Tag Archives: event

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


Arizona fundraisers and non-profit organizations gathered at Prescott Resort to celebrate 2014 National Philanthropy Day.

Arizona fundraisers and non-profit organizations gathered at Prescott Resort to celebrate 2014 National Philanthropy Day. (Bill Ferris Photography)

I recently had the opportunity to photograph and document a 2014 National Philanthropy Day celebration at Prescott Resort. My wife, founding partner of GoalBusters Consulting and a long time fundraising professional, asked me to be the photographer for the event and I readily accepted. While my first love in photography is landscapes, I have been actively seeking opportunities to expand my horizons – and develop new skill sets – by doing portraiture, sports and event photography. Taking on this assignment would not only allow me to grow my event photography portfolio, it would be an opportunity to give back by volunteering my time and talent in support of people who make it their daily mission to improve the lives of others through the arts, charitable and other not-for-profit organizations.

My task list was fairly straightforward; make photographs of the following:

  • Award plaques
  • Speakers making remarks at the podium
  • Each honoree with their presenter
  • Group shots of the honorees and also of the honorees with their presenters
  • People attending the event

As you can see in the above photo, the conference room where the event was held features a panoramic wall of windows. With most clear skies on the day of the event, a wonderful, soft midday light filled the room. Seeing the award plaques displayed on a table at the front of the conference room, I started the morning by capturing a series of photos of the awards. I made at least one photo of each plaque, individually, and also of the awards as a group. After some introductory remarks by my wife and her business partner, the attendees settled in for a catered lunch.

I took advantage of this break to make some photos of the attendees relaxing and chatting with each other. I also scouted the outside terrace patio for a location to use for the group photos. The patio outside the conference room overlooks the town of Prescott, Arizona to the west-northwest. Arranging the honorees with their backs to the terrace wall would position the sun behind and to their right. This would put their faces mostly in shadow so, I made a trip to my vehicle to retrieve the speedlight kit, light stands, umbrellas and modifiers.

GoalBuster's Jim Anderson speaking at the podium during National Philanthropy Day at the Prescott Resort

GoalBuster’s Jim Anderson speaking at the podium during National Philanthropy Day at the Prescott Resort (Bill Ferris Photography)

The photo immediately above shows how the ambient outdoor light served as a beautifully soft light source when filtered through the window wall. I would have continued to shoot the event from this vantage point with my back to the windows, if not for two significant issues.

With most attendees seated directly in front of or to the left of the podium, speakers tended to look straight ahead or to their left to make eye contact with the audience. Rarely, would they look in my direction. As a result, there were few opportunities to see their eyes. The other and more significant issue was that honorees would approach the podium from the speaker’s left to receive their plaque. In hindsight, this is something I could have anticipated given that the awards were arranged on a table along the wall behind and to the left of the speaker.

When the first honoree approached the front of the room, she quite naturally stood to the left of the podium. This placed the podium between me, the honoree and her presenter, which made for an unflattering composition. I walked around the back of the room to the other side to get a better angle on the presentation. While standing with the podium to my left gave me an unobstructed view of the award presentations, it also meant that I was more or less facing the window wall. A proper exposure for the half of a person’s face illuminated by that gorgeous ambient light would leave the other half of the face darkened by shadow. A proper exposure for anything in shadow would leave the rest of the shot blown out.

Earlier after retrieving my speedlight kit from the car, I had made the above photograph of the attendees enjoying lunch in the conference room. Wanting both the view through the windows and the interior of the room to be properly exposed in a single shot, I had set up four speedlights to illuminate the room interior during the exposure. Two were Yongnuo YN-560 III’s, which have built-in radio receivers. The other two were Nikon SB-700’s, which were mounted on Vello FreeWave Fusion radio receivers. With a Yongnuo 603 NII radio transmitter attached to my Nikon D610 hot shoe and a Vello radio trigger mounted atop the 603 NII, I experimented with shutter speed and flash intensity until I was happy with the result.

Here, are the settings for the final exposure (Nikon D610, Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC):

  • 24mm
  • f/10
  • ISO 450
  • 1/160-second
  • Two speedlights at 1/2-power
  • Two speedlights at 1/4-power

While making my trek to the other side of the room to a vantage point with an unobstructed view of the honorees, I powered up and the speedlights (they were still set up and in position) and switched on the radio triggers on the D610. After a couple test shots to adjust settings, I was back in business.

An honoree (left) and her presenter at the National Philanthropy Day celebration at Prescott Resort

An honoree (left) and her presenter at the National Philanthropy Day celebration at Prescott Resort (Bill Ferris Photography)

The above photograph is one of many I shots I made using speedlights on radio triggers to illuminate the subjects. I bounced the flashes off the ceiling to create and even wash throughout the conference room. With four speedlights at between 1/4- and 1/2-power, the recycle time was kept to a minimum. When photographing the presenter speaking at the podium, I used the following settings (Nikon 610, Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC):

  • 200mm focal length
  • f/2.8
  • ISO 200
  • 1/200-second exposure

When the honoree came up to accept their award plaque, I made portraits using different settings (Nikon 610, Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC):

  • Variable focal length (95mm to 140mm)
  • f/5.6
  • ISO 640
  • 1/200-second exposure

My only concern with this set up was that the speedlights, when firing, would be something of a distraction for the attendees. However, I can safely say very few people even noticed I was using flash to illuminate the room. There was one gentleman who asked me about my lighting after the awards ceremony. Rather than finding it a distraction, he wanted to know more about the radio triggers and receivers.

While processing the RAW exposures, I noticed that the depth of field at f/5.6 was not quite enough to guarantee crisp focus on the eyes of both people. While the images are acceptable (in my opinion), I would probably shoot at f/7.1 or f/8 in the future to ensure sharp focus on both sets of eyes.

A group photo of the honorees and presenters at Prescott Resort for Arizona's National Philanthropy Day celebration

A group photo of the honorees and presenters at Prescott Resort for Arizona’s National Philanthropy Day celebration (Bill Ferris Photography)

After the ceremony, I went outside with the honorees and presenters to take the group photos. I made an exposure of the full group without using speedlights and, as expected, the faces were in shadow. After retrieving the Nikon SB-700’s, I recruited a couple of lighting assistants to hold the speedlights, one to the left and the other to the right of the group. I then made an exposure firing the SB-700’s at full power. This photo looked overexposed so, I reset the flash intensity to 1/2-power on each unit and retook the group photo. The resulting image is presented, above.

While the speedlights definitely help this photograph, I should have done a better job of arranging the group so nobody would be in shadow. Also, I had to do a fair bit of processing in Adobe Lightroom to recover highlights and reduce the overall exposure. Shooting in RAW compensates for a multitude of sins. I reduced the exposure by 1.10 stop without losing any detail in the final image.

So, what did I learn from this experience? First, it is critical to be equipped for any lighting situation. The speedlights gave me more shooting options. When the ambient, natural light was at my back, I could simply switch off the radio triggers. When shooting toward the window wall and into the light, I could switch on the triggers and use the speedlights to illuminate my subject. Second, using down time (I chose to forego lunch) to make the wide angle photo of the luncheon paid huge dividends. With the speedlights already set up, it only took me a minute to power them back on and adjust their intensity. As a result, I was able to very quickly adapt to a new shooting location and a different lighting environment. I only missed photographing one award presentation during the ceremony and was able to make that up as soon as the ceremony ended.

Finally, I should have taken the time to better arrange the group shot and do test exposures on the outdoor terrace. This would have taken only a few minutes, but would have resulted in better images and saved some worry on the drive home. Shooting in RAW allowed me to recover all the detail that was lost in the original, overexposed photographs. If I had taken the time to properly arrange the group photo and to adjust my exposure settings, those original RAW files would have been better exposed and nobody would have been in shadow.

A celebratory embrace during the National Philanthropy Day event at Prescott Resort

A celebratory embrace during the National Philanthropy Day event at Prescott Resort (Bill Ferris Photography)

I was also reminded of the joy of giving. As each presenter shared the story of their respective honoree, I was so impressed by the generosity and compassion of the human spirit. Each award recipient had generously given their time, talent or treasure in support of a non-profit organization or cause. Attending this event and hearing these stories, I was reminded that the simple act of giving often delivers the greatest personal rewards.

Now, get out there and shoot.

Bill Ferris | November 2014