Often times, one of the first things a model is told when she asks “how do I know this guy is legit” or “how do I stay safe” is that she should check references. While not foolproof or a 100% guarantee that the photographer won’t be a sleezebag and will get you images back, it’s a good starting point. I check references on all photographers I’m working with for the first time. Male or female. Paid or trade. Here’s how I go about doing it.
Looking at Credited Models & Sending Messages
I go through the photographer’s portfolio and look at their recent photos. Provided they’ve credited the models on their photos, I send a message to 3-5 models they’ve recently worked with (using the photo upload date as a gauge). From there, I move to their profile and look at the credits section, and randomly choose an additional 3-5 models and message them (I have, lately, been making sure the models have been active within the last month, preferably the last week). If there are any models I know personally, I will send them a note in addition to the other notes I’ve sent out, though I don’t send more than 4 of these out. This means, I’m sending no less than 6 messages out, and sometimes as many as 12.
I send so many messages out because I find that often, models don’t get back on reference checks. I’m not sure why, but that seems to be the case. I like to have at least 3 models let me know how their experience was with a photographer, so the more messages I send out, the higher my chances of getting the feedback I need.
When There Are No Credits
In the event a photographer has zero credits listed, things get a little trickier. Occasionally, I’ve matched up a model to her photo, but that’s rare. I ask the photographer directly for a list of references to contact via whatever site I’m on, though I prefer not to leave it just at that. I also spend some time looking through the photographer’s tags and see if there are any “great shoot” type tags. If so, I’ll message those models. I’ve even messaged a MUA I’ve worked with in the past, for her take on things.
Another thing I’ve done in the event of zero credits is drop a line to a few of the other experienced models in the area, asking if they know anything about the photographer or who he might have worked with.
There’s also been a rare case where I’ve used www.tfp.me to search for forum posts by that member. I do this either to gauge attitude, or because I’ve felt that “hey, why do I feel like I’ve talked to this guy before” feeling.
The Actual Message
When I send my messages out, I make it clear what I’m looking for in the subject of my message. Often, it’s something like, “Reference Check: [Photographer Name]”. I make sure I use the name they list themselves as on whatever site I’m using, at least in the subject, so there’s less confusion.
In the body of the message, I keep it as brief as possible, just letting them know that [Photographer Name] is interested in working with me, and noting that I saw they had worked together. I often give a link to the photographer’s profile on that site, again to help lessen confusion. I politely ask them if they’d take a minute or two to answer a few quick questions, so that I can be sure I want to work with them. I make sure to not disclose what arrangement the photographer has contacted me for (paid or TF*), or to color the waters with any initial impressions I may have. I also make sure to thank them for their time.
I have come up with a list of specific questions regarding what I want to know about a photographer prior to working with them. I modify the list every so often, adding questions as situations arise (or as references come back) that make me think “huh, I would have liked to have known that in advance” or “well, knowing that would certainly have changed things”. Here is my list of questions I ask models when I check a photographer’s references.
- Was it your first time working with [Photographer Name]?
- If not, how many times did you work together?
- Did you work directly with [Photographer Name], or someone else?
- Was there a MUA, assistant, or other industry-related person on set?
- If so, were they there the whole time?
- Was anyone present on set that you were not aware would be there?
- Did you bring someone along with you that wasn’t related to the shoot?
- Where did you shoot (i.e. location, studio, home)?
- Was the photographer on time, and was he ready to shoot when you were?
- Was the shoot paid or trade?
- If the shoot was trade, did you receive portfolio-ready images in the time frame promised?
- Was the photographer generally courteous and professional?
- Did anything happen that would cause you to not shoot with the photographer again?
I duplicate some of these if I need to check a MUA’s reference, though I haven’t done that in awhile because I have found a few select MUAs I enjoy working with, and opt to work with them regularly instead of dealing with finding new people and risking them not showing up, being unsanitary, whatever. In the rare case that I’m booking a model for something, I use many of the same questions as well.
Making It Easy For Others
I have discovered that sometimes, photographers don’t credit models on photos, and sometimes type numbers into their lists correctly (I imagine this isn’t exclusive to photographers either, but I’m going by what I’ve found). This makes it difficult to check references. So, whenever possible, credit the people you’ve worked with, and make sure that if you’re keeping a list of people you’ve worked with by member number, that you correctly note that number.
More You Can Do
If a model wants to expand on checking references (or is using, say CraigsList to book and there’s no network or profile to help find people they’ve worked with), these 2 articles give some great pointers.