I certainly find them. Or, more accurately, they find me.
So last week a nice woman phones me, needing an urgent portrait. Now you may think that many things in life can be urgent, but a portrait shoot is not likely to fall amongst them. Wrong. Portrait shoots are often very urgent, for any number of reasons. This one was urgent because my caller is a semi-finalist in the Mrs South Africa competition. She needed her pics done because they had to be published in the competition’s Pretty Woman magazine and the magazine needed the pics by Friday morning, latest.
So I make an arrangement for her to arrive on Wednesday, the day after she phoned. Fantastic. She can’t make it on Thursday, so Wednesday is perfect. Wednesday comes, and I receive an email from her: Wednesday, actually, is not so good. Thursday will be perfect. A few emails later, and all is established: she’ll turn up at the studio at eleven on Thursday, after having had make-up done at Canal Walk.
Despite it being summer (kind of), Cape Town unleased one of her prize tantrums and I had little inclination to be lugging my equipment up the (very exposed) steps to my studio, setting up, and then dismantling and clattering the stuff back down to my car. But, a shoot’s a shoot, and money is money, whatever the weather.
So I dutifully turned up and set up and waited for my client to arrive, which she did, on time and full of body parts that, according to her, are too wide or too large or too something. A normal, everyday shoot, then. (What’s wrong with us women? Can’t we just love who we are, like men do?)
A normal, everyday shoot, except that she needed to phone her husband to ask him to bring some money to pay me, as she had forgotten to take her bank card with her when she left home. I don’t take bank cards, so, really, she’d forgotten to bring money along. This is odd, because she had just paid a make-up artist to do her face … but never mind, I think. The husband, being at work, couldn’t drop what he was doing to rush out to give me some cash, but promised to do a transfer in the next hour or so and sms the transfer confirmation to my cell.
Not thrilled, I was. ‘In the next hour’ would mean that I would be done with the shoot and still would not know whether I had been paid or even whether I would be paid.
But, things happen, as well we know, and we push on. Two hours later (remember all those body parts that don’t look good?) the shoot is over and my cellphone is still deathly silent. My client phones her husband again to check if he had made the payment. ‘Oh, you’re still in your meeting,’ she says (funny, he didn’t sound like someone in a meeting when he took all my details down in a leisurely way). ‘My husband says he couldn’t do the transfer but he’ll do it this afternoon.’
‘Sure, no problem,’ says Ms I’m-Flush-and-I-work-for-the-love-of-it.
Off I go, homeward bound, ignore all the other work I have to do, and upload all her images to my website and email her a password so that she can access the pics and select the ones she would like to submit to the magazine. She loves them. Her husband is crazy about them. She’ll let me know which ones to send to the magazine – it’s just so hard to choose.
At eleven o’clock that night, I find an email from her, listing the numbers that she would like resized and cleaned, and sent to the magazine. And, oh, sorry, my husband says he’ll do the transfer first thing in the morning. Feeling doubtful – okay, grumpy – I work on the images anyway, so that they’re ready to send by morning.
First thing in the morning appears to be around 8:40, when I receive another mail. Sorry, but the husband has gone to work. He’ll do the transfer from there.
Sure. As soon as the money’s in my account, I’ll send the pics, I respond cheerfully. Why would I mind getting to bed after midnight to make sure the images are ready to send first thing this morning?
The morning passes with no payment confirmation being received.
And then, late afternoon, an urgent sms from the husband: ‘I have deposited cash into your bank account. Please email those pics asap, they are judging at the moment.’
Sorry, what? You went to the bank to stand in a queue to deposit cash when you could have made a transfer from where you were sitting? Nah. And what’s this about judging at the moment? I thought the pics were for the magazine?
Check bank account. No cash there. Phone the bank. Nope. No cash there.
They’re trying to scam me!
And I’ve not heard from them since.
Now the sad thing is that they’re probably in a bit of financial trouble, despite the very large luxury car that my client was driving. Maybe they needed the prize money to get themselves out of a pickle, but just didn’t have the cash to pay for the photos.
Well, had she phoned me and told me just that, I would probably have made a plan. I would probably have done the shoot on the promise of being paid later, and I would have written the money off, not expecting to be paid (because I have learnt that people often don’t keep their promises, and that they have very short memories). But they lied from the word go. And then they insulted my intelligence by thinking that I would believe the silly story about a cash deposit.
Chances are they’ve managed to copy the pics from my website, and so have pretty much what they need. So they’ve scammed me anyway. Or maybe she’s just so embarassed, she’s never going to come out of hiding.
So, if you want to be a freelance photographer, get into the habit of taking a deposit – and make it clear that it’s a non-refundable one. At least some of your costs will be covered if they find it difficult to pay once the job is done. Basic knowledge, I know. Common sense, I know. But we are in a people business, and it’s easy to e swayed by people’s stories, especially when they come across as really nice.