Tag Archives: client

Scammer Time

Screen capture of text message exchange with "Hiro Cane," a scam artist trying to lure me into a con.

Screen capture of text message exchange with “Hiro Cane,” a scam artist trying to lure me into a con.

“Hello, I’m Hiro Cane. How are you ? I’ll like to know your free available date in August for my family reunion (5 hours photo coverage). Also i want family portraits done for all the families coming together for the reunion. Do you accept credit card payment ?”

When the above text message dropped into my in box a couple of weeks ago, I was genuinely excited. Out of the blue, here was someone wanting to hire me to shoot a family reunion. It looked like a good opportunity to expand my client base. Rather than reply to the text, I tried to call the associated number. That’s when things started going sideways. Instead of getting the client or his voicemail greeting, I got an automated message stating that the phone number was set up to send and receive text messages, only. “Hmm, that’s odd.”

Unable to reach the client by phone, I replied to the text by thanking him for contacting me and asking for a phone number I could call to speak with him about the event. A short time later, I received a second text in which the person explained that he is hearing impaired. He asked me to send him my email address so we could move the conversation off text. Alarms were starting to go off in my head. It was suspicious that he didn’t want to talk, even through a friend or family member as an intermediary. I was also still interested in doing the shoot so, after weighing my options, I decided to send him a very simple text with just my email address.

“Thank you for giving me your email. I want you to check if you have available weekends between August 6th-28th. If you have a date open i want you to work on the estimate cost for the 5 hours photo coverage from 11am-4pm, and 6-16×20 prints family photo portraits because  we have 6 families coming together for the reunion event. The event will be held locally here in the state about an hour or two drive from your location, i will cover the travel expenses. I got your information on the internet and i hope you can handle this event. I’ll be making 60% down payment in advance with my credit card to book the date also i will forward you the event venue once the event planner book the hall. I will be looking forward to read from you with the estimate ASAP.”

Less than an hour later, I received the above email. I’ll be honest, the details he offered had dollar signs dancing in my head. The scope of the shoot, travel expenses, the potential for print orders and licensing fees added up to at least a mid-four figure quote. However, it was the lack of detail in some areas that gave me pause. It was odd that he didn’t want to meet or speak with me, directly. He wouldn’t provide a specific date or location for the event. He didn’t ask to see samples of my work nor did he reference having already seen (and liked) my work.

I replied by email, offering two weekends in August when I would be available to do the shoot. I also asked him to give me the name and location of the venue where the reunion would be held. With that information, I could contact the venue to confirm that this client had been in contact or possibly even held some dates.

“The event is going to be both indoor and outdoor. And i will need an unlimited candid shot that will be in a DVD or USB with the right to prints anytime. The 16×20 will be a group photo for individual family. So can you get back to me with the total estimation and the type of credit card you accept.”

When I received the above message, I was convinced this person was a con artist. The urgency with which he wanted to receive my quote and make a large advance deposit was simply unnatural. Let’s be honest, no legitimate client is that eager to part with their hard-earned money. That little voice in my head was warning me, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.”

My next step was critical: how do I reply to make it clear that I won’ t move forward without some form of personal interaction and do so without offending a potential client? After some careful thought, I replied by email asking for his full contact information and stating that I would need to speak with him or his representative to be sure I fully understood his expectations and needs, before I could prepare a quote.


In the two weeks since that initial text and email exchange, there has been no further contact from this “client.” I have, however, received email and text messages from other supposed clients making the same or similar requests. There is no doubt in my mind that these are fraudulent and that I’ve been targeted for a scam. I was curious about one thing, how would the scam have played out?

Recently, I did a simple Google search for “photography scam” and the results were illuminating. The top link was to a news article on the Popular Photography website titled, Beware the Family Reunion Scam That’s Currently Targeting Photographers. Well, that sounds familiar. Another link was to a 2011 article on the PhotoShelter blog, 4 Scams That Target Photographers. The second confidence scheme described on that page is, The Fake Photo Assignment Scam. Here’s how it works.

A “client” contacts a photographer asking about availability to shoot a wedding or other family event. Over the course of several messages – all communication is by email or text – agreement is reached on the total cost of the shoot and the amount of the deposit. When the con artist is ready to pay the deposit, he asks if payment to another “vendor” for the event (e.g. the venue or caterer) can be made through the photographer. The “client” offers to add the other vendor’s fee to the advance payment and asks the photographer to forward that amount to the vendor’s account. If the photographer agrees to be the middle man for this transaction, the scam is set.

The advance payment from the “client” ultimately bounces due to insufficient funds. Unfortunately, several days will pass before the initial payment is rejected by a financial institution. In the meantime, the photographer will have used his own funds to pay the advance to the other “vendor.” In fact, the account for the second vendor belongs to the con artist, who collects the photographer’s money and disappears long before the victim is notified the con artist’s initial payment has been rejected.

Confidence schemes are a disgusting business. They play on a person’s genuine desire to be helpful and to see the best in others. While I was struggling with how to respond to the text and email messages from my scammer, I felt guilty for suspecting the person on the other end of the exchange. “What if this guy’s legit? How am I making him feel by treating him with caution? I’m providing terrible customer service.” These were my thoughts.

It’s a struggle at times to know how to respond to client requests. As service providers, we want to be known for delivering excellence. As business people, we need to employ smart practices that protect us from financial ruin. In the end, I took a stand in favor of a widely accepted best practice – to ensure that my quote would be an accurate reflection of the necessary time and services, I insisted upon having a conversation with the client or his representative. If the client decided to walk, I could live with that.

As professionals, there are certain standards we have an ethical obligation to meet. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our clients to demand a certain degree of personal interaction. This is essential on several levels. Personal interaction allows both parties to decide if they are a good fit for each other. If there’s going to be a disconnect, especially if on a personal level, it’s best to figure that out before the shoot. Whether an in-person meeting (best), a Skype session (good) or a phone conversation (acceptable), personal interaction is the best way for the photographer to fully understand the client’s needs and expectations. It is also an opportunity for the photographer to establish his expectations of the client.

At the very core of a successful provider-client relationship, is mutual respect, and an understanding and acceptance of expectations. And yes, this includes the provider’s expectations of the client. From payment methods, deliverables and deadlines to levels of participation and feedback, it is important for the client to understand and accept that the success or failure of this partnership depends, in part, on commitments they are prepared to make. A client is free to insist on minimal interaction and communication leading up to their event. As a professional, you are also free to say to that client, “Thank you for your interest but I think you would be better served by working with a different photographer.”

As for the scammers and con artists out there, especially the scum who target photographers, I know there is nothing I can say to dissuade them from continuing to target me or my hard-working and well-intentioned colleagues. By sharing the details of this recent experience, I hope to help other photographers to recognize a scam before it has progressed to the point where the photographer has been victimized. If you’ve been the target or the victim of a confidence scheme, please share the basic elements of that con with your peers. If we don’t support each other, who else will?

Now, get out there and shoot.

Bill Ferris | July 2015

Top Ten Photos of 2014

White House ruin in Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Chinle, Arizona) (Bill Ferris)

White House ruin in Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Chinle, Arizona) (Bill Ferris)

It’s a chill January afternoon in northern Arizona, just perfect for reflecting on the previous year and sharing my favorite photos from 2014 with you. The photos, while representative of my best work, have meaning to me, which is why they made the cut.

WHITE HOUSE – I made this photo during a February 17 trip to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. More than a millennium ago, Ancestral Puebloans lived in this canyon complex in eastern Arizona. Among the structures that remain, is one known simply as, “White House.” It was built in a natural, water-carved opening in the Navajo sandstone cliff face. I include this photo i tribute to Ansel Adams, who made a famous black and white portrait of this ruin. I also like the organic blending of the ancient human structure within the softly curving stone wall of the canyon, the vertical streaks painted by rain and snow melt, and the balance of the ruin site in the lower left corner with the deep Arizona blue sky in the upper right.

It is these qualities that make this one of my favorite photographs of 2014.

Cool winter light paints the softly curving stone surface of inner Antelope Canyon (Bill Ferris)

Cool winter light paints the softly curving stone surface of inner Antelope Canyon (Bill Ferris)

BLUE CURVE – In March of last year, I made a week-long driving tour to do photography in the Four Corners region. I visited sites in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico during a whirlwind tour. On the second day, I drove from the South Rim of Grand Canyon to Page Arizona and took the photographers tour of Upper Antelope Canyon. There are thousands – if not millions – of photographs of this iconic slot canyon so, I don’t pretend that the above image is anything unique. It is, however, meaningful to me.

If you’ve taken a tour of Antelope Canyon, then you know you are jostling for position with at least a hundred other tourists within the close quarters of this narrow slot canyon. Every image I made on that afternoon was shot handheld. I wanted good depth of field but I also didn’t want to shoot with too high an ISO. This image was shot with the excellent Tamron 24-70mm, f/2.8 Di VC USD zoom at 55mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, 1/100-second.

I like the subtle raspberry blue hue of the light painting the gently curving stone wall, the warm caramel hues of the midsection and the chocolate tones of the stone in the upper-right. The f/4.5 aperture delivers just enough depth of field to capture the tight grooves of the lines in the stone. The contrast of those sharp grooves with the swooping curves is another quality that appeals, making this a top-ten photo from 2014.

High passing clouds catch the warm glow of a setting sun and wash the inner gorge of Grand Canyon in an earthy hue. A watchful eye may catch Desert View Watchtower as a subtle projection from the edge of the South Rim just right of center in this photograph (Bill Ferris)

High passing clouds catch the warm glow of a setting sun and wash the inner gorge of Grand Canyon in an earthy hue. A watchful eye may catch Desert View Watchtower as a subtle projection from the edge of the South Rim just right of center in this photograph (Bill Ferris)

SEVENTYFIVE MILE SUNSET – The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, I made an impromptu trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a 70-minute drive and I love the views from every rim overlook. I also enjoy the challenge of finding original and fresh perspectives to photograph in capturing the mood of the canyon from these popular tourist spots. On this trip, I decided to take a different approach.

Rather than photographing sunset from an established overlook, I decided to do a short day hike, blazing a trail through the Ponderosa Pine forest to the rim at Papago Point. There are no roads, no trails to this spot on the rim. As a result, I’m sure very few photographs of Grand Canyon have been taken from this vantage point. Papago Point offers a clear view up Seventyfive Mile Canyon to the South Rim. Off in the distance, you can see the winding Colorado River and the spectacular Palisades of the Desert.

What I really like about this image is the tiniest of elements – Desert View Watchtower. It is visible as a small projection reaching skyward from the South Rim a bit right of center. The tower is three stories tall and is simply dwarfed by the surrounding landscape. It is this element of scale that conveys the sheer vastness of Grand Canyon and earns this photograph a place among my ten favorite images from last year.

A soft summer glow bathes Mt. Hayden in eastern Grand Canyon in a pastel light. (Bill Ferris)

A soft summer glow bathes Mt. Hayden in eastern Grand Canyon in a pastel light. (Bill Ferris)

MOUNT HAYDEN PASTEL – The first week of July is historically when the summer monsoon kicks off in the Desert Southwest, bringing ten weeks of rain and thunderstorms to the region. The clouds, lightning and rain can add a dramatic element to landscape photos so, I drove up to the North Rim of Grand Canyon for the July 4th holiday weekend hoping to capture the drama with my Nikon D600. Well, I got more than I bargained for.

A typical monsoon day dawns clear and bright, clouds build during the morning, afternoon thunderstorms wash the landscape with rain, rumbles and lightning. By late afternoon, the clouds start breaking up, ushering in a spectacular sunset and clear night skies. On this trip, the clouds and rain were persistent. There was one morning, however, when conditions delivered fine conditions.

I had driven to Point Imperial for a sunrise photo shoot. With rain rhythmically tapping the windshield, I stayed in the comfort of the car longer than usual. Eventually, the rain eased enough to entice me from the vehicle and I walked down to my favorite perch just below the overlook. About an hour after sunrise, the clouds broke enough to allow a clean early morning light to spill into the canyon. This image is a portrait of Mt. Hayden bathed by that wondrous pastel light and is among my ten favorite photos of 2014.

Warm early morning light casts a golden glow on the canyon floor visible through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. (Bill Ferris)

Warm early morning light casts a golden glow on the canyon floor visible through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. (Bill Ferris)

MESA ARCH GLOW – In late July 2014, my wife, son and I connected in Denver, Colorado to spend a week exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Alice and Matthew flew in from Niagara Falls, where they’d been enjoying some quality mother-son time. I had driven north from Flagstaff to Denver to check in at the hotel and pick them up at the airport. Since I would be travelling solo, I decided to extend the road trip over four days, to stop at some favorite landscape sites along the way and do some landscape photography.

On the morning of the fourth day, I had planned to shoot sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The intense monsoonal weather followed me from northern Arizona into southern Utah. A sunset photo shoot in Arches National Park the day before had not gone as planned. The hoped for golden late day light never materialized on iconic Delicate Arch. While driving out of the park toward the highway, I started having second thoughts about heading north to Canyonlands. The weather to the north looked seriously threatening and, after three days of early mornings and late nights, the idea of a soft bed at a Moab hotel was quite appealing.

However, I resisted temptation and stayed on course. Arriving at the campground just outside Canyonlands, I set up the tent and climbed into my sleeping bag just as rain started to fall. I never did settle into sleep as sporadic showers, thunder and lightning flashes filled the night. The watch alarm went off at 3:30 AM with a light rain pattering  the nylon fabric of the tent. It was all I could do to extrude myself from the sleeping bag. Driving through the darkness into Canyonlands, the clouds seemed to be breaking up a bit. I was actually feeling a bit optimistic as I pulled into Mesa Arch parking area.

With my headlamp illuminating the trail, I made the half-mile trek to Mesa Arch and, as expected, was the first person to arrive. On a normal summer morning, as many as two dozen photographers are jostling for position to capture sunrise at Mesa Arch. On this morning, there were maybe five of us who’d braved the weather. We were rewarded for our tenacity. As the sun rose, the clouds parted just enough to allow some of that magical dawn light to paint the underside of the arch. Even better, mists and high humidity filled the inner canyon and the morning light cut through it like a lighthouse beacon.

While I really like the quality of the captured scene, I chose this image as a tribute to the rewards of dedication. The art and craft of landscape photography demand persistence. You can’t make the picture, if you’re not there when the light emerges to paint the scene.

From left to right: Nik, Nicole, Lucas and Kaidon (Bill Ferris)

Family Portrait (Bill Ferris)

FAMILY PORTRAIT – One of my goals for 2014, was to get out of my photographic comfort zone. I wanted to shoot more sports, and to do more client work. This photograph is included as an example of the rewards that come from taking risks and pushing your skill set to new levels.

A good friend at work had approached me about doing a family portrait shoot with her, her husband and their boys. I eagerly agreed. It was as much a favor to me as to her. She wanted to do the shoot outdoors and to feature fall color as a strong element. That’s what I had in mind, as well. On October 11, we met at the agreed time and location, and then spent the next hour taking group and individual portraits in and amongst aspens.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am very pleased with the outcome. This photography captures the true personality of this family, their enjoyment of each other and the outdoors. Of greatest satisfaction to me, is the obvious smile on the young boy’s face. He had fun during the shoot. On what could have been a frustrating day for a little boy who would rather be at home playing with his friends, we all had a great time making this family portrait.

Just looking at it brings back those memories and makes this one of my favorite photographs taken in 2014.

With 12-seconds left in regulation, NAU's Dan Galindo hauls in a Jordan Perry pass to score the game-winning touchdown

With 12-seconds left in regulation, NAU’s Dan Galindo hauls in a Jordan Perry pass to score the game-winning touchdown. (Bill Ferris)

TOUCHDOWN! – This photograph was made on October 25, 2014. I have been a football fan since I played in a Pop Warner league as a young boy. Shooting a football game has been a goal of mine for a couple of years. However, at Northern Arizona University where I work, I am part of the television production team on football game days. Well, another production company was going to be in town to televise NAU’s Homecoming game so, I had the day off. What did I do with that free time? I grabbed my camera and went to the game to try my hand at photographing football.

My knowledge of the game paid huge dividends on this shoot. A strong sense of what was going to happen, next, allowed me to pick and choose locations that were perfectly positioned to capture the action. It was early in the fourth quarter when I identified this spot as where I wanted to be if NAU would have the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win on a last-second score. As good fortune would have it that is exactly how the game played out.

With less than one minute remaining, Northern Arizona took possession deep in their own end of the field. I went immediately to this spot and waited for the magic to happen. Three plays later, I captured this photograph of the game-winning touchdown catch. The Lumberjacks had just defeated the second-ranked team in the country. As excited as I was for the team and fans, I was even more excited for myself. I can’t recall having that much fun working on a personal project. For that reason and the significance of the moment, I’ve included this image among my top ten from 2014.

This Discovery Channel Telescope stands bathed in late day glow and waiting for darkness.

This Discovery Channel Telescope stands bathed in late day glow and waiting for darkness. (Bill Ferris)

DISCOVERY – Four days after shooting the NAU Homecoming football game, I made this portrait of the Lowell Discovery Channel Telescope. I have been a fan of Lowell Observatory since my youth. After all, Pluto was discovered at Lowell. The observatory is also what brought me and my wife from Madison, Wisconsin to Flagstaff in the mid 1990’s. The move happened when she took a position as the fundraising director for Lowell.

On October 29 of last year, I drove out to the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) site to shoot a time lapse night sky video sequence for a work project. Shortly after arriving, I made some test exposures in the dome. After the sun had set, I went to work outside and promptly forgot about the early test shots.

In December, the longtime trustee of Lowell Observatory, William Lowell Putnam III, passed away. Mr. Putnam’s death was hard on the staff. Going through my photo archive in search of an appropriate image, I found this photograph from that October 29 shoot. With the dome shutter doors open, a pure white light fills the space and illuminates the massive telescope from behind. This cold piece of technology is brought to life by an angelic glow. It gives a real personality to DCT. I shared the photograph with the observatory and include it, here, in tribute to Mr. Putnam.

A lone juniper tree clings to life on a stony outcrop overlooking Grand Canyon. (Lipan Point, South Rim) (Bill Ferris)

A lone juniper tree clings to life on a stony outcrop overlooking Grand Canyon. (Lipan Point, South Rim) (Bill Ferris)

JUNIPER – On December 7, I made another of my impromptu drives from Flagstaff to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. I wanted to capture the sunset and chose Lipan Point as the location. Lipan Point is one of my favorite overlooks at Grand Canyon. It offers a clear view of the Colorado River. To the east, Desert View and the Watchtower can be seen. Directly across is the North Rim. To the west is Vishnu Temple, Angels Gate and the farther reaches of the canyon.

I was paying close attention to the quality of light while setting up my gear and could tell the sunset light would not be special. Certainly, there are many worse places to enjoy sunset on a December day than Grand Canyon when the light is dishwater grey. The view would still be gorgeous and the environment inspiring. However, there would be no golden light on this evening.

Still, I was there with my camera and determined to come away with something. Looking about, I took notice of this small Juniper tree. It was barely three-feet tall and growing in a shallow depression in the Kaibab limestone. Normally, I use a small aperture for landscape photography to ensure great depth of field where every detail is in focus. This subject seemed better suited to portraiture. So, I set the aperture to f/2.8 to ensure a shallow depth of field. I am very pleased with the result.

The Juniper is in good crisp focus on the left side of the frame. To the right and in the distance, the Colorado River and natural monuments of the inner canyon fill the frame. This scene provides a context clearly identifying where the photograph was made. The slightly opaque late afternoon light spilling into and filling the canyon adds just the right touch to make this one of my ten favorite photographs from last year.

An African Spoonbill preens on a rainy mid-winter day at Disney World Animal Kingdom theme park. (Bill Ferris)

An African Spoonbill preens on a rainy mid-winter day at Disney World Animal Kingdom theme park. (Bill Ferris)

AFRICAN SPOONBILL – This last photograph was made during another family vacation. Over the Christmas holiday, we went to Orlando to visit Disney World. While researching the trip, I planned to take advantage of the opportunity to do some bird photography. On our last day, we visited Animal Kingdom for the morning and early part of the afternoon. It was a grey day with a constant drizzle wetting the northcentral Florida landscape. As we were leaving the park, I stopped at a small enclosed pond where ibis and spoonbills were gathered. Most were just standing, backs to the rain. Others were bathing and a few were preening like this African spoonbill.

I like this photograph for the buttery smooth texture of the bird’s feathers. The bird looks so creamy that you just want to reach out and touch it. It is also in an interesting posture and entirely focused on the task at hand. For these reasons, I included among my top ten photographs of 2014.

For me, 2014 was a year of being open to stepping outside my photographic comfort zone and trying new things. These ten photographs are a product of that effort. So, before 2015 is too far gone, I would encourage you to take stock. Review your photographs from last year and select your favorites. While you’re doing that, think about the photography you want to do, this year. Make an intentional effort to try something new, to step outside your comfort zone. I think you’ll find that effort will be well rewarded.

Now, get out and shoot.

Bill Ferris | January 2015