For the second time in as many months somebody has tried to use my images to deceive models about their skill level in photography.
Because of this deception it's certainly no giant leap to accuse these individuals of ill intent, especially if they are actively seeking out images of models in their underwear in their first messages of contact.
At the weekend I received a concerning email from somebody who follows my work. I have said that I will keep their name anonymous and they have kindly let me share the situation but I will change the models name in question to Sue for the purpose of this article.
It started when the model Sue was contacted by a lady on Facebook called Jess Nicholl who photographs under the name of Jess Nicholl & Michael Hunter Photography. The conversation began as it usually does, but then Sue asked to see some pictures that Jess & Michael had previously taken. Jess sent some shots and that was when Sue first realised something was up. They'd sent pictures taken by me and Sue recognised them as such straight away.
Jess then requested that the shoot details be finalised via email with her 'partner' Michael (I don't know if this was a security risk on Facebook for them or wether moving to email was just a way to introduce 'Michael'). Once Sue had finalised a date via email, Michael then started to request images of Sue. Then 11 minutes later Michael requested images of Sue in her underwear following it up with a statement that really made my skin crawl 'or should I find another model?' A nasty little threat that insinuates that failing to send underwear pics could result in Sue loosing the shoot.
Below is the screen captures I have from the conversation between Sue, Jess and Michael.
Now there is couple of ways to look at this, firstly I'm sure there are photographers who would argue that if you were shooting a lingerie shoot that you'd require said underwear pics up front. Personally I don't think that Michael went about this in anywhere near the right way and adding 'or should I find another model?' is just a perfect example of how not to be professional.
Secondly I'm sure there are experienced models out there who are screaming 'RED LIGHT' at the absolute deluge of evidence to suggest that Jess & Michael are the very personification of dodgy.
Either way Sue, spotted the warning signs with the suspect images and Googled both of their names and found no reference anywhere to them shooting anything anywhere. As a result she confronted Michael about the stolen images and called him out as a fraud.
Neither Jess or Michael have yet to respond to Sue and she has either been blocked or all profiles and accounts have been deleted and taken down.
Whether you felt Jess (if Jess ever really existed) and Michael were real and just incredibly unprofessional and stupid it would seem that their response to being confronted could be perceived as proof enough of their guilt and ill intent.
We live in a digital age of photography and connectivity, rightly or wrongly it is now the norm for models to attend a photographers home for a photoshoot, I know I for one have photographed a lot of models in my home. But to others outside of our industry this seems like complete madness. A young lady attending a stange mans house alone?! Surely that is a recipe for disaster?! Well the good news is that 99% of the time it isn't a disaster at all and that's firstly because most people are inherently good and secondly with a little knowledge and experience any model can spot a fraud a mile away.
All models start somewhere and remember that at some point even the most experienced models had zero photos in their portfolio to begin with. So what are some of the things to look out for when starting out in modelling to give you the confidence to get some great first shoots under your belt?
First and foremost you can simply ask other models for this advice and that's exactly what I did. When I was building a portfolio I was curious as to why new models would turn up to my home when I didn't have many shots to show them at the start. I asked the first model I ever worked with on Purple Port why she decided to come along. Her name is Natasha Kalashnikova and she already had a ton of shoots in the bag before we worked together and had a wealth of experience in booking shoots at this point so she knew what to look for.
I'll just preface this and say that Natasha was an outstanding model, I would recommend her to anyone as a total professional and I certainly appreciated her being so candid in her responses to my questions about her new-photographer vetting process. It was 3 or 4 years ago now but Natasha said that firstly she Googled my name and looked for my work elsewhere online. She could see that I had done a few shoots previously on Model Mayhem so it seemed like I was legit so far.
Secondly she asked questions in her original messages that were triggers for her to see if I knew what I was talking about. Natasha said that she's been put off shoots in the past because the new 'photographer' just wants you to come over and 'get some shots of you in your underwear'. She went on to say that if a photographer really is looking to create a photograph for artistic reasons then they will have an idea of styling to work with their lighting ideas and will even send example pictures of what they're after. Natasha said that based on my responses and ideas and the fact that I had pictures elsewhere online she felt confident enough to turn up to the shoot.
Lastly Natasha mentioned that when she arrived she stayed in her car and messaged me to say she was outside. She waited in her car until I came to answer the door just so she could get a final analysis of who I was in person. It might seem a little over the top but I thought it was a pretty smart idea. We all have inbuilt warning lights that go off when we see somebody face-to-face for the first time and if something doesn't seem quite right we instantly know it. Natasha gave herself that last option to go with her gut instinct and if it didn't seem right she could quite easily have driven off.
One alternative or additional option I hear a lot is to bring a chaperone to your photoshoot. This is a personal choice but in my opinion, if you don't trust them enough to go alone, bringing one other person with you doesn't help you trust that photographer any more. In fact it means you haven't done enough research in my opinion to decide one way or another. Also in my experience having a chaperone in tow can make for an awkward shoot, yes I know there are lots of cases where it has been fine but the reality is, if you don't trust the photographer enough to go alone, you shouldn't go at all.
On a more personal note my partner also models and I see her getting those warning lights when something doesn't quite seem right with a photographer that she's about to work with. If that's the case she never hesitates to get in touch with a model who has worked with that photographer before and get an honest no bull-shit response as to what that photographer was like. The reason she takes this extra level of precaution is because we all know how saccharin social media and online communities can be and even though there may be a ton of models who are praising the photographer on a public forum there has been occasions where the private story has been a different matter altogether.
Again, go with your gut instinct and don't hesitate to get in touch with other models who've worked with your potential client if you feel something is not quite right. Please models, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but I cannot think that any of you would mind responding to a fellow models concerns. Every time my partner has reached out to another model the responses have been very quick and extremely honest and informative. These private reviews from other models are invaluable so always use them if you think you'd like that extra piece of mind. No model would ever begrudge you asking them for one.
Just briefly whilst we're on the subject of reviews and testimonials I would also recommend starting modelling on a platform that has a community based around other models and photographers. I know there are plenty of non agency signed models out there who make a very successful living from Facebook and Instagram photoshoot bookings but if you're starting out and you don't yet have the experience then beginning on a modelling community site is probably a safer place to start. For example Purple Port here in the UK has a very active community that tend to look out for one another. If a photographer screws up on there then everybody knows about it very quickly indeed. Purple Port is by no means perfect but it does at least allow for positive feedback to be left by people who have worked with the photographer in the past. No, you can't leave negative feedback (a site initiative to avoid any knee-jerk witch-hunting) but the absence of positive feedback is often proof enough of their experience level. Other modelling websites like Model Mayhem have colossal communities but don't offer the facility to leave any feedback about specific shoots. If you're planning shoots on there then directly message the photographers previous models to find out more.
So to all the photographers out there, models talk to one another a huge amount about every aspect of the shoot, you have to be on your best behaviour at all times. I recently heard one private review from a model about a tog that went something like this 'he made awful tea but his images were awesome' (glad that wasn't me). One stupid mistake and models far and wide will hear about it long before you've even finished packing up. You have been warned so stick to what was arranged in the pre-shoot messages, don't ask your model to do anything that hasn't been discussed and make great tea and you'll be absolutely fine.
I understand that most of the people who actually read my blog are likely to be photographers but if this warning reaches and helps at least one model then it will have been time well spent on my part.
So to re-cap some of the points that new models should bear in mind when organising their first shoots.
1. Simply Google the photographers name. If nothing comes up then this should be your first warning sign.
2. Ask your photographer questions, 'what type of lighting or setups will we be shooting?', 'what kind of styling are you looking for?' and 'what sort of makeup do you think will work best?'. If all you're getting back is 'whatever you think looks best just bring lots of lingerie' then this photographer might require a bit more research.
3. Ask the photographer to send you example pictures of the ideas they're looking to achieve. Remember when somebody says 'I want to shoot boudoir' images this could mean anything from suggestive well lit black and white shots or it could mean Playboy centrefold imagery. Make sure you're both aware of what to expect from the shoot.
4. If you decide to arrange a shoot then you could also get them to meet you at a public place like collecting you from the train station or stay in your car until you're happy they seem to be who they say they are. This is not ideal but it is something to consider if you have the option.
5. If you don't trust the photographer enough to go alone but instead would rather attend with a chaperone I'd think about why you're not trusting them in the first place. If you don't trust the photographer enough to go alone, you shouldn't go at all.
6. Reach out to other models who have worked with the photographer in the past. Message them directly, mention that you're starting and get them to give you an honest and private opinion.
7. Use a model community site like Purple Port. They have a community of models that have worked with more well known photographers and you're sure to find plenty of good ones that have a great track record.
The main reason I put this list together is because I know when you're starting out as a model it's tricky to get experienced photographers to work with you. As a result you end up working with less experienced photographers who don't always have a strong reputation in the industry or a lot of testimonials. Be smart like our model Sue and spot the frauds long before you organise anything.
Remember most of the photographers out there are just trying to get experience with photoshoots just like you are, they have no ill intent and most models go through a career without incident at all. These pointers are there to give you the best possible chance of a successful shoot and highlight some things to look out for when starting out.
If theres any more experienced models out there then please feel free to add any other pointers that you feel are relevant to new models. I'm not a model so I apologise if I've missed anything blazingly obvious. Also feel free to recommend any other modelling communities that you feel might be relevant to new models too and please feel free to share this with any model friends starting out and let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Many thanks indeed for reading.