biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: photo usage

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Susan and William Brinson. Susan and William are a New York-based graphic-designer-and-photographer couple, and today they share some important details and regulations of photo usage. From copyright issues to usage fees, Susan and William offer a comprehensive guide to properly using outside photography for your business, blog or website. Thanks to both Susan and William for this informative post! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Photography usage is the Wild West right now in the blog-o-sphere! I am so happy to discuss and educate on this topic. I feel a little bit of background is in order for context. I am an art director at an agency, so photo usage has always been something I have worked with professionally, whether I work directly with the photographer and their agent or use stock photography. My husband is also a photographer, so I often hear about some of the behind-the-scenes issues that are part of the photographer’s everyday work. In the professional design world, there are strict standards for using others’ work. Professionals who contribute to the success of a promotion must be paid — from photographers, designers and writers to font designers. But what are the photo usage rules for blogging? Because there are no strict rules for photo usage pertaining to blogging, I thought it best to look at three unique points of view: a blogger (me), a photographer and a photography agent. First up, let’s talk about the photo industry and some best practices.

The Photo Industry in a Nutshell
Understanding how images are created is step one to deciding whether you should use an image or not. Here is a quick overview of the commercial photo industry: a company hires a photographer, possibly a magazine or advertising agency. The contract and fee are determined on usage and the complexity of the shoot. Fees are based on usage and how much it will physically cost to produce the shoot. Often there are stylists, retouchers, producers and assistants involved in a shoot, in addition to the photographer. These are the basic professionals involved in a magazine shoot, for example. So even though we look at an image and think there is one photographer standing behind a camera taking a photo, that is generally not the case.

Questions to Ask When Using Photography
Here is a quick Q&A you can follow to find out if you should use an image. If you can’t answer most of these questions, I’d do some serious considering before using the image.

What is the source of the image?
Did a business provide this image as a promotional image, or did you grab the image from another site? You should always know the original source of the image. If you see it on a blog, unless that image is original to the blog, that is not the original source of the image. Track down that original source because you can give credit to that source.

Who owns the copyright?
If you do not have any idea, this could come back to haunt you in the future. It is critical to understand copyright for photography if you are using images in any form of published media (like a blog). For instance, when photographers shoot for magazines, the magazine has a contract to use the image for a certain amount of time, but the photographer owns the copyright. Or the magazine has a “buy-out” contract, meaning the magazine owns the image outright. If you use an image that you do not have permission to use, you could be sued for it. It doesn’t matter if you take it down, you will still have to pay back royalties. This is serious and has happened to bloggers in the past. Can you imagine if it happened to 10 images on your blog? That could get expensive!

How am I using this image? Am I promoting the photographer/source or my blog?
This is the ethical question that shows your intention. If you are using the photographer’s work to say how talented the photographer is, great, that is generally okay. Everyone loves promotion. If you are using the photographer’s work to express your own idea or to promote yourself, that is something to stay away from. At that point, the photographer is a contributor to the expression of the idea and should be compensated.

The bottom line on ethics? Grace wrote a great deal about this topic here. Here are some best practices that must become a standard:

  • Credit the photographer and source. Provide the photographer name/magazine name, company or publication (This must be written under the image, not just a link when you click on the image.)
  • Link to both the photographer and the source, but if possible, ask for permission to use copyrighted work or the work of any creative individual.
  • The best situation is to make sure your blog is promoting original content. I have often seen images on blogs where just the image is the post. There are no words or context. So 100% of the post is reliant on the photographer’s content. I do not think it is ethical to create content that is not yours. If you like it, promote the artist. Say something nice about their work and give them credit.

What do you think about photo usage and blogging?
Susan Brinson, Blogger (me)
I am relatively new to the world of blogging, and was shocked to see that photo usage was not the same for blogs as for other media. My husband and I started a blog that only uses original photography. When I began seeing our images used around the interweb, I started asking, “Where do you draw the line when allowing others to use your work?” I admit that when an image we spent our money producing and our weekend shooting was being used by others for free, I was frustrated. (Keep in mind, I am not referring to promotional posts, which I love about the blogging world.) Anyone who creates something original can understand this feeling. We now have a photo-usage policy for our blog. It basically says that if you are not promoting our blog/us, you may not use it. If you ask, we will consider the context, and most likely say yes. If we see our images used without credit, or as promotion on a blog with advertising, we will ask for it to be removed. We drafted form letters so this is not an emotional decision. When we started out blogging, I had no idea this would become an issue!

William Brinson, Photographer
As a photographer, photos are my livelihood and my full-time career. When a photo is used without permission, that person is stripping away my livelihood. There is no compensation, and I am unwillingly giving it away for free. Because people take photos and use them at will, it limits me as a photographer to use them as additional income, such as stock. Now those images have been over-saturated, and I am limited on the amount of income I can earn on those photos because they have been overused free of charge. Being a photographer is being a small-business owner with overhead such as a studio, equipment, the electric bill and insurance. You would never go to another small business and take a product without asking or expecting it for free. I love the world of blogging and what it has done for us and seeing my photography floating around the Internet when credit is given. In most cases, I am completely willing to share my photographs in that nature. But when that blog or website has advertisers, then essentially they are making money on my content without compensating me.

Marnie Rose, Photography Agent
Once upon a time, blogs were little more than personal journals that people maintained on the Internet, accessible to anyone who could find them and had any interest in reading it once they did. In the beginning, blogs were mostly vanity pieces for people who might not ever publish anywhere in mainstream media; a venue to let their otherwise silent voices be heard.

Today blogs are very different than their precursors and need to be viewed as “new media” if they aren’t already. As such, how contributors handle usage and rights when dealing with blogs needs to change. Once photographers would grant usages for exposure, although most times uncredited, or because they truly believed in what the blog itself stood for and said. All of which are perfectly valid reasons to allow your art to run anywhere. However, today blogs are not the obscure digital platforms that they once were and are an industry of their very own, driving serious revenue.

To this day, more often than not photographers are expected to grant rights to their work gratis, which simply put, isn’t fair to the artist. Certainly not when the blog and other contributors such as the writers are making money for their time and efforts. I don’t think anyone is arguing that strong, compelling photography plays a key role in what drives a successful blog for any genre. With that being the case, some basic standards should be accepted as common practice.

Look to the closest relatives of the blog, which would have to be the traditional print magazine, the burgeoning digital magazine and of course the website. By and large all three have in place a set of standards, or at the very least an accepted understanding of usages and rights, even if the rates for those vary widely from company to company.

The perfect example is the editorial market for print magazines. Each and every one has vastly different rates; flat fee, day rate, day rate against page rate, etc., and the contract terms can range anywhere from a three-month embargo to a complete buyout. Some publishers will state that they retain the rights to the photos in perpetuity so long as they run in context to the story that they were originally shot for. Others will come back and negotiate re-use on an ad hoc basis while making sure that the artist is credited for his or her work.

A similar set of practices exists for digital magazines, website/e-commerce and all other areas of photography as commerce. It stands to reason that the same should apply for blogs today, as a way to strengthen the relationships between photographers and bloggers so that they can better understand and support one another and help to grow what is proving to become an extremely exciting new industry.

Across all areas of media, there is one golden rule, which is that the photographer always retains the copyright to any image that they create unless otherwise negotiated to another party. Simply because an image is on the Internet doesn’t mean that it is public domain. In most cases, it is not.

In all fairness, most bloggers don’t have a background in the photo industry and can’t be expected to know about the ins and outs of rights and licensing. However, that’s no reason not to learn!

Part of the issue is the accepted practice of “linking” which usually isn’t a problem if the photographer’s work still appears in the context in which it was shot and with the client for whom it was shot. However, when a photo is pulled from the original piece it was shot for and used out of that context, the photographer’s rights for that image are being infringed upon.

Photographers don’t want to have to play the villain, but they of course have a right to protect their work and their financial interests in an ever-changing “new media” society.

It is understood that most bloggers pull images because they admire the work and feel that it will strengthen their content. In most cases, both photographer and blogger are happy to work together to boost their own causes. If a blogger does want to use an image, the right thing to do is to ask permission so that you know you have the green light to use a photographer’s work. If you cannot track down the artist, you should at the very least make sure that they are given credit. It’s one of the safest ways to show that you never had the intent to steal their work.

As blogs continue to emerge and photography continues to play a key role in blogs, it is a hope that bloggers, contributors and photographers can work together to educate each other and set some fair standards of compensation for the use of photography, just as it has evolved in other areas of media.

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  • What a wonderful post, and I really love that you took the time to write so comprehensively on the subject. I think many blog writers genuinely don’t know proper etiquette in regards to this situation, and mean no harm – but you’re absolutely right, it is the photographer’s livlihood and should be treated and respected as such.

  • A lot of these issues apply to illustration and design work as well. It’s hard to maintain a hold on your work when people use google like a stock photo/illustration site. I think our generation is so used to finding everything for free, that it’s easy to forget who can get hurt in the process.

  • Boy, do I love this post! I’ve had my original gardening & cooking photos (which I devote hours to taking on weekends) lifted by countless sites and bloggers without permission/credit. It only takes a minute to send an email with a short usage request, and to date, I have never said no! When I find a photo lifted without permission —not promoting my site or giving a back-link/credit— I am frustrated. Asking permission seems like common courtesy to me. Thank you again for covering the topic of copyright law. I think most people want to do the right thing, and many are simply uneducated. It’s great that D*S is devoting time to this issue, because so many bloggers visit this site.

  • Great post! Touched on a LOT of great topics…when I first started my blog I didn’t watermark my photos and then I quickly saw them on tumblr and other blogs, I didn’t so much mind getting my photos out there…but sometimes when the credit was not there I needed to ensure my website was always on the photo.


  • You made me feel guilty and I am asking for permissions like a good girl. The question is, will anyone respond back to me in a timely manner this week? I hope so. I really, really do.

  • I absolutely agree! As an author, it is frustrating to see my work being pirated. I spend months writing each book, and when it’s pilfered and handed out for free, that literally takes food off my table. I pledged never to do that to artists, and have paid for original art on my website and blog, or used free material from legal sites like morguefile or imageafter. I believe authors and artists (which certainly includes photographers) should be respectful of one another’s work. An excellent blog post!

  • Guilty as charged! I lift photos and have had my photos lifted numerous times from Flickr, etc. Mostly band photos straight from their website/myspace mostly for promotional purposes. I always link the photo back to the original site that has proper accreditation.

    But people will always steal if it’s there for the taking. If you don’t want someone lifting your photos they should be uploaded in a Flash player or something similar so they aren’t so easy to take. That’ll stop the problem in its tracks.

  • Ahhh! Thank you thank you thank you!

    It is brilliant to have bloggers that folks look up to talking about best practices. If it comes from me (a pro photog) it can feel like I am nit-picking or being self absorbed – but I care about how all creators get treated! I sometimes leave comments to credit photogs that I don’t even know.

    I don’t think that many people realize how important it is to link back & credit. The most valuable thing (besides getting paid!) is to make yourself visible and findable in this deluge of information and images.

    Tumbler is the worst in terms of making it so easy to post randomly without clear credit to origin.

  • This series on etiquette and fair use is doing a real service, both to bloggers and photographers. As a blogger who tries to educate myself and play “by the rules,” I get so frustrated seeing people use images (and copy) without attribution. I’m certainly not perfect and still learning — this information does us all a service.

  • Very tricky topic, but you did a great job covering it, Susan. The dissemination in digital technology will always be an issue as it’s infinite and ever-expanding. It seems like it would be impossible to contain information in an exclusive way.

  • This is just great information. Thank you very much for delving into it all in this digital age. I will pass this along.

  • Well said!
    Unfortunately, I fear that the people who should read this post the most are the ones who will skip over it. I think they just assume “if it’s on the internet, it’s fair game for everyone”…and post freely without ever crediting. Tangent: yesterday I saw an interior designer’s blog that was 98% pictures from places like D*S, never a credit…then at the bottom a big bold disclaimer “DO NOT use photos of my family, home, or client’s homes without my direct permission.” …geez, hypocrisy much?

    Again, well done post. These are the things that should be said more often!

  • This was so enlightening! I’m always stumped when it comes to photography and copyright and online madness. This really shed some light on the matter. I feel all edu-ma-cated. Thank you so much!

  • Great guidelines. I appreciate the light shed on this subject. But so few bloggers seem to follow those guidelines. It is easy to see how inappropriate practices become widespread. This us one post that should be tweeted and passed on as much as possible.

  • Such a great and extremely necessary post! I was wondering how you deal with Tumblr? I think my biggest pet peeve since I started my blog was tracking down the original source of the photos on Tumblr. I wish they had stricter guidelines or something! While I’d love for more of my photos to be on there because it’s a great way to share, I worry more about the viewers every even finding me. It’s such a mess on there.

  • Thanks for the post! I do have a question though. Im still very new to all of this. Where on your website/blog do you suggest putting a photo-usuage policy? Also, all the photos of my sculptures and art on my website I took or my friend took… how should I protect or label as such? Thanks!

  • Great Post!!! Working in the photo industry I get so tired of seeing bloggers post pictures on a regular basis without crediting or linking to the source. Hopefully this will bring greater attention to this issue.

  • @Mandy You are doing the right thing! :) I think people should get back to you in 48 hours. A normal business email is 24 hours, but for most a blog is an additional project worked on over the weekends or in the evening. I find having an editorial calendar helps with scheduling, or if someone doesn’t get back to you, you will have another topic to post.

    @indie_insider the flash player will work to a certain degree, however in todays new media, flash doesn’t work on iPhones or iPads, and in the creative industry a high percent of the population uses Apple products. Something to consider if you go that route.

    @Rose and @Eva at Four Leaf Clover
    Good topic! Tumblr for me is a BIG problem. It is the main place where we find our images lifted with no credit. Then, to make matters worse, it is getting ‘re-tumbled’ by other users. I think Tumblr has to make image crediting a requirement because it is allowing others to re-post. The platform has to take some responsibility in the matter. The reposting is what makes Tumblr great, and is what makes it a problem to people having their images used with no credit. It is not one person doing it, it could be hundreds. This is just my opinion and I would be curious to know what others think.

  • I’ve just added a link to my blog to this post as we have been discussing copyrighted blogs and material…and the outright plagiarism of some blogs, who have been know to copy word for word from other bloggers…as always..you hit the nail on the head…

  • I love your Biz Ladies post and this post is no exception! I’m an artist too and can understand photographers and other artists not wanting to get ripped off by having their images essentially stolen, but when you’re blogging just for fun and not making a dime off of it, is it ok to simply credit the source or should I also try to seek out the photographer’s permission? Surely a link to their work and/or site would be make any artist happy?

  • I was amazed to see this show up in my Twitter feed today, because I am planning to start a blog soon and I was just asking this very question! Thank you for answering in so timely a manner!

  • I’m glad you took the time to break this down. I’m fairly new to the pro blog world (I had a personal blog/journal for years). I have one question regarding credit attribution.

    I’m neurotic when it comes to tweaking layout, editing entries to death before & after I post them, and finding the best (free) pic I can to complement my blog. Adding attribution below the photo itself completely throws off my layout, and I find listing it at the end makes it look clunky. So I like to place the photo credit on the image itself as a hover note, such as: “Photo Credit: Susan Brinson” appears whenever your mouse crosses the image on my site. And if the reader clicks on the pic, it will take them to the source of the art.

    Granted, on my blog, all the pics that aren’t mine are taken from Flickr’s Creative Commons community group or Morguefile. But I make a point to contact the artist’s Flickr page and let them know I’m using it and provide a link to my blog post where I will happily remove it if they feel I’m not representing their work respectfully.

    This long-winded technique works best for me in terms of layout, but I do worry that photographers will be upset that there isn’t an on-page written credit in my blog post at some point. Is my strategy problematic in terms of best practices and friendly internet usage? I don’t want to piss people off, but I think my way is a viable substitution for on-page credit callouts.

  • Susan, thank you for responding to my question! I’m surprised it’s gone on for so long and I really hope that those at Tumblr are working on this problem. I’m thinking I’ll need to send an email. I’m sure they’d do something if they knew how frustrating, to say the least, it is for so many.

  • Something I do so I can properly credit the source/photographer is to save the image name with a short description of what it is, the name of the photographer/artist, and the site it came from.

    For example, I just downloaded a free stock photo of a clock to use in a blog post to illustrate 5-minute tidying sessions on my organizational blog. Here’s what I saved the images as:


    Clock is the descriptor, cema is the username of the photographer on Stock.xhcng (a free stock photo/illustration site), and sxu is part of its website address.

    This is especially helpful to me if I find a great image and save it for later. I know whom to attribute then, when 4 months later I find a use for that perfect shot.

    Granted, I’m small potatoes in the blogosphere. This might not work for everyone. It’s been great for my purposes, though!

  • I am an artist and for me a lot depends on who is using the image. If it is another artist, writer, small business person, I would like to have attribution, and if it is Coca cola, I would like reimbursement. That said, I would never ever put a watermark on an image of mine, I think it is really a tacky practice on the part of photographers and artists who do so. In their desire to protect their work they have just spoiled it with graffiti. I think this is a good post that spells it all out quite well. I also believe there are a lot of people out there who just really haven’t gotten that sophisticated in their process or they have such a tiny audience that it isn’t something they have educated themselves about yet.

  • WOW! What an eye-opener! Thank you Grace for another great Biz Ladies and thank you Susan, William and Marnie for your time and effort to educate us!

    I am working toward starting my own blog (excuse if I don’t use correct terms yet). I have taken pics from many sources, not to publish, but usually because they stimulated my imagination for MY original, eventual art and I understand, now, as long as I don’t post them, all is well.

    BUT, I wonder when a photo becomes public domain due to it’s age. I know you mentioned as long as say, a magazine is still using it. But isn’t there an actual time frame when it becomes public domain like music?

    I didn’t expect using any other photography than my own, but after reading the comments (thanks to you all too!), I realize there may and probably will be a time when I need pics other than my own.

    I thank those who mentioned sites where it’s OK to use photos/art (moguefile, et al). So why are they in the public domain and no permission is needed?

    I have often wondered of all this in terms of publishing my items for sale; do these rules even apply to pics of items for sale?

    Thanks again!

  • Fabulous post. Thank you for addressing this issue!

    As a photographer it’s very frustrating to have my work published without credits and links.

    The attitude that I should watermark all of my images to prevent someone from stealing them is… crazy. The idea that if I don’t want someone to steal my work I shouldn’t put it online is… nuts!

    Photography is highly protected by federal and international copyright laws.

    It doesn’t bother me if someone takes my work and provides clear and legible photo credit with a link back to my site, but I would prefer to be contacted. So far, I have always said yes.

    This is a good resource:

    Also look up the Berne Convention

    Happy blogging! xo Lisa

  • Great post! I find it so frustrating sometimes as a photographer when people just expect everything for nothing. So many creative people are quick to ignore the talent that goes into creating a photograph, relegating it below their own craft.

  • Thank you so much for posting this! I find my original photography + recipes reprinted frequently – especially on tumblr, where it’s reblogged and reblogged, and the only credit given is to the last person who blogged it. It drives me crazy.

  • Another point to consider is whether the image has models, people, animals within the image as they have rights too. So if you use an image with a model/person and you don’t check with the photographer first you could end up having to deal with two separate breach of copyright claims. Different companies purchase a whole range of rights on images from the model agencies as well as the photographer. So if you use an image from a retail company on your blog, they may not have bought the rights from the model to be used this way so you could have a model agency chasing you for royalty payments. I’m a photographers agent and often have to deal with model agencies and they will protect their models rights through the courts if they have to. I am finding that unless a client specifically requests for social media/blog usage the models agencies will put on the contract that you can NOT use the images this way. The only way you can ever fully protect yourself is to check first, always keep the proof and then you should be covered from any potential claims.

  • I love you! great ideas, great posts, super fun. That said, you folks NEED to change your logo. Its old, tired, and overused by so many sources. When it come up in my feed, repeatedly, i feel its limiting your style, and what you are doing. As a designer, I know you talented peeps can get some help with new and fresh visuals to represent your kick ass venture.

  • Thank you for this post!! Very informative. A beauty blogger friend of mine posted photos from fashion week in Toronto from the official site. She gave the photog credit but then removed it after the photog contacted her and demanded she pay a fee for the photos. She knows of two other bloggers that have used the same photos and she is not charging them. If the photos have been removed, how can the photog seek legal recourse?

    • Joy

      Removing a photo doesn’t undo the fact that she used it at all. Photographers have a right to be paid for their work if that’s what they require for use. You always, always have to ask first. It’s the bare minimum you can do if you use someone else’s work (photos, art, writing)