Monday, May 27, 2013

Follow Up to Yesterday's Copyright Post

Hello Everyone.  I just wanted to pop in and write a quick follow up to yesterday's blog post so that I could apologize to anyone who may have been offended by it.  It was not my intention to hurt, offend or call anyone out.   Honestly, I am really just trying to wrap my head around how to go forward in my business.  Since I posted yesterday, I have received several emails and facebook messages from friends and clients who thought I was referring to them and I feel so bad that I made so many of you feel uneasy.  It wasn't geared toward any of you, it wasn't even geared toward the girl that is cited in the original post, she is just the first person I was in communication with when my attention was brought back to an issue that I've had for years.  So please, if I have hurt your feelings in any way through my post, forgive me.  How to post my images on facebook and other social media is a decision that I need to make for future images and I just thought it would be a relevant topic for my blog.

The fact that my post invoked so many emotional responses in others surprised me, even though it is a pretty emotional topic for me.  I think the reason that it may have bothered so many is that I spoke to the issue on the surface level instead of going in depth to what is really going on in my head/heart around the subject.  I think that anytime there is a deeper issue that is present but not being brought to the table, confusion and distrust can surface, so I am sorry about that and I will try to be a bit more transparent.

Here is what is going on...for the past several years God has been growing me in confidence, purpose and trust in Him.  This has all been in my personal life and it has been amazing, I am a completely different person than I was four years ago.  However, even though so much has changed in me overall, my business persona seems to have stayed pretty much the same.  I still have a tendency to be the old, scared me, thinking less of myself than who God says I am.  I hide behind the camera/computer and fear stepping out into the realm of marketing or self-promotion in any way.  I care way too much about what other people think of my ability, my artwork or even my portraits.  I want people to like me as a photographer and have let too much of my identity be wrapped up in that.  It is time to break free.

I know that the Lord has been leading me to step out more into who He created me to be, but I have been dragging my feet as far as it pertains to my business and I haven't really been able to pinpoint the reason.  Yesterday, after posting I felt completely unsettled.  It was not a post that I particularly wanted to write, but I really felt that it was something that I needed to do and my husband agreed, so I did it.  Surface level?  YES, but I checked it off.  Of course, surface level doesn't work when God wants to expose something deeper, so I have been wrestling with Him ever since.  I have been going back and forth all day about that silly post and the argument that I keep having with myself is, "Am I being too controlling?"  Ding, ding, ding!!!! That phrase should jump out at me like a bright red flag, but I've become so used to it that it just sounds right.  Seriously, what other photographer have you ever heard of that wonders if they are being too controlling with their images?  It's ridiculous, yet in my mind it's such a prominent thought that it sometimes paralyzes me from making good business decisions.  Where did that come from?  I know exactly where it came from.

A LONG time ago, I was a part of an organization that constantly told me that I was being too controlling with my photography.  There were a lot of weddings within the organization and at the time, I was the only photographer there, so I was the natural choice to photograph them.  Everyone there was a friend of mine, so I made my prices as low as I possibly could and in some cases, too low.  There were a few weddings that I ended up paying out of pocket  for a few rolls of film and processing (I'm so thankful for digital and the fact that I no longer have to estimate how many rolls of film I will need based on the number in the wedding party).  Yes, this was THAT long ago, I was still using actual film!  Since I worked in a photo lab (best Photo Lab I've ever been to- Centric Photo in Tucson, check them out- they ship), I kept my client's costs down by processing the film and doing the printing myself during hours when the lab was closed.  Even with all of this, I was told that I was being too controlling with my pictures.  Their suggestion/requirement became that instead of "making" the couples have professional grade film and processing their prints at my professional quality lab, I should  just surrender the film to them  and let them take them to Walgreens for processing to save money.  At first this was more than I could take.  How could I let people who were trusting me with their wedding memories take their film to Walgreens?!?!?!  Let me reiterate that this was many years ago, the discrepancy between quality of our professional lab and Walgreens was even more abundant  in the days of film, where a technician actually looked at each negative before printing and chose how light/dark to make it, along with what colors to add or counter.  Plus, if someone's film was ruined by the run through developer at Walgreens, there weren't scanners around where we could easily pull them into Photoshop to fix them.   The best fix there was still nose grease (yes, it's as gross as it sounds, but it was highly effective).  Anyway, I about collapsed the first time it was suggested to me to let a couple take their film anywhere other than my trusted lab and I politely refused, turns out, that wasn't an option.  The next wedding I photographed I gave the unprocessed film to the couple when they returned from their honeymoon.  That afternoon I received a call, "Do you have our film?"  asked the voice on the other end of the line.  What!!!!  My heart was beating like crazy.  They had left their film in the building we had been in and thought that maybe I had seen it and picked it up.  I felt like I was going to die.  That is a lot of pressure on a wedding photographer!  Well, they found it in the lost and found later that week but I was sure that I was never giving a couple unprocessed film again.  I was wrong.  The daughter of the head of our organization got engaged and I was thoroughly degraded for even considering using professional film, let alone a professional lab because he didn't think that it could possibly make a difference in quality.  I was told that he, "knew the kind of operation I was running" and that I was, "ripping off" the people in our organization and that he wasn't going to allow me to continue to operate that way (this all occurred in the middle of a wedding reception that I was photographing).  At first, I knew that I wasn't ripping people off and that I was actually going over and above the call of duty and giving the couples a great product for an insanely cheap price.  I thought that there must have been some kind of miscommunication,  but after being yelled at by him and brought before "the board" I started to doubt myself.  Was I really robbing my friends?  Was I really being controlling and making them spend money on a product that no one could tell was better but me?  I felt horrible.  Any confidence that I had left at that point was gone and I felt like not only a failure, but a bad person.  I believed the lie that he accused me of, I actually believed that I was swindling people.  How does a person believe that they are doing something that is so far removed from who they really are?  I don't know.  I guess it just comes down to the fact that when you respect someone, sometimes the things they say about you ring louder than the truth does (any parents out there rethinking how they speak to their kids right about now?  I know I am).

Anyway, that is where the whole issue of being too controlling with my photography came about.  I believed the lie- hook, line and sinker, and boy did I sink.   I bent over backwards for my clients and with every wedding or portrait session, I was mentally set in opposition to myself, trying to stay in check so that I didn't swindle my client or take advantage of them in any way.   I began to fear photography jobs because I hated who I believed I had become, I spent the whole time hoping that my clients wouldn't see what a cheat I was (even though I would never even consider cheating them).  Every job was mentally and emotionally taxing as I fought against myself, trying to do everything in my power to give the client exactly what they wanted regardless of how far away from my professional sensibility it was.  I fought against being controlling and in doing so, I allowed myself to be controlled.  The worst part is that I can see areas in my photography where I am still doing this, areas like the copyright issue.  I had no idea.  Seriously, I didn't want to put "the statement" on my images because it sounded "too controlling" to me.  There are a lot of areas where I can now see this has affected my work, mostly in client relationships.  I have not set out clear expectations because I have thought that if I did that, it would be controlling and therefore wrong.  However, I am now starting to see that what I've believed for so long was the lie.  As the photographer, it is part of my job to set the expectations and the contracts so that my clients aren't confused or overwhelmed.  The other day I heard a quote by Michael Port.  He said, "Most business problems are really personal problems."  That is certainly the case here.  Now that I am aware of this, I will choose to disbelieve the lie that I have internalized for so many years and allow God to heal me in the areas that I need it.  Hopefully this will soon lead to me being a much more confident photographer and business woman who no longer writes confusing blog posts that cause her friends and clients to think that she is upset with them.

Well, I really wasn't expecting all of that to come out, but I am glad that it did.  I hope something in there helps someone other than just me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What is Copyright in our Social Media World

I don't know about you, but May is a really busy month in our household.  At the beginning of this month, I flipped to an almost blank calendar page and thought, "Wow!, it's so clear, we are going to be able to catch up on everything we are behind on!" Not so! That calendar page filled up quickly and we are even further behind than we were before.  Oh well, it's been busy but fun.  So, even though I have so much that I need to catch up on, I'm going to take a bit of time to sit down and write this post because I think it's a very important topic that most people are not very aware of nowadays.  Also because, I really don't have an answer for how to approach my current dilemma.

The thing I want to discuss is copyright.  What does it mean and why do we as photographers use it?  Well, a copyright is simply a symbol that reminds us that the image you are looking at is the property of the photographer.  Just like a wedding ring, it states that the image belongs to someone and technically, even if it isn't visible, the image is still protected under copyright.  Just like if a person is married, they are still spoken for even if they aren't currently wearing their ring.  Pictures are actually legally protected by copyright laws whether they bear the symbol or not, at the time of their conception they become the property of the photographer.  By property, I mean that only the photographer has the right to make copies or reproduce the images, unless the photographer sells the rights to another. 

 Over the years I have run into various problems surrounding copyrights.  At first, they were good problems to have.  When I first switched to digital, I used to give my portrait clients disks with their images on them so that they could take them to the lab of their choice to have them printed.  I soon learned that I needed to include a copyright release with the images because even though I had given the disk to the family, the images were obviously professional and the labs refused to print them without a release.  I'm sure this was pretty annoying for the families that were denied prints on the spot, but for me it was a nice problem to have.   Lately, with rapidly improving technology, the problem isn't as nice.   

I first encountered this new obstacle a few years ago.  I was hired to photograph an event celebrating someone's birthday.  The party was wonderful and the images from it were amazing.  I couldn't wait to hear from the family who threw the party, but I never did.  I could see that they had logged into my website to view the images but I was puzzled that they never ordered any.   I actually started to feel bad because they had paid my hourly rate (which covers my time), but I thought they had never received any benefit from it since they had no pictures to show for their investment.  I tried contacting them on several occasions to see how I could make the ordering process easier, but they never answered my messages. Finally, I got a hold of the man who had hired me on the family's behalf and he told me how much the family loved their pictures and how they had made a wonderful scrapbook from them that everyone really enjoyed.  That really puzzled me, since they had never ordered images, how could they have done that?   I went back to my website thinking that maybe I had set something wrong and that they were able to download the images, but that wasn't the case.  I finally figured out that they had taken screen shots and used those to make their scrapbook.   It left me with a sick feeling in my stomach for a long time.  I felt sick not only because they had stolen the images, but also because the quality from a screen shot is far below the standards that I hold for my prints and I didn't like the thought of the poor quality they received.   I know, silly, but I'm not a fan of low resolution prints.  Now, you may be thinking, "Why is it such a big deal if you were paid your hourly rate already.  Why charge more beyond that for the images?"  The reason is that the hourly rate really only covers the time that I am there and some of the time spent editing the images later on the computer.  Culling the images and processing them takes about 4-6 hrs. for every hour I am taking pictures (yes, I have a very fast trigger finger).  There really is little to no profit in the hourly rate.   The profit comes from picture/image sales.   This is standard for a lot of event photographers and is a way of helping the client by spreading the cost out among the other attendees.  Anyway, I learned a big lesson with that job and now, the images on my website have the copyright watermark through the middle of them instead of at the bottom (something my father had suggested at the start of my website, you were right Dad).   I really dislike how this looks and it makes it hard for clients to see facial expressions, but I learned my lesson and just can not afford to leave them unprotected.  

These pictures show the way an image looks on my website now with the © through the center.  They are mostly here so that I don't have a picture-less post.  

Now, enter Facebook.  My newest challenge.  I LOVE giving my clients a sneak peek of their images on Facebook and sometimes on my blog, but there are a lot of considerations when doing this.  At first I was very careful and listened to the suggestions of other photographers who said to make sure that the images I post were less than 500 pixels so that they wouldn't make good prints if someone downloaded them.   I did it, but I was frustrated with how small the images were on the screen and how you really couldn't see any of the detail in them, my images look best BIG.  I also didn't want a huge watermark across my images, blocking them from being seen, so I just decided that I would put a small, unobtrusive copyright down at the bottom left corner, make the images large so they could be seen and then trust people to do the right thing and respect the copyright.  The problem that I am finding with this is not so much that people don't respect the copyright, it's that they don't understand the copyright.  They just don't know what it stands for.  I had a conversation today with a girl, that I really like, about why it's not okay to just download and print the images that have the © symbol on them.  She thought that since I had posted them online and had tagged her in them that I had given the pictures to her.  I think that is probably a common misconception.  We live in a time where technology makes it easy to not only download an image, but most people can print a beautiful full color picture out at home on their computer.  When they are printing at home they don't even get stopped by the people at the lab who know better. 

 I worked in photo labs for many years of my life and I wouldn't even consider copying a copyrighted image.  If an image looked even the slightest bit professional or even if it had been printed at a professional lab with the professional copyrighted paper, we wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.   There were rarely any exceptions to the copyright rule.   If a client wanted a professional image copied and it was less than ten years old, they would have to contact the original photographer to get permission and the original photographer would have to sign a release for our lab.  Sometimes I forget that most people don't have my background and that the world is a completely different place now.  The ability to print images in your house at your own discretion has really left a lot of people completely uneducated on copyright laws, not that most people were educated on them in the past, but the people who were trained in the printing industry certainly were.  

So where does this leave us now as photographers?  Wanting to share our sneak peeks and favorite images with the public in a way they can be viewed well, but still needing to somehow protect them from being downloaded instead of purchased.  I read one photographer's blog that said they don't share images on social media until the client has purchased them.  Great idea, but it takes away the fun of seeing all of the first comments from friends and family when the image is shared.   I don't know about you, but I LOVE it when I post a sneak peek and the client immediately makes my image their profile picture.  It's a compliment and it's free advertising because my © is right on the image and all of their friends and family can see who took the picture.  I don't particularly love it when they crop out my copyright and then make the image their profile picture, but I'm also not a fan of "the statement" that a lot of photographers add to every image they post.  You know, the one that says, "Please feel free to share this image but don't crop it or alter it in any way."  It's a great idea but it just doesn't fit my personality.  In all honesty, this whole problem doesn't fit my personality.  Or, maybe it's my personality that is the problem.   The truth is that I would love to be able to give my images away to anyone and everyone who wanted them, I just can't afford to do that because the truth is that with every image I give away, I am taking time away from my family.  All of the images take time to create as well as to process.  So, even though I often wish I could give all the images away, I just can't, it's not fair to my husband or my children because not only does it take away the extra money that could be used to help with bills, it also takes me away from them and that's just not okay.  So, how do I let people know that the copyright is on the images because they are valuable and it's not okay to just download and print them?  Maybe "the statement" is the way to go because it does educate people on your expectations.  I heard Michael Port speaking in an online seminar the other night and he said, "Resentment comes from unmet expectations."  That is so true in any relationship, not just business ones.  I tell couples all the time that communication is key and that it's not okay to get mad at each other for not doing something you wanted the other person to do if you didn't communicate that you wanted it done, people can't read minds.  So, here it is, my first step in trying to communicate my position on copyrighted images posted online- it is not okay to download and print them if they are for sale on the photographer's website.  It violates the law and just like making unauthorized copies of movies, it is stealing.  

I think that my personal solution for now will be to go back to the 500 pixel images on social media sites until a better solution presents itself.   Has anyone else come across this problem?  What are your thoughts?