Pinterest: What Every Photographer Ought to Know

Today I'd like to introduce Christina Gressianu, this week's guest blogger. Christina is an award-winning photographer, whose work can be seen in publications such as The Knot.  Her success required a merging of photography skills with brand-building expertise, honed in the world of New York City ad agencies. Christina is also the author of Zap the Gap, a guide to building a brand the closes the gap between your business and the hearts of your customers. PhotoMint readers, please give Christina a warm welcome by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

Photography for me is one part about making the best work I can, and the other part about getting it as visible as possible. Once I started being in business as a photographer, a third part entered the mix… the part called making money. So I make great work, get as many eyeballs on it as I can and convert those eyeballs into paying clients. The Internet is beautiful for the eyeballs part.

When Pinterest hit the scene about a year ago for me, before I knew anyone else using it, I thought it was the coolest thing since the internet itself. The whole bookmarking thing had been a problem for me, because I'm visual… I don't remember the title of that webpage with the awesome peanut sauce recipe, but I remember the photo of noodles and broccoli in a square white bowl on an orange placemat. You get my drift? So me and Pinterest were like Forrest and Jenny… like peas and carrots. Then one day, I found that people were pinning my work! People I didn't even know where pinning and repinning my photographs… do you know how many new eyeballs that is on my work?? I don't either, but it's A LOT!  And as we know, eyeballs can mean $$.

Then Pinterest got big, like really BIG really fast, and suddenly people were misusing it. I don't think it was intentional, but people where pinning photos without linking back to the source or giving credit. Photographers started getting upset about this and blaming Pinterest, and then there was that lawyer who said she was deleting her account, which made me leap to Pinterest's aid. Because any photo you put out on the Internet is stealable, and has been since browsers first started supporting photos. Flickr had the same problem a few years ago. But you don't have to be a victim and get angry about it… here's what you can do:

1 – WATERMARK your images. Whether you prefer to drop your logo in a white border at the bottom of your jpg, or overlay it on the actual photo, pick a style and do it. If you're putting your photos anywhere online—Facebook, your website, Flickr, etc. without a watermark, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. Not only does watermarking protect your images from “theft” but it also puts your business name and logo in front of all those eyeballs too. When your photos are used somewhere other your website, you want them branded the same way Starbucks wants your coffee cup branded long after you walk out of the store. There are great tutorials on how to automate watermarking both in Photoshop and Lightroom. This plugin for Lightroom makes watermarking a breeze.

2 – COPYRIGHT your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office. In most states if you clicked it, you own the copyright. Registering the copyright makes it iron-clad official. It costs $35 for each batch of images you register. I had an excellent intellectual properties lawyer recommend I register any images published in a magazine. And I said What? $35 for each one??” He told me that if the photo is not worth the $35, then…

3 – LET IT GO. That's right. Someone is using your image without credit or outright stole it and put his own name on it… consider it a compliment and move on. You're only as good as your last wedding or session anyway, so create more… that's what we creatives do anyway—create. The legal battle will be lengthy and costly… can you afford to drop out of your business for 6 months to fight in court? Shouldn't you be more worried about booking and taking care of your clients? And what's the pay off? Pretty much just that you get to be right.

I know, letting go seems hard. It's the last thing anyone wants to hear. I want everyone to love my work and know it's MINE. But I let it go. Apple gets knocked off all the time, as does Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton, and everyone else who makes something great. In college, one of my art class sculptures was stolen out of the gym locker room. I left it out because I never thought anyone would steal my crazy artwork, and then it was gone. First I was confused, then I was angry and then I arrived at “Isn't it exciting to create something that people want to steal?”  Yes it is.

Lastly, consider this. If someone steals your image off the internet, how big is that file? What are they going to say when The Knot emails and says, “Hey, we love your image? Can you send over the 3000px file?” Ummm… no… The truth always comes out in the wash.

I haven't policed my photos on Pinterest to make sure they link back. I'm just happy they are out there. And, I cannot tell you how many inquiries I've gotten in the last 6 months from people who say they don't know how they found me, I was “all over the place online.” Win!

So don't just let go, push your photos out there! Add buttons to your website to make your photos more easily pinnable. If you're using WordPress for your website, here's a great Pinterest plugin.  Watermark your images and then hope for the link back. If someone goes through the trouble of editing out my watermark, she must need it more than I do. I can make new, better photos anyway. And so can you.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy Brown | Atlanta Wedding Photojournalist June 30, 2012 at 7:40 am

Love the article and the sentiment.
Someone stole a sculpture I made when I was in college, too. I came to the same conclusion, after being ticked off for a while.
I like the LR watermark engine, as well. Easy to use. Very efficient.

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ille Photography June 28, 2012 at 9:33 am

Great article. Just a quick note on watermarking workflow. Mogrify (linked in the article) was great for LR 1 and LR2, however, LR3 and LR4 have a GREAT watermarking engine built right in to LR! The fact that it is integrated into LR and not an external plugin (which can be hard to figure out sometimes) makes it much easier. I use this for easy FB uploads since I can watermark and upload right from LR! Hope that helps someone out.

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Lara White June 28, 2012 at 8:54 am

Came across this story last night of a photographer who found out the daily mail had taken images from his site without his permission or a link, and when they turned a deaf ear to his requests for a link, he submitted an invoice and got paid for his images.

http://www.expertphotography.com/the-daily-mail-stole-my-photos-i-got-paid

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Ed June 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I *ALWAYS* use a watermark unless I’m selling it to someone, or its a snap shot and not worth attachment to “my label”.

Again, (nearly) always watermark whenever I upload an image to anywhere on the internet. The difference is the watermark. If I really want credit, I put (c) the year, my name, and my website on it. If I just want it to be know I took it, then I simply only put my name on it.

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Jannette June 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm

If your watermark has your website address on it not just your name/logo, you can always be found easily (unless someone edits it out).

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Shutter D'light, LLC June 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Love the article…Complete confirmation for me. Always had that attitude, expressed in the article…Thanks for putting it on “paper,” if you will!

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sharon keila June 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Thank You so much

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Tom June 26, 2012 at 9:39 am

What an excellent article. I know how painful it was the first time someone grabbed one of my photos and claimed it as his own. But your perspective is exactly on the mark. Be flattered, then let it go and make new (and better) photos.

But I will never put another photo online without a watermark!

Thank you for the wisdom.

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Kat - Kingdom Wedding Photography by Kat June 26, 2012 at 7:34 am

I wholeheartedly agree. Except for one point – it is not acceptable for another photographer to claim somebody else’s work as their own. It’s entirely different from somebody pinning an image of mine they like onto Pinterest. One is clearly fraud – and it doesn’t take 6 months in court to fight it. A very simple take-down notice – first to the offending photographer, and then to the site host usually do the trick.

I totally get where you’re going with the “don’t sweat the small stuff” and couldn’t agree more. But it’s a simple matter such as sending an email letting a thief know that you’re onto them. Ignoring it isn’t going to help our industry as a whole.

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Lara White June 26, 2012 at 8:24 am

Kat, complete agreement with your point-a simple, strongly worded take down notice should do the trick and does not take much time, absolutely. I don’t think Christina was suggesting that we just look the other way for outright theft from photographers. But hiring an attorney and going to court to pursue a theft of work or copyright claim is going to cost a lot of time and money-that’s time away from your business and money drained. It could bankrupt your business or put you deep into debt.

I recently read about a photographer who found one of their images being used in a large publication without permission or credit. She was very, very distressed about it and spent weeks hemming and hawing over it, contacting a lawyer and so forth. In a case like that, instead of losing sleep over it, you could turn the situation around by negotiating a free ad in the next issue.

I get the anger and the desire to punish someone for stealing from you, but it’s the way these things take our focus away from running our business, supporting our families that becomes the problem. It’s important to protect our rights, absolutely. But at the cost of bankrupting your business? At the cost of going deep into dept? At the cost of forgoing your salary for 6 months while your focus is on the fight instead of your sales? Only you can decide that.

I’ve experienced this plenty of times myself-images used in magazines without credit or permission, my attorney bride who found herself the cover girl for a story on crazy brides on a popular blog-let me tell you, she was NOT HAPPY about that. I found someone using my image on their blog with a statement to the effect of how dumb I was since they were able to just right-click and take it (thanks google alerts!). Plus I had a major theft from an employee who was stealing and sharing trade secrets. In that case, I could have sued them for theft and breach of contract, but what would the point have been? I already spent over $3,000 to have my attorney deal with the mess and fire their ass. But at some point you have to cut your losses and move on, if the time and money involved to pursue it is not worth the win.

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Ed June 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Very Good points. And stealing is bad, w/o a doubt. What you also need to know is when “the juice isn’t worth the sqeeze.” In war they refer to it as “winning the battle, but (at th cost of) losing the war.” Financial people call it “a negative return on investment.” The point is, know how far to go, and when to say when and let it go.

I Myspace, I was saw a fake account. I detected it because the pretty girl in the photos wasn’t the same. It wil be with stolen photos. People have a style, as sure as they have an accent. When the styles clash, that says the photographer isn’t the same person every time.

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Ed June 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm

oops. 1st line should have been- “On Myspace, I once saw a fake account.”

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Mike Woods June 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

It’s good to hear another rational argument on the Pinterest copyright issue. Even setting that controversy aside, this is good advice when using social media for marketing purposes.

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Ed June 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Good point. I would add though, uploading/ sharing with ANY internet service, not just social media sites.

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