Wedding Photographer Ignores Clients For 2 Weeks, Won't Give Deposit Back

Emily isn’t sure what to do. Last summer, she and her fiancé hired a photographer for their wedding in August. Earlier this month, about six weeks before the wedding, she tried to contact the photographer so she would be aware of some last-minute changes to the start time of the wedding. The photographer didn’t respond, no matter how they tried to contact her. More than two weeks went by, and they prepared to hire another photographer with a month to go before the wedding. Finally, they heard back from the photographer, who promised their “non-refundable” deposit of $700 back. Then changed her mind.

My fiancé, Rob, asked me to marry him in April last year and we set a date for the wedding for August 27th this year. I am a huge fan of planning ahead, so we started looking for a local photographer for our wedding last summer. We found one we liked and she was local (a big plus), so we met with her and decided to book her for our wedding. She took a $700 deposit (just a little over half of the final cost of the package) on our credit card on 9/25/10. The package included an engagement shoot, which we decided to do right away. We completed the photo shoot on 10/2/10 and got the photos, which we were happy with, around a month later.

Fast forward to July 7th this year. We had made some changes to the plan for the wedding, specifically the start time. I called our photographer, [redacted] in [redacted], to discuss the changes in the timeline so that I could make sure that the new start and end time would work for her. I needed to know that she was okay with the changes so that I could communicate the updated timeline to the rest of my vendors – the church, the caterer, the band, etc.

I left her a message on her cell phone, the only number I had for her, asking her to please call me back so that I could verify the new times with her before moving forward. When I called her cell phone, I got the standard voicemail greeting that recites only the cell phone number. There was no outgoing message of any kind stating that she would be out of town and unable to reply to messages. Come July 15th (more than a full week later) I had still not received a call back. I left her another message on that date asking her to please return my phone call. On July 20th there was still no call back, and I left her yet another message, in addition to using the web form on her website, [redacted], requesting a call.

I was starting to get desperate. She had no storefront, so there was no other way I could try to get in contact with her. My fiancé called her the following day, July 21st, leaving her YET ANOTHER message asking her to call us back. By July 22nd, with 5 weeks to go to the wedding, I felt I had exhausted all of my efforts in trying to contact her and decided to book another photographer.

It just so happens that on that day she also returned my phone calls. Rob and I called her and told her that we felt that 15 days was an unreasonable amount of time for us to wait for a reply and we requested our deposit back. We told her that we were not interested in a studio credit as we did not feel she was capable of holding up her end of the bargain and felt that she had acted unprofessionally by leaving us in the dark for 15 days. At this point, I just wanted my money back. She agreed on the phone that she would give us the deposit back and took our credit card information down so that she could process the refund. At the end of the phone call I was pleased that she agreed to offer us our deposit back (less the $125 for the photo shoot), told her that we appreciated it and that we would even recommend her. Later that evening, I got an email stating she would not be returning our deposit after all.

Here are my questions:

Is it worth taking her to small claims court, since we signed a contract?
Did we wait long enough before booking another photographer?
What are our rights as consumers in this sort of situation?
What is a “reasonable” amount of time for a business to return a phone call?
Are we being unreasonable in our stance that she provided poor customer service and we should be reimbursed?

Some of these are questions for the Consumerist Hive Mind, and others are questions for a lawyer or your state attorney general’s consumer division. While there was a contract, did the photographer do anything that could be considered failing to hold up her side of the contract?

Emily provided Consumerist with a copy of the original contract, which holds the photographer to showing up at the venue on the time and date specified in the contract. There’s no provision for changing the time after the contract is signed.

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