13Oct

Photographs aren’t free


I recently received an email from someone claiming to be a writer for a how-to website. This person stated they wrote articles for the search site and wanted to use one of my images for their article (originally used from one of my Via magazine assignments).


This is normal in the photography industry, and a big reason why I own all of my images (and do not do “Work for Hire” jobs which transfer all image rights to your clients). I grant first-time publishing rights, and once my photos are used by my client, they are part of my image collection, available to license through my company or my stock agency. Some clients think licensing our images is ‘extra money’ but it’s not- it’s simply part of our income as freelance photographers – photographers with no guaranteed source of income, no benefits, no 401K or pension plans.

Getting back to the request, after doing a little research on my own, I come to find out this person was not a writer for the website, nor employee as a writer anywhere else. Instead the site relies on people for their content – it’s like saying you’re a writer for Wikipedia. And not to bash this person since most people aren’t aware of copyright laws, or the licensing fees for a photograph, or the proper way to go about obtaining images – shoot, I’ve had some editors and clients in the past who didn’t necessarily follow the proper way being in the business of licensing images – but pleading ignorance doesn’t necessarily get you off scot-free either.


Then as I researched the how-to site a bit more I learned that my image was ALREADY on the site – with the credit listed as the magazine I originally shot it for! They basically took the image from Via’s website and pasted it into their article.

At this point I had a few options – I could:

1) Contact my copyright lawyer and sue (which is the last thing I would do since mistakes do occur, and I’m not one to stick it to people that way)

2) Send them a bill for licensing, charging them a penalty for illegally using my image (this is more in line with the norm, and completely appropriate since the image was up for at least a week or two).

3) Notify the “writer” and the website were infringing on my copyright with the unauthorized use of my image and to remove it immediately or face a possible lawsuit and licensing fees (which is what I did).

The site removed the image that day, and at first the “writer” was a bit rude but after explaining the law, she relented and apologized. If they made me an offer to pay for the use, I would have looked up the licensing fee in my price guides, and charged them appropriately including the time they had already used it for. If she didn’t apologize, she would have been dealing with my lawyer. The site also tried to claim that they didn’t have control of what members uploaded- wrong- if it’s their site, they SHOULD have control – or they might get sued.

Moral of the story- your photos are exactly that- yours. If you are a professional photographer with your own business, they are not just sitting in your files or computer, they are part of your inventory. I can’t just go and take something off of the shelf at Target, walk out with it, and claim “it was just sitting on your shelf”. A lot of money, time, effort, experience, knowledge, and equipment goes into all of the images I produce- as with any business that has a product to sell. Control your photos – do your homework – purchase pricing guides and/or software like
Fotoquote or Jim Pickerell’s stock guide, and prepare yourself for the day when a client wants to buy one of your images- or one uses an image without asking for permission. And if someone tried to abuse your copyright, find a lawyer.

Irregardless of royalty free photos, royalty free art, royalty free graphics, and all the accessible work on the internet, my photos aren’t free.

17Apr

Want to become a pro photographer?


I want to have a career as a professional photographer.

I hear this from so many people whether through email, at live lectures and events, or from my students at various workshops. But I must admit, in all, it’s a very tough competitive industry where the money is even harder to come by than it was 20 years ago-not to mention the oversaturation of the stock licensing market – can something be oversaturated? Is that an oxymoron? Can’t find it in my dictionary. I digress.

Back to the industry, from 1991 (when I graduated college) to today, the changes have been dramatic, some positive, some negative (I remember when my stock agency contract went from 7 pages to 27 pages in a matter of 6 years). As always, you must have so much more than a good portfolio to make it- and no one or company will do it for you- you have to do it all yourself. It ain’t easy, and sacrifices, luck, hearing “no” over and over, as well as risk are all part of the game. But more importantly, you need to be professional- and that means learning business (more an that later).

In 1995, I used the first digital SLR Nikon put out, the E2s, and could see the changes coming down the pike (there I am at the Eco-Challenge adventure race in ’95 using the camera above the Colorado River). And although some say digital has been a big positive to the industry (exact copies of image files instead of poor-quality dupes, fixing mistakes post-capture, and the famous cloning tool to add that third eye to your friend’s head), I would say that it too has it’s pros and cons – one of which being the fact that you have to buy new gear all the time, new software, and new computers- it’s an expense, not an investment everyone.

Plus, I carry more gear than ever these days in the post 9/11 hell that is airport travel – ugh- someone buy me a new shoulder and a couple of knees please – and a whiffle-ball bat to beat on the seven TSA agents when they decide to test every roll of film – all 150 rolls at midnight (true story in Las Vegas in 2004 after catchin’ six other flights where they didn’t do this).

I was asked recently what it is to be a professional photographer. If it was someone who made over 50% of their income from photography, or just someone who gets published from time to time. As a full-time commercial travel photographer for 19 years, I’d say a pro photographer is someone who not only makes a living from photography, but one who charges appropriate fees, is technically sound with their equipment and craft, respectful and professional with his/her subjects, and one who uses proper business practices. That, to me, is what this job is about.

Another example of this is learning the art of negotiating, and realizing that if you want to do this for a living, you have to go back and forth with clients about contracts, rates, and rights. I recently had a client want to license an image, trying to pay rates half of what we normally charge (rates that really fit into 1989 and not 2009). We respectfully declined when they said they wouldn’t pay higher fees than theirs- the excuse was the economy (as if to say my business is not affected by the economy – I love that new argument – “our tight budget” has always been a staple for low rates). The following day the client came back and licensed rights to the image at our quoted rate. If photographers don’t learn how to value their image and determine specific fees for their services, they won’t survive in the industry.

More to learn more? My Business of Photography workshop isn’t scheduled yet for 2009, but does run from time to time, and we hope to have a date in place soon. I also offer personal consultations where I can focus on your goals and interests, as well as discussing specific industry information. I can discuss some aspects of being a pro at other workshops (such as the one coming up in June in Seattle, or Santa Fe in July), although my time during these courses is usually dedicated to the topic at hand. Here’s our main workshop page for more info.

In all, becoming a pro photographer is possible. Here’s to your dreams and ambitions- make ’em happen, it’s worth it. Enjoy your week everyone!


28Oct

State of the Photo Industry

This is the nature of the photo business (read the link on Corbis stock agency taking more from photographers) – big business folk making money off of their power and off of photographer’s emotions.  


We need to stay strong, run our businesses LIKE a business, and say ‘no’ to bad deals- we preach this over & over for years & years, but it’s the only solution for independent contractors who can’t, by law, collectively bargain (it’s called price fixing)- but who’s really price fixing here?

Great to be a photographer?  Much harder than most think.