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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Bangalore fights back … the story of Puttenahalli lake.

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Puttenahalli lake today.

Twenty five years in Bangalore have made me a hardened cynic and a prophet of doom. I’ve seen this city deteriorate from a beautiful, innocent little hamlet into one of the filthiest, overcrowded, screwed up cities in the world.

I remember when this was a nice little town for pedestrians and pensioners. Now it’s a shithole filled with stray dogs and thugs. There were trees and parks lining every avenue here once. Now there are malls and brothels.

There were lakes and ponds filled with clear water once. Now there are open-air toilets and slums. Once there were flowers and birds everywhere. Now there are dogs, dogs, dogs, everywhere. Roads with more potholes in them than tar. People defecating in public view. Hooligans driving two-wheelers on pavements. And hawkers squatting on what’s left of those pavements.

Bangalore’s demise is inevitable. Investing in this urban nightmare would be a remarkably foolish business decision. But still, there are determined citizens who have chosen to fight back. And there are some victories.

Puttenahalli lake is one such. Once a delightful waterbody tucked away inside Puttenahalli villlage, on the southern outskirts of the city, the lake suffered the same fate as all other lakes across Bangalore. Encroached, surrounded by concrete condos, filled with garbage and human waste, infested with mosquitoes, vermin and local goons.

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The lake was written off, waiting to be swallowed by land-sharks and politicians. A small group of locals decided to do something about it. The Puttenahalli neighborhood improvement trust came into being about seven years ago, with the single-minded objective of reviving the dead lake.

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It took them a great deal of hard work, and a considerable amount of their own money. But today, Puttenahalli lake is a thriving waterbody, filled with clean water, a home to fifty species of birds and all kinds of flora and fauna. It’s not out of the woods yet, there is still a slum to be removed, but I’d say the worst is over.

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To a large extent, the battle is won, and Puttenahalli is now officially known as a “saved” lake. Considering what it used to be, this is a major achievement by any means. And across the city, other citizen groups have taken up the fight to save their local waterbodies.

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For a city that has been destroyed by political greed and corporate thuggery, and is in imminent danger of death, Puttenahalli lake is a small beacon of inspiration and hope.

As long as there is hope, I think Bangalore city still has a chance to survive, however slim that chance may be.

Take a look at my Puttenahalli collection.

Cheers … Srini.

The thrill of photography.

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Omkar temple, Bangalore, India. One of my favorite images.

Today, Aug 19th, is World Photography Day.  Why Aug 19th, you ask?

On Monday, August 19th, 1839, the Daguerreotype photographic process was released to the public as an open-source technology. Read about it in Wikipedia, if you want.

Thanks to this great gesture by the French, you and I can enjoy photography without paying hefty royalties to anyone. Vive la France!

Photography is my primary stress-buster. Keeps me sane, makes me really happy. Almost as good as sex. Almost. (I have been an involuntary celibate since many years, fyi).

In the days of celluloid film, photography was a demanding hobby. Composing a good photo required considerable skill, a great deal of patience, a lot of good luck and a competent studio that could develop film correctly. A professional photographer or a serious hobbyist who wanted to develop his own photos had to have skills in chemistry as well, and a dark room, and plenty of money for film and chemicals.

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Scarlet darter at dusk.

Film photography was a time-consuming and expensive hobby, but it was fun nevertheless.

Things changed with the birth of the digital camera. Nikon introduced the first commercial digital SLR camera in 1986. And Canon, Minolta, Sony et al quickly followed. Those early digital cameras cost a fortune. Most of us photographers in India could merely dream of buying one.

Today, we have cameraphones, point-and-click digcams, gopro’s, webcams, god-knows-what-else, for any budget, any skill level.

Some questions about photography:

Is photography very expensive?

Of course not. If you have a decent smartphone, that’s enough to get started. Some of my best images have been made with my phone. If you have about Rs.20K to spare, you can get yourself a very good bridge camera that’s almost as good as a DSLR camera.

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Made with my cellphone.

If you don’t have Rs 20K to spare, there are hundreds of affordable point-and-click digital cameras out there.  As your skills improve, you can spend as much as you want, depending on how far you want to go. For most people, a bridge camera will be all they need.

Should I buy Photoshop or something?

Not necessarily. Most camera manufacturers offer free imaging software with their cameras. And there are many photo apps on the net, all free. Gimp, Snapseed, VSCO, the list is endless.

Do I need a computer?

Perhaps. For cameraphone photography, you don’t need a PC. Just click, process, share. For a bridge or DSLR camera, you do. Any unbranded PC is enough.

Where do I save my photos?

As you take more pictures, you will find yourself running out of space on your PC or phone. Not to worry. There are many cloud-based sites like Google Drive, Flickr and 500px that allow you to store and share hundreds of images. If you have the money, buy an external or internal hard disk.

What is the best time for photography?

In principle, any time is good. For outdoor photography, daytime is best. I do most of my photography in the hours between 3pm and 6pm, depending on the season. Dawn is also a good time. Avoid afternoons, in general.

What kind of photography do I get into?

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Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata).

Anything you like. Nature, wildlife, food, people, travel, street, candids – anything at all. There are on-line resources for every taste, every skill level, every person.

Does photography pay?  No.

Don’t even think of quitting your job. At the professional level, photography is really expensive and very risky. Save your money and time. Enjoy photography as a hobby, take great photos that you can share with your friends and family, spend as much as you can afford, and not a penny more.

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Butterflies are difficult to shoot!

Which camera do I buy?

Buy only the camera you can comfortably afford, without the need to pay in instalments. Buying a camera ( or any other electronic device costing less than Rs. 20K) on instalments is just foolish. Cameras have negligible resale value. Remember that.

As I said, all you need is a good smartphone and a free app. Nowadays, you get all kinds of affordable lenses and accessories for smartphone photography, if you think your phone is not good enough on its own.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive and immensely satisfying hobby, that will last for a lifetime, and that may or may not get you laid, I’d say modern photography is one of the best options you have. I’ve yet to get laid, but one lives in hope.

Go ahead. Put your hand into your pants. Take out your cellphone. Make your day.

Cheers … Srini.