Flash back to the start of the new millennium and the Internet was exploding with this new thing called ‘Social Networking’. Myspace owned the market, Facebook was in very early stages and Twitter was no more than an idea, possibly not even on paper yet. Over the next 10 years, social networking would develop into a regular (if not daily) habit for over one billion Facebook users and five hundred million Twitter users, sharing and commenting on a range of content including news articles, website links and photographs. Providing the content is interesting enough, the power of social networking gives us the ultimate potential to reach an ever-expanding audience of online users and extend our reach to new contacts virally with absolutely no cost. Therefore, its no surprise that more and more clients are approaching photographers asking for high quality images to be provided digitally rather than in print, so that they can share this content more readily with their own network.
In a modern world, where we Google everyone and Instagram everything from cats to our choice of dinner, its not really about the content YOU choose to display online anymore, but the entire content you make available via any source to anyone outside of your studio. Assuming that a client has 140 Facebook ‘friends’ (the average number given by Facebook statistics in October 2012) and posts one of your images on their Facebook profile, only about fifteen to twenty of their contacts will actually see the original post. However, if just half of those contacts click the ‘like’ or ‘share’ button, your image will then appear in these seven new people’s news feeds too. Your work has now been made available to an extended network of over 1,000 potential viewers within a matter of minutes. Of course, the likelihood of all one thousand of them actually absorbing your image in the midst of all the other online content is slim. However, the fluidity of social networking allows links to be formed between people with similar tastes and interests without the limits of geographical distance, therefore this effect could be generated multiple times over a day and lead to multiple prospective clients from just one image. The same mushroom effect is true of other social networking sites too. For most photographers however, this causes a moral dilemma. Whilst its great that the your work is being put out there and being shared through an extended network far bigger than your own, your work has now entered a digital realm that you have no control over. How does a professional photographer use these technologies to their advantage both as a marketing tool, whilst still protecting their copyright and artistic integrity?
Put Simple Measures In Place. It goes without saying that any work that is released for client use should be shot, proofed, edited and presented to the best of your ability – but its important to stress that this is really the only period of control a photographer has over the future online life of the imagery. Simple measures like pre-screening out the bad proofs of a portrait shoot before showing them to the client will stop them from choosing an image with bad posture because they like their expression. Similarly, refusing to crack to the ‘all images on a DVD’ trend will significantly reduce the amount of sub-standard, non-edited work you put out into the world. If you don’t think the content is good enough to be representing you online in the future caches of Google, the answer is simple: never let that content leave your studio.
If you do decide to embrace social sharing, take control of any impending social network mass uploads by presenting the client with their own, web ready, colour correct versions suitable for sharing with their online contacts and followers at the same time as presenting them with their printed products. Creating a web ready version of a set of images is an easy task and takes no longer than a minute or two to set up, plus exporting time that can go on in the background whilst you are working on other things. Using a batch editing software program like Bridge or Lightroom allows you to highlight all of your final edits and export them in one go with the same settings. For web based work, resolution should be 72dpi so it is the right resolution to view on the screen, but not enough to print, reducing the risk of having your work stolen and printed without your permission. You could also tell Lightroom to export with your watermark in a specific place on every image if you’re short on time, although custom placement of watermarks in Photoshop or a similar editing program close to the face or bust helps deter online users from cropping images and tends to flatter photographic composition better.
Use Metadata. Having your logo watermarked prominently on the image is a great first step, but with just a logo to go from there’s a high chance that your prospective clients will still have to Google you to find your website. Investing another few minutes into your exporting procedures will help you go one step further and add both a copyright statement and your website details for when your client accidentally forgets to credit you. When my clients upload any of my images, they come up automatically with “Client Name © Tigz Rice Studios. Do not use or copy without permission. http://www.tigzrice.com” in the description box. Not only does it save the client the trouble of remembering, it saves them the tasks of locating my details and ‘copy/pasting’ them multiple times onto every image. To date, almost every single client has left this information intact with the image, with a couple altering them slightly to add in a little extra text of their own. With a system like this in place, those 1,000 potential viewers we discussed previously will have a direct link to your online portfolio too, where you have more control over the curation of your work and a direct link to your online bookings system. Embedding your copyright information into an image is pretty straightforward. Before exporting from Lightroom, highlight all final edits and press the Sync button in the bottom right hand corner of the Library interface. This will bring up a dialogue box where you can add in copyright information, contact details, model release status and much much more. Play around in these settings until you get the desired information.
Be Present. Having content shared on social media without the need to get involved online can be a great marketing tool for a busy photographer, but you can magnify this online presence by investing a small amount of time each day into a Facebook Business ‘Page’ and a Twitter account, giving you the power to interact with (and monitor) your client, the content and their contacts more directly. Allowing the client to tag you in the image means those 1,000 potential new clients will have a direct link to your online profile rather than resorting to Google, where they can contact you privately to enquire about your services with usually no more than 2 clicks. Plus, if you have permission from the client to post the image on your own page too, you have the ability to share the love by tagging and crediting the make up artist, the stylist, the clothing label and your studio assistant. Maintaining positive, mutually beneficial sharing relationships online with your team of creatives will help push the potential virality of your images well into the multiple thousands on a regular basis, improving your Klout rating and raising your notoriety and respect levels within your area of photographic expertise. Just make sure to tag and post responsibly mind, as nobody likes a spammer!
Set Boundaries. Despite having clear copyright laws on the use of images online in the UK, it seems that the severity of photographic copyright infringement is not as widely recognised as video piracy or file sharing crimes in the UK. Sharing copyrighted material online without permission is a violation of the Design Copyright and Patents Act of 1988, but for many photographers working within the digital spectrum there is a very fine line between sharing and copyright theft – and that line is not necessarily drawn in the same place for every photographer. My personal view is that social sharing is acceptable, providing the work is presented well, credited and linked back to my portfolio. Having my work shared by others online helps me to reach an audience far greater than I can achieve flying solo. Uncredited, stolen, altered or defaced work however, is a massive no no, especially when the content is in print. But of course, every photographer has their own boundaries and this can be confusing for a client who has worked with several different photographers with varying opinions. Make everything black and white by setting out clear expectations with the client in a contract or license format before embarking on a project together is the easiest way to ensure that the client is happy and that your integrity as a professional photographer maintains intact.
Model in Photo: Valerie Savage.