor. If brides know this information, it will catch on like wildfire. It may be the first spark in a revolution for more fair and equitable industry practices in Maui and other places that are thinking of adopting these practices.
“And in the end, we truly will all benefit.”