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The Nets Set to Trap Photographers

Ash wants to take up photography. Never having owned a camera, besides the one on their phone, it’s something they have always had a hankering to do, especially after seeing all those great photos on Instagram. This is a cautionary tale, telling what can go horribly wrong for photographers.

Their life circumstances having changed, Ash decides now will be a good opportunity to buy a camera, and then maybe, in time, earn money from taking photographs. Living by the ocean, Ash really wants to take images of the giant waves that crash onto the shore, and especially of the fishing boats that make their way out of the harbor. There's also the lifeboat that heads out to rescue them when they are in trouble.

The first thing Ash does is dive for their phone and open the app of their favorite retail giants, weevadetax.com, and types “Camera” in the search box. That spews out over 70,000 results, but they scroll down anyway. There, at the top of the search results, they see a Digital SLR Camera.

Okay. That’s the kind of camera I want, and I’ve heard of that brand.

Ash scrolls a little farther down the page and sees that the same camera is offered with a bundle of accessories. There’s a tripod, filters, two extra batteries, a lens cleaning kit, plus wide-angle and telephoto adaptors, as well as a memory card. It doesn’t cost much more, and the five-star reviews say what a wonderful camera this is, and how great the accessories are. Furthermore, the camera is on special offer and that offer ends tomorrow.

Without further ado, Ash presses the big, red Buy This Now button. Now the proud owner of a camera, they've taken their first big step to become a professional photographer.

Ash want to photograph the lifeboats that head out to rescue those who are in trouble.

Where's My Camera?

Ash waits for delivery.  A subscriber to the premium service of the website, the expectation is that it will arrive the following day. But Ash didn’t notice that the item was actually sold by a third party, and it was being dispatched from... How do you even pronounce that?

Three and a half weeks later the camera arrives. The delivery driver tells Ash that the delay was probably due to the global shipping crisis that was exacerbated by Covid 19, the ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal, lots of vessels trapped in Europe because of the backlog resulting from the UK leaving the EU, plus the worldwide shortage of truck drivers. But Ash is in for another shock. There is import tax to pay. “Sorry.” The driver tells Ash, “I don’t make the rules.”
“But I bought it through weevadetax .com,” Ash complains.
“You’ll need to take it up with them, or the Government. If it is any consolation, you are not the first to be caught out.”

Learning About Photography

The instructions in the book are gobbledegook and make no sense. So, Ash gives up trying to read the manual and resorts to Google to find out how to use the camera. There are lots of YouTube training videos. However, an online photography course with photographyqualifications.com offers a Level 3 Diploma. Like the camera, it has lots of 5-star online reviews. They sign up and, a couple of weeks later, walks away with a distinction.

Ash is chuffed with the diploma. Now they have that, they are up there with the best of the professionals, aren’t they?

Learning About the Camera

The camera is very lightweight, which is a good thing, Ash thinks, but the plastic body doesn’t feel that strong. The buttons are confusing, and the menus more so. But, bit by bit, and many YouTube videos later – the course didn't cover the settings of that camera (how could it? There are so many brands and models,) – they learn what the different buttons do.

Although their images are sharp, looking through the eyepiece, the viewfinder doesn’t look very clear. According to YouTube, all cameras come with a diopter adjustment. The small wheel is at the side of the eyepiece and it adjusts the clarity through the viewfinder. However, examining their camera, Ash discovers that it isn’t a feature theirs has. Besides that blurriness, the viewfinder is small, which makes it difficult to frame the shot. Furthermore, when the images are transferred onto the computer, the edges of the frame show things that Ash was sure were not in shot.

The Battery Catches Fire

The spare batteries are a problem too. They are not made by the camera manufacturer, but by another company Ash has not heard of. The first charges up but is flat again after just a few shots. The second one nearly leads to disaster. It crackles and starts to smoke when put on charge. Quickly unplugging it and smothering the flames, a house fire is narrowly avoided. Unfortunately, the battery charger is damaged and so a new one is ordered after Ash writes an angry message to the retailer and gets no reply.

Fire! The Consumer Product Safety Risk Management System (CPSRMS) revealed more than 25,000 incidents of overheating or fire hazards with more than 400 types of consumer products between 2012 and 2017. Poor quality rechargeable batteries were a main cause. Don't leave chargers unattended.

On the Beach

It's early one blustery morning, an hour-and-a-half before dawn, and Ash heads to the beach by the harbor.

As it's dark, and it’s a good time to experiment with taking long exposures. But the maximum shutter value of the camera is 30 seconds, and at ISO 100, that isn’t a long enough exposure, even with the kit lens at its widest aperture. So, Ash increases the ISO to its maximum. The shutter value stops flashing, so it’s okay to press the shutter.

As dawn arrives, the fishing boats head out to sea. They are too far away, so Ash screws the telephoto adaptor onto the front of the lens to capture the boats leaving, and switching the camera to the focus mode that is supposed to work for both still and moving subjects. Trying burst mode so as not to miss the perfect composition leads to the discovery that the memory card is too slow to cope with multiple images shot at once, and so there is a wait until the buffer clears.

The golden hour progresses, and Ash tries some of the filters that came with the kit, and then, cold and wet from the sea spray, wanders home.

Uploading the Photos Leads to Disappointment

After plugging the memory card into the computer, Ash discovers that the images are a letdown. The long exposures are covered in ugly colored speckles. Then the ones taken with the telephoto adaptor are not sharp. Furthermore, the ND filters made all the pictures look an odd color. Added to that, the lens zoom feels gritty; sand has gotten into it.

Disappointing Results

Winning a Competition

A multi-million dollar development corporation is building a business complex. They run a photography competition and the prize is them using the winner's photographs on the hoardings around the building site. Ash thinks that they stand no chance of winning because there are excellent local professional photographers who are bound to win. Five weeks later, the hoardings go up and there are Ash's images on display. People wander past the boards without giving them a second look, and nowhere does it say who took the photos.

Heading home Ash posts the images on Instagram. Shortly afterward, they receive a takedown notice because the builders now own the rights to the photographs.

A friend who is a professional photographer calls with congratulations for having the images used.

I hope they paid you well.

The Camera Didn't Like Sea Spray

Six weeks later, the camera dies. Attempting to contact the retailer that sold it on weevadetax.com, Ash discovers they have disappeared. The website itself doesn’t want to know. So, Ash contacts the manufacturer via their website; the camera must be under guarantee. After entering the serial number and sending a copy of the receipt, a message arrives saying the camera is not covered because it was bought on the gray market. Nevertheless, if the camera had failed because of a manufacturing fault, the manufacturer would repair it for their standard repair fee. That was about a third of the cost of the camera.

So, Ash sends the camera off and waited for a call back from them. Three weeks later, an email arrives.

Dear Ash,

Thank you sending your camera to us for repair. We have assessed it and the camera has failed not because of a manufacturing fault but because the motherboard and electronic contacts have corroded. This is probably due to it being used in a humid or wet environment.

The message goes on to say that the repair cost would be almost as much as the camera.

Ash feels let down by the manufacturer and buys a different brand. This time they choose a mirrorless camera that is weather-sealed and has 100% coverage through the viewfinder. The purchase is with a local camera shop, where it’s possible to try the camera and get advice before buying. The new camera cost a little more, but feels better made and is more comfortable to hold.

Good quality cameras, tripods and other accessories do make a difference, especially when photographing in conditions that would destroy cheap cameras.

The Job Interview

The other good news is that a job interview invitation at a photographic studio has arrived. Ash is confident and goes along with the diploma certificate that proves they are a photographer.

At the interview, the panel asks for a demonstration of Ali’s photographic skills and, afterwards, one of them asks to see the certificate. They sadly tell Ash that the diploma is not accredited, not a recognized qualification. They tell them that there is no regulation so anyone can sell their training and call it a certificate, diploma, qualification, or award, and those that do are usually unscrupulous, offering substandard training.

Learn from Our Mistakes

Ash, of course, is a fictitious character. Surely, nobody can be that unlucky. However, the events described above, individually, have happened to photographers I have met.

One of the big mistakes that many schools make when teaching children art is to supply very poor-quality pencils and paints that would make it impossible for even accomplished artists to achieve good results. So how are they expected to succeed? The same applies to cameras. Many cheap, beginners’ cameras are poorly made and are designed to fail in a short time. They lack basic creative features and are incapable of shooting images outside their restricted parameters. They are just sold to hook people into investing in the brand. Spending a bit more on more versatile and reliable cameras is a good investment.

Similarly, bundled kits usually contain cheap accessories that do nothing to help the beginner take good shots. At worst, they contain non-branded batteries that are a fire risk. Moreover, fake customer reviews trick people into buying this rubbish.

Those that advertise diplomas and certificates that are not accredited qualifications should be approached with caution. That poor-quality online training hooks people by offering worthless diplomas and certificates, and they ruin an otherwise good industry. Nonetheless, there is excellent training to be found online and in-person that doesn’t pretend to result in a qualification. There are also genuine qualifications for those wanting to start their journey into the photographic industry, and progress onto higher education.

Finally, never give your photos away to businesses. Them using your photos to promote their company is not a prize. In doing so they are saying your photos are worthless and undermining the photographic industry. They are in business to make money. They use any possible means of making more profit for their shareholders, and that includes not paying you for your time, investment in equipment, and your creative talents.

Were you caught out early on in your photographic journey by inadequate equipment or services? Please share what happened to you, so others don’t get caught in the same traps.

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22 Comments

Jan Holler's picture

I never got caught. I was lucky because at that time a) there were no weevadetax-dot-coms and b) there was a local salesman, a nice guy, himself a photographer, who helped me get two used Nikon lenses (which I still have) and gave me good advice. In return, I developed my analogue films and photos with him - and bought my equipment from him from then on for many years until he retired.
But one of my closest friends bought a Canon EOS 650 in the US at the time and the (expensive) battery ran out quickly, even when the camera was switched off. Canon Switzerland refused to repair it. Fortunately, Canon Italy took over the job. But it was a long and difficult affair. It took months, and when he got the camera back, the battery was still draining too fast. He was so frustrated that he stopped using the camera.
Enjoyed your article. Thanks, Ivor.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thank you Jan. It's frustrating when things like that happen. I've personally had three disappointing experiences with Canon quality.

We are lucky here in the UK because there are still some good, independent camera shops, and knowledgeable people who work for them.

Dave F's picture

"Those that advertise diplomas and certificates should be approached with caution."

There, fixed that for you. ;)

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks for fixing it, Dave! :D

Richard S's picture

Please use pronouns correctly. "Ash" is one, singular person. He/she is not a "they". Since "Ash" is an imaginary person for the purpose of your example, you can easily determine the gender (there are only 2, so it shouldn't be hard). Plural pronouns for singular persons is stupid and makes the text confusing to read. It's ok to not be woke.

STEVEN WEBB's picture

I agree with your comment 100%, thank you for pointing this out.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I wrote it that way, and chose a gender neutral name was for reasons other than the political ones that you imply in your comments.

Although they were fictional, the problems Ash faced were actual events shared with me, exerienced by both men and women that I know. Those folk would all be reading this article, so it seemed respectful to create a character that they could all identify with. Futhermore, the character of Ash is fictional and I wanted the reader to imagine them to be whatever they wanted them to be in their head.

An assumption that it was done for "woke" reasons, speaks volumes. It wasn't the motivation for writing the article that way at all. However, since you have raised the issue, I should point out that your assertion that there are two genders is wrong. I think you are confusing geneder with biological sex, which are not always the same.

According to the UN, WHO, and most governments and scientists, humanity has two bilological sexes, although this is now also part of a wider, unresolved debate. However, for many years, it has most commonly recognized that there are four genders. Gender is different from biological sex. Individuals may see themselves as a man, a woman, as having no gender, or as having a non-binary gender, which is where people identify themseves as being somewhere on a spectrum between man and woman.

Of course, as with all matters of equality and inequality, there a lot of people who have not been educated about this, and, sadly, there are some political and religious extremists of most faiths who are prejudice, and actively work against it for their own bigoted ends.

William Faucher's picture

Just wanted to chime in and say I admire your eloquent response. Thank you. "Woke" or not, it is entirely besides the point. A little respect goes a long way.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thank you, William.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I've just looked at your gallery. Fantastic photography there. I really admire it.

Brian Allen's picture

It's all to easy to fall for it, more so now with the lack of independent camera shops so it's difficult at times to get advice.
I used to use a little independent shop, bought and developed all my film though them, got some bits of gear through them, but they were a tiny little shop.
Had to go to one of the chains for a decent selection.

One thing that is difficult as a beginner is to decide which brand to go for, not just model as you end up 'trapped' with them as all your lenses are that brand fit, most of your accessories are that brand fit etc.
I've bought a kit before, EOS350D with the standard kit lens at the time and bought a Canon 75-300 zoom which was within my budget.
The 350 has long since gone, and the 75-300 is still around, it's the lens I'll replace next.
Since then finances improved a bit so I bought a 60D body only, and better lenses as I got more into photography.

It is very easy to get caught up in gadgets too, anything from Flash guns to Tripods, trying to get advice on what you need is increasingly more difficult unless you're lucky to live near a decent shop.

Any course that isn't at a proper college will probably be worthless as far as looking for jobs, but I imagine a good focussed portfolio speaks volumes (ie if you're going for a job as a travel photographer then focus your portfolio on scenery, buildings etc and not loads of portraits)

I've had a few years off photography due to my work pattern but that's now changing, I've charged the batteries, dusted things off, and looking forward to getting back into it.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I absolutely agree with you, Brian. Good luck with getting back into photography and thanks for the great comment.

Gary Bowen's picture

International Library of Photography. They lifted an image from my web site and mailed me a receipt to purchase their book with that photograph. Plus many other incidents If someone wants one of my photos now or wants me to shoot I just tell them 'you have P+S or your cell phone, go shoot it yourself.' Even The Weather Network lifted a cover photo on my FB page and put it in their banner. The photo of Montreal's Old Port in the middle of the banner..

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's outrageous. I am so sorry to hear that happened. I hope you sent them a big invoice for use of your photo. Pop something in the T&Cs of your website that unauthorized use of the images will incur a $250,000 charge first!

Edit: Just Googling that site you mentioned, and there are lots of folk in the same boat. It's a scam.

Jan Holler's picture

Wow, what shameless behavior. And there's nothing you can do about it? Would it even be worth the trouble?

Gary Bowen's picture

I told them right away that they were going to get contacted by SODRAC as I'm registered there as a CDN visual artist. They took it down, or rather, I never saw it again in that banner or elsewhere on TWN's site.Thanks folks... It happens all too often. Here is my original.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Great photo, Gary. I really like that composition.

Gary Bowen's picture

Thanks, Ivor Rackham It pays to have your camera with you. I was lucky to have the Navette/ferry passing by.

Raphael Bruckner's picture

Too many people have great advice on how to become a photographer and they write articles and do workshops and the like. But what needs to happen is put the camera in your hands and start taking pictures and learn about the camera and how it works. If the talent is there it will come out and along the way mistakes are made lessons learned and Walla you become a very good photographer. Greatest can be found in the images whether you’re amateur or professional.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks for the comment, Raphael. I believe it is horses for courses. Whatever suits you best is best.

I agree that getting a camera in one's hands and shooting is by far the best thing to do to polish skills. But, I believe most people need to get knowledge externally.

How they get that is personal choice. Some folk want to learn from reading, some from watching videos, and others prefer going on courses and workshops with photographers who have the skills they want to acquire. Collaborating with other experienced photographers is another great way to learn.

I run workshops for photographers of all levels, and some have gone on to be very successful professionally and in the amateur field. Although I make a living out of photography, and shoot lots of photos professionally and solely for the joy of it, I know there is always a lot more to learn and skills to acquire. So, I watch videos, read books and magazines, read my colleague's articles here on Fstoppers and get myself trained in any way I can. Everything we learn helps us to improve our creativity.

Gary Bowen's picture

I just read a great article in PetaPixel by photojournalist Mariella Furrer. 'An Important Lesson I Learned as a Photojournalist' She left Corbis and Marie-Claire USA because they misused her work. Her copyright qualifier was that the Editors "did not" reveal the faces of the child sex abuse victims she was documenting on assignment. Regardless, the Ed's at Corbis and Marie-Claire revealed the faces of the child victims.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's interesting, Gary. There are some shocking things that go on, and the fight for money seems to outweigh empathy and concern for humanity.