Press "Enter" to skip to content

Ryan Schembri: Client frustration continues

New accusations against disgraced wedding photographer, Ryan Schembri, have surfaced a year after similar allegations detailed what appears to be a trail of destruction left on the wedding photography industry.

Two new clients, who hired Schembri after the Fairfax April 2021 exposé and our further in-depth coverage, informed Inside Imaging they’re now awaiting either refunds or products and services they claim weren’t delivered.

To mark a year since the allegations surfaced, Inside Imaging has done a deep dive with clients and colleagues to hear their stories and whether they reached a satisfactory outcome, as promised in a Facebook post by Schembri.



A major factor linking these clients is that they initially thought their experience was an isolated one. This includes the two couples who, unaware of the abundance of allegations that surfaced in the April 2021 coverage, paid for services and now share similar allegations with a long list of former clients.

Some clients spoke on the condition of anonymity because they either don’t want to jeopardise chances of reaching a satisfactory outcome, or simply want no further association with Schembri. Inside Imaging verified their stories by viewing the text message and e-mail exchanges, as well as additional documentation such as invoices.

Schembri did not return our request for comment.


‘To be honest, I felt really let down and a little angry as I had paid him knowing that all businesses are having a tough time in Covid and he would need the money, and trusting he would follow through understanding I was also a business doing my best in a challenging time with a family to support as well.’ – a client from 2020


Background

Ryan Schembri awarded AIPP Honorary Life Member in 2014.

Schembri was one of Australia’s most celebrated wedding photographers, who reached the top of the game at a young age. Earning the title of AIPP Grand Master at 20 years of age – the youngest to ever do so – he travelled the world photographing luxurious weddings and was a regular speaker at photography seminars.

On the surface, Schembri had a career many photographers would envy. But behind the scenes many clients claim his conduct is far from professional.

The Sydney Morning Herald published several accounts from distraught clients left waiting for up to six years for photo albums and pictures. Some incidents occurred while Schembri licensed the XSiGHT Photography brand from successful Melbourne-based photographers, Jerry & Nick Ghionis, who as a consequence have ‘been trying to put out fires regarding him for quite some time now.’

The SMH article stated Schembri was ‘working through a queue of about 30 customers who are still waiting for albums and enlargements dating back to 2016’.

Our coverage revealed further allegations spilling over into the wedding photography industry, with several professional photographers – including former colleagues, friends, business partners and vendors – expressing the same concern and condemnation.

Schembri attributes the problems to mental health issues that arose in 2016 after his father passed away, and he later made ‘poor financial decisions’ and went through a divorce in 2020.

A common theme in the allegations is how the clients are strung along. Almost all stories involve frustratingly drawn out e-mail and SMS exchanges, where Schembri either provides excuses as to why he cannot deliver, or claims to have e-mailed refunds/products/album proofs. We’ve seen these strings of communication. Heck, last year he even did it to us, albeit briefly.

After Schembri claimed to be working through a back log of clients, Inside Imaging requested to speak with a single client who has been delivered their photo album. Or anyone with the credentials to validate he’s working to make it right. We gave him a week. He said ‘sounds great! I’ll get onto them now’. A week later Schembri asked, ‘hoping you got my e-mail? I haven’t heard back from you’. Lo-and-behold there was no e-mail, so he agreed to resend. And like the many allegations made by his clients, it never came.

‘This story should not be about a photographer not coping with a heavy backlog,’ Melbourne wedding photographer, Ashley Karakatsanis, informed Inside Imaging in April 2021. ‘It should be about a man who’s [allegedly] committed fraud. …Ryan should never ever touch a camera again.’


‘I have come to terms I will never get my money or album.’


Fresh allegations

In November 2021, client Letitica Horsey paid Schembri $1500 to edit a few of her wedding photos, and print them in an album for a Christmas present.

The wedding had been shot by another photographer and while Horsey loves the photos, she wanted some minor edits done but didn’t want to bother her photographer. Schembri, highly-regarded for his editing skills, came recommended by a friend and no one was aware of the allegations made against the photographer.

‘It’s not like I don’t know Ryan. My maid of honour is one of his friends,’ Horsey told Inside Imaging. ‘Another really close friend, who referred Ryan to us, is his friend and also had him shoot his wedding. I’m shocked he’s prepared to damage all these friendships because he can’t get it done.’

She paid Schembri a 50 percent deposit in November, $750, and handed over her hard drive with her wedding photos. The hard drive also contained cherished memories – her only copy of pregnancy and newborn photos.

A month later Schembri claimed he e-mailed an album proof and invoice for the remaining $750, but it allegedly only contained the invoice. He then claims to have re-sent the album proof, and asks her to pay the remaining fee as he’s ‘running on tight margins’ and needed ‘to get retouching done etc’. Horsey was confused by this, as she was paying him to retouch the photos. She ultimately paid the remaining $750 after a frustratingly confusing back-and-forth communication. Here’s how it went:

The blue text bubble is Letitica Horsey, and grey is Ryan Schembri. Source: Supplied

By December 20 – having paid $1.5K and receiving no further communication or album proof – Horsey requested three edited photos she could print as Christmas presents to family. To Schembri’s credit he returned two files in time.

Fast forward to mid-February, and the situation remained the same. Having lost patience and faith in Schembri, she accepted the album would never arrive but held grave fears for her hard drive. Horsey asked him to no longer contact her as she ‘can’t stomach the disappointment’, and for further communications to go via her husband, lawyer Jeff Horsey.

‘He has something of mine that holds so much value to me [the hard drive containing the only copy of her pregnancy and newborn photos]. I’ve done my research on him now and I’m disgusted. I didn’t think I needed to look this person up. He came recommended from a friend. I don’t think he should be doing photography or running a business. It should be shut down.

‘Go on his Facebook. There is this post where he admits to letting people down and is taking accountability for everything and “blah blah blah”. But what are you doing? Look what you’ve just done – again. People all over the world have [allegedly] experienced this. ‘

After four months, Horsey retrieved her hard drive in March. ‘I have come to terms I will never get my money or album,’ she said. ‘He actually should be taken to QCAT court. He is [allegedly] stealing peoples’ money – that’s the bottom line.’

Another client, who asked not to be identified, informed Inside Imaging that Schembri was the second-most expensive cost of his 2021 wedding. He found the photographer via Instagram, and was unaware of the allegations. After seeking a partial refund – amounting to thousands of dollars – for a failure to deliver services, he alleges Schembri sent a fake bank remittance statement, followed by months of excuses.

To protect the client’s identity in the hope of securing the promised refund, they requested no further details be shared. We verified the e-mail exchange and Schembri’s invoice.


‘I never received a dime back. Not a single penny. It’s heartbreaking.’


Existing clients still waiting

Inside Imaging touched base with clients who spoke with us over a year ago, such as US wedding photographer, Kelly, who paid $5000 for a 12-month one-on-one mentoring program.

This was supposed to include unlimited calls, monthly online group coaching, attendance to his two-day lighting workshops, a six-day health and mindfulness retreat in Italy, shooting a wedding alongside Schembri in Italy, and so on.

After receiving five disappointing sessions in a year, Schembri agreed to fully refund Kelly. What then followed was a string of confusing communication involving payment delays and claims to have sent partial refunds. Kelly was amidst these exasperating negotiations in April 2021, which unfortunately went nowhere. Schembri has since gone silent.

‘I never received a dime back,’ she told Inside Imaging in February. ‘Not a single penny. It’s heartbreaking.’

Kelly met Schembri at a US workshop co-hosted by respected New York wedding photographer, Susan Striping, who later unearthed a pattern of alleged misconduct. The pair planned to host a London workshop, but Stripling resolved to cancel the event due to poor ticket sales. She later discovered Schembri continued selling tickets. She then became acquainted with other photographers and couples with claims about being ripped off, and isn’t aware of anyone receiving a refund. And ‘more [clients] have come forward,’ she told Inside Imaging.

A videography client who paid $2000 for videography in 2020 told Inside Imaging last year how she ‘received nothing but a continuous stream of messages initially lying that he had already emailed it’.

We asked for an update: ‘I have heard nothing at all since the promise to follow up with me. It is sad to see that he is living a very painful lie and carrying all of this with him.’


‘I already can’t look at the album now without being upset and reminded of the ordeal. My husband and I don’t look at the album that we had to fight to get and pay for. We are happier not having to remember him or have anything to do with him anymore.’


Just a ‘one off’…?

Several other wedding clients who emerged after last year’s reports have now shared their experience. Only one received a satisfactory outcome – a photo album, which included a watermark left on an image. The wedding was photographed in late 2012 while Schembri operated XSiGHT Photography Sydney. The couple paid the $700 album deposit but delayed the order for several years due to medical reasons. The couple re-acquainted themselves with Schembri in late 2018, after his business dealings with XSiGHT concluded, and were delighted to be told their photo album deposit remained valid and to proceed with the order. Seemingly great service.

The couple, who asked not to be named, spent the next three years chasing the matter up, including in the lead up to the 2021 Sydney Morning Herald article. They shared correspondence where they received the wrong Auspost tracking number, and several broken promises to deliver the album by a promised date.

‘It’s ironic because I had heard some bad stories about another wedding photographer business at the time in Sydney… so I did my homework and spent a lot of time looking up photographers with a good reputation,’ the client said. ‘Ryan’s work was stunning and he had a great reputation in the industry.’

Then, one day, the photo album randomly arrived.

This client spoke with our source, and claims to have been ghosted since after their May 2021 wedding.

‘I already can’t look at the album now without being upset and reminded of the ordeal. My husband and I don’t look at the album that we had to fight to get and pay for. We are happier not having to remember him or have anything to do with him anymore.’

She has since spoken to other clients, including one (right) who had her wedding after April 2021 and was still waiting for a photo album in September.

Another client, Reem Rizk, had her wedding photographed by Schembri in 2016. The package included a $1500 30-page photo album, and after the wedding they decided to add another 30 pages for an additional $1400.

‘We paid him the [additional] $700 deposit and he said to pay the rest when the album is ready,’ she explained to Inside Imaging. ‘Months go by and almost every month I message and ask about the album, he always had a reason or excuse. Apparently it was coming from Italy and he blamed them.

‘Anyway, I got really firm with him, until he finally came back saying album is done and ready to ship from Italy but we need you to pay the remaining fee. So I transferred him the remaining $700. He said he will let me know when they send him a shipping number.

‘Every few weeks I’d message him and ask, he kept saying he’s still waiting. Then Covid started, and he blamed the outbreak in Italy for the reason why it hasn’t been shipped, even though I had been waiting like a year before Covid for it. That’s when I stopped believing him, demanded my money back and never heard from him again!’

Rizk explains she didn’t initially escalate the matter because she assumed Schembri was inundated with work. After all, this is one of Australia’s most popular and sought-after wedding photographers. Not only were there no red flags against his business, but he appeared to be held in the highest regard across the industry.

‘For months I just let it go and forgot about it. I just thought Ryan’s so busy and so popular he’s not going to reply and give this any attention. Until he posted his sob story on Facebook and admitted to doing it to many people. I read it and everyones’ comments who have had the same experience as us, and I was shocked! It also re-ignited that fire inside me and started contacting him and chasing him again. I thought now after admitting it on Facebook, and everyone sharing their anger at him in the comments, surely Ryan will pay everyone back to save his reputation. But nope.’

Rizk references blame heaped on an Italian album manufacturer. This is Graphistudio, a high-end vendor which operates in Australia via the studio of iconic wedding photographer, Yervant Zanazanian.

Daniele Zorzini, Graphistudio general director, informed Inside Imaging that it’s ‘a very sad story’, as ‘these events left unhappy, even desperate brides… involving our brand’, and ‘also because we had a friendly relationship with Ryan and when we first met we really appreciated him and his skills as a photographer’.

Zorzini said that while he could ‘easily clarify’ specific details – spill the beans, as they say – the company’s policy is to not disclose information related to customer orders.

However, ‘we have never disregarded our duties in relation to an order,’ he said. ‘Graphistudio served tens of thousand of customers, many of them top photographers or brands worldwide, and easily anyone would confirm we are a company that never failed in this respect.’

Although Covid did impact GraphiStudio. For three weeks the company’s lead times went from 7.7 days to 17 days, following a two week production halt. It’s safe to say that Graphistudio is blameless in this fiasco.

Sydney-based printer and framer, Frameshop, also dealt with Schembri by supplying acrylic prints but blacklisted the photographer in April 2021. Frameshop manager of customer relations, Mohamad Hannaway, explains Schembri would rush through last-minute orders, and they’d then have to spend months chasing him up for unpaid invoices.

‘Eventually we started holding the orders until he paid – that made it quicker,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘But he got away with the last order. A super rush as always, and it slipped through our cracks. It got done, shipped and unfortunately [we have] not heard from him since. Countless emails/calls with no response.’

The unpaid fee is $450, which compared with other allegations is a small drop in a big pool. Hannaway noted one of Schembri’s unhappy clients also came to them after they received an acrylic print of a blurry photo.

‘We couldn’t really help them out any further as we didn’t have access to any of the other shots that we could help them pick out a better one, but we could tell he was a very difficult person to reach at the best of times, let alone if a customer had a problem.’

A culture of silence

Stories about wedding photographers accused of professional misconduct by failing to meet client expectations are sadly common. But this is the first time a stalwart of the Australian wedding photography has left so many clients feeling burnt. Couples and individuals that did their research, trusted the professional photo industry standards, and spent top dollar for a premium service on a photographer who was seemingly held in the highest regard by his peers. This ain’t some rogue operator who threw together a portfolio overnight and labelled themselves a pro.

And despite promises to pull it together and deliver what is owed, this publication observed nothing to suggest this is happening.

Many in the photo industry were aware of these type of allegations well before they went public. Claims go as far back as a decade ago, suggesting the pattern of alleged misconduct wasn’t suddenly triggered overnight.

One client whose wedding was in 2011 filed a complaint against Schembri with the AIPP Compliance Committee. This client claims to have meticulously collected evidence and presented a rock hard case to the now-defunct AIPP, which failed to resolve the matter. The AIPP was apparently sympathetic, but Schembri continues to promote himself as an AIPP Grand Master and 2012 Wedding Photographer of the Year. These accolades are a major part of Schembri’s marketing, which enables him to build trust with clients and justify his top market position.

The Institute told the Sydney Morning Herald last year his membership had been cancelled in September 2020, after finding he had ‘not complied with the organisation’s standards’. Unlike the Lisa Saad controversy, no public statement was released.

But by then it was too late anyway.

One Comment

  1. Ayfer Evran Ayfer Evran July 5, 2022

    We too have been affected by Ryan . My son paid the full invoice on October 15th 2019 . Wedding was on the 30th May 2021 . So he has had the money since then and still we do not have album . Have contacted him numerous times but all he does gives me the run around . You can not talk to him at all or go and see him. I would love for something to be done asap

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Our Business Partners

Top