Scam Awareness - Scott Hallenberg, Full-time Photographer | Surf and Snow Country Images (Everyday)
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Scam Awarenss

As a full time photographer of over four years, and lifelong amateur photographer for 35+ years (at least since age 14 where I learned to develop my first roll of film), I believe art plays an important role in society and really can make the world a better place. On the surface, Art can make our surroundings more beautiful and on a deeper level, it can change perspectives, social awareness and social norms. It can allow individuals a voice where otherwise they would be silent. In short the world needs artists and artists need the ability to make a living as not all art should be done part time or on terms dictated to artists. Artists need the freedom and environment to create. Yet, pressures are greater than ever to undermine artists, steal their work and undermine their ability to make a living. Without means and favorable working conditions, artists are subjected to exploitation which should not be tolerated especially when other artists are the ones doing these things to their own community either knowingly or even unwittingly.

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In my years as a full time photographer, my eyes have been opened wide to common scams and ways some “creatives” exploit other creatives. I’m writing this because nothing gets under my skin more than when I see how photographers or others in the industry take advantage of others in the industry as it ‘s bad enough when those outside the industry do this. I feel it’s the responsibility of industry professionals to call these things out in order for everyone to have a safe and productive environment they can work in now and in the future.

Following several common unsavory activities to be on the look out. These things surface nearly everyday through various social media platforms. Many simply look the other way. However, if you are an industry professional or aspire to be and do nothing, you are complicit. Always do your research, ask/ find references. Insist on reading contracts ahead of time. Be prepared with your own contract to ensure your concerns are protected, if another contract is not provided. Takes measure to be safe and protected, so that way you may create better art, now and in the future.

Exploitation, Sexual and otherwise. Thanks to the “Me Too” and “Times Up” movements, many brave souls are speaking up and outing predators embedded for years within the industry. It’s about time. I have a little more info on this subject (see links at the bottom of the page.) Be proactive in researching your creative partners, report bad behavior to the Better Business Bureau and other review type platforms AND report illegal criminal behavior to police and other appropriate authorities.

Some photographers will promise models glamorous travel and lavous paydays to lure them into potentially unsafe situations. One technique is they promise to reimburse models after the model pays for the initial travel. So the model flies to a location at which point they’re now stuck and at the mercy of the photographer and crew in that new location. Now funds are withheld, and if not prepared you are in effect held hostage by circumstance. They may be ask/require you to shoot things you aren’t comfortable with and so that’s used as an excuse to withhold payment.

Checkout critically acclaimed documentaries like, “Hot Girls Wanted” for more insight into the world of human trafficking. Some photographers use a third party to “recruit” talent for their shoot and remain anonymous. That photographer may have a bad track record, listed in sexual offense database registry or other issues that make doing research on this person ahead of time difficult or impossible.

Another common scam is when a photographer is hosting a paid workshop in which s/he are charging other photographers for the session, and they invite models to be the subject in exchange for workshop photos in return. This is a situation where models should be paid in cash as your talent is an important part to what will make the workshop be successful, the variety in the images will be minimal, you don’t know who the participants are who may create an unsafe environment, so this is not your standard trade shoot, and precautions should be taken. If the hosting photographer is “famous”, then they should certainly be in a position to pay the talent. Stay clear of anyone with an ego so large that their own talent is the only one worth being paid and everyone else should be honored to work with them.

Excessive Agency Fees. The most respectable agencies have talents’ best interest in mind, and if they can book the best gigs for you they in turn everyone will make money, so it’s a win win. They will likely have a contract with you and invest in your development. The contract is mostly for their protection so read it closely. It may restrict you from booking work on your own and other requirements for which you may be financial liable. Look for mutually beneficial aspects in the contract. It’s not uncommon that you make an investment in your career, too but it needs to be on your terms, not there’s. Think of your talent as business and make your choices accordingly.

There are some despicable agencies that operate on a completely different business model where they require large sums as up front payment (it may be with a company with a different name to hide this.) If you don’t pay, they may send your information to collection agencies that destroys your credit and creates unnecessary stress in your life. They are very experienced in the industry and prey on lesser experienced talent who aren’t wise to their game. They may have some people unwittingly covering for them. This does happen far too often. These large fees go their salaries, operating costs, and promotions of their favorite talent. It removes any incentive they would otherwise have to get you work with real clients. This also means they are less selective about who they recruit. In fact as long as they get paid they could care less. They tell you your fees are going to your training and require you work with only certain photographers. Where as with legitimate agencies, they may require experience and quality photography but are less concerned with whom you work with to get it. Legitimate agencies may have a list of training and photographers they have vetted which can be useful as they provide the quality and style they know their clients want. Certain agencies appeal to certain clients and their needs may vary. One more thing to be on the look out for, is that some agencies will encourage their talent to do a lot of trade work but want those photographers to provide free photos to promote the agency, more than just the model. When agencies are asking models to behave unethically in one area you can be assured they are operating unethically in other parts of their business. How do I know this, I went in and set down with one of these agencies and experienced their lies first hand, but from a photographer’s perspective.

Suggestions when evaluating agencies. Look up their listing and reviews in the Better Business Bureau, Google, Yelp and other outlets. Check with other agencies and compare. If the agency that requires you pay large sums is the only one interested, it’s for your money not your talent. READ, READ AGAIN and have others READ your contract. Do Not sign a contract on the spot. Take the time you need to understand it. If you aren’t given that time, RUN, RUN FAST, RUN FAR

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Free Commercial Photography. There is a growing trend where small business are enticing photographers and talent to produce content these business use to promote their products and services. The photographers and talent may like the brand and want to be associated, but the problem is these business are in business to make money and should budget accordingly in their advertising. This is how fashion and commercial photography even became a thing. If a business is cash strapped and just starting out, but willing to provide product in return for your services that’s a step in the right direction. If they are a marketing, social media or Public Relations and agree to promote your social media that may be a good thing too. But if they are not one of these and don’t have expertise in promotion, yet that is all they are promising you for your photos, it’s an UNFAIR trade and they are exploiting you. You will see many photographers doing the bidding for these companies, recognize what is going on, call out those photographers (privately first), and realize the more this happens, the less opportunities artists will have to make a living when this type of work is allowed to go on. Even non-profit organizations have budgets for marketing so don’t get sucked into forgoing a fair wage for 3rd party organizations looking to benefit from your talent.

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Stealing Copyrights. Unless there is a written agreement transferring copyrights from the photographer to another person/entity the photographer own the copyrights of an image at the moment the shutter is pressed. Copyrights were legally established to give authors, painters, photographers, and other creatives the ability to profit from their creations. Without these protections others could easy acquire these works as their own and profit without anything going to the creators. Copyrights encourage people to create so they are good thing. When you copy “that image” to promote your business or a shoot you want to do you have VIOLATED that photographer’s copyright. To share this information properly, you should find a link to the original creation and share the link. That way the original creator gets credit and viewers which is beneficial to them. Just because that work is posted on another social media platform does not mean it’s free for the takings. Photographers should know better and if you see a photographer guilty of this practice you can expect they behave unethically in other regards. Beware!

Group Shoots…mis-representation. Group shoots can be fun, informative and a good way for models to build their portfolios as they may receive a lot of photos and can pic the ones they like best and use. For amateur photographers it can be a good way to learn lighting, posing and other useful tools and tricks. But what about for those who call themselves professional photographers? Is a photograph from a group shoot representative of that photographer’s ability and should it be in the photographer’s portfolio as work they can produce for their clients? I personally believe that if a photographer participates in a group shoot, then the work that comes form that can go to the models and HMUAs but until that photographer produces similar work unassisted as should be be used to advertise their services unless they actually coordinated the models, HMUA, themes, set, wardrobe etc. It’s false advertising otherwise, right. So if you see works in a Photographer’s portfolio that you know came from a group shoot, be cognizant of the other things they may be misrepresenting. Also, when you go to a group shoot be mindful of who the others are that may be participating. What do you know about them? Will everyone be vetted? Just know before you go.

Trade Shoots. I have more on this topic too (see links at the bottom of the page. ) Tradeshoots are a common way when creatives of similar experience and skills agree to work together to create images that both can use in their portfolios. These are not intended to be used by 3rd parties to benefit commercially. Issues that come up are how many images will be produced, how long it takes to produce them, people not showing up, who all is involved, etc. Use contracts to protect your interests and show your professionalism. Keep in mind there are some people who only do trade shoots as a hobby, so decide if you want to support that type of creative or someone who is actively trying to sell to clients who may want to employ you too. I personally feel the perpetual hobbyist, who may be quite accomplished, should pay for the talent they shoot, just like if they were going to play golf. They would pay for their equipment, T times, lessons and other items just to have a good time. They have other jobs or sources of income so they their approach to trade shoots is quite different than that of an industry professional who is trying to take their profession to next level.


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