Have you ever used the Internet to find a photo that you needed for a presentation at work or school?
Or perhaps you blog, and you need a photo to accompany your words? These days, it’s very easy for anyone to find any kind of photo they might need on the Internet, but not everyone who takes a photo from cyberspace realizes that it’s stealing unless a license is attached to the photo explicitly stating you can use it.
There are no cyber police that are going to come to your door and accuse you of stealing, but you should know that copyright laws apply to every photo.
Some photos that are available may be by amateurs who don’t expect any compensation, but there are also photographers who have spent years learning their craft and a lot of money on their equipment. They may have also spent considerable time learning how to do post processing to make the final touches on a photo, much like photographers did in the dark room with film (and some still do).
In other words, don’t assume that a photo was easily created and free for all. Whether amateur or professional, photographers would like to have his or her name attributed to their work. I’m sure if someone took the words on your blog or from your presentation to use as their own, you wouldn’t be happy about that either.
Fortunately, there is a way for you to find photos that are available for the taking. All you have to do is a search under Creative Commons (CC). CC is a license that photographers or other artists use to allow people to use their work, and there are different kinds of licenses, depending on how restrictive the artist wants it to be. You will usually find that the owner of the piece wants their name attributed to the work, but otherwise, you can use it for free. (See creativecommons.org for more information.)
Unfortunately, this availability of free photos on the web seems to be hurting business for some photographers and making it harder for those with new degrees in fine art photography or photojournalism to break into the business. I read about this in a recent New York Times article titled, “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path” by Stephanie Clifford. Magazines are in decline, and the ones that are surviving increasingly use stock photography from the Internet.
The article also mentions how some people with a digital camera have started offering their services for a nominal fee. I suppose I am one of these guilty photographers, and I have certainly noticed that I’m not the only mother-turned-photographer. I know of several self-trained people who have started their own small business in photography, and they have been successful. Are we cutting into other photographer’s businesses? According to the article, this is another reason some photographers have a harder time making a living with their chosen vocation.
I would imagine like any creative endeavor, making a living with photography has always been difficult, so I’m sorry to see this happening. However, I have mixed emotions about this because there was a time I had to give up photography because I couldn’t afford to process the film, but now with digital photography, I have been able to take it up again and truly dedicate myself to learning the craft.
What I hope is that I and other start-up photographers can make photo services more accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford a high-end photographer. I, for one, would not have had a wedding photographer if someone did not offer her services to me for free because she was starting her business and needed to build a portfolio. I would have had to settle for snapshots taken by the guests at my wedding otherwise.
Quality is another issue, and I know from experience that there are many people who do not have a trained eye when it comes to judging photographs. I have had people show me photos with pride, which I thought were too dark or overexposed, never mind the composition. But much of it is subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Those seeking a photographer should shop around and look at as many portfolios as possible. If you like what you see, then you’ll most likely be happy with the end results.
Finally, I hope for the sake for the sake of the profession, this is only a shift in how the future will look. Amateurs who are giving their photos away for free certainly cannot cut into the need for trained professionals who are current on the newest technologies and who can deliver quality as well as quantity on a very short notice. In the end, it can only be the customer who will determine who wins out.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.