If You’re Gonna Steal… No Wait, How About Just Don’t Steal? An SLR Lounge Original Discussion on Poor Long-Term Business Decisions

Business Tips March 22nd 2013 11:03 AM 30 Comments

Introduction

In this article, we are going to show and discuss a recent example of a photographer stealing images from Lin and Jirsa Photography. Now, most of us have the good sense to not go around claiming other people’s work as our own. But, often times in an effort to get ahead in the short-term, we make poor long-term decisions. So, I will also be including some general tips and advice when it comes to marketing and designing your portfolios for all of you honest folk. ;)

Does This Really Happen? Really?

I am going to be honest. I find it strange that photographers blatantly steal work from other photographer’s portfolios to put in their own. Let me clarify, I don’t find it strange that it could happen. I know there are people out there who will do anything for a quick buck. Creating a fictitious photography studio using the work of others and then collecting deposits from unsuspecting clients seems like a simple and lucrative scam.

What surprises me is how often this happens. This is not an exaggeration when I say that once a month we get a notification from someone in our network saying “so-and-so is using an image from your portfolio as their own.” While imitating is the greatest form of flattery, stealing… well, not so much.

This go around, we were kindly notified by Genevieve Albert (www.genevievealbert.com) who emailed us with the following screenshots saying, “Somebody stole your picture and other ones from other photographers… Just want to let you know ;-)”

Now, we have no desire to make the offending person’s name or contact information public. It is our belief that those that use these types of business practices will naturally reap what they sow. So, we have marked out all the website, personal and contact information. After all, there is simply no need to make an example of this one person when we get these types of notifications on a monthly basis.

Here is the photographer’s landing page, featuring images from other photographers that we haven’t yet identified.

image-theft-example-one

Here is the photographer’s gallery, featuring an image from Lin and Jirsa Photography.

image-theft-example-two

You may even recognize that jumping shot as it is on our gallery wall which can be seen in each of our interview videos as shown below.

ljp-jumping-shot

Generally when this happens, the offender simply uses our image within their online portfolio claiming it as their own. However, on two occasions we have even seen other national studios (who again will not be named) use our images in newspaper and magazine print advertisements! Things that make you go… hmmmmm…WTF?

There Are No Shortcuts to Success

There is really nothing that can be said to those that are stealing images with the intention of running a scam on would-be clients. These con-artists are career thieves, and nothing that we say would make a single bit of difference in altering their course.

However, there is also another group of individuals who plagiarize other artist’s work with the intent of getting a step ahead in their careers. Sometimes, it is done in a relatively innocent and even somewhat justified manner.

For example, one might justify to him/herself, “I know exactly how that image was shot! In fact, I could have shot it myself and probably even done it better! The problem is that I just don’t get the opportunity to shoot such extravagant events. So, I am just going to pretend like I shot it, then replace it when I get my own version of the image later on.”

We have seen some of our past shooters use the “positioning” justification. When testing out new photographers, we bring them on as “third shooters” so that our delivered product is never compromised as we try and train new photographers.

In the past, we have had a couple of our shooters use shots from the lead photographer in their portfolio with the excuse of “my shot was identical, the angle just wasn’t as good as the lead.”

Regardless of how a person might justify this action, you are making a massive error in your reasoning, business and career as a photographer. Let’s talk about why.

Two Steps Forward, 10 Steps Back

Using another photographers photograph within your portfolio, regardless of how justified you may think it is, is never a good long-term decision. Photographers who are doing this with an attempt of taking two steps forward in their career, will quickly find that they have taken 10 steps backward to the point where it can end your career. Let’s talk about the possible outcomes.

1. Best Case Scenerio, Use With Permission – Let’s assume that your wonderfully kind photographer friend gives you permission to use his/her photographs within your portfolio. Their thought is that you are a great photographer, and that you could accomplish those images on your own anyway. So, they are helping you out (yeah, this is not a very likely scenerio).

Even in this situation, you still shouldn’t use that photographers photographs as your own. Why you ask? After all, you do have permission.

Well, it’s quite simple. By marketing your portfolio to clients, what you are essentially implying is, “hire me, I can consistently create photos like the ones you see here.”

What would your clients do if you happened to be in the same situation as a photograph in your portfolio, and unable to deliver the same image? If a client hires you to create something like what you display in your portfolio, and you come back with images that aren’t even close in quality, then you have failed the client. An upset client can spread negative feedback, leave you with bad reviews and if upset enough, who knows. I have seen more than a handful of photography studios close down from legal threats or even after poorly shot images go viral.

2. Worst Case Scenerio, Use Without Permission – More than likely, if you steal someone’s image for your own commercial use, it will probably bite you in the butt before you even get a chance to benefit from it. A sympathetic photographer may simply request you remove the offending image from your website. An upset photographer may decide to make a public example of your action, and even take a legal course of action.

Both of the third shooters that used Lin & Jirsa lead photographer photos in their portfolios were promptly fired. When somebody clearly demonstrates a lack of desire to do anything other than use us to help themselves, the bridge is burned and there are no second chances.

In either case, it isn’t worth the risk. Again, most of us aren’t going to be stealing images, so this advice isn’t really valid. Let’s talk about another situation which I believe is equally dangerous, using workshop images within your portfolio.

The Workshop Portfolio

Workshops are often marketed as opportunities to build and create portfolio shots. After all, you spent good money to attend, you shot the images in your own camera, so of course they are going into your portfolio! But, this can be as equally a dangerous long-term decision as stealing other people’s images.

Kevin-Workshop-01

When you attend a workshop, generally everything has been taken care of for you. The organizer will have already found the models, decided on wardrobe, makeup, scenes, lighting, etc. The majority of the difficult creative decisions have already been made. Once the students arrive the photographer helps to pose the models, aids the students in choosing their angles and even setting their camera exposures.

Now, if you attend a workshop and you are 100% confident that you could recreate the images under any circumstance, then by all means, put the images into your portfolio. But, if you can’t recreate those photographs on your own, then aren’t you doing the exact same thing as putting another person’s work into your portfolio? Once again, you would be putting yourself in the exact same situation as the one mentioned above. A client hires you based on your portfolio, and you deliver images that aren’t up to par.

Another common result of using workshop images in your portfolio is that 15 other photographers around the city will be doing the exact same thing. What happens when clients ask why so-and-so has the same shots in their portfolio and blog as you? I have heard stories from fellow photographers of many clients walking away from the table after discovering their favorite images were workshop images.

Pye’s Portfolio Philosophy

In the history of clients hiring professional photographers, do you believe that there has ever been one person to say to themselves, “I am going to hire this photographer because he or she SOMETIMES creates a great photo”?

Absolutely not. It is as ridiculous on paper as it is in the real world. When a client hires a photographer it is because they believe that the photographer can ALWAYS deliver a consistent product based on what is scene in their portfolio. Being able to deliver a strong and consistent product takes years of practice. Maybe on a good day, you can take photographs like the ones in your portfolio, but what about the bad days?

So, here is my rule of thumb, remember it, because it will serve you well:

“ONLY DISPLAY IMAGES IN YOUR PORTFOLIO THAT YOU CAN CREATE ON YOUR WORST DAY AS A PHOTOGRAPHER.”

Now obviously you should not use other people’s photographs in your portfolio. But going even further, I believe that you shouldn’t even display your own images unless you can create them consistently.

Last month, on the way back from a portrait session with one of my clients my assistant asked me on the ride home, “How did you feel like the shoot went?” I said, “I think that was one of my worst shoots of the year, nothing went my way.”

He responded, “crap, what are you going to do?” I said, “Nothing, the images are still going to be great, even on my worst day we are delivering images that will exceed our clients expectations and are still better than 99% of the photographers out there.”

Obviously there is a little bit of pride and bias in that statement ;). But, upon receiving the images the client was ecstatic, and the wedding coordinator has already published the images and requested several canvases from the session to be displayed in her studio.

I don’t mention this story to boast. But, rather to simply say that in a client service industry, the goal is to always exceed client expectations. Do this, and you will never be hungry for work.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

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Pye

About

Pye (AKA Post Production Pye) is a founder and the Managing Editor for SLR Lounge. Pye is also a Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, an Orange County based wedding, engagement and portrait photography studio. Connect with him on Google Plus

30 Comments

  1. Tam Nguyen Photography

    The other image is a stolen one too. http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/wedding-photography-tips-and-techniques/

    Reply 0
    • Pye
      Pye

      Yeah, most of them are, we just haven’t identified all of them yet.

      0
    • Genevieve Albert

      We found 4 of them ;-)

      http://jerryfergusonphotography.com/images/articles/wedding-photographer.jpg

      http://www.linandjirsa.com/wp-content/themes/fashion/images/image4a.jpg

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=139651734147&set=a.139644294147.134572.139583294147&type=3&theater

      http://www.weddingsinloscabos.com/blog/cabo-photography-at-villa-vista-ballena-cindy-and-ryan/

      0
  2. Annoyed

    Jason Lavengood is the photographer for the image of the bride and groom kissing on the landing page.

    Reply 0
  3. jaysonmullendesign&photography

    Good stuff! It is absolutely crazy to me that that kind of thinking resides in people! I don’t know… I really wouldn’t even consider doing something like stealing someone else’s work. I went to a workshop recently and was even having doubts about using those shots in my portfolio. I do believe without a doubt that I could reproduce them on any day… I still just don’t know if that’s what I want in my portfolio.

    Reply 0
  4. JC Ruiz

    Sad when people have to resort to stealing other’s photos so they can move up or even worse, scam people out of money

    Reply 0
  5. Lauren Mitchell

    I’ve had several folks steal from me, and it sucks. I’ve had to send two c&d’s since the new year. I’ve found that the best tool to deal with it is http://jarred.github.com/src-img/ based on Google Reverse Image Search – you install the bookmarklet and then you can run it on your own images from time-to-time to find out if anyone has stolen from you (or in this case, run it on the thief’s page to identify any other victims).

    Reply 0
  6. Mike Burton

    I’m only begining out on the journey, but agree and follow these “Rules” 110% The shot I create is ‘Me’ you hire/contract ‘Me’ thats what clients expect and receive from ‘Me’!!

    Reply 0
  7. writersbloc

    All points completely valid.

    Funny enough though, more often then not, I’m forced to hire a professional photographer because they “sometimes create a great photo”. The client dictates a pathetically small budget and I need to find the guy who has the best chance of not completely embarrassing my agency. Sad reality of a small market, but to your point, yes, I’d be pissed if they were completely misrepresenting themselves with stolen work.

    Reply 0
  8. Theresa Delp

    Last year, when I went to get married, we hired a photographer, after seeing her work and hearing about all of their studies. Then after putting down a large deposit, I find out a month before the wedding she was a fraud, never showed up for any weddings she booked and all images I saw in her portfolio were stolen from around the USA. Broke my heart and we almost did not have a photographer for our wedding. I wish people would think of their potential clients before they do this!

    I know as a photographer, it has never once crossed my mind to use someone else image. I actually would rather have my work based my work than someone else work.

    Reply 0
  9. raeolight

    reminds me of that case from Arkansas. Do you all remember her? She even went as far as to make up stories of people’s session on her blog. Crazy what people will do. I’m sure it ruined her but she dug her own grave.

    Reply 0
  10. Charles

    There are several things you should seriously consider to at least limit this problem a bit. Right now you can right click on the pictures in this article and select Save image as… I’m rather surprised how often images are just dropped into HTML this way. Consider using a script that disables that capability. I’m not a fan of Flash, but a Flash-based gallery can make it harder to copy out the images. None of these methods are foolproof, and some will consider them too annoying themselves, but they can stop or slow the casual thief who usually is not that smart.

    I’m a college professor (Computer Science, not photography, only amateur in that area). I used to put my lecture slides on the web so that no only my students, but others in the world could benefit from them. Then I started to see them all over the world with other people’s names on them. Now they are behind a password. I was once the most linked content on XNA and I know it was useful to many others, but it is hard to see others use your work and claim the credit themselves.

    BTW, one of the reasons I take pictures is to generate content for my lectures and online content that is completely my own and legal (I also have paid for some content on occasion). You would probably not be surprised how most college faculty get the graphics they use on their slides.

    Reply 0
    • Karrie Porter Bond

      In today’s age of social media, we embrace the idea that our clients will use and share our images of them on their social networks, but we just add an element of control to it by adding social share buttons to all of our images in our website (I LOVE YOU ZENFOLIO!!), so that it gets shared with a link back to our site, AND I am a Nazi watermark-er, with our logo and web address placed in light gray text at the bottom of every image. So, even if an image ends up somewhere unexpected, people still know who it came from.

      0
  11. Benoit Champagne

    You bring some very interesting and valid points. A well thought out paper. Congrats.

    It was the second guy in a couple of months that we discovered in our area and, basically, we closed them both down. So it really isn’t a good business decision. Why take the risk. If you need pictures that badly in your portfolio, find friends willing to hire you for cheap or heck even free, and build your own portfolio. Eventually, you’ll be able to charge for what YOU can create repeatedly.

    Thanks for the paper, and thanks for mentioning Genevieve Albert :)

    Reply 0
  12. Karrie Porter Bond

    Some good points about workshop photos. I remember doing one in which I and one other girl had a nearly identical image when we were all sitting around comparing what we’d captured (she and I had been standing close together at this point of the shoot). At the time I would include it in my portfolio, but you’re right, I always felt that little twinge of doubt, knowing that somewhere out in the world, that girl was possibly showing off a very similar image. Even though I had legitimately captured it, it eventually bothered me enough that I took it out of my book. But, lesson learned, if you do workshop stuff, find the one spot in the room no one is standing, and shoot from there!

    Reply 0
  13. Isabelle Matte

    can someone contact me ? i saw a guy using this pictures on different photographers forum on FB…..

    Reply 0
  14. Rita

    Here’s another example:

    Original photographer: Kevin Collins (http://www.flickr.com/photos/22378683@N02/2510407332)
    Guy who steal it: Romain Sarkal Eloy (http://www.minispace.com/en_us/article/checkmate_compeition_winners/708/)

    Original photographer has licensed this image. The condition says: “You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work”. The photographer says “If you submit or exhibit the work anywhere, attribution must be given to me”.

    The guy who steal this image (after a small touch-up) won a ‘MacBook Pro’ as a FIRST PRIZE in a competition organized by BMW Group website. The competition rules says: “Your submission must be 100% original work”.

    One of the first prize looser points this issue to the MINI Space website & suggest them to take down the unoriginal entry. They ignored his email for more than 3 months & after many emails he finally got a reply from MINI Space team member Melisa (name changed) saying “he (Eloy) digitally manipulated it enough – wittily retouching the moth’s spots into checkers – for it to classify as his own artwork, and for us to select it as first-place winner” (what???). She also mentioned in her email “Eloy’s work is not in breach of any copyright infringement laws and as such, we will not be making any changes to our winners selection and/or allocation of prizes. We apologize for any upset this may have caused you”.

    He has replied the website pointing out the original photographer’s licensing condition & the competition’s rules (must be 100% original work). He has replied several weeks back & he still didn’t get any reply from minispace.com website..

    According to the above looser, this MINI Cooper based website didn’t took any step to check whether the winning image is genuine!

    Reply 0
  15. Guest

    Here’s another example:

    Kevin Collins is a wonderful photographer who has plenty of awesome insect photographs in his collection. There is a guy Romain Sarkal Eloy, who steal one of his famous ‘Leopard Moth’ image (http://www.flickr.com/photos/22378683@N02/2510407332). He has added small touch-up & won ‘MacBook
    Pro’ as a FIRST PRIZE in a competition organized by BMW Group website (http://www.minispace.com/en_us/article/checkmate_compeition_winners/708). Note, the competition rules says: “Your submission must be 100% original
    work”.

    Real photographer Kevin Collins has originally licensed this image & the condition says:
    “You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work”. He says “If you submit or exhibit the work anywhere,
    attribution must be given to me”.

    One of the first prize looser points this issue to the BMW MINI Cooper based website (minispace.com) & suggest them to take down the unoriginal entry. They
    ignored his email for more than 3 months & after many emails he
    finally got a reply from MINI Space team member Melisa (name changed)
    saying “he digitally manipulated it enough – wittily retouching
    the moth’s spots into checkers – for it to classify as his own artwork (??),
    and for us to select it as first-place winner. Eloy’s work is not in breach of any copyright
    infringement laws and as such, we will not be making any changes to our
    winners selection and/or allocation of prizes. We apologize for any
    upset this may have caused you”.

    This looser has again replied to the website pointing out the real photographer’s
    licensing condition & the competition’s rules (must be 100% original
    work). He has sent this email several weeks back & he still didn’t
    get any reply from the website. According to the above looser, it was
    happened because this BMW MINI Cooper based website didn’t
    took any step to check whether the winning image is genuine right after
    the image was shortlisted!

    Reply 0
    • Kevin Collins

      I am Kevin Collins (I found this post via my flickr stats). Before now, I was totally unaware of this happening. I find it supremely irritating. In 2008, I posted that moth photo on Wikimedia Commons with a license that does allow derivative works. However, that license also requires attribution, and I see no mention of my name on the Mini website. While there isn’t necessarily a copyright issue here, there is definitely a copyleft issue. And of course, it is insanity to claim that Eloy’s work is “100% original.” Let me know if there is some way I can help the 2nd place winner.

      0
    • Abdul Cader

      Thanks a lot Kevin! and thanks for your email as well. I’m the second place winner of that competition. Your help is very much appreciated. I’ve posted this comment & deleted it for some reason, that’s why it shows ‘Guest’. Now I’m purely depends on your help to win this contest, thank you very much for your timely help.

      0
  16. Koren Reyes Photography

    A good citizen emailed me and Don Cornelius of Highdesert Photography to alert us to the fact that the same images were on both our sites. Turns out that Don stole MINE and put them on his site. I contacted him, he played super dumb, but took them down. Fast forward a year or so and he PUT THEM BACK on his site. And he claimed to be a PPA member. Unbelievable.

    Reply 0
  17. mike

    Thanks to the government of Norway and several other fly by night businesses for stealing thousands of dollars of use fees to an image I produce a couple years ago. I have the image registered and if I get the right shot at you I am suing for $150000 each…..

    Reply 0
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  19. Sue Baker

    I keep finding my hummingbird shots being used on foreign (China?) websites that have Chinese? symbols for the wording. There is often no contact info for me to reply to them stealing my images.
    I’m not super computer savvy, so other than doing the right click google image search, I don’t know how to report many of these foreign sites.
    So what can I do?

    Reply 0
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