Who's That on the Other Side of the Camera?

Your security is paramount!  For those who are interested in starting out as models, HMUAs, and/or  photographers, there are many things to consider in what it takes to be successful. I hate to  disappoint but this is not about all the fun and glamorous aspects of the industry. Nor is this article a how-to guide for selecting your creative team.  It does not even address how you can identify talent that will help you.  Rather this discussion deals with some of the real world considerations for taking appropriate safety precautions when working with those you don't know. It’s important to know whom will be on the other side of the camera before you shoot. Having a safe working environment is paramount for obvious reasons, but I also find it leads to everyone performing at their best.

There can be risk to each party involved just like with any other service industry where people are working closely with others in the Field. Think of it like catfishing in the muddy lakes in Tennessee.  You're putting yourself out there, wiggling your thumb, and you hope it's a catfish that's grabbing hold and not a snapping turtle or worse a cottonmouth...but I digress.....  Real Estate agents, massage therapists and other service industries have very similar concerns. When I was shooting in SoCal a few years ago, I walked away from a shoot where the model brought an escort along with  guard dog which gave me a weird feeling.    If the guy was nice it would have been no big deal but he had a jealous boyfriend attitude and they were 30 minutes late, so that made it an easy out. I really didn’t want to get rolled for my gear☹  or worse....The lesson I learned, and I knew better, was that I had not done my research on this model. Later I discovered some other San Diego photographers being concerned with the manner in how escorts were showing up and then being outnumbered with a lot of expensive gear on hand.  In San Francisco, gang members were holding up shoots and and walking away with gear, cash and other valuables.  For the most part these are the rare exceptions.  

That said, I fully appreciate that the consequences for females tend to be of far greater concern, so I think this list especially especially applies for females regardless of the profession (model, HMUA, & photography).  Take every safety precaution you feel appropriate AND beware of how these may be perceived by others on the team.  If your safety precautions (legally packing heat, dogs, body guards, make others feel less safe...well be prepared and willing to accept that you may be asked to leave should others now feel threatened.  It's okay and may just the best for everyone in certain circumstances.   So just be aware, be perceptive and put yourself in others shoes while protecting your interests. 

A healthy dose of skepticism is advisable when starting a new business relationship.  Based on comments I’ve seen among a few social media forums, I suspect many will disagree with the specific points I have outlined, which is fine. I do invite objective debate as it helps to make informed decisions. Just give it your consideration and do what makes sense for YOU. After all, if everyone were like-minded this would never be an issue. However, because this  industry brought together through social media really represents a cross section of society, I offer these points as mere suggestions. The more of them that you can apply to a given shoot situation, the more likely you will have a successful session. The more knowledge you have, the safer and more successful you will be. Leaving it to luck and blind trust carries with it a lot of unnecessary risks.

IMPORTANT: Regardless of how much research you decide to do. If you feel someone is doing unlawful activities, REPORT them to the appropriate legal authorities and/or the better business bureau. A fair and thorough investigation can happen this way. If they are a menace then it can actually be stopped but with due process.  You may also report them to the social media source administrators

(Note: If you are in this for a hobby or doing this for social purposes, you might as well skip this…good luck and be safe.)

Techniques for vetting others  (a small business/ freelancers approach):

1) Does the other person(s) you plan to work with have a business license? (If so, they should be able to provide you a copy that can be verified through the state. Why is this important? Registering for a business license adds a level of legitimacy as personally identifiable information is provided. Information is provided to the state, is verified, and taxes paid so it’s the first step in having a legitimate business.Business licenses are required to be displayed in obvious locations.)

2) Check with the better business bureau or local chamber of commerce to see if there are issues with that person’s business. Simply ask them for their information and then verify it.  This is trickier depending on where the business is registered. However the BB can be a good clearing house for registering complaints as they interact with the business in question. They have a vested interest in representing reputable businesses.  Chamber of Commerces verify a business’s legitimacy, require dues to be paid, and help to market a business to that community. It also provides another level of legitimacy.  Check with sex offender databases just in case.  This industry has more than it's fair share, sadly.

3) Verify whether the person carries liability insurance to cover accidents that could happen on set. While rare, hot lights can fall and injure, allergic reactions can occur with makeup, etc. If they don’t have it, do you in case an accident occurs? Serious professionals will carry it is required by many venues for certain types of event shooting.

4)  Verify/Confirm the person's place of work.  Are they a full time at what they do?  Does the person have a legitimate website, studio or method for doing business which would indicate the degree they are invested in their craft? If not, do they at least have a legitimate Facebook page so you can at  see their work. And for models and HMUAs, why not have a dedicated page that is separate from your personal page that contains CURRENT digitals and headshots. List other vital stats relevant for the type of modeling you want to do. That way you don’t have to provide additional photos for each shoot. Do keep your portfolio current. It’s highly disappointing when the person who shows up looks nothing like the person in “their” portfolio. Does your portfolio showcase your talents or the photographer’s?

5) Determine how they handle payment transactions. Do they do trade only, cash only, can they handle credit card, or Paypal transactions? This information simply speaks in part to their legitimacy as a professional and whether they can handle a business transaction. (I personally do not like to handle cash payments when on location.)  

6) Check with respective trade organizations. For example if the photographer is a member of Professional Photographers of America, you can go to PPA.com to verify membership by running their business name. Trade organizations require dues and would suggest the person has a vested interest in the industry and continuing education. And for new photographers, you might want to consider paying an experienced photographer or hire models through a reputable agency. (On a side note, if your entire portfolio is built on assisted, group, or other workshop style shoots, is it really your portfolio that you are displaying?  Can you produce comparable results without that same support structure?  While you may have pressed the shutter, did you select the wardrobe, pose the model, identify the location and manage the lighting so that you could reproduce similar results on your next shoot? This is a topic for another day…but just a consideration.)

7) Ask people you know and trust for recommendations (relying solely on social media can be big mistake as rumors and unsubstantiated innuendo spreads like wildfire...Don't ignore it BUT don't rely on it exclusively.) Ask the person you plan to work with to provide references, tear sheets, and other real world examples. Be sure to ask some specifics questions to get facts about what you should expect.  In there online activity, do they behave in ways you like and agree with.  Do they bash others, provide useful information, post stolen photos, rant and make false accusation Note:  often you will see people post photos when looking to do trade shoots that are not theirs which begs the questions, (a) can they produce similar results, (b) why are they not posting their own photos, (c)how do they justify stealing another photographers photos (providing links to other photos are a different story as that way the photographer gets proper credit) (d)  will they treat the work you agree to do in a considerate and ethical fashion?

8) Communication is key. Take accountability by asking the person questions about their business, their approach for the shoot, contingency plans etc. This not only helps ensure you get what you need from the shoot but helps you determine the level of professionalism and competence of the other person. It’s similar to a traditional job interview.

9) Confirm whether  the person uses contracts for doing business?  Ensure they do or provide one of your own whether it is for paid or trade in services. You have rights that should be protected.  Not only, does using contracts eliminate a lot of miscommunication and potential disappointment from the shoot, it demonstrates a higher level of professionalism for all parties involved.

All of the above represent an investment of time, money and commitment.  They are not fool proof, but are a great place to start. Think of them as jig saw pieces with the more you have in place the easier the full  picture is to see.

Other considerations:

10) Define your boundaries and principles and feel confident in sticking to them.

11) Social Media is not a very effective method for stopping undesirable behaviors and can frankly create larger issues for you if not handled properly.

     a) The perpetrator (if they in fact have ulterior motives) will simply find another way.

     b) If it’s a genuine misunderstanding the other person may want to pursue slander and libel charges against you if you hurt their business with your comments and it turns out their side of the story is legitimate. As difficult as it may seem slander and libel statues exist to protect innocence until proven guilty. Of course you have free speech and all but the other person has rights, too. So evaluate things from their perspective so you can present a balanced argument if it comes to that. Frequently, vigilante behavior seems appropriate when only one side of the story is told. That’s why it’s best to deal with the legal authorities when it comes to situations as serious as your safety and that of others.

    c) However social media can be used to determine whether the other behaves in a professional manner that is indicative of how they may be with you.  Does association with them enhance or hurt your brand?  Considerations.

              i) Do they post quality images that is their work and give credit?  Some photographers have others retouch their images for their portfolio (often there is no mention or credit given to the retoucher.  This is tricky because you don't know whether they will do that for a trade shoot.)  By the same token, many photographers build their portfolio through group shoots.  Again this is tricky because you don't know to what extent the creative work is their or shat other photographers did for that shoot.  (Personally, group shoots are a good way to learn but I would not use for my portfolio, lot's of top photographers agree.)    

              ii)  Do they  steal images from others and post for inspiration--yes, it violates copyrights and when photographers do this it's a double standard.  Copyrights are the backbone of most creative professional (musicians, authors, painters, photographers, and other artists.  If they don't respect other artists, don't expect them to respect you.  What type of comments do they post?  Is it about quality photography or they making flirtatious, innuendo or other objectifying remarks?  

             iii)  When photographers are vetting models or HMUAs, much of the same applies. Referrals are key.  Showing up on time is paramount whether it's trade or paid.   If paid, and clients are present when talent is late it's a reflection on the creative team.  Can the model do their own hair & make up or do they require a pro?  I've had several models contact me minutes before a shoot saying they are going to be late because of the hair and make up person being late or messing up when I did not even know this was happening.  As a photographer I want to be in communication with the HMUA as that is a critical piece to lighting and the creative process. Plus it's nice to credit the HMUA when they contribute to a shoot.

              iv) Do they use social media to rant, vent and belittle other creatives?  If so, do you want to be subjected to this level of drama which sometimes escalates to cyberbullying.  I once worked with someone where I had seen their rant against another photographer.  Somehow I thought I would be that perfect photographer and deliver a great experience.  I thought I did that and had every indication that was the case. but then saw this person posting negative comments.  I should have trusted my initial instincts as there are just so many options that we need to subject ourselves to the negativity.  Know the difference from someone ranting vs someone who is speaking up to create a better environment for the community at large. 


12) Escorts can be tricky. Many suggest this a good idea and sometimes it is the best approach. You’ll have to figure out how you want to handle it. The best advice I can give is to not lay all of your cards on the table but balance that with the situation you are creating with the other person too. Minimally speaking, at least have your phone and check in with someone who knows your itinerary.  Bring someone who is professional and will not interfere with the creative process.  Helping with the creative process is an added benefit and nice when this is known.   Asking questions about settings, lighting, sniffing around the equipment, and taking BTS, and carrying on other business that disrupts the shoot is frowned upon.

As a photographer, I’m fine with others on set, but I do like to know so I can vet them as well for my one safety and if others will be there on the team.   I prefer that everyone on set is participating in the creative process and not providing a distraction or tension.

13) If you are new to your craft, consider paying for an experienced professional for your first few shoots to build a better portfolio quicker than messing around with trade with those you don’t know. (This is a separate topic too as there has been much debate regarding trade shoots.)

14)  In the age where everyone has an online persona, it never hurts to Google that SH#@!:


Lastly, there is no silver bullet, so you will have to use your best judgment! With care and a little research  you can have fun, safe, and productive shoots.  

Good luck. Be safe. Make Great Pictures!

Author:  Scott Hallenberg is the owner / photographer of Surf and Snow Country Images based in Park City, UT.   He specializes in headshot, lifestyle, and commercial photography.  Visit www.SurfandSnowCountryImages.com 

Copyright 2018.  All Rights Reserved.  Links may be provided to others but no excerpts may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

Scott Hallenberg | Full Time Photographer | Park City, UT

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