As Weird Al might have put it ‘Don’t Down­load This Pho­to

Melanie, who’s check­ing out the Aper­ture & Light­room class asked this ques­tion:

I am just start­ing out to become a pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er and I won­der if you might answer a ques­tion. In look­ing at your pho­tographs to try and learn from them, I noticed that you don’t have any kind of water­mark on them. Is there a rea­son?

And here are my thoughts on water­mak­ing my images on the ‘net, giv­ing clients and sub­jects extra val­ue, and how cool it is that we can eas­i­ly be gen­er­ous:
A quick first thought… remem­ber why you got into pho­tog­ra­phy… How fun it is to take a good shot and give it to a friend. Please don’t let busi­ness crowd out the pure fun of great images being seen by lots of peo­ple and mak­ing sub­jects and clients excit­ed by your work!

Now on to the prac­ti­cal list:

• I don’t real­ly do the sort of work that I’m try­ing to sell as stock, or resell. It’s real­ly PR/Journalistic/Theatre work that I do.

• I always felt I make my mon­ey shoot­ing, and while I try to make a bit extra here and there on print orders, etc… but the goal is to make enough shoot­ing to not be push­ing for sales of this or that

• I’m an open-sourcer at heart and real­ly buy into the whole thing about the ‘net and shar­ing. If some­one I pho­to­graph wants to snag a low-res shot I’ve post­ed online and put it on their Myspace or blog or what­ev­er, I just think it’s part of the cool way the web works. I’m also a Chris­t­ian, and like to be work­ing in a pos­i­tive, gen­er­ous, car­ing way… and giv­ing back to sub­jects (that often put up with a lot from us shoot­ers!). I think pho­togs have always been anal about rights and reuse fees and scratch­ing for every last cent. I real­ize I’m total­ly on the out­side on this issue com­pared to oth­er shoot­ers. I remem­ber read­ing a newslet­ter from one of the big pho­to asso­ci­a­tions and it was all about ‘clients push­ing me for this, and they’re awful jerks because of that, and so cheap’ and I thought… ‘wow, what fun meet­ings they must have’ 😉

• In a busi­ness sense, I think that loose­ness can be good adver­tis­ing. The site gets tons of traf­fic. Like I’m very lib­er­al with the­atre play­wrights (like Greg Cof­fin Con­ve­nience and Five Course Love ) and will let them post shots from plays I’ve shot that they’ve writ­ten… I just think it’s cool how we can do that now with dig­i­tal: Give that extra val­ue with min­i­mal work on my part.

• I think water­mark­ing usu­al­ly looks tacky and ruins the look of the image. It says loud­ly ‘I care lit­tle about how this image looks but tons about your steal­ing it from me (you big nasty thief vis­i­tor to my site)’ 😉

• Being loose with this an reuse just seems like the most jus­ti­fi­able posi­tion to me… it’s what I’d want if I were on the oth­er side hir­ing a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. (For more on my reuse pol­i­cy, read’s ‘Clients Info’ area.) Relat­ed sto­ry: I caught myself scrap­ing to save a few bucks by buy­ing equip­ment online (and not like buy­ing at B&H, but try­ing real­ly to go cheap­est places). I felt bad about that, and real­ly try to give the local guys a chance now. I’ve also had some bad online buy­ing expe­ri­ences (with expen­sive stuff and big com­pa­nies).

How’s that for a bou­quet of rea­sons. YMMV. Every pho­tog makes her own deci­sions, and if your work were one of a kind art, that need­ed to be post­ed high-res, and you were depen­dent on sales of prints… then you’d have to pro­tect your images. But you also have to price rea­son­ably for the mar­ket so that they are will­ing to pay it. It’s the iTunes the­o­ry of music down­load. Most peo­ple won’t steal stuff if it’s rea­son­ably priced and simple/fun to get. And then there’s a hard­core per­cent that will steal it any­way and crop (or clone) the water­mark out.

The oth­er side of the issue:
Just to be fair, you can do a small water­mark, like I have to do with my online lab Here

Also, I real­ly don’t like when busi­ness clients try to pub­lish pho­tos I give them for edit­ing and design…If you check out my client info HERE, I note that the big issue there is qual­i­ty. Just using a pho­to that’s not been prepped is a crap­shoot and makes us both look bad. I only charge $10-$20 to prep an image, and I think that’s a fair amount for a busi­ness to pay to ensure they look fan­tas­tic in print. And from a busi­ness, it’s just respect­ful to pay a pho­tog­ra­ph­er to use his images.

The same would be true of some­one swip­ing images off of my site for any busi­ness pur­pose… that’s obi­ou­vs­ly wrong, and if you’re in busi­ness, you should be able to pay for pho­tos you want to use.

Hope that helps as you are mak­ing your deci­sions. Thanks for get­ting me think­ing about it…

(PS: The Pho­tos Above…that’s Mom & Dad and my Niece Alexa with boyfriend Drew from a fam­i­ly reunion)

Let me know your com­ments below.

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