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Thursday, 24 September 2009 18:16

What is Due Diligence in the Internet Modeling and Photography Environment?

By Curt Burgess, PhotoworksWS

In the debate about the usefulness of an escort for safety purposes versus doing one's due diligence the question often comes up about exactly what is involved in the due-diligence process. First, in wondering if you even need an escort, find out from the photographer if a make-up artist, stylist, or other staff will be present. If so, consider if you really need an escort. But what is meant by due-diligence? It is commonly known as "doing your research," "checking references," "doing your homework," "using common sense," "having a clue," or "being an adult" among other things. Due-diligence is the process that you undertake to verify the quality, professionalism, and safety of a prospective experience with a photographer. This is a list of some possible steps to take - nobody would need to do all of these. You need to assess your concerns and interests to determine what specific steps to take.

So what are the specific behaviors entailed in the due-diligence process? Here are some of the possibilities to consider:

Stage 1, Things that are not that hard to do

  1. Verify that there are indicators of professionalism. An Independent web site and professional email address are a start. Have they been on modeling/photography web sites for awhile? If they are a professional, do they have a registered business license?
  2. Plug their name into Google (name alone; then name + photographer) and evaluate what the search returns. There are only several verified cases in this country of a photographer harming a model, and had the model conducted a simple online search, she may have discovered sufficient information to cause an alarm. As an example, we plugged-in the name of a well-known photographer. This search, using the photographer's name along with the keyword "photographer," yields very useful information. It is clear that he has a portfolio on Model Mayhem and One Model Place. One also sees that a model he has worked with has said very positive things about him on her blog. It can also be seen that he has been an associate of another well known photographer and has been staff at his well-known seminars. A recent case discussed at length in an online forum demonstrated that a cursory Google search would have revealed that a photographer had been a problem with several models. One model discussed it on her blog and other telling information came up as well. Many models reported on this thread that they had various problems with the photographer. The Internet has a wealth of information and Google is your friend.
  3. Does the photographer have examples of tear sheets or ads to his credit? If so, does a Google search confirm that such products or companies exist? It is not unusual that a fraudulent photographer will construct an image that has the appearance of a legitimate ad. For example, if the ad were for "Hoboken Sweaters Inc" one would be suspicious since no such company can be found on Google. That said, many excellent amateurs have no tear sheets at all. This should not be taken to discourage working with hobbyists.
  4. Most online modeling sites have a mechanism where one can leave a comment or "tag." Do the tags suggest ongoing, longer term relationships with people or are the tags mostly "Hey thanks for the comments?" One can be more confident if these reflect actual relationships rather than accumulated tags from someone who acquiring more superficial or invited comments.
  5. Checking references. Check with models that the photographer has worked with, or photographers that the model has worked with. This is one of the most important things you can do since these people have done what you will be doing . A photographer or model who cannot provide you with some verifiable references is suspect. Don't just ask "So is he (or she) ok?" Explore how it was for them to work with the photographer (open ended questions are more informative than yes/no questions). Here's some example questions: "What was your experience like?" "How did he treat you?" "Did the photographer act professionally?" "Was he respectful of your boundaries?" If paid, "How and when were you paid?" If trade (TFP or TFCD), "What was the agreement on what you would receive and did you receive your images when you expected?" "Did the images you received live up to the quality that you were expecting?" "Would you recommend this photographer to another model?" Find out if the model worked with the photographer one-on-one or if it was a workshop or group shoot. A positive reference from a quasi-public setting such as a group shoot is of marginal (but better than no) value. Of course, don't overwhelm someone when asking for a reference. If they have something bad to say, you can be sure they likely will.
  6. Check their online portfolios and verify that the photographer has contact information for the models. One could have lots of models listed but make them unavailable for reference checking. Don't necessarily ask someone else to provide you with references, as they will surely never give you someone's name from whom they would expect a bad review. Look at their portfolio and contact someone in it yourself.
  7. Does the photographer appear to have legitimate photographic interests? Particularly with respect to nude images, does the photographer strive to create the sorts of images that you want to reflect your goals or are they mostly sub-standard by your standards. There is a small (we hope) subset of amateur photographers who have the sole goal to simply to get models out of their clothes. Do you find their efforts serious enough to suggest that this is not their goal?
  8. Does the photographer operate out of a studio, home, or on site? A studio or public location are considered by most to be the safest although it's not clear that this is necessarily true (remember, documented cases of actual harm coming to models remain few).
  9. Does the photographer appear unreasonable, creepy or wacky on web site forums? While many people adopt an "Internet Persona," this is something that should still be taken into account.
  10. Has the person worked with entities other than internet models? Publications, fashion shows, newspapers, etc.
  11. Does the photographer provide you with a model release prior to the shoot? Is it acceptable to you?

Stage 2, When you've decided you will consider the shoot.

  1. You may choose to have a pre-shoot meeting to rule out obvious social/interaction problems. I don't have a lot of faith in this since it is very difficult for even professionals to detect deception, and some professionals are simply too busy to meet with everyone. But if it makes you feel better, it's your right to ask for it, just as it's their right to decline.
  2. If the photographer doesn't allow escorts ask why to insure that there is a coherent reply and not evidence of anything that makes you uncomfortable. Again, it's your right to ask and their right to accept or decline.
  3. Do any of the photographers that the model knows have positive things to say about the prospective photographer?
  4. Does the Better Business Bureau have anything negative listed? Once you access your local BBB, search for "photographer." When you find a photographer you can access their information with the BBB and see what types of claims have been filed. A major limitation to this strategy is that many small businesses are not listed and the large majority of amateur photographers will not have a listing here. Thus, the absence of a report is not necessarily damning, however it is informative if a listing is present and there are complaints. That said, being listed with the BBB with a good reference is also of questionable value, as the BBB is not a government body. It is a private company and its members pay a fee to be listed. Some consider joining the BBB to be "buying a good reputation."
  5. Check the sexual offender sites. This site links to the state resources (check out your neighborhood for a thrill). This is a long-shot, of course. As was said, verified incidents are few and far between, but if checking makes you feel better, by all means do it.
  6. Make sure you have called the photographer at their phone number and that they answer.
  7. Discuss with the photographer what types of photos will be taken. Particularly if there is nudity or restraints involved, it is important for both parties to understand what the expectations are and what each parties limitations are. Confirm these expectations and agreements via email so you have a record and take this record to the shoot in case there are questions.
  8. Do you sense any reservations or weirdness on the part of the photographer in discussing these items and other shoot expectations?
  9. Does the photographer have any education, either formal or experience-based, to indicate substantive interest in the field? Did the photographer buy his camera last week? Or has the photographer received a degree or taken coursework in photograph, have experience assisting a more senior photographer, taken professional workshops in photography, photoshop, or areas related to your need? Of course, many new-to-the-field hobbyists are doing excellent work, but if you're agreeing to a shoot for specific purposes, it's good to ensure that those purposes can be met.

Stage 3 , The day of photoshoot

  1. Make sure someone knows where you are during the shoot (they should have the address, your cell number and the photographer's name and phone number). This is good advice whenever you leave the house to meet anyone new, of course.
  2. Have a cell phone with you. One way to make it clear to the photographer is to verify about when the shoot will be over and call your friend in the photographers presence. No need to tell the photographer that this is for your security, just do it - they understand. However do not use it during the shoot, it's very disruptive.
  3. If you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone or beyond the previously arranged expectations, it is important that you speak up. Do not let yourself "be forced" to do anything you do not want to do.
  4. Do not sign a model release unless you are comfortable with the situation.
  5. If you are unhappy at some point in the shoot, decide if you can discuss this with the photographer (ideally you should), and resolve it on the spot. Always remember that you do not have to "stick it out" if you are being pressured into something you are not comfortable with.
  6. If a photographer threatens you in any way, simply leave. Do not worry about your reputation with photographers; do be concerned about your own sense of self-worth and safety. Do not let yourself be bullied into anything.