A reader sent us in a tip to check out a photographer on TikTok that approached a wedding couple and took portraits of them. Is it wrong to do if the people you are approaching are already on a shoot with another photographer?
In this video, posted by the photographer himself, he approaches a just-married couple and tells them his plan while showing off his portfolio and social following. This is all while standing in front of the somewhat shocked wedding photographer the couple had hired. Wedding photography is usually very quick and high pressure, so the scene was a little uneasy to watch for me just, because I could not imagine being thrown off like this.
I reached out to Alex Stemplewski, a TikTok verified user who specializes in approaching strangers to take their portraits, to discuss the video and to get his perspective on what several other photographers found offensive.
His number one goal with his portraits of strangers has always been to leave them better than he found them and hopefully put a smile on their face. When he saw the beautiful wedding couple, he immediately wanted to do something special for them and send them off with some photos. Is it wrong for someone who has gained over seven million followers to assume they have what some people might desire?
What if I told you he was completely unaware of the faux pas he was about to make? Stemplewski has only done photography as a hobby for a year. Everything he has done was spontaneous with strangers or collaborations with other creators. He has never booked a photoshoot with a client. He is entirely unaware of the pressure on a professional wedding photographer and how stressful fitting everything in while staying on a schedule really can be.
I took a lot of heat for this TikTok where I interupted a newlywed photoshoot. Showing the full video to let you decide if what I did was wrong or not♬ Up - Movie Theme - Giampaolo Pasquile
In the video, you can see that the total time taken away was two and a half minutes. This isn't the point of the reaction it received. One of our fellow writers who used to do magic told me of an old unspoken rule. Don't be another magician if someone else is already performing. Never steal the spotlight.
Even in speaking with Stemplewski, I'm not sure if he thinks there was a mistake in his etiquette or not. The first thing he said to the group was, "can I ask you a question," which could have been met with a "no, we are busy" or anything along those lines. Once there was no objection, a quick portfolio showing was followed by a brief photo session. The bride and groom were very gracious and in no way inconvenienced at the end of the day. They have a unique story to add to their big day.
The already on the job photographer was Bill Payne. He certainly kept his cool being thrown quite the curveball with the TikTok star showing up out of nowhere. Although Stemplewski claimed he meant absolutely no disrespect, he did reach out to Payne over the phone to apologize, and the two of them are okay with the situation. Payne stated that as long as the couple was okay with what was going on, so was he. According to Stemplewski, neither of the two are competitive photographers, so the idea of upstaging never crossed their minds. Stemplewski actually doesn't shoot client work and plans to send any referrals Payne's way. They will assure anyone there is no bad blood, and there is talk of future collaborations on the table. In retrospect, Stemplewski admits he could have done a better job leaving Payne better than he had found him.
Payne was quite shocked at the response the video has received. None of Stemplewski's previous videos ever dabbled in controversy. Still, this particular post had struck a nerve with every TikTok photographer out there and then beyond to every other social network from there. The TikTok post alone has 4.7 million likes, 12.4 thousand shares, and over 9,000 comments.
The top-ranked comments all point to this as a cringeworthy act of upstaging a fellow photographer. While I understand and get it, I'm not sure my set of values and standards align with the new wave of social media creators out there. I do know that Stemplewski has received a lot of hate and threatening messages, which is simply not cool. The mob mentality of the internet is way too real, and it seems to me like a newer artist might just see some humility and a lesson in what to do so other new photographers won't make the same mistake.
As you can see above, Payne had the wedding couple in good hands. Being an experienced photographer means being ready for anything and everything. While the video may have made for good TikTok content, it does show an example of what not to do. Stemplewski shard with me that the stats on the video showed a higher like-to-view ratio than most of his videos, meaning there was undoubtedly a level of support from the fellow TikTok community. You should never steal another person's thunder unless there is a dire reason to do so. In this case, some views or some social boost were probably not worth it.
I'm sure the photographer had good intentions and feels confident about his work. If you gave me millions of followers and a checkmark, I might feel the same. This seems to have been perceived by the majority as a violation of peer respect. It would be like a band showing up on stage to outdo the scheduled gig and publishing the humiliating video to their YouTube channel.
The photo community may have their own strong opinion, but if the other photographer and the couple are cool with it, does it matter? What do you think? Was the disruption warranted? Is the chance to say you were photographed by an influencer worth it?
Thanks to Stemplewski for taking the time to speak with us; if TikTok isn't your thing, check out his Instagram page.
Lead photo by Nicole Stuart.