How to Spot a Predatory Photographer: The Signs

This is such an important topic these days that I really felt that I needed to address it on the blog. It’s so important for us as women and folx to be sure that we’re putting our own safety first, especially when it comes to booking a photo session. This is a darker side of the photography world and I feel like it needs to be talked about. You may not know how to spot a predatory photographer and I’m here to tell you all the warning signs that you need to watch out for. Unfortunately, this is a far more common problem in our industry than you might think.

Content Warning: We talk about predatory photographers in this blog post which may be a difficult topic for some readers. Please proceed with care.

How to Spot a Predatory Photographer

in the image the viewer is looking over a woman's shoulder, she is holding a black and white high fashion photograph of a female model

Not all photographers are created equal. There are photographers out there that literally only picked up a camera in order to prey on people. This disgusting example is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of predatory photographers. If you didn’t click the link, it leads to a book called “An Introduction to Camera Game: How to Seduce Women Through Photography”. Yeah, that’s a real book that exists on Amazon.

There are a few ways that you can protect yourself from booking with a photographer that only wants to photograph you for their own personal gain, or worse.

Trust your gut.

Listen, babes. I’ve been guilty of it in the past, too. I’ve ignored my intuition many many times in my life. But it’s so important to trust your instinct or your intuition. If something feels off about the situation, it’s for a reason. If the photographer that you’re considering booking with says or does something that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, or makes your stomach do uncomfortable flip-flops, that’s your intuition screaming at you to listen. Predatory photographers are very common in the fashion industry. They prey on new or up-and-coming models who might be looking for TFP (Time for Print) shoots. New models tend to be a little more naive to their advances and therefore easier prey. There are of course photographers in every genre of photography that are predatory, it’s not just the fashion industry that suffers from them.

Sexual Comments and Innuendo

Look – we’ve all said things that were maybe inappropriate for the situation or that we regret later. However, if your photographer makes sexual comments any comments that make you feel uncomfortable, they have crossed a line, plain and simple. Be firm with your boundaries when someone crosses them. Your boundaries have been crossed if they say something creepy or poses you in a way that is uncomfortable. Stop the shoot immediately and leave. This is your right as a human being to leave situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Often these photographers drop “jokes” that have a sexual connotation to them. Like “You look so good on that bed, just wish it was mine! Just kidding!” or makes any type of comment that suggests they are anything less than professional.

Shoot turns naked when you didn’t want to go there = Predatory Photographer

If your photographer is pressuring you to take your clothes off when it wasn’t agreed upon ahead of time – RED FLAG!!! Your photographer should never push your boundaries further than you’re willing to go with them. In my studio I encourage each of my clients to strip down because being photographed nude can be a very empowering experience.

This is something I discuss with each client prior to their shoot. I talk about it with them on the phone during our initial consultation. I ask questions in our pre-shoot questionnaire, and I bring it up at the beginning of every shoot. If a client seems unsure or that they want to think about it, I always tell them I’ll ask again at the end of the shoot before we wrap up. If they decide they don’t want to, great! That’s their decision and I respect that. If your photographer is pressuring you to do things that you didn’t initially agree upon or sign up for, that’s a sign of a predatory photographer and you need to get yourself out of that situation ASAP.

No Chaperones Allowed

If your photographer refuses to have anyone other than yourself and them in the room while the shoot is taking place, RED FLAG. I will preface the rest of this part by saying that while I don’t allow friends to accompany clients to a shoot (trust me, they’re a huge distraction and can make you feel MORE awkward in front of the camera instead of less).

If someone ever feels uncomfortable about being in my studio alone with me, my hair and makeup artist is more than happy to stick around for the duration of the shoot. I’ll be honest and say that this has never happened because most of my clients feel like they know me very well before they ever step foot into the studio, I will absolutely make accommodations for them if they feel like an extra pair of eyes on set would make them feel more comfortable.

If your photographer absolutely refuses to let anyone else other than themselves and you in the session, that can be a red flag. This might not necessarily mean that they’re a predatory photographer. So, trust your gut on this one and ask them if they can make other accommodations for you. Your comfort as their client or model should be their number one concern. If they refuse to work with you other than one-on-one, pay close attention to all the other signs.

Won’t take No for an Answer

If you’re ever on-set with a photographer and they ask you to do something and you set a boundary with them and say “no” but they keep pressuring you into doing what you don’t want to do – RED FLAG! This goes especially if they are trying to pressure you into shooting nudes and you don’t want to go there. When you say no to someone, that should be the end of it. No ifs, ands, or buts. If they try to tell you that it’ll help your modeling career or argue for any other reason, that is a huge huge red flag and you need to leave immediately.

They Touch You Without Your Consent

This one is a big one – your photographer should NEVER touch you without your explicit consent. During sessions in my studio, if I ever need to help a client adjust their wardrobe like a twisted strap for example, I always always ask for consent first. This is as simple as “your strap has a twist in it, can I fix it for you?” or “your hair is in your face, mind if I fix it?”. It may be consent to help you move your arm or leg in a certain way if the words just aren’t translating properly.

If your photographer touches you without asking first, that is a huge huge and maybe even the biggest, red flag. Especially if they move to touch you in a way that is inappropriate. Don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries in a situation like this. A simple “please don’t touch me” should be enough. If it isn’t enough, and your photographer keeps touching you without your consent, stop the shoot and leave immediately. Nobody should ever touch you without your express permission. Your boundaries are important and should be respected no matter what situation you’re in.

They Shoot Things That You Did Not Agree Upon

Before entering any shoot, especially if it’s a TFP shoot, it’s important to set the boundaries of the shoot. I have an unfortunate real-life example of this. You set the expectation that you absolutely will not let the photographer photograph your bits before the shoot. Then they get you into a very vulnerable pose and step to the side to “get the shot” that they wanted of the bits you didn’t want to be photographed. This is plain and simply another form of sexual assault especially if you already set that boundary with them.

Set Your Boundaries and Expectations

Before even setting foot in front of a photographer’s camera, stop and think about what you’re comfortable with. Express those boundaries with the photographer. Doing this up front leaves no room for question during the shoot because you’ve already expressed to them what you’re comfortable with, and what lines you will not tolerate being crossed. Any professional photographer will have you sign a contract with them, and possibly a model release. It’s important to fully read through anything before signing your name to it. If your photographer doesn’t ask you to sign at the very least a model release, this is another huge red flag because you don’t have any written proof of your agreement with them on how or where they will share your likeness. Any professional knows how important contracts and releases are.

Do your research and due diligence to spot a predatory photographer

Before agreeing to shoot with anyone it is so important to head on over to Google and do a little bit of internet stalking first. Does this photographer have reviews posted anywhere? A professional looking website? What information can you find about them? If you can’t find anything about them, that is another potential red flag. Any professional photographer will have a professional looking website, or at the very least a social media presence. Read up on them as much as you can. It is crucial that you have an informed opinion of who they are before you agree to shoot with them.

Set your expectations with yourself

Most importantly – set your expectations with yourself. Set the expectation with yourself that if they cross a boundary during your time with them, you will assert those boundaries, or stop the shoot and leave immediately. There is so much pressure on female-identified folks to cater to others feelings and needs, or to not rock the boat, to just go along with what’s happening to not upset anyone involved. By doing this though, we are not putting ourselves and our needs first. This is so so important especially in situations where we are vulnerable.

When something goes awry in a situation we’re in, when our boundaries are crossed, when we feel uncomfortable, it can be very very hard to stick up for ourselves. Especially when we fear what the outcome may be if we assert a boundary with someone who has crossed it. Always remember, that you are free to make your own decisions, boundaries, and you get to decide what you are and are not comfortable with.

Be safe out there, and remember these tips next time you consider doing a photo shoot with anyone.

You might be a predatory photographer…

If any of this blog post made you feel personally attacked, you might be a predatory photographer. If you think this post was written about you, you’re definitely a predatory photographer. I have come across my fair share of predatory photographers in my career. Frankly, I am tired of nobody talking about it. I hope that some of what I wrote helps you to reassess the way you practice your art. If you need tips on how to not be a predator, scroll back to the top and start reading again.

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