Oh, The Places You Won’t Go (as a photographer)


If you’ve read some of my past posts on licensing and copyright, you know I try to spread the gospel on why copyright is so important. You might remember my debacle with a contractor working for Applebee’s who wanted my images for free. So you can imagine my chagrin when I come across photographers who are giving their work away. It not only hurts them but it hurts other photographers.

Take a look at the screen grab above. Notice the line that reads “we will provide copyright free photos”. I really don’t think they understand the concept. Let’s review. When anyone takes a picture, be they a professional or not, they have created a unique work of art and the copyright remains with them. Copyright means just what it says: the right to copy. You decide who has what right to your work. By giving away your work, you are leaving money on the table and allowing someone to do whatever they want with your work.

Wedding photographers have long made a living by up-selling. Let’s say they charge $2,500 for a wedding which includes a few prints and maybe an album. If the couple or their families want prints or additional albums, that’s an extra charge. This is a form of licensing. The photographer is saying, you have the right to the prints and album I promised you, but if you want more products you may not print them yourself which would deny me income. You must pay more for more copies of my work.

The classic example I give is of the Harry Potter books. When Hollywood made the movies based on the books, do you think they did so without asking J.K. Rowling? I live in Orlando, home of theme parks like Universal which has a section dedicated to the boy wizard. In 2011, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter boosted the theme park’s revenue by 8.2% to $393 million. There are plans to expand the park next year. Do you think Ms. Rowling just gave away the rights to her work? Every toy wand, Halloween costume, DVD sale, etc. means more money in her pockets. That is the power of licensing and copyright. Imagine if she had given away her copyright and companies made millions of dollars from her work and did not have to give her a single dime!

Notice also, in the example above, how they are willing to undercut another photographer who might charge less. This is another sign of unprofessionalism. Only you can know what your business costs are. How much does it cost to keep the lights on and feed your family? That varies from person to person. If you charge less than normal, you are in essence making less than what it takes to pay your bills. How can you expect your business to survive? Read my post on figuring out what to charge.

website screengrab

Here is another photographer who is giving away his copyright. Let’s take the last example of “Shoot the Band”. OK, I’m in a band and hire him to take our photograph for some promotional items. It goes on our website and flyers we post around town. The marketing attracts people to our concerts which means more money for us. We release a CD and use the images on the cover. That’s more revenue for us and none for him. Let’s say we make it big and sign a big record contract. We use the images on the new CD. The pictures are used in Rolling Stone magazine (which makes money from subscriptions and news stands). Again, money for us, money for the magazine and NOTHING for the photographer.

Are you familiar with the album cover of Maroon 5’s “Hands All Over”? Here’s the story: a 19-year old took that picture. The band’s management found it on Flickr and contacted her. They did a reshoot based on the photo and viola! She’s gone on to do major shoots for clients like Elle. But let’s say it had worked out a little differently. Let’s pretend she took that photo for a little-known band called Maroon 5. The band makes it big and uses the photo on an album cover that sells millions of copies. If she had given away her copyright, she would not be entitled to any further compensation.

Remember, when you download a song, buy a DVD or book you don’t own that work. You are purchasing a license for personal use. If you want to profit from it; like using a song in a YouTube video, charging people to watch a movie or making a film based on a book, you have to pay the artist.

Look, it comes down to getting paid for your work. You go to work Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 and you get a paycheck. That’s fair, right? So why would a photographer not want to get paid for their work? The more money someone makes from your work, the more you can charge.  You are not only leaving money on the table but you are degrading the industry. Clients like Applebee’s will expect “free” photos. Perhaps you heard about how the National Association of Realtors asked renowned blogger and educator David Hobby for free photos. It cheapens photos and trains the general public to devalue the work. I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked or argued over why they can’t use my photos for whatever purpose they want. They say “well the other photographer just gave me all the images on a disk and let me do whatever I want with them”. That is the difference between a pro and an amateur. A pro knows that being a professional photographer isn’t just about taking pictures. It’s a business and you have to know about pricing, licensing, copyright, insurance, taxes, marketing, etc.

When you shoot for a client you have to specify how they can use the images. Can they post it on social media? Can they take it to Walgreens to make prints? Is it personal use or will they profit from the work?

Protect your copyright. It’s worth something.


Business Cards for Photographers

Camera Business Card

A few years ago when I was trying to establish myself as a photographer I was looking for good business cards. There were some “free” options. I put free in quotes because, if I recall correctly, the company’s logo would be on the card somewhere. Then I discovered MOO cards. Funny name. Great cards.

What I loved about MOO is that you can choose their pre-designed cards or upload your own images to get customized cards. So theoretically, in a pack of 50 cards, you can have 50 different images. Well, I wanted to keep it a secret because I didn’t want other photographers to have the cool cards I had! Of course, that’s ridiculous and the cat is apparently out of the bag.  Readers of Lifehacker.com named MOO the Most Popular Business Card Printing Site.

I just ran across some of their pre-designed cards for photographers and thought they were pretty cool. The design at the top of this post features four vintage cameras fused into one image. Of course the designs are customizable so you can substitute your own images into the grid.

This next one features seven vintage cameras including an old Brownie.

Vintage Camera Business Card

Finally a quirky twist on the vintage camera design with these illustrated versions of 10 cameras including a Polaroid, Holga, Hasselblad and Rolleiflex.

Illustrated Vintage Cameras

If you like these cards or want your own custom cards, give MOO a try. I’m not getting anything from the company to write this post, but I can get a credit and you can get a 10% discount if you order through this link.

Photograph a Cheer and Dance Competition? Bring It!

So  I tried something new last weekend. I’ve never shot a sporting event nor have I ever shot a concert. Now I know what both feel like! 

My girlfriend’s cousin, Jordan, was competing in the Cheerleaders of America (COA) “Ultimate National Championship” at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, FL. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a cheer competition on TV, let me tell you, you have no idea what it’s like to actually be there. 

Cheerleading Competition

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The hotel grounds were teeming with teams of tweens…sorry, couldn’t help myself! But seriously, how else would you describe hundreds (maybe thousands) of pre-teen girls wearing WAY too much make-up and cheerleading uniforms? I’m guessing the heavy make-up is meant for the judges to see from where they’re sitting…if they happen to be sitting on the planet Mars. 

Cheerleading Competition

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But let me cut to the chase. Jordan’s team, Top Gun, was on; so I enter the competition room. It was dark and loud. Let me emphasize the word LOUD. If you like dark rooms with loud techno/dance music blaring, you would feel right at home…glow sticks optional. When I got in, the team before Top Gun was wrapping up. So I took this time to figure out my exposure. But it wasn’t long before I had to head to the front when Jordan’s team came in. 

I was shooting with my 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I like to shoot in manual mode, so I dialed in f/2.8, at 250th of a second and ISO about 800. I don’t like shooting at high ISO, but even with the stage lights, I needed it. I also didn’t want to shoot at f/2.8 because I knew I could run into a depth of field problem if I wanted more than one part of the image in focus; but I needed the large aperture to let in more light. 

Things moved so fast…and I don’t just mean the cheerleaders. I mentioned concert photography earlier because it’s similar in a couple respects: you have stage lights, but you only have about 3 minutes to get the shot. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to look at my LCD and evaluate the shot. I was shooting on burst mode; 6.5 frames per second and focusing mostly on Jordan. At one point I switched to shutter priority and was around 350th of a second. I was really trying to capture the flipping sequences. 

Cheerleading Competition

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Cheerleading Competition

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Looking at some of the frames, they’re still not tack sharp. If I get to do it again, I’d shoot at a minimum of 350th, boost the ISO to maybe 1600 and a narrower f-stop. 

About 3 minutes later it was all over. The Top Gun teams (there are different classes) took the All Stars Level, 2,3 and 5 Grand Champion titles. See this link for the full results, if you’re interested. We took the rest of the afternoon to walk around the hotel and enjoy the pool. If you’ve never been to Gaylord Palms, I recommend going just to see the inside. It is massive. They have a tropical atrium complete with alligators and turtles. Click the link above to see a picture on their home page. 

All in all, I’m glad I got to try something new; it was definitely a learning experience that tested me while pushing me outside my comfort level.

Failure to Register Copyright Cost Photographer $201,550.

gavel on top of laptop

Not to beat a dead horse but…my post on copyright didn’t get many reads. As I said, I know it’s not a sexy topic. But who couldn’t use an extra 2-hundred grand? And that’s just part of what one photographer could have won in his copyright lawsuit.

I’ll link to the article at the end; be warned, it’s got some legal speak. Here’s the breakdown: A painter works from photographs to make his paintings. Another artists allegedly takes one of those photographs without permission and makes a painting from it; in essence, a copy. That artist dies but his wife puts the painting for sale on a web site. The first artist (the one who took the picture) sues and wins $201,550 in “actual damages”. Because he did not register the copyright in a timely manner, he had to prove “actual damages” and was not eligible for “statutory damages” which could have been much more. In the end, a court found he had not proven “actual damages”, which is hard to prove, and threw out the award.

Here’s the article:


Hi, I’m An Artist. Please Don’t Look At My Work.

My last blog post was about copyright. I was planning to next write about “creative commons” license and why sometimes you might actually want to have your picture “stolen”. I’m still planning on writing about that, but something happened yesterday that kind of goes along with that concept.   

The Baldwin Park Arts Festival took place Saturday, March 13. As a photographer for Baldwin Park Living Magazine, I have an understanding with the editor to document as many events as I can for the publication and the community Web site photo gallery.   

The Arts Fest features local artists selling their work on an entire block in the heart of Baldwin Park. So I get there and I’m just not feeling it. I walked up the length of one side of the street and started down the other without having taken a single picture. Maybe these arts and crafts shows just aren’t my thing. Then I get to a lady painting and I think “great, an action shot”. A shot of someone doing something. So I take a picture. I walk a little farther and there’s another artist painting. I snap another picture…   

Artist Painting at Baldwin Park Arts Fest

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He turns around and says, “Thanks for the exposure.” I take a second to figure out if he’s making a photography pun. I decide he’s not and tell him I’m with Baldwin Park Magazine. He says thanks again.   

Ok, so now I’m warming up. I’ve taken a few pictures at this point when I see a girl with some money in her hand. This would be a great opportunity to get a shot of a sale. I spent almost a decade in broadcast news and I know that photojournalism is about telling a story; and isn’t the whole idea of this thing for artists to sell their work? I mean, it’s not a gallery exhibition. Let’s face it, if no one buys anything today, the event is a failure. This is literally “the money shot”.  

So I take a picture…   

woman buying jewelry at Baldwin Park Arts Fest

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I realize I didn’t compose properly; cutting off the girl’s head and getting an arm in the shot. So I recompose and I’m waiting for the right moment when the lady whose arm is in the shot turns around and says “no pictures please”. I tell her I’m with Baldwin Park Magazine and she says the artists don’t want pictures taken. I explain to her that this is a public area and that I have the right to take pictures. We go back and forth for a few minutes and I walk away.   

First of all, I wasn’t taking pictures of the art work; some kind of jewelry I suppose. I was taking a picture of the transaction. Secondly, the picture is for editorial, not commercial use. Third, as a former journalist I know all about expectation of privacy and fair use. Lastly, if you don’t want your work seen, then stay home, don’t display your work in public or on the web and pray to god that someone finds your art. Is the fear that I’m going to go home, study the picture and copy the creation? 

Hey, I get it. I’m a photographer. Everytime I post a picture online, be it my web siteFlickr or Facebook, there’s a chance someone will “steal” it. But there’s also a chance that someone who’s never heard of me will see my work. To protect myself, I take steps to guard my copyright. But I don’t take pictures so I can stuff them in a lock box. Isn’t that the proverbial ostrich with its head in the ground?   

So I walk around a bit more and take another picture…   

Art at the Baldwin Park Arts Fest

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Again, the artist comes up to me and says “no pictures”. I tell him who I am and he says it’s ok. I asked him why I wouldn’t be allowed and he says, “with a camera like that, people can make good copies”. Ok, so I guess the thinking is that I’m going to sell a picture of his work? And would it be ok if I took a picture with, say, an 8 megapixel point-and-shoot? Couldn’t I make a good copy with that? What if I wanted to take a picture of someone with the art in the background? Would that be offensive?   

This reminded me of a similar event I attended last year. A photographer had a booth set up and his pictures featured black and white images of statues. I thought, wow, that’s interesting. He didn’t sculpt the statue, he just took a picture of it and is selling it.   

That issue is actually at the center of a lawsuit. You can read more about it at the Photo Attorney Blog. That case is a little different because I am there strictly for editorial reasons. Taking a picture of your art does not violate your copyright. What I do with that picture may or may not.   

Bottom line: That first guy got it. He thanked me for the exposure. He took a look at my DSLR and assumed I was with some media organization before I even told him who I was. The pictures I take will be featured on a magazine spread that goes out to tens of thousands of Baldwin Park residents. What’s that you say? You don’t want free advertisement?   

So now I want to hear from you. What do you think?