Upscale 4EVR: Stealing Work and Ruining Careers


Before I start, here’s a shameless plug to my SLR Lounge article inspired by this experience:

As a small business owner and freelancer, I try to help others in the community as often as I can, regardless of their current skill level. More or less experienced than myself, we can still learn from each other. The tip of the day: DO NOT do business with Upscale 4EVR.

If your initial reaction was “what is Upscale 4EVR?” you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of them either prior to this experience. Having no clue who or what they are should have been a big red flag for me- for some reason it wasn’t, but I digress. Upscale is a small company based in Indiana offering similar services to what we do here at RLM. I came across this company back in December of 2013, before I took the dive into full time production. The original plan was to work for a studio/company for a few months to figure out the swing of managing a business. That didn’t happen. I started running RLM full time in January 2014. Upscale called me in March/April. I figured I’d humor them and see what they have to offer, and if it fit my schedule, I could juggle shooting for Upscale and Rhys Ladhani Media at the same time. After meeting with one of their coordinators, they hired me on the spot and scheduled my first shoot for the following weekend- this all happened before I saw a contract from the company. I was told the contract would be covered at the new photographer meeting the following week. I’ll come back to the contract in a bit.

The original plan was for me to be the second shooter for one of their more experienced photographers. About an hour before I was scheduled to start the shoot (it was a birthday party for one of their wealthy Lake Forest clients), one of the supervisors, Josh, called me an said the lead photographer wasn't coming and I would have to shoot the event by myself. This wasn't a problem as I had shot a decent number of events by myself, but Upscale 4EVR was not making a good impression.

After shooting, Upscale had some “issues” with depositing money in my account. These issues weren’t present for any of their other photographers or coordinators, but I digress. They supposedly attempted to deposit my money on 2 more occasions before agreeing to meet me to hand me a check. I go to pick up the check and they call to cancel due to “meeting with a client going later than expected.” I got this call 15 minutes before I was supposed to meet them…. They were in Indiana, an hour away from their office.

Following this, they said they sent a check; 15 days went by and I never received the check. Emailed about it and they say be patient (they also told me that they actually sent cash, not a check). Now I don’t know if you’ve ever sent something via USPS within the same state, but it’s usually delivered within 48 hours at most. Around 21 days after they supposedly mailed the check, I get another email saying it was never sent because of a “communication error.” They also decided during this conversation that they only owe me half of what they had agreed to pay me.

As of now, they’ve stopped responding to my emails, calls and texts. The level of unprofessionalism from this company is appalling. If this is how they treat their photographers, how are they treating their customers?

It dawned on me after writing the SLR Lounge article how a “company” that functions this way is still in business. They use their contract (see, I told you I’d come back to the contract) and hiring schemes to eliminate their competition. I’m guessing their other photographers (that I never met…suspicious?) signed this agreement without reading it. The contract itself was around 12 pages so I can’t go through everything, but I’ll hit the main points. The NDA (non-disclosure agreement) was pretty standard, so kudos to them for that. He DNC (do not compete) section of the contract was the most extreme DNC I’ve ever read. All photographers working for Upscale 4EVR must shut down any personal business they may be running relative to the visual media industry. They also have to give Upscale a list of all their previous and current clients along with contact information. Upscale photographers are also barred from accepting any photography gig outside of Upscale 4EVR. Worst of all, the DNC stated that after leaving Upscale 4EVR, the photographer is barred from working for another studio or running their own (or doing any work in the photography/videography industry) for 6 years after the date of resignation. Any violation of the previous DNC criteria would result in termination as well as being barred from the industry for 6 years.

According to their coordinator, they have 4 photographers working for them; four professionals that have pushed their careers back by 6 years. That’s what bothers me the most. The money isn’t that important. The fact that they’re using their contract to legally destroy their (young and inexperienced) competitions’ careers before they can get them started, is.

Unfortunately there isn’t much I can do other than tell people about this company’s practices. Hopefully this post prevents anyone else getting screwed by Upscale 4EVR.


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Images courtesy of the event I shot for Upscale 4EVR