Thursday, August 21, 2014

Who owns a photograph and why you should pay to use them

Do you know who owns the photograph you just ogled over on Facebook?  Chances are you probably don't.  Many of the photograph we see on Facebook are legitimately owned by the one who posted it.  They are of family, friends or an event.  Sometimes, all we get is very poor quality pictures of someones lunch.  I must say, I have never been inspired to visit a restaurant by a cell phone pic, yet these photos are moments of pride and awe shared with the rest of us who just aren't as hungry.  The rest of the photos, however, might have been pilfered off the internet using a quick Google Search.  It seems harmless enough, grab a pic to make a post about something, but it isn't harmless at all.

In the past it was very hard to take a great photograph.  I did a little searching for an example to post here that would knock your socks off but none of them hold a candle to what we can make today.  Back then if you wanted to take a photograph and do it right you needed great film stock, great lenses and a fully stocked light room.  There was no Photoshop or color correction anywhere near what we use in even a simple application like Instagram.  If you were in a big city or if you were lucky in rural areas you might have had a druggist that also developed film the right way.  I remember my mother having to mail off the rolls of 35mm film to the developer and wait three to four weeks before getting them back.  All this being said, it took a long time and they were precious keepsakes even if they weren't very good.  We showed them to our family, neighbors and whomever we could rope into it.  Everyone, just about, found it interesting and fun, much like we do today...  sort of.  

Today's world of photographs is HUGE!  Now that taking and developing photographs takes only a fraction of a moment to create and costs next to nothing.  Everyone takes photos at every opportunity.  Selfies, kids first day at school, new car, new shoes and of course, lunch.  

We are surrounded by photographs and have quickly learned to take them for granted.  Thus making the value of all photographs shrink in the eye of the general public.  I hear all the time that "it's just a pic" when I mention that a photo they used in a blog post or in a small advertisement should be at least credited to the photographer who took it.  To say the least, I am aggravated by the casual dismissal of someones work and sometimes I am down right disappointed in the person who used it without permission.  

The real down and dirty of it, the essence of my point is that someone took time to create that photo, make sure it's right and poured part of their essence into it.  They also, in the case of many really good photographs, took valuable time to make it what it is.  Should that photographer be paid for their time?  You betcha they should.  

I am a professional photographer, as many of you know. Although I am not, at the moment, a well known photog like Dave Hill (whom I admire professionally).  I do fairly well at what I do and my photographs have been used many places where I have gotten not a dime for my efforts.  What I have got is attribution for the work which is enough, depending on the photograph.  This leads me to wonder how many times my work has been used without my permission.  All one has to do is search Google to find my work on the interwebs, right click and save.  Without a watermark (which I have been advised against using by other pros) there is no way tell who took the photo or track them down.  

I used to work as a portrait photographer.  I do it very rarely now because it is a tough business these days. The last solid quote I gave was for a measly $150 to do some engagement photos.  I quoted the gig and told them that the total would be $160something because I had to charge sales tax.  The text I got back was more than I could take.  She said "That's just too much for someone to just take a photo".  Really?!  This wasn't the first time I had heard someone say this, but I wish it was my last and I know I will hear it again. First off I was quoting her at the request of a friend at a DEEP discount.  Normally a session like that would run five hundred or more.  

There is so much more to it when doing portrait photography.  It takes time to make that photo more than just a snapshot.  The average time it takes for me to touch up one photo is about an hour.  It's the little things that count.  Especially if you want to be thinner (don't ever ask a photographer to do this, BTW)!  This is also true for any photo.  Most of the celebrity photographs you have ever seen in the modern age are photo-shopped and meticulously poured over to make every detail right, no matter how beautiful the model is.  The photograph below is one of my personal favorites.  I took this in a studio setting and got the light perfect and the focus crisp.  The model was great and required little for me to appreciate her natural beauty.  Everything was perfect and the photo turned out just like I wanted it.  But you know what?

This photo took three hours of Photoshop to get right. 
Not So Cold

In the modern world of Photoshop and Composite Photography it takes even longer.  My favorite example of this composting style is one of Dave Hill's works of art that consists of Hundreds of separate images combined to make the final, single image.  It takes months of work to make a photograph like this.  Why then would we want to use this work of art without paying or at least attributing the creator?  Shouldn't we show our appreciation for things that we love?

So next time you are sharing something or downloading a pic someone else has taken.  Consider how you would feel if your boss decided to not pay you and say, "it's just a spreadsheet".  When it comes to photography or any art share-able on the interwebs, we should all take a moment and think to ourselves, "Could I make that?"

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