I had to laugh when I opened up the email. I read it three times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating because it was so obvious what they were doing. I know when someone is trying to scam me, but the audacity of this one takes top prize.
If you’re in the photography business for any length of time, there are going to be people who will try to rip you off. It’s just the nature of the business. Sometimes they don’t even do it intentionally. They think they have your best interests in mind, but they are actually wasting your time, energy, and money.
But my main concern here is you. I want your business to succeed! You shouldn’t have to live in fear that someone will scam you. So let’s identify the three types of people who are going to try to scam you AND how you can avoid getting scammed by them!
(this is a long post, but your money and peace of mind are worth it, trust me)
Yes, the photography industry has its very own “Nigerian Prince” type scam emails. I’m not sure how often portrait photographers get them, but wedding and event photographers get them ALL the time!
If you’re on any sort of big wedding website like The Knot or WeddingWire, you might find yourself inundated with these scam requests. They usually stand out pretty easily with their horrible grammar, and contradictory or nonsensical statements.
Usually when I see those emails, I get a vision of Admiral Ackbar in my head shouting, “IT’S A SCAM!”
What are they trying to do?
Most often, they are trying to steal your identity and/or your money! They will ask for your bank information so they can wire you money. Or, they will send a bank or cashier’s check for waaaaaay more than they agreed to pay you and say they need you to pay other vendors. The check will bounce. You shouldn’t be paying any other vendors. And you should NEVER give your bank information to a potential client. There are other ways they can send you money. If they fight you on it, you can be pretty sure it’s a scam.
The other, more rare occurrence, is that they want your time or information. What do I mean by that? They could be another photographer posing as a potential client trying to get your pricing info or your contract. They might want to see how your sales process works. They’re fishing for information.
How to avoid these types of scams
If the inquiry reads like a scam, my first piece of advice is don’t even reply. Don’t give them your email address. If you do, at the very least, you will notice an increase in your spam email. At worst, they will use your email to try to access other parts of your life.
Never, never, never give someone your bank information. NEVER pay other ‘vendors’ for a client. You’re the photographer. That’s your job. I know you might really want to get paid, but if the red flags start going up, ask questions. If they can’t answer them, cut bait and don’t respond.
“Oh, we don’t have a budget for photography, but this project is going to be great exposure for you!”
Really, does exposure pay my bills?
When you’re starting out as a photographer, getting any clients at all might feel like an overwhelming process. So, when a potentially cool project comes along and you’re not going to get paid, you might jump at the chance to add some photos to your portfolio that might lead to actual paying clients!
Well, the first thing you have to ask yourself is, “What are they going to do with these photos?”
Are they going to use them to make money? Yes? Then you should get paid.
Just because someone has 30,000 Instagram followers doesn’t mean any of their followers are going to hire you. Getting credit is the bare minimum someone can do for you. Literally.
I’ve been credited by social media accounts with over 100,000 followers and it did very little for either my social media following or new clients coming in – AND I got paid for those jobs.
Depending on the situation, you can create an agreement with this type of client where you retain all copyright and agree to license the photos to them if they want to use the pictures commercially (in any way where they will make money). You can agree to license the photos for a set period of time, and, after that time period is up, you can increase the licensing fee. That way, if your photos are making them money, they will have it in their budget to pay you accordingly.
Then there will be clients who just don’t want to pay you…even though they agreed to…and you did the work.
You might be thinking, “This only happens with start ups and small companies, right?” Nope. Big companies do it all the time.
How to avoid being scammed by clients
Get yourself a solid contract!! If you don’t have one, we offer a few great options in our store that you can download immediately after purchase. A good contract will protect both you and your client. It will make sure it is spelled out in clear language what is expected from both parties.
Make sure YOU have thoroughly read your contract and know what is in there, because you may need to adjust items for particular clients or depending on your workflow.
Don’t promise things you can’t deliver!! You’re only getting yourself into trouble that way and they will turn it and use it against you.
Make sure any agreement says when, how much, and how you will get paid.
Spell out who owns the copyrights to the photos and what they are allowed to do with them.
If there is a problem, you can always point to the legally binding, signed contract.
Don’t work for ‘exposure’. Even if you’re starting out, charge a small fee and specify in your agreement what they can use the photos for and for how long. Be professional, state it kindly, these are your rates and this is what they can do with the pictures. Just make sure they know you don’t work for free.
Because if you work for free, they will keep coming back to you…asking you to work for free…and they will tell other people you work for free.
Trust me, I know from experience.
Yea, you might be surprised to see this, but friends are the folks who will often unwittingly take advantage of you.
I learned this lesson the hard way, because, for a long time, it was very hard for me to say ‘no’ to anyone. And these were my ‘friends’!
“Hey, I need new headshots! Could you take a few pictures of me? It will only take half an hour…”
“Hey, I’m working on this project. Can you bring your camera over and take some photos?”
“We’re having a party! We’d love for you to come! Be sure to bring your camera with you!”
I know it’s hard to say ‘no’ to friends, but, if you have decided that you want to be a professional photographer, this is your business. You should get paid.
How to avoid being ripped off by friends
Teach them to value your work. Charge them. $20, $50…whatever it is, at the very least charge them something for your time. Otherwise, they will see you as the ‘free photographer’ just like the clients I talked about above.
Like I said before, they might not even know they are taking advantage of you. They see it as a favor you’re doing for them because you’re friends. Well, the favor you can do is to not charge them your normal rates – if that’s what you decide to do. In my experience, the people who ask you to work for them for free rarely return the ‘favor’.
So, we’ve identified the types of people who will try to take advantage/scam/rip you off, and what you can do about it.
But WHY do photographers fall victim to these scams? I have one word for you…
We fear not making enough money.
We fear not getting that next shoot.
We worry that people will never hire us if we say ‘no’.
We fear not getting recommendations or referrals or enough exposure because we asked to get paid what we’re worth.
We’re afraid our friends will resent us for asking them to pay us for what we do for a living.
It’s time to stop being so afraid you fall victim to a scam!
Be aware. Be on the look out. Be confident that you should get paid!
And if you don’t have a contract you trust to protect you – get one now!!
Have you ever been a victim of a scam? Tell me in the comments below – and be sure to share this post with your photographer friends to make sure they are protected too!!