in flickr

I don’t get pro photographers

I’m a big fan of Ben Saunders, mostly because I get to vicariously live through him (and I do plan on donating to his next big adventure), but in this entry he says:

I’ve taken the photos down again for now – I’m slightly concerned about people nicking expedition photos that I’ve nearly lost digits trying to take…

It goes on, and I know Ben’s not a pro photo guy so I don’t mean to pick on him specifically, but I’ve seen the same message from a lot of other people that used flickr and happen to make their living taking photos. “I don’t like people nicking my photos” and “Is there any way to prevent others from making blog posts about my photos, using my photos?” are the things you often hear from them in the flickr forums.

Photos are jpeg files on the internet. Everyone that looks at a photo online makes a copy of the file at flickr.com just to view it in their browser. Sometimes people like photos and save them and maybe even make them their desktop background. Sometimes those same people add you as a contact and become fans of your photography. These are all good things for people that like looking at photos and photographers.

  1. I don’t really understand it either. Photos are meant to be seen; if no one sees them what’s the point of taking them in the first place?
    I understand if someone is reselling them or somehow making a profit from them, but simply posting them on their blogs? If I were them I’d be encouraging it.

  2. Hey Matt,
    First up, thanks for the comments – I had no idea you read my blog. Cool.
    My reservations sprang from an incident last year where a team seeking sponsorship for a polar expedition took several of my photos (and a few from my site that weren’t taken by me) and sprinkled them all over their site, essentially passing them off as theirs.
    I’m usually happy for people to use my photos, but I felt a little annoyed that these guys had neither asked my permission, nor credited me with the photos.
    Like I said, the main reason I took them down from Flickr (for now) was the time it was taking me to upload them (there are several hundred) and the time it was taking me to keep checking in on them – responding to comments, etc. There are still loads of photos on my site.
    I’m being devil’s advocate here, but are either of the books you co-wrote available for free download?

  3. Hey Ben, thanks for responding.
    It sounds like someone actually taking photos and passing them off as their own would happen whether or not you had them up at flickr — some small fraction of people will do bad things regardless of circumstances, and that really is a bad thing.
    I didn’t mean to pick on you specifically (as I said), but I hear a lot of photographers that are so worried about the few people that might do bad things that everyone suffers in the end by not seeing their work.
    As for my books, I have pleaded with every publisher I’ve had to allow me to put all of my material online. They’re afraid and I only got three chapters of one book online in the past.
    I think it’s a valid comparison actually — putting up a PDF of a book doesn’t kill sales, it will more often help them out as anyone interested in reading more than a few pages will likely buy a real printed book. I like to look at fine art jpegs, but what I really prefer is buying prints from photographers for my wall.
    And just to show that I still do admire your work greatly, I just bought a mile of your expedition. I’m really looking forward to the South expedition.

  4. Ben makes perfectly good sense and I agree with him, but, in a more general sense: it seems pointless not to display photos out of a fear they will be stolen. Most photos on the web are optimized for the screen to the extent that they are useless for printing and cannot be made larger.
    They simply don’t have any value in the marketplace. Sure, a blogger or two might snatch them and claim them as their own, but that is not only uncommon but generally harmless. There isn’t any revenue being lost.

  5. The fact that Ben would see himself as unresponsive or slacking in his duties for not keeping up on this correspondence is a perspective I haven’t considered in regards to flickr.
    I’ve received the occasional comment or question, but I don’t really feel a sense of urgency to respond — the same goes for most online communities I’m a part of. Instant messages (AIM, Yahoo!, etc) require a reasonably fast response, email less so, and anything below that seems low-priority or even optional. However, if I was connecting my professional work to a community, it might become a priority. Maybe the solution, as a professional, is to restrict the resolution uploaded to flickr and direct users to your website via your profile or possibly even a message tagged on to each image?

  6. I can see both sides of the argument. But, as someone who made the commitment last year to embrace what Matt and the others at Creative Commons are espousing regarding copyright and distribution of ideas and content, I have to say that within a few weeks of “releasing” my imagery to the world I received more feedback, interest and response than I ever had as someone who guarded his images closely. In fact, what small bit of exposure I’ve gotten as a result has allowed me to get paid to do what I love.
    Ben’s case is the feared extreme. Not only were those involved attempting to pass off something not their own, they were in effect competing for already limited sponsorship dollars available to those who do what Ben does. Not to mention the smarmy, underhanded way in which they implied that Ben’s adventures were their own. Nonetheless, locking down access isn’t serving Ben any good and deprives the rest of us from enjoying his adventures through his photos.
    As for Flickr, I’ve almost always uploaded low-res versions with a small little copyright superimposed on the image itself. It certainly doesn’t keep those who want to do bad things from doing them, but I figure it’s a good compromise between giving up a little bit of control and getting my images out into the world, or locking down the images and ensuring that no one will ever see them.

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