I’ve been swimming in this industry since the spring of 1997, ultimately on both sides of the lens. I have witnessed titans rise and fall with the decimation of film in favor of digital pixels. I’ve taken part in the tidal wave of new and incredible talent from around the world thanks to affordable cameras and computers.
I watched with mixed emotions at the absolute thrashing that Photoshop and the rise of digital art gave to an industry that overnight transformed successful businesses with 30 years of experience into dinosaurs on the brink of extinction.
In short, I’ve not been around forever, but I’ve been around long enough to earn a couple of my stripes, and seen some horrible things.
I have been lucky enough to witness the start of a movement that has begun to change everything.
Note: This is an opinion piece and considering I am not a lawyer or work in law enforcement, this is all just advice from experience. Always check the legal and health legislation in the area you are in. Seek professional advice if you feel you have been the victim of a crime.
The rise of #MeToo has really shifted the dialogue around safety. It’s generations overdue, but at least it’s starting. I wish it had been a thing when I was 13 and a baby in this field, but alas, life isn’t always fair. So, I’m going to keep it going. Each line on my face, each grey hair, and every sleepless night comes from some lesson or experience lived through. Such is the inevitability of aging.
I’m not going to go into any details of all the garbage I’ve put up with over the years. It’s exhausting to think about, and to be honest, I’m not in the mindset to air that laundry. Maybe one day, but for now I’ll leave you with this far-too-long article.
I’ve summarized this overly wordy list of safety tips for photographers and models, but to be fair, it’s for anyone. I’m not going to go into “Carry bear spray” or “Why don’t you carry a concealed firearm?” because those arguments are useless and completely glaze over the subtle effects of grooming and manipulation. Safety goes far beyond some knuckle dragger with chew in his bottom lip droning on about firearms – and I love guns.
The best defense against assault, robbery, or defamation within our industry is a series of good mechanisms in place that can keep everyone on the same page. Keep in mind no plan is ever bulletproof but there are steps to take to reduce the possibility of harm.
My first grown-up career was as a locksmith, and our main advice to everyone who was looking to up their home security was “Make your house look less appealing than the neighbors.” This is terrible advice because it means making a target out of the people around you. But the reality is, safety is found in making yourself less of an easy target than someone else in the environment you’re in.
Yes, if someone’s really got it out for you, that’s another issue, but I’m not tackling that topic here.
I’m going to start with the obvious stuff and drill down from there. None of these are hard rules, they’re just things that I have learned and used over the years to help make set life safe for everyone.
Obviously, if you have a trusted circle of collaborators, life is grand. But everyone starts somewhere, and we all start building that trusted network somehow.
Also, I’m not tackling mismanagement from agencies either. The Model Alliance is an excellent resource for this, and I highly recommend you read up on what they’re doing. They also have an excellent Instagram profile.
Largely this is aimed at newbies in the industry, and it’s not an exhaustive list, but if I make this thing any longer, nobody will finish reading the damned thing.
I’m initially going to cover basic cybersecurity tips. These apply to anyone using the internet, but I think they should be considered for photographers and models as well. I’ll move on to more in-person safety tips after.
Use a VPN When You’re Browsing Online
VPN is a Virtual Private Network. Basically what this does is create a virtual tunnel between your local network (your computer/phone) and an exit node at another location, which would be thousands of miles away. Basically, it makes it look like you’re in another place than where you actually are.
VPN gets a weird reputation online because it’s often associated with Dark Web stuff or just being a naughty person online, and a VPN can hide some of that behavior. However, it is also super handy if you’re a personality online and you don’t want people tracking your location through your internet posts.
It is alarmingly easy to track where you are browsing and posting from online through reverse IP lookups. a VPN service (paid only, don’t use the free ones) can help protect you and your loved ones from horrible people.
Use Different, Weird, and Unknown Email Addresses for Your Social Media Logins
Change the passwords often, and always have two-factor authentication turned on whenever possible. It’s also useful to update the email addresses to something new and also weird, every now and then. Don’t share these email addresses with anyone.
Use a Password Manager and Skip Having to Write Them All Down
We’ve all done it, that big list of passwords written down on a piece of paper, notebook, or folder on your device. Obviously, this is not super wise for reasons I don’t need to explain here. A password manager can help you create and store your passwords securely. Read some of the more popular ones here and why to use them.
Note: If you don’t want to pay for a password manager, make sure your passwords contain at least four random words that are not related to each other but are also easy for you to remember. Extra points if you misspell them, and add numbers/characters (most websites require this now anyway).
If You Can Afford It, Use a Different Phone Number for Work and for Personal Life
People are extremely weird, especially if you get any kind of notoriety. Use a private number for your doctor’s office, taxes, your dentist, etc. Don’t give it out to friends or work colleagues, keep it for family and what should be your very private life. Lots of phones have double sim card slots now. Alternatively, you can get Google Voice as well.
This is super handy if you happen to have a security breach and you have to change your number for safety reasons. You only have to update your work contacts, but all your private information remains secure as long as you don’t share that number elsewhere.
Don’t Use Your Full Real Name on Social Media
Yeah, I know everyone’s all “We love authenticity online!” You can be authentic and still use a name that is different from the one that’s on your passport, health records, insurance, and home address.
Keep the same first name if you must, but swap out your last name at the very least. Pick a believable one, something that your future followers won’t question, and start digging around online.
Once you decide on one, to build trust in your brand, stick to it. Rebranding your name online is a gigantic task and it takes years to update all the SEO searches etc. So pick a practical name, not like that dumb username you made when you were 13 on Geocities.
This all goes out the window if you actually get famous, but at that point, you’ve got bigger problems than going by Jamie Foxx when your real name is Eric Marlon Bishop. (True story!)
Authenticity doesn’t mean anything when someone crazy decides to stalk you. Don’t make it easy for them.
OK! That’s enough of that. Let’s get on to the big stuff!
Don’t Be Alone on Set if It Can Be Helped, This Goes for Models and Photographers
If you’re an underage model, have a parent or trusted guardian with you at all times. No exceptions.
You might think you’re mature enough to handle it on your own, but I guarantee you are not. Someone older than you can absolutely manipulate you.
Even as an experienced model, an adult, you should have steps in place to keep yourself safe. Sometimes your friend can’t come, or they get into a car accident en route (happened to me before). Keep your phone handy, and do regular interval check-ins via text or phone call. Even as a working photographer, if my assistant is unable to make it last minute, I check in regularly with someone off-site.
Photographers and models, always make sure someone knows the address where you are going to be. If you’re taking extra steps for safety, turn on Location Sharing with a trusted person in your life. This way they will always have a GPS location of where your phone is (and hopefully you as well). This is extra helpful when you’re shooting on location and changing shooting spots frequently.
If you’re shooting on location and in a vehicle that does not belong to you (getting a ride, etc.), take a photo of the license plate and send it to a trusted person in your life. Even if the vehicle is a rental or borrowed, someone will know where that car came from and who it was possibly lent to. It is easier to have someone refuse to work with you than risk being kidnapped. This tip comes from a model who actually was kidnapped and managed to escape.
Getting into a vehicle that does not belong to you or someone you know and trust is always risky. Before getting in, take the time to check the doors to see if the child locks have been turned on.
Models, bring a non-intrusive friend, someone who’s willing to play the bad guy and help pull you out of a bad situation if it arises, but who’s also perfectly willing to be a wallflower if everything’s cool.
Photographers, having a makeup/hair artist on set or having an assistant that is the same gender as the person you’re photographing can help with the comfort level of your subject.
For example, if you’re a male photographer photographing women, it almost always makes set life more comfortable with another female on set. Your wife doesn’t always count. Over the last couple of decades, I’ve been to many sets, and on every set that had another woman there, I instantly felt a little safer.
On the flip side, if you’re a female photographer, shooting men, having a male assistant on set can help keep boundaries in place. I’ve had some male clients book sessions with me just so they could spend a few hours with me (weird, right??!). When I had these shoots on my own or with female assistants only, their behavior was extremely unprofessional, creepy, and weird as hell.
Once I started having male assistants on those sets, I stopped having really awkward encounters. They treat it like a normal session and leave. Ironically, they also rarely pick any edits because it’s not what they really wanted from the session. While these clients are uncommon, the number of weirdos on set I get now with a male assistant is exactly zero.
Also, photographers, having a model bring a friend is super handy cause they can fling fabric, hold reflectors, or take some BTS videos on their phone that everyone can use on social media later. Get them involved. If you’re worried about theft (it happens sometimes) have them sit somewhere that you can keep an eye on them, or keep them busy.
Models: If the photographer says they prefer to work alone or say they don’t allow escorts to their sessions, be extremely cautious. There’s no legal binding saying you cannot bring an escort with you unless it’s in the contract you signed. Read the fine print, ask questions. No photoshoot is worth risking your safety.
For my typical set, whatever gender my client identifies as, I try to make sure the person who will be in their personal bubble the most is the same gender. I find it’s just easiest, and whoever is in the chair is relaxed and feeling safe. Granted, sometimes it’s not always possible, but I do my best.
Beware Predators With a Camera
Some people use a camera as a tool to get to hang out with young, attractive bodies. Sometimes, they turn out to be excellent photographers or models. This does not mean they are not predators.
High social media numbers do not mean someone isn’t a lunatic, dangerous, untrustworthy, or predator. This goes for all genders.
Get a pulse on someone’s reputation.
Check out their IG tags, send some DMs, and ask questions. POS human beings sometimes hide very well behind excellent skills in front or behind the camera.
That blue checkmark does not mean they are safe. This does mean sometimes it’s harder to find out the truth though. People with high numbers do hold a perceived form of social media power over others, and sometimes it can be harder for the truth of their personality to come out. Weinstein is an extreme example of this.
Search their name or business “_________________ is a creep/psycho/dangerous/assault/police” online and see if anything comes up. It’s possible they’ve flown under the radar or changed their business name, and they haven’t been outed yet. Always check the date of the publications, if there are any. It also never hurts to check the registered sex offenders list if this person truly has no history.
The same way when you’re buying a product and you check the reviews, always read the 5-star and 1-star reviews. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.
Of course, we are all the villain or the hero in someone’s story, somewhere. Even with the shiniest of reputations, there might be people who just don’t like you or have a personal vendetta so they’ll spread all kinds of things. On the flip side, convicted felons have made someone’s day better, and the people closest to them maybe never saw the evil that lurked beneath that smile. How many times have we heard “Oh I never knew they could do that! They were always so nice to me!” in news articles about human beings who did awful things.
To this day, when I am looking to book new talent, I will still send out a couple of DMs to people I trust and people I don’t know that the person in question has worked with. 9/10 times the responses are glowing, and my experience working with the talent is the same. However, I have dodged bullets before and simultaneously caught some square in the chest in the past. There are a few faces I’ve photographed over the years that never saw the light of day or were scrubbed from my entire internet presence on a later date.
It’s also helpful to see if they work with the same people a lot. If they often work with a group of people, and then suddenly stop, and their page no longer has those collaborations, it’s usually a sign of someone moving, career change, OR some drama llama went down. One or all parties refuse to work together anymore, and the why is usually benign, but sometimes it can get a little hairy. Those people are sometimes good ones to query about what it’s like to work with the talent in question. They can be a source of your One Star reviews and again, it’s often innocent enough, sometimes you can Matrix-style dodge some real nasty stuff.
Meet in Person Ahead of the Shoot, Somewhere Public That You Feel Comfortable In
Vibes in person count for a lot. Listen to that intuition. Watch their body language, watch how they treat other people. Sometimes a quick coffee in a public space can be enough to send you running for the hills, or super excited to collaborate on future projects.
One big red flag to always be aware of is if they constantly trash everyone around them. Chances are, they’ll inevitably be talking trash about you too.
Look for those who build up the people around them! These are your future tribe people.
A great conversation starter: ask the talent what their strangest experience with a photographer or model was. Then ask for their best experience. A lot can be learned about what someone will speak about another. Common red flags can be “The model wanted to bring someone to set! I always work better alone!” or “The photographer was so rude, they didn’t give me all the high rez raw files!” A gross oversimplification, but this article is long enough already.
If you find yourself speaking more negatively than positively of others, maybe it’s time to take a look in the mirror and your environment and work on making some changes. Life is really short, far too short to spend it unhappier than we already have to be sometimes.
Prior to meeting, check their social media posts. Have a quick browse to see if you can also find a personal page for them. Admittedly, if I see a profile that is constantly spewing vitriol towards a group, culture, or ideology, I get pretty wary. If I see death threats or threats of violence, that is absolutely a red flag that I will not cross. I do not want to work with people who are willing to witness or cause violence to another, I don’t care how talented they are.
Do a Reverse Image Search on Their Portfolio Images
See if their portfolio is made up of stock images or stolen work from other photographers/designers/makeup/hair artists. Models, obviously this is harder to fake, especially if you’ve taken the time to meet in person ahead of the shoot. But if you can’t arrange a meeting ahead of the shoot, always do a little googling.
How to do this? Go to Google Images and upload an image and see where it pops up! (Side note: this is also a great way to see if your work is being used illegally online.)
Over the years I’ve found several humans who were using this tactic to meet people and either steal equipment, abuse women, or create blackmail material.
Fortunately, most of them are in jail now or they’ve moved on to other scams, but this tactic is still commonly used. If the portfolio looks too good to be true, it’s worth the search.
Work in Spaces With Dedicated Change Rooms or Safe Places to Change Clothing
Seems like a weird thing to note but I was always surprised by how many sets I’d walk on to as a model and there was no place to change in privacy. Baby photographer me had a small studio with no change room area and while all my clients and models were cool with it (I’d turn around or leave the room), older me looks back and cringes.
There’s a bunch of pop-up change rooms that you can purchase now too! This one came recommended by a model I know, and she loves it.
These days I work with a lot of adult entertainers and nudity is their chosen profession, I always make sure I book a space that has a door and an area where they can place all their things in privacy from the rest of the set. If someone is comfortable enough to change in the shooting area, that is their choice, and I will still look away or turn around to be polite.
Consideration for personal space will always be appreciated by your talent.
Use Body Tape to Hide Body Parts
I have to thank model Dane Halo for this tip!
Doing a boudoir shoot? Implied nude shoot? Clothes that maybe are a bit sheer and you don’t want those details out in the world for everyone to see? Get some flesh-toned kinesiology tape. It comes in all shades these days. I wish this stuff was around when I was still doing this kind of work in front of the lens.
Note: Models, you might want to use a little bit of olive oil taking it off — depending on the brand, they can get quite sticky. Also maybe put a little cotton over your nipples or a sanitary pad over the crotch to prevent extra painful tugging of the tape when you’re removing it. Obviously – this works best on hairless flesh unless you want an uninvited wax job.
The number of times a “photographer” would take a sneaky shot of something I wasn’t comfortable with them having, is countless. It’s super gross. Younger me would just shrug it off and pretend it never happened, but older me looks back and just wants to put heads through walls.
The tape super helps skip some of these uncomfortable opportunities. Photographer doesn’t want to edit it out? They probably don’t want to edit out nipples or genitalia either, so there’s a red flag and a sign that maybe this is not the collaboration you’re looking for.
Also from a photographer’s standpoint, body tape is just an easy barrier to prevent having unwanted images on your hard drive. If you’ve got any reputation worth having, you don’t want to carry around terabytes of nipple slips or images that show something that makes the client/model uncomfortable. This way, there’s zero chance of any risk of those images being on your computer. Yes, they’ll get deleted anyway, but at least this way you are protected as well as the subject.
Speak. The. F-ing. Words.
Have any hard lines? Rules that don’t bend at all? Just speak them. Don’t let there be any guesswork for either party. Speak the expectations of the shoot and set behavior clearly before the shoot day.
Fine print: Speaking in a direct manner can help communication with someone who may have diagnosed/undiagnosed autism or Aspergers. I’ve run into this many times in my career, and taking the time to learn to speak as literally as possible has removed many potential roadblocks. A reminder that these conditions are often undiagnosed, especially in women.
For example, how people on the autistic spectrum communicate is as varied as the experience of autism itself.
One of the core criteria for autism is defined as persistent difficulty with social communication and interaction.
I run a pretty casual ship, but a couple of my hard lines are that everyone is there because they want to be, and everyone is sober. I’ve had a couple of negative experiences with boudoir clients and wine, so I put the brakes on it.
I have a playlist of music that’s got a little bit of everything on it, but I’m more than willing to hand the music reins over to an autistic client who has very particular sound needs. I work with all types of bodies, personalities, and insecurities. I can easily accommodate 95% of requests, but I’ve learned over the years that not everyone is comfortable with mentioning the things that they are uncomfortable with.
I now have a list of questions that I ask as politely as possible. “Are there any things in our shoot that you would like me to avoid? Which side of your face do you like more? Is there anything in retouching I should be considering? Are there any insecurities that I can help you navigate or avoid entirely?”
Through this series of questions, my shoots are much, much easier. One shoot, a model was constantly criticized for her naturally slender frame, so we styled her with that in mind, and with lenses that would add a bit of bulk to her frame. I shot her exclusively at 200mm and avoided any super lanky poses. A couple of the images she loved but hated how slender her arm looked, so I asked her if she would like that to be thickened up a little bit in post, or if we should just throw out the shot. She was fine with me adding a bit of shape in post-production, and she loved the final images.
I asked the same series of questions to another model, and she said “Please don’t modify my body or skin in any way in post-production, because it will make me feel uncomfortable and it affects my self-esteem. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me.” This is amazing information to have because I now know that apart from color correction, I will not alter her shape, even when the clothing or costuming adds bulk to her figure that normally is not there. She prefers it that way, and I am 100% ok to play within those boundaries.
Some clients want the full plastic surgery look, because either they’ve been saving up for surgery, or they’ve gained some weight that normally they don’t have. Some people are going through a bout of health problems or depression and their skin isn’t as clear as usual, or they’re healing an injury and have lost muscle mass that normally they carry.
Some people just hate the left or right side of their face, and that’s ok. It’s not our job to fix someone’s self-image, that is a very personal experience, and everyone is in a different stage of accepting the meat suits we are stuck in.
By speaking these words, clearly, I can accommodate the person in front of my lens. So, models, photographers, designers, makeup artists, hairstylists… Let’s start speaking those words. Let’s set expectations before the camera even comes out of the bag. I think a lot of misunderstandings on sets can be avoided by having these conversations ahead of time.
Watch Out for Any Crazy Body Modifications in Post-production
Ok yeah, I just said “Accommodate your subject as best you can! Photoshop or not!” Yeah, but there’s a line.
(Note: If that’s something you want to offer. If not, then don’t work with peeps who want the fancy retouching. Goes back to Speak the F-ing Words.)
Models and photographers are guilty of this one, especially with the rise of apps like FaceTune and the automated features of Liquefy in programs like Photoshop and elsewhere. We are certainly prone to be guilty of this early in our careers, but I’m not talking the little bit of nip tuck, zit removal, or some mild jaw shaping. I’m also not talking about the photomanipulation of images to make creatures, fantastical waifs, or the use of fish-eye lenses to extend or distort a figure.
I am also not talking about people who have an addiction to plastic surgery. What people do with their bodies and their money is their own choice. In my experience, people who spend obscene amounts of money on their bodies with surgery and fitness know exactly what they like and don’t like, and they are very upfront about it.
I’m talking the digital plastic surgery with a pipe wrench, ham fists, and two blind eyes. Grossly misrepresenting the subject through digital manipulation to appease some weird fantasy of themselves or someone else. We’ve all seen them in the photoshop fails memes!
The digital plastic dolls, the impossibly small waists, oversized breasts and hips, the constant use of Snapchat doll-eye filters. These people have an unrealistic expectation of themselves or what the human body is, and it’s actually weird as hell. Usually hiding behind these images is someone who may be either inexperienced or, in some cases, mentally unwell.
As a photographer, these people in front of your lens will be almost impossible to please, and they will often be the first to throw your name into the mud if you choose to stand your ground against this kind of editing.
As a model, these people will manipulate your body into something that will not benefit your portfolio and completely misrepresent you. If they’re paying you, hopefully they’re paying you enough to make these images being online forever worthwhile. With luck, it’ll be so distorted no one will ever think it was you anyway. These types of images cheapen your brand. See the previous lesson “Speak the F-ing Words” and try again.
See How Either Party Handles the Word “No”
This has burned me in the past. It seems like such a benign thing, but I have caused my own life so much stress by learning far too late that this person does not like being told “No.”
I’m not talking the thing like “Take your clothes off.” And they say “No.” You’re just an asshole if you think that’s what this is about.
What I mean is if you chose to assert your boundaries like “Please don’t text me after 10 pm.” or “I really like this concept, but what if I’m not comfortable with ________. How can we work around that?” How they answer these questions is very important.
If they criticize you or try to belittle you for your questions or boundaries, time to move along.
I did a casting call a little while ago, and I had a model respond who would have been perfect for the call. However, the clothing required her to wear backless dresses, and she mentioned her hesitation as she’d never worn something so revealing before. There is nothing wrong with this! It means that despite her look being a perfect fit, she’s not comfortable in the clothing. So, I told her she’s amazing, but this isn’t the right casting call for her, because this cut of clothing was what we needed to feature. I asked her to please apply for other calls in the future because I’d love the opportunity to book her for something else. This is a no, with an appropriate response.
The same as sex, if the answer isn’t a clear and resounding, “YES, I AM OK WITH THIS,” then their answer is “NO.”
No one should be pressured into doing a concept, no one should have to be convinced. Any reason that someone is uncomfortable is fair. If they have religious beliefs, personal beliefs, are worried about what their friends and family may think, or maybe they are in an abusive relationship. It is not your place to judge why someone will or will not be a part of your concept, it is your place to accept their response, even if they said yes at first and change their mind. You then find another person suitable for the concept and move on with your life. This goes for all types of situations this is not just about models and photographers.
The fact that this is still a discussion at all makes me want to stop the Earth and get off the ride.
Alrighty, warning: this article is about to get a little dark, and to my humans out there who have experienced the dark side of human behavior, some of these might feel a little too familiar.
Don’t worry, I didn’t get too dark, BUT this stuff can be sensitive to some peeps, so feel free to skip along.
However, if you’re curious about the kind of behaviors and actions that you could be a target of, read along. I believe education is key on these things, and learning to spot manipulation and grooming can save you.
If You Are Told You’re “mature for Your Age”, Chances Are the Person You’re Working With May Be a Predator
Let’s say you’re a teen model, and yes, 18 still counts as a teen model. I don’t care that you can legally vote or drive a car. Always keep in mind there are people out there who absolutely will target you.
Bring a parent or trusted guardian to set, always. Even in your 20s, bring a friend. I didn’t always listen to that advice when I was young.
Despite the fact that I was a goddamned firecracker and totally willing (and capable) to throw hands if I thought something was wrong, looking back I can see where my inexperience blinded me.
I’m sure most of you reading this will think you’re smarter, which is basically the same merry-go-round over and over again. Yet, this stuff keeps happening to people. So, it means that it bears being said – over, and over again.
There are a bunch of phrases and behaviors that I’ve heard over the years that make me physically want to vomit. Unsurprisingly, they’re also a great guideline to see if the person you’re working with has ulterior motives or not. I could probably fill an encyclopedia with the types of lines horrible people could use on you, but here’s a short sample of lines I’ve had used on me or people in my circle.
- “You’re so mature for your age.”
- “You trust me, don’t you?”
- “If you need references, I don’t need to hire you.”
- “I’m a nice guy, I’m married so don’t worry.”
- “Oh you shot with _______ and they shoot nudes, can I see more?”
- “It’ll be our little secret. I promise.”
- “I photograph better when I get a little aroused, you don’t mind, do you?” (Yeah, that’s actually real)
- “You’re so hot, does me photographing you turn you on?”
- “If you take your clothes off I can pay you more” (or at all)
- “I don’t allow phones on my sets.” If this doesn’t scream Get Out, I’m not sure what does.
- Flaky behavior, not showing up to set.
- Showing up to set in unclean clothes and smelling unwashed.
Smelling of alcohol or using/offering mind-altering substances. You never really know what’s in that drink or joint. There are so many cases of people being drugged and assaulted, even on some of the biggest and most expensive photoshoots in the world. If you want to drink or smoke, it’s always safest to save it till you’re done the shoot and you’re with people you trust or at home again.
If someone is forcing alcohol or other substances on you, tell them you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, or you’re in recovery and prefer to stay sober. If you feel you may be the victim of violence and feel it is unsafe to refuse or leave (this is the worst case scenario), take steps to remain as sober as possible. i.e. Don’t properly inhale, take super small sips, or worst case, if you’re forced to swallow, go to the bathroom and attempt to discreetly purge your stomach.
If you suddenly feel unwell and you have potentially been drugged, do not be afraid to dial 911 or text someone to dial it for you. This is why someone having your location is so important.
People who use sex or compromising images/video as blackmail. Report them to the police immediately.
People forcing their way into your personal space to repeatedly adjust something on your body without permission, particularly around breasts or genitalia. This is why having friends or hair/makeup people on set is so important. They can do that for you. The photographer can stay out of your bubble unless they ask for permission. Such as “Hey there’s just a hair strand in your lashes, do you mind moving it, or can I?” Apart from having a makeup/hair artist do it, this is the safest way to enter someone’s bubble.
If a person is unwilling to do that or insists on find ways to be in your bubble for things that don’t seem to make sense, make up some story about your period starting, food poisoning, or get your safety friend to pull the plug and get you out of there.
“I know you said to bring options, but I just brought this one outfit.” Or some version of they can’t seem to follow basic instructions…
“I’m in a group where I can destroy you if you don’t give me what I want.”
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”
Signs of schizophrenic paranoia, unwelcome phone calls displaying manic behavior.
Flaky behavior, lots of excuses for excessive tardiness or cancellations just before the shoot begins.
Showing up intoxicated, with extra red flags if they drove there.
People who use sex as power and control tactics. There’s nothing wrong with consenting adults, and I’m not here to judge anyone on what grown people do. But be very wary of anyone who could potentially use sex as a weapon against you.
Gigantic Fine Print That Isn’t Actually Fine Print
This is not the same as someone coming forward with legitimate sexual assault claims.
This is why safety on set is so important. Witnesses and never being alone with someone you don’t know or implicitly trust.
The best way to try and prevent sexual assault is to take all the steps necessary to remove the opportunity for it to happen in the first place.
No, we shouldn’t have to, and humans should just be decent to each other… But the evidence shows that our species is not there yet.
…which leads me to my next point.
Don’t Do Anything in Private That You’re Not Ok With the Entire World Knowing
Assume that someone will leak your secrets, assume that someone will put those photos online. Assume someone has a secret camera running somewhere, that someone’s iCloud can get hacked.
Most people are not dirtbags, but sometimes we draw the short straw, and you must be able to minimize your risks. It’s actually why I held out photographing nudes for so many years. I didn’t feel like I had the skills to do it properly and thus, I kept to implied nudes.
But essentially, I was trying to minimize my risks. If somehow these images of men and women got out online and I wasn’t willing to stand by it and be like “F*** yeah, I made this!” Then I had no business photographing it. I wasn’t comfortable with my skills, so I waited. Now, I photograph all kinds of things. They may not be on my website but if someone happens to share some of the work I’ve done that they kept private for years and suddenly decided to make it public, I’m more than willing to stand by it and say “Yep! That’s mine, and that was a super fun shoot! I did the best I could with the skills I had at the time and I’m so glad they’re proud of them too.”
Imagine that you’re 18 and really into social causes, and you start an OnlyFans or racy Patreon page to pay for your nursing school. Admittedly, I probably would have done it if it existed when I was that age. Now, you get hired in a hospital or clinic for work, and your coworkers eventually find these pages, and they start sharing the images around. This is an extreme example, but it’s one that men and women experience all the time. People **will** find out. Your conservative grandparents, your mum, your future kids, your grandkids. This is where it may or may not become an effort to stand by your conviction. “I paid off my school debt in a year” is usually enough to shut these idiots up, while they’re still working two jobs to clear a student debt from 10 years ago.
However, if you’re just doing casual nude work or even stuff that maybe is questionable with your own moral code, and you’re not making 50k a year on a paysite, the potential for either blackmail or extortion becomes much higher.
So, before you do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, ask your future self: “Am I actually cool with this? Or am I being pressured into something I don’t actually want?”
Beware Retreats in Faraway Places
Do not get on an airplane and go to some retreat in a foreign country that does not have absolutely glowing reviews from former attendees, models, and photographers.
A disturbing trend that has only increased over the years is the use of “retreats” that boasts attractive young bodies, fun in the sun, and all-around good times. Sometimes these events are simply used to filter out and traffic young people into the sex trade.
While there is nothing wrong with working as a consenting escort, sex trafficking is at a worldwide high with many countries grappling with what to do about it.
The other way this can be used against a photographer, you can attend these events, and it can be an opportunity for someone to create blackmail to be used against you.
Watch for Groomers
This can happen to anyone, at any age. None of us are immune to the effects of manipulation, we can only set up mental markers to set off alarm bells. The best way to do this is through education of the types of processes, and friends who you trust and will actually listen to if they see something concerning going on in your life.
Grooming is complicated, sophisticated, and heinous. I’ve included some links if you choose to deep dive into this topic further.
The perpetrators of trafficking employ a “grooming process” to draw victims away from their homes or to gain the trust and dependency of young victims who may have run away from home. The first step is often the development of a relationship with an older man, who the victim comes to regard as his/her “boyfriend”. The perpetrator assesses the victim’s needs (vulnerabilities) and offers flattery, material items such as money, jewelry, or clothes, and/or displays other “acts of love”. The vulnerable person may be enticed to begin a sexual relationship with their “boyfriend”. The adolescent will be encouraged to stay away from home for increasingly longer periods of time, eventually leading to him or her not returning home at all. —OSU
Last but Not Least, Gaslighting
Doesn’t matter who it is in your life, learn to recognize the signs. This is an insidious form of psychological abuse that is perpetrated by diabolical meat bags in all cultures and in every language. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves. This makes them extremely vulnerable to further abuse.
Countering: This describes a person questioning someone’s memories. They may things such as, “You never remember things accurately.” or “Are you sure? You have a bad memory.”
Witholding: When someone withholds, they refuse to engage in a conversation. A person using this technique may pretend to not understand someone so that they do not have to respond to them. For example: “I do not know what you are talking about.” or “You are just trying to confuse me.”
Trivializing: This occurs when a person belittles or disregards the other person’s feelings. They may accuse them of being too sensitive or of overreacting when they have valid concerns and feelings.
Denial: Denial involves a person pretending to forget events or how they occurred. They may deny having said or done something or accuse someone of making things up.
Diverting: With this technique, a person changes the focus of a discussion and questions the other person’s credibility instead. For example, they might say, “That is just another crazy idea from your friends.”
Stereotyping: An article in the American Sociological Review states that a person using gaslighting techniques may intentionally use negative stereotypes of a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or age to manipulate them. For example, they may tell a female that people will think she’s irrational or crazy if she seeks help for her abuse.
If you or someone in your life is experiencing gaslighting, intervene. This is often a sign of future abuses to come or abuses that are happening behind the scenes.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline indicates that a person experiencing gaslighting may:
- Feel confused and constantly second-guess themselves
- Find it difficult to make simple decisions
- Frequently question if they are too sensitive
- Become withdrawn or unsociable
- Constantly apologize to the abusive person
- Defend the abusers behavior
- Lie to family and friends to avoid having to make excuses for them
- Feel hopeless, joyless, worthless or incompetent
Gaslighting can also cause anxiety, depression, and psychological trauma, especially if it is a part of a wider abuse pattern.
If you are experiencing this or know someone who is, reach out for help.
Domestic Violence Support | The National Domestic Violence Hotline Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)
That was long as hell, and admittedly kind of depressing, but thanks for sticking it out. I wish it wasn’t such a painfully current topic, but hopefully by talking about it, we can make a safer future.
To wrap this all up, at the end of the day, life inherently has some risk. Inevitably, it is probably going to mess you up a little, or a lot. Probably both, in random, super unhelpful periods of your existence. The goal is to manage the risk as effectively as possible, and education is a huge weapon in your arsenal to help keep you and those around you safe.
If you have been taken advantage of, don’t be hard on yourself. Hostile people are utterly horrible human beings, but it is NOT YOUR FAULT. I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes it’s hard to look back at something that’s happened to you and not feel strong emotions. Talk about it, seek professional help, and if it’s serious enough, always report it to the police.
I’m sure there are some of you at this point wondering “Why do this at all if this is the kind of stuff you have to put up with?”
Whelp. Cause the good people are amazing, and they do outnumber the garbage. Modeling and photography have given me some of my best memories and I owe many of my closest friends to this industry.
I’ve been fortunate to use my camera to take me all around the world. Pixels have paved the way to a new life for me, one that I never imagined. Yes, it comes with risks, but so does staying in the same hometown for the rest of my life.
Life is short, and I refuse to let the bad apples ruin the otherwise spectacular industry that this is.
Wear a seatbelt when you drive, floss your teeth and stay active.
Surround yourself with wonderful people. Build an inspiring life. Try to leave this spot of rock a little better than when you entered.
Everything else can f*** off.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
About the author: Renee Robyn is a photographer and Photoshop alchemist. Expertly blending fact, fiction, and a little digital alchemy, she has worked with industry-leading brands like Wacom, Viewsonic, Corel, Capture One, and Intel. Robyn’s lectures have been presented around the world, including PhotoPlus, WPPI, Photokina, Creative Live, ProEdu and more. You can find more of Robyn’s work on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram. This article was also published here.