How to Increase Your Safety (for Models) Part 1

December 02, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

This short essay on security has primarily been written with female models in mind. But security as a subject is applicable to every person, male, female, young or older. This is for the new model but even an experienced model may get something from this. 

My motivations for writing this, besides wanting to ensure a safe and fun time for models I work with is because back in October I started a photo-based project on Human Trafficking with focus on the sex trade of minors. Factually women and men can be trafficked with the average age being early teens to 50's, the biggest target demographic being girls. Some children are sexually exploited as early as age 5. The owners and purveyors of these crimes are both men and women. It is not uncommon for young girls in their teenage years to fall victims to traffickers with the promise of jobs, money, clothes, and modeling. That's right. Modeling. Human Trafficking is the second largest criminal empire (behind the global drug trade) on Earth with an excess of over $30-40 billion a year and growing. It's not just a problem in "other countries" but right here in the United States with roughly 20,000 trafficked INTO the U.S. per year. That doesn't account for those trafficked OUT of the US. Per the Genesis Project, Seattle is in the top 3 in the world for sex trafficking. Per King County's estimate 300-500 children will be trafficked in 2012 alone.

I'm doing what I can to help by raising awareness on the issue. It very much has to do with your safety as a human being. Security as a subject will be talked about in the book as well. It's my hope that people can read these writings and learn to be safer.

First, let's define security: "precautions taken to guard or otherwise minimize against the chance of crime, attack, rape, sabotage or espionage ..."

Let's start with the premise that easily 95% or more of the photographer's out there are simply just photographers and not GWC (Guy with Camera) or worse, outright perverts (or otherwise have sinister intentions). That means that most people in this industry are good people who are artists who legitimately need models for projects, campaigns, publications, and on. But there are always bad apples in a crop.

The purpose of this writing isn't to scare you into thinking every photographer is a creep or to scare you right into your closet to never go outside again. It's really to give you safe pointers and help draw your attention to a new way of thinking and doing things that has as it's basis, your safety. In other words, I don't want to make you paranoid just "security conscious". 

This writing is being broken down into 3 parts due to it's length. I'll apologize right now, ahead of time at the length of this writing. I've cut out a lot already and there are different levels of security measures a person can take and I think I've proposed ones at levels I think are fit for models. Again, sorry about the length!

Part I. 


Transport Safety

Carrying Money

Spotting a Tail


Before committing to a photo shoot you should ensure due diligence for your safety by researching the photographer, the location and any particulars or details of the shoot. 

1) First, discover if the shoot is something that you are interested in or if offered money, something that you are willing to do. You may be solicited in person, through a social media site, a modeling site, on twitter, anywhere. If it's a shoot you would consider doing then next ...


2) View their work. Possibly nothing will tell you more about a photographer than their portfolio! Most photographer's have a portfolio somewhere online - if they don't that is a red flag. Ask to view it if you cannot easily find it. You will be able to recognize their level of expertise by their showcase photos (as well as their style, niche, etc). This is where you need to decide if you want to continue this process and work toward making the shoot happen. If you don't like something about their stuff, then kindly decline and move on.

What to say? "Thank you for your interest however my portfolio requires a different direction right now. I appreciate the time you've taken to seek me out. Best of luck in your endeavors." Word this with your intent, if you never want to shoot with them versus if perhaps you may shoot with them in the future. I don't ever suggest being untactful and burning bridges with your words. I believe good manners, with clear and concise communication to have much value especially with respects to human relationships.  

Note to photographers: Three ways to build a portfolio easily are to shoot friends and family. If you are trying to build yourself a glamour, boudoir, fine art nude portfolio consider signing up for any one of the numerous workshops that tour about and give photographers instruction AND the opportunity to shoot models under the supervision of a more experienced photographer. Finally, if you have a friend that does this sort of work, see if you can pay a little of the model's fee and ask to sit in on part of the session so that you can get a few shots for your portfolio. There are probably more ways, but these are 3 simple ones. 


3) If asked to shoot nudes (or to go to risky locations, shoot at odd hours) you have options. First is bringing an escort and most legit photographers won't mind you bringing someone so long as they sit in the waiting area or are otherwise out of the shoot area. Then again, some photographer's rail against escorts for different reasons; they distract the model, they are not being supervised and may steal something, etc. As a photographer I ALWAYS shoot with a make-up person these days but if the model does her own make-up there is still an assistant around. And if nude, there is always 1-2 other people around as assistants, MUA, no exceptions unless it's a model I consider a good friend.

You should insist on others being around in a shoot that is nude or otherwise where you will be more vulnerable. A note here, don't bring your boyfriend, mother, father or anyone that will absolutely distract you from the shoot. I'm fine with escorts if it's ever needed but won't allow it to be someone intimately connected for this reason unless they are clearly out of the shoot area. Bringing such people to a shoot comes across as rather unprofessional too, so use judgment in this area.

The other thing you can do is to discover if the person has references which you can contact. Obviously if the photographer cannot provide any, that is an indicator that they are either brand new or unwilling for some unspoken reason. A tactful way to ask when a photographer is acting pissy and doesn't want to provide a references is, "As my own safety is my first concern, I ask you kindly for references. If you cannot or are unwilling to provide these, then I must decline on your request for a shoot. It's nothing against you personally, it's my own policy on the matter." And some photographer's will remain jerks and you just move on. Otherwise do contact any references provided (some references are bogus) so it's good to actually talk to people (I've heard of photographer's who have set up "model" accounts to be the "reference" for the photographer. Tricky yes. Deceptive yes. Based on this you might not want to work with someone like that but it also doesn't make them Jeffrey Dahmer either. This may be moot if the person's portfolio is obviously littered with a variety of models and/or they are exceptional!

Note to photographers: Unless you're world famous, don't get butthurt if a model asks for references. Your portfolio should speak for itself but if it doesn't then don't take offense. Consider the model's point of view as well even if you are paying for the shoot!


4) Google/Bing the photographer's name. This can sometimes reveal buried threads from other models or people who have worked with the photographer in the past. Don't believe everything you read, but take heed here. If it's one complaint and that model no longer models and they were obviously amateur or otherwise suspect of just being a drama queen then it's perhaps not a legit complaint. If however you find recent things that appear valid and or multiple things then it might be more wise to move on. It's your safety so you make the choice.

All of these things together paint a picture and that picture tells you something. That's what you are trying to do with research.

The more legit the photographer is (which should be apparent by their portfolio and their communication), the less you will have to worry about. A person's work does speak for itself. I'm not talking about technical skill necessarily but also a variety of models. So some of the above advice really pertains to newer or less established photographers. You can cut your risk out almost completely by only working with very experienced photographers with legit portfolios. That's not to say to be defenseless, but you greatly minimize your risk by choosing only to work with well established professionals.


Transport Safety

You've decided to do the shoot. Now there is a matter of transport safety, that's you arriving to and getting from a shoot back to your place of residence unharmed. What goes on at a location or studio is another section. This is all about travel.


1) First before embarking on your travel to the location I recommend you do a couple of things. Communicate to your social network some details about your shoot eg, that you are shooting with so-and-so photographer at his or her (studio, location, etc.) If you've a model mayhem
(or similar account) account, you can update the top of your page profile with the day's date and some detail about the shoot as above. This let's people know what you are doing and who you are doing it with.

Leaving data behind in a tactful manner (that doesn't show your distrust or to appear as if you are trolling your photographer) will greatly help if, for some reason, you go missing. And I emphasize tactful because many photographer's don't want you to give up location specifics as there seems to be a lot of competition between photographers for great locations. So be tactful at how you word these things. If it's at a studio, no big deal to leave that detail, but if it's a great location somewhere then that's a little harder to communicate about without giving it away completely.

Don't want to share with your social network? Instead you can and should definitely give specific details to someone you trust such as a parent, spouse or best friend so that they know exactly where you will be.


2) Take a photo of yourself (showing what you are wearing) before leaving and post it on your social network with perhaps something said like "off to a shoot with such and such photographer!" The photo allows the police to know what you were wearing last in case you go missing and what you generally looked like. Time is of the essence in missing person cases in terms of finding and recovery. Giving any investigator a head start works greatly in your favor.

Again, we don't ever plan on bad things to happen, but if they do, you need to give as much for investigators to go on as possible.

Again, you don't have to post it to your social network, you could just send it to your trusted person that has the specific details of the shoot.


3) If taking public transport, detail your route and the time it will take to arrive. In addition, have the details of when the shoot is planned to end. Shooting late into the night and having to take a bus or otherwise rely on a ride home can add risk to you and the subject of this writing is about minimizing risk. So ensure you communicate, during the initial email or phone communications with the photographer about the shoot length, it's start and planned end.

If you are a traveling model and go to other cities, it's recommended that you get to know the city so that you can travel easily and use public transportation. This can be important to being and remaining punctual.

Give the details of your transportation to that trusted person mentioned in #1 above.

4) Some common sense measures to take when traveling by car. Gas up in familiar surroundings. This prevents running out when you are traveling to the location and it prevents having to gas up in potentially bad neighborhoods en route or near your destination. Keep your doors locked. It won't stop an outright breaking of a window and aggressive car jacking, but it will stop someone who is just trying the handle to sit in the car, maybe to hold a gun on you. Whatever the case may be it will put up one more barrier. Only park in well-lit areas and/or areas with no blindspots where someone can hide. Observe where an attack may come from if it were to happen and be ready. Have your key ready. Check the backseat before you enter your vehicle. Lock the doors and drive away. If you are approached by a man, even a person wearing some sort of uniform, it's ok to crack the window to speak, but keep your doors locked and your windows 9/10ths of the way rolled up. Observe where to drive if you need to make a fast get-away. When in traffic, keep ample space ahead of you, enough to be able to maneuver your vehicle out and away. Don't stop at rest stops along the highway, they are NOT safe places for women. Instead take an exit with restaurants and use a more highly visible place. If you get a flat, call a friend, relative to come help you. Keep your doors locked and if someone stops to help you tell them (through your mostly rolled up window) thanks but no thanks that someone is on their way and will be there "any moment". Always travel with a charged cell phone. Even if it goes dead, you can pretend to be making a phone call if you feel you are threatened. That can sometimes deter someone from sticking around.

Carrying money: Alright I will assume not every model is broke. One way you can carry money is to purchase a hidden pouch for carrying money (google that phrase) and to keep your bigger denominations there and smaller stuff in your pocket, wallet, purse. That way if you ever get robbed at gun point, you can hand over what's in your "purse" while keeping the bulk of the money on you safe.

Spotting a tail: There are different ways to spot if someone is following you (from a car or on foot). If they are amateur you can spot them because they will be focusing on you and they will make many mistakes. But to the untrained eye, you still may not notice so here is some information on that. Changing lanes or crossing the street when you do, or shortly thereafter, especially when this is repeated over the duration of your driving is a clue that you may be being followed. Driving around a block or 2 block radius where you basically make 4 right turns will tell you very obviously if someone is following you. No one makes 4 right turns, ie goes around a block unless they are completely lost or looking for parking. Do this at least 1x if you think you are being followed. Two times if you just aren't sure, but do it at a new set of streets because anyone who has followed you to make the same turns is most definitely a problem. 

A real professional will be a ways back from you, possibly in another lane of traffic altogether. They will usually have a car or two between you and them, depending on the circumstances and they won't be intently focused on you. A real professional may work with a team and have multiple cars on you (even in front of you) but as a model this is a very unlikely scenario so we won't get into that. There's a big difference in the level of professionalism (I hope) between an amateur stalker and a PI or three letter agency following you.

One thing, if you feel you are being followed, don't drive home. Drive to a police station. Also, if you are driving, practice reading license plates through your rear view mirror. The letters and numbers will be backwards since you are looking into a mirror, but that's one way to get that information and give it to the police should you need to make a report. 

As you can see by the left photo, when you read a plate with a mirror it's backwards. It's M__ (left blank for the privacy of the owner) - 591. So you would take that number and reverse is later, 195 - __M. Takes getting used to.


If you have a car GPS that helps you get to and from places, do not put your home address labeled as "home". All anyone needs to do is hit "home" and they will know where you live. This helps in the scenario that someone breaks into your vehicle with malicious intent (other than theft). Put "home" as a police station and make your real home fall under one of the numerous other names in your directory. What I started doing though was keeping "home" as the police station and this being within 5 miles of my place, it gets me back into familiar territory where I can of course find my own way. This eliminates my home address being in the database altogether.

Just a side note: when you are signing your model releases you can use a mailing address as the address you give. Typically at that point if you've come to making a model release your photographer is likely legit. If you are doing nudes don't be surprised if your driver's license is copied or photographed along with the model release as this clears and protects the photographer. You don't have to protect the information of where you live but I generally like to for my own privacy.


Recap points!

  • Research who you are going to work with. I research models just as much as I recommend models research photographers. Just in a different way. I research a model and look for their professionalism, reliability, communication skills, attitude and finally ability. A little different but I also don't feel physically threatened or otherwise at risk with models.
  • Research your travel routes and times. Know your routes and your city. Use your smart-phone maps functions, always know where you are.
  • Don't trust anyone. Trust everyone at arm's length. Let a higher level of trust happen when people deserve it. I'm kind of explaining how I trust people with a physical descriptor. At arm's length, meaning you're at the end of my arm where my fist begins. If I let you in closer, it's closer to me, that's more like my inner circle. Few get that close while even fewer I can close space with completely and trust them wholly. Never trusting people makes life no fun. So trust but be smart.
  • Keep the details of each shoot with someone close and stay in touch with at least one person so that your safe passage and shoot can occur.
  • Ensure your security by forming good habits with regard to your privacy.


Next up!

Part II.  (coming soon)

Security on Location


Items can aid you!



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