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Award-winning photographer leaves couples high and dry

Leading Australian wedding photographer, Ryan Schembri, has left around 30 clients waiting for refunds, packages, or services dating back to 2016.

Ryan Schembri. Source: Master Wedding Photography.

Schembri is a talented wedding photographer with the credentials to back it up. As a 20-year-old he was the youngest recipient of the 2012 AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year Award, a three-time winner of the NSW AIPP Wedding Photographer of the Year, and is a former Canon Master and WPPI Grand Master. He’s taught workshops around the world alongside some of wedding photography’s biggest names, from Australia’s Rocco Ancora to New York’s Susan Stripling.

But a talented photographer isn’t necessarily a good or ethical business person, as many of Schembri’s colleagues and clients are discovering.

Fairfax Media has published a scathing report detailing how numerous individuals were duped by Schembri, with 16 complaints filed against the photographer with the NSW Department of Fair Trading since 2018.

One of Australia’s most celebrated wedding photographer, Rocco Ancora, told Fairfax he’s ‘extremely pissed off’ at Schembri, who hasn’t paid him $2000 for post-production work. Despite not wanting anything to do with the photographer, Ancora is still linked to Schembri through web searches relating to workshops and online masterclasses they hosted via online education platform, CreativeLive.

‘He’s no longer considered a friend, nor do I want to be associated with him in any way, shape, or form,’ Ancora said.

Andrea and Brendan Oxford, Schembri’s clients, paid the photographer $7700 in August, 2017 to photograph their wedding and deliver a package consisting of digital files and a photo album.

‘I saved up my overtime money to be able to pay for him,’ Andrea Oxford said. ‘Because I was spending so much on a photographer, I thought I was going to get the best.’

The couple received digital files a few months after the wedding, however it took 15 months for Schembri to deliver their wedding album and they claim it wasn’t what they ordered. The couple received a partial refund in 2019, and a further refund in January 2020 after taking legal action through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In the tribunal, the Oxfords listed Melbourne-based wedding studio, XSiGHT Photography, owned by Nick Ghionis, as a responsible party as Schembri worked under the business name through a licensing agreement.

While the Oxfords paid the deposit to XSiGHT, Ghionis claims he never received the money and Schembri stopped paying licence fees in 2010, with the arrangement officially ending in 2016.

‘It took a while for us to wind down the whole operation in terms of his involvement,’ Ghionis said. ‘Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to put out fires regarding him for quite some time now.”

The Age interviewed two anonymous couples awaiting their wedding photos who are negotiating an outcome. Another customer had the photographer shoot video for her retreat but had yet to receive it and will file action to recover $2000.

Stories about professional photographers failing to deliver products and services are a dime a dozen, particularly when it comes to wedding photography. However, the majority of cases relate to inexperienced, semi-pro photographers who were hired because they were cheap and the couple had a small budget for photography. As the lawyers say, ‘caveat emptor’ (buyer beware) – especially at the bottom of the market.

While even successful professional photographers occasionally make mistakes, it’s rare for there to be a history of bad experiences.

Schembri told Fairfax he’s feeling ‘grateful’ that his poor business acumen has finally come to the surface as ‘it’s needed to really kick me in the arse in terms of getting things done and making sure things are complete for people’.

He’s planning to refer the ‘lucrative printing work’ to other studios, and will offer a ‘pared-down service’ for weddings while he rebuilds his professional reputation.

A Facebook post by Schembri states he was ‘blinded to what I couldn’t do and for that I am sorry’.

‘I’m flawed, I’ve failed and I have many things to make right.
I fail almost everyday… it’s just on social, we don’t often see it. I’m guilty of this – showing you the prettiest, most perfect side of what I do.
In my career I’ve certainly failed to deliver things in a timely manner. I’ve over promised and under delivered when it comes to the items I’ve sold people in my packages. I’m not here to hide, I’m here and always have been here to deliver on everything I owe.
I certainly have had a lot of things over the past few years that have lead to the snowball effect of where things are now. But I’m not here to give excuses or play victim.
For now – what I’m doing…
Working hard on delivering everything I owe to people in the packages I have sold them and making sure I have systems in place to deliver on upcoming jobs that take the actual delivery on items away from me. So it leaves me to what I still do best. Taking pictures.
My ego got in the way – I thought I could do it all… I couldn’t… and I didn’t ask for help.
For those who have supported me and continue to support me in the future I’m eternally grateful.
I know the months ahead won’t be easy and there’s a lot to do – but I still know taking beautiful pictures for people to cherish is what I do best. I got blinded to what I couldn’t do and for that I am sorry.

In the post some disgruntled clients, or relatives or clients, responded about still awaiting for their photos.

‘Actions speak louder than words. I’ve been hearing this for six years broken promises and still nothing,’ said Nancy Petralia. ‘I hope to be able to show my children their parents wedding!’

In September 2020, the AIPP cancelled Schembri’s membership after finding he had not complied with the organisation’s standards.

He told Fairfax he’s ‘a good person who had a lot of misfortune and it led to everything snowballing on me’. The photographer’s father, a well-known wedding photographer who taught him the ropes, passed away in 2016 and this had an impact on Schembri’s mental health. Additionally, in 2020, the photographer went through a divorce and made ‘poor financial decisions’.

2 Comments

  1. Eric Victor Eric Victor April 8, 2021

    This is a very sad story…Once upon the time other pros would rally to the cause and help out. The Institute was instrumental in this, maintaining the pro image with the market was a corner stone of the association. Honours and Ethics was a full time portfolio at National level who would be first alerted to the issue by incoming complaints. A mad scramble would ensue to provide support and help if the photographer was a respected member. We are loosing our culture and that is another sad story in itself.

  2. Hilary Wardhaugh Hilary Wardhaugh April 8, 2021

    Maybe the AIPP’s Mentoring Program shouldn’t have been canned, and I always suggested that it should’ve been open to all members not just emerging… learning about cash flow is fundamental to good business…

    I presume MR Schrembri was stripped of his AIPP awards and his 2014 Honorary Life Member ?

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