I haven’t been back to Zilker Botanical Garden since they decided to institute the $50 fee to shoot there. It’s been six years. I understood why they started charging a fee since I had seen all forms of abuse from photographers at the place for all of those years ago. It was almost golf course like in the fashion in which you needed to wait at all of the cool locations for the other photographers to ‘get done with the hole’ so you could shoot there. I decided I wouldn’t bother with the location anymore and figured that the fee would deter photographers from almost ever going there and it would go back to just being a fabulous garden. Little did I know that there were more ‘photographers’ than ever before on my recent visit.
I had a recent request to shoot a bridal there and the client understood the fee and was happy to pay it. The website was fairly straight forward. They close at 7pm. You can not get dressed on location. The photographer must come in person to pay the fee and sign an agreement during business hours during weekdays. It seemed like they were really trying to keep people from taking pictures there according to the website. I’m okay with that. I hadn’t planned to ever go back so I was prepared for the run around.
Well, their website has some inconsistencies in its midst. Basically everything was incorrect. They actually closed at 6:30pm. The bride could dress on location. The photographer could actually email or fax the paperwork to Zilker Botanical Gardens, and to top it off you didn’t need to pay the fee until you showed up on the day of the shoot. I was annoyed but still had an open mind. Only a government entity could have so many things wrong on a website and then act like the website means nothing. I’d love to try that with my clients sometime. I’m sure that would go over well. When emailing back Zilker Botanical Gardens with questions immediately after they had emailed us, we found that they were going to be out of the office until after our shoot was over. Apparently the bride called to verify to the closing time and was met with curt responses telling her that the website was incorrect.
Enter the red shirts
I figured Zilker Botanical Gardens would be empty. $50 should have been enough to eliminate a good deal of the semi pros who flooded the place back in the day when I went there often. We arrived early and waited near the gift shop and started noticing people in red shirts with cameras. I saw four, no five of them waiting around near the front of the gift shop, all forms of miscellaneous cameras on straps dangling. The shirts all said, “Portrait Scene,” on them. A quick Google on my phone brought me to a Groupon from a company in Michigan who sold portrait sessions for $19 for a 30 minute session. They had sold over a 1000 of them and the map on Groupon showed Zilker Botanical Gardens as the epicenter for this flood of people wanting cheap portraits.
We chatted for a few minutes with one of the red shirt, ‘Portrait Scene’ people. The most bizarre thing to learn was that Zilker Botanical Gardens apparently prefers big business over local small business. My client paid Zilker Botanical Gardens $50 to have me shoot her bridal session there for two hours. But the red shirt said that Zilker Botanical Gardens only charges that per company so if you have 25 people working for your company they can all be shooting at the same time for $50. A small company like mine where I am one person shooting for one person for two hours pays the same rate. I thought Austin would be a little more pro small business. Instead I find out that they would prefer to have the for or five red shirts tromping around in the garden for the same price as I pay. As far as footprints and destruction of plants go, I can certainly say that Portrait Scene gets a lot more for their money. Perhaps when someone from the City of Austin finds this article when Googling Zilker Botanical Gardens some kind of change will be made.
As for the Portrait Scene, you get what you pay for. And we all know what happens to red shirts.
What do ya know? I have a location blacklist now. I expect this kind of pro big business treatment in Dallas or Houston, but Austin? I’m not shooting at Zilker Botanical Gardens again. If that’s a problem for you please contact the City of Austin Parks and Rec and let them know that their park has been blacklisted by Rebel With a Camera for preferential treatment of big business over local small business. See if they care. My guess is that they don’t and would rather have a troupe of uninsured red shirted ‘photographers’ who are contracted for $20 an hour who hold zero personal liability for what they do in the Zilker Botanical Gardens.
Groupon’s Background Information
Exactly how Groupon works is not generally known to all, so I thought I’d explain their workings to everyone who has an attention span long enough to read this far. Groupon is obviously a discount service that attracts people who are deal and discount shoppers. I count myself as one of these but also understand that you get what you pay for. If something sounds too good to be true than it generally is too good to be true. To get Groupon to sell your service for your business at that incredible discount you need to give them half of the selling price. For Portrait Scene to be charging $19 for a session and a couple of prints they are only receiving $9.50. It’s not a good deal and is probably some of the most expensive advertising known to man. In the end a lot of businesses ended up working for free and losing money and getting really upset when they see someone walking into their store with a Groupon.