Ask the VR Photography Experts

Q: Since our company began producing VR photography, we have had a number of unpleasant experiences with other VR companies (our competitors). These include:

  1. Using our name to trade on it
  2. Using our work on their website to promote their own inferior work
  3. Copied text from our site to use as their own
  4. Calling us under the pretence of working for genuine companies requiring a quotation in order to get our prices

What can we do to avoid these, and to reduce the number of “fake” inquiries that we respond to?

A: Perhaps the best way to avoid these pitfalls (and yes, they happen to most pros) is to qualify all those phone and e-mail requests before responding to them with any detail.

In my office, we regularly receive e-mails and phone calls like this recent one:

Dear Mr. Highton,
I would like to get a general estimate for the Photography and creation of approx 5 panorama Ipix nodes. These would be inside shots of fairly large spaces. Lighting would have to be considered for some of the shots as the natural light might not be sufficent. We just need the finished nodes, and will incorporate them ourselves into the website.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email or at (phone number)

I send out a response along the following lines. If they are serious clients, they will provide the answers I need in order to do an accurate estimate. If they are not, they don't respond and I don't do anything further on their request. This accomplishes two things -- the first is that it weeds out the non-serious clients while qualifying the others, and the second is that it provides me with the very minimum information I need in order to start on an estimate or explore a contractual relationship with a potential new client.

A flag always goes up in my mind if the query comes from a, hotmail or other free/anonymous e-mail hosting service. Most reputable client correspondence comes from a corporate or more permanent address. Similarly, you can tell a lot about a potential client by the way their phone gets answered when you call them back.

Dear (client),
Thank you for your query and interest in my VR photo services. Unfortunately, I cannot provide a preliminary estimate without further details about the shoot(s). In particular, I need to know the following:
1) Who is the client and what are the images I'll be creating being used for?
2) What are the environments/locations of the shots desired? There are huge differences in the approach to shooting VR panoramas in a large wind tunnel than there are in a theater or in a hotel atrium, on a motion picture studio or in an underwater cavern. Are these interiors in a single location, or in multiple ones? (Our local) area or elsewhere? Are there any restrictions on access to the areas for shooting?
3) What are you, or the client, needing to show about these large spaces? What is the message about them that you want to get across to your audience(s)?
4) What usage do you or the client need of the images... i.e. term or duration of use, media (web site, CD-ROM, etc.), distribution or audience size, etc.
5) Are there budget or other limitations I should be aware of?
6) What sort of time frame are you looking at to complete the shoot and have finished VR scenes delivered?
7) Do you have a pressing need for the images to be delivered in iPIX format, or do you want to consider other panoramic formats, as well? (Much of your decision here will depend upon your desired uses for the completed images beyond interactive VR scenes on the web, such as for print reproduction, etc.)
8) Finally, what other photographers or agencies are estimating this project for you? How were you referred to my VR photography work?
Many thanks,
Scott Highton
Phone: ------

FYI, the above individual never responded to my e-mail, so they never received any further information from me.

You can ask the same sorts of questions in a phone conversation. If the person on the other end of the line "hems and haws" over the answers, or doesn't really seem to know what they are wanting, you simply tell them to get back to you with answers when they are ready. If they're serious about working with you, they will. If they're not, you won't waste your time any further.

As far as others using your work without your permission, that's generally a copyright violation, which in the U.S. can carry penalties of up to $150,000 per infringement. If you are vigilant and aggressive in pursuing such violations, only fools and idiots will continue to steal your work. The first steps are to send cease and desist notices to the infringers, along with an invoice for the unlicensed use of your work. Then, contact their ISPs or web hosting companies, and inform them that they are hosting a site that is violating your copyrights. Most reputable ISPs will investigate and quickly shut down the offending site. Beyond that, you can decide whether you want to pursue legal action against the infringers or not.

- Scott Highton