If You’re Gonna Steal… No Wait, How About Just Don’t Steal? An SLR Lounge Original Discussion on Poor Long-Term Business Decisions
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.
Here is the photographer’s gallery, featuring an image from Lin and Jirsa Photography.
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.
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.
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?