Foto Fundas – How photographers get scammed.

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Image shot by author. Copyright: SK Srinivas

 

Cost of DSLR camera and accessories: Rs. 1.5 lacs.
Cost of travel: Rs 10,000/- per month.
Cost of imaging software: Rs. 1700/- per month.
Cost of home PC: Rs. 50,000/-
Costs of labor, photographic expertise, injuries, and the like: Can’t be counted.

Remuneration received per photo: NIL.

Professional photographers and freelance writers in India are the most exploited people in the land. We get looted, scammed, intimidated by security personnel and cops, chased and bitten by dogs, hounded, beaten, and generally treated like concentrated crap.

To some extent, we are ourselves to blame. Here are some of the scams that photographers keep falling for:

1) The Happy Couple Scam: Best friend or relative is getting married. You are expected to shoot hundreds of photos, edit them overnight and deliver high quality prints to the happy couple – in exchange for a meal at the wedding. How can you ask for money? He’s your best friend, after all. And you have to buy him an expensive wedding present as well.

No matter how nice and loving your relatives and dearest friends claim to be, this is a scam. If they can spend a ton of money on the wedding hall, the priests, the caterers, jewellery, Kanchivaram silk sarees, and everything else, why can’t they spend a few thousand rupees on the photographer?

Flatly refuse. If these people are really your family and friends, they ought to help you in your business, instead of screwing it up.

2) The Anthology scam: You receive an email congratulating you on being selected for an anthology curated by a famous photographer. All you need to do is to submit your best photos for selection. If you are lucky enough to be selected (and you will), you will be asked to pay a “nominal” fee for the privilege of being published. And you are told to buy the published anthology, at a “special” price, if you want to show off your work.

In other words, the publisher not only gets free photos, he also gets the photographers to pay his publication costs. In exchange, you get “exposure”.

There are moronic photographers who fall for this vicious scam.

3) The Cleavage Scam: This happened to me recently. Hot young thing wearing a plunging neckline (and tight jeans) comes up to me at a dog show, bats her eyelids, and tells me that for a small fee, they will permit me to shoot photos of their dogs. They will then print these photos (at my expense), and then display said photos at their exhibition. Those photos will be sold and the entire proceeds will be donated to their dog charity. Everything goes to the dogs. Not a penny to me. All I get is a glimpse of cleavage and a dazzling smile. “Empowerment of Indian women”, you see.

Men will be men. Especially single, middle-aged farts like myself. I almost fell for it. Many male photographers at that dog show did. I didn’t. But almost did.

This is one of the most common scams in Bangalore. There are different variants, but the basic idea is the same. Seduce, entice, deceive, get free photographs from you. And in exchange, you get a mind-job.

4) The Noble Cause Scam: A subtle variant of the above. If you really want to donate free photographs to some cause or the other, that’s your funeral. But use some discretion and common sense. Yes, there are some genuine NGO’s that do good work. These are few and far in between. Do some digging before you give away your work to them.

Remember, once you become known as a “noble” photographer, NGO’s will flock to you for free photographs. And thanks to them, you will get “exposure” – as a free photographer. “Exposure” won’t pay your bills. Nor will Facebook likes.

5) Where-no-man-has-gone-before Scam: This is my favorite. I have to admire the people that can pull off a smooth scam like this.

Renowned scientist and his students undertake a scientific expedition to an exotic location.

You are cordially invited to volunteer for this expedition, as a research assistant. For this exceptional privilege, you have to pay your way through. Not just yourself. But pay for the scientists as well. There will be other volunteers like yourself, who will also have to pay for the entire expedition.

The minimum amount each volunteer will have to pay is Rs. 2 lacs, for a week’s expedition. And this does not include air fare and travel. That you pay on your own. You will work 14 hours a day in hostile conditions. Sleep on the ground. Crap in the open. You don’t get to choose your food. You are a vegetarian who can’t eat the half-cooked meat they serve, too bad.

If you think you can shoot photographs at will, you’re wrong. They will tell you what to shoot. If you think you can sell your photos, you’re mad.

Your photos will be used for research, not for your crass purposes, you greedy thug. But don’t worry, your name will be mentioned – as a footnote somewhere.

Mind you, this scam is quite legit. It is legit, because they will actually tell you all this well in advance. The beauty of this scam is, you will still fall for it.

Poorer by Rs. 2 lacs, you get back home with gastroentiritis, mites, bites, welts and perhaps dengue fever. You pat yourself on the back for your selfless contribution to Science. While the scientist you sponsored gets research publications, awards, press conferences, and other academic honors, at your expense.

What’s scary is how successful this particular scam is.

6) The Contest Scam: Most photo contests are scams. Except for a select few that are run by reputed brands, the rest are scams. They will steal your work, period.

Don’t ever believe that your business will dramatically improve by winning a contest or two. And don’t ever believe that your customers will be impressed by a long list of “awards” that you may have won. Unless it’s a NatGeo contest or some such, don’t waste your resources on any photo contests. I speak from harsh experience.

Don’t brag. Your work will speak for itself.  So will your happy customers.  Even in this day and age, word-of-mouth still sells best.

This is a short listing of the scams out there.  There are always media houses that download your images from Facebook. Scamsters who will screen-print your images on Instagram and sell them. And other sharks who will steal your images on-line.

I have had so many of my images stolen by local newspapers, that I stopped posting images on FB and Instagram altogether. Do the same, if you value yourself as a  photographer.

If you consider yourself a professional, there’s a simple rule for you – No money, no photo. You shoot. You get paid.

If it’s below your dignity to ask for money, then think about all those photographers (like myself) whose living depends on their cameras. When you give away your photographs, you are killing the rest of us. Your nobility doesn’t pay our bills.

Professional photography, like any other business, is a business, first and foremost. A business runs on profit. Bills, travel, service charges, printing, taxes, computers, software, and most of all, camera equipment. These things cost real money. Not to speak of your family and dependents.

Don’t get scammed. It’s your photo. It’s your money.

Stay safe. Click happy. Make money!

Cheers … Srini.

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City of Palaces … and rip-offs.

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Mysore Palace

Want to get royally ripped-off?

Go to Mysore.

Half my family hails from Mysore. My forefathers served under the Wodeyar rulers. One of my great grand-uncles painted some the murals that are displayed inside the Palace. Hardly a month goes by when I do not visit this city, either for work or for photography.

And I’ve come to hate the place. Mysore typifies the horrific state of tourism in our country. Rickshaws and taxis that loot commuters without fear, hotels that give you the worst possible service, grossly overcrowded tourist spots, abusive waiters, corrupt cops, the list is endless. Everyone wants his cut, everyone has his hand out, everyone has a nasty invective for you.

And garbage everywhere. Mind you, this city claims to be the “cleanest” city in India. Well, it is marginally cleaner than Bangalore. But then, Bangalore is without question, one of the filthiest cities in the world, not just in India.

Some of the “hotspots” of this formerly regal city:

Chamundi temple: Well over a thousand years old. Home of Mysore’s presiding deity. Try getting into the temple on any day of the week. Minimum waiting time is an hour, and you have to literally fight your way in. Literally. Count the number of encroaching hawkers and illegal shops around the temple. Inhale the tantalising stench from the huge pile of garbage on the hillside below. And then ask yourself, if this is how this city treats its presiding deity, how will it treat you?

Mysore Palace: For heaven’s sake leave your camera and cellphone with someone you trust. Cameras are not allowed inside the Palace. If you carry one, the cops inside will ruthlessly extort you – even if you do not take the camera out of its case. Same applies to cellphones. Photography outside the palace is permitted, without any entrance fee. Even here, you can get ripped off by touts. Be on your guard, will you?

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Chamarajendra Wodeyar, King of Mysore 1868-1894

Mysore Zoo: If you’ve seen a zoo before, then don’t bother. There’s just nothing special about this one – except for the pickpockets and petty thieves inside. Keep all your jewelry out of sight, remove your bangles and ear-rings. And keep your purse or handbag hidden, or booby-trapped. Distribute your cash and cards in various pockets. If you’re from Bombay, you know how to protect yourself from pickpockets. The same principles apply here.

Karanji lake: Next to the Zoo. If you want to observe human couples in foreplay, this is the place to visit. Once a nice waterbody for birds and birders, Karanji has become polluted with sewage, and infested with lovey-dovey couples. The lake smells foul on most days. You still can see waterbird species like the painted stork, spot-billed pelican and oriental darter, but these special residents of Karanji are constantly disturbed by boating and illegal fishing. Bird populations have been declining and will eventually disappear.

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Kukkarahalli lake.

Kukkarahalli lake: Same as above. Once attractive. Now avoidable. Not as bad as Karanji, since Kukkarahalli is not as commercialised. But it is getting there.

Brindavan Gardens: The best place to get groped. This place is definitely unsafe for women, even if they are in a large group. The much-touted musical fountain is not worth the trauma you will have to undergo to get there. Parking is a nightmare. Traffic is ghastly. Crowds are unruly, drunk and abusive. And they grope, grope, grope.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary: For a bird-lover like me, Ranganathittu used to be the place for observation and photography. Used to be. Now, the place makes my blood boil. Far too crowded. Leaky boats. No safety measures of any kind. And the usual rip-offs. The “friendly” boatman will take you on a prolonged boatride for your photographic pleasure, if you cross his palm with a good amount of silver.

Srirangapatnam: This “historical” town on the outskirts of Mysore was once the capital of Tipu Sultan, a person for whom I have very little regard. Srirangapatnam is as bad as Mysore for tourists.

The so-called “expressway” from Bangalore to Mysore, once a great road to drive on, is choked with traffic and extremely unsafe. Without fail, I see at least two accidents on this road, each time I drive down. I wonder when it will be my turn.

My country has so much to offer to a discerning tourist. Ancient culture, spectacular temples, remarkable architecture, awe-inspiring natural beauty. And yet, India has less than 0.7% of the world’s tourism business. Tourists are ripped off everywhere they go, abused, intimidated, and frequently molested. India is generally known as one of the world’s most unsafe destinations.

Anyone who knows Mysore the way I do, will understand why.

Srini.

Mahabalipuram … NEVER again!

Shore Temple - Centerpiece of Mahabalipuram.
Shore Temple – Centerpiece of Mahabalipuram.

Once, just once in my life, I want to visit one destination in India where I won’t get ripped off, cheated, abused, intimidated and generally made to feel like concentrated crap.

Just once, I want to walk into a place, relax and listen to what it has to say to me, and walk out in one piece. Just once.

Mahabalipuram, near Chennai, is a UNESCO heritage site that has been on my bucket list since many years. When I took a day off to visit this temple town that dates back to the 7th century, I thought it would be a memorable experience. It is after all, a UNESCO site.

Memorable it certainly was, for all the wrong reasons.

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Pancha Ratha – five temples carved from a single granite boulder. Thirty eight years in the making. Dedicated to the Pandavas and Draupadi.

The instant I got off my car, a horde of hawkers and touts descended upon me. Buy this, try that, come with me and I’ll give you a good time … they just would not leave me alone. And then I made the enormous mistake of hiring a guide to take me around. And I wound up paying him Rs.750/- for no particular reason. He took me around in my own car, to monuments that were easy to locate anyway, and gave me information that I had already looked up in Wikipedia anyway. But he did ensure that the right hawkers ripped me off.

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Arjuna’s Penance – bas relief sculpture, depicts various episodes from the Mahabharata.

The arrogant moron at the ticket counter gave me a nasty shock, as he refused to issue a normal ticket to me. The fee for Indian nationals is Rs.10/- only. For foreign nationals, it is Rs.250/-. I never understood why foreign tourists must cough out at least ten times what Indians do, wherever they go. Do they get anything more for the huge amount of extra money they pay? I hardly think so.

For some absurd reason, the afore-mentioned arrogant moron at the ticket counter was convinced I was a foreign national, and demanded Rs.250/-. And then demanded to see my ID. I offered my driver’s license, and he felt it was forged. I told him I’d rather go back to Bangalore than pay Rs.250/- to that arrogant jack-ass. Finally, he relented and gave me a Rs.10 ticket.

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Krishna’s butterball – an unusual balancing rock structure.

Hawkers, hawkers, everywhere. Every nook. Every corner. Every turn. And they will not leave you alone. They go on and on. They chase you. They harass you. Until you buy something. And my friendly guide ensured that I did buy a lot of worthless artifacts, at astounding prices.

The day ended with my taxi driver ripping me off, and forcing me to pay an extra Rs.500/- for a speeding ticket that he got on the way back from Mahabalipuram.

I had it coming to me. A fool and his money, after all. Should have just stayed at home.

Why do these hawkers and touts think that tourists from another land owe them a living? What value do they provide to the places that they infest? They did not build any of the magnificent monuments that people like me travel hundreds of miles to admire. They do not maintain the place, they in fact soil it with their presence.

They abuse the law with impunity. They loot tourists blatantly. They harass, they harangue, they intimidate. And the local custodians of the law simply stand by and watch.

And then we wonder why India’s share of the world tourism market is less than ONE PERCENT. That’s right. Mera Bharat Mahaan has less than 0.72% of the global tourism market.

Bottom line: Mahabalipuram is strictly avoidable. Admire this ancient temple town in the safety of the Internet.

Mahabalipuram was certainly the experience of a lifetime. That’s because I will never go there again in my lifetime.

Ah well, I did take some good pictures. Enjoy my pictures, and be happy you didn’t get ripped off, unlike me.

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