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A More Creative Way To Add A Watermark To Your Photos

1530_Common Sunflower_200mm-teleconverter_CROP

I was going to post my thoughts on my new Canon 1.4x Mk III teleconverter (will do that later) but decided instead to publish this watermark post because I am so tickled with the new thing I have learned that some of you might want to try out for yourselves.

I subscribe to the Daily Peta Pixel.  It’s an online magazine dedicated to photography. One of the recent editions ran a story with a link to a  watermarking tutorial published by farbspiel photography.  After looking at this tutorial and its screenprints, I thought wow, I can do this too!

Farbspiel photography is correct in stating a watermark can deter some viewers from looking further.  I myself don’t necessarily care if those viewers get disgusted when they see a watermark on my photos because they apparently don’t have issues with photo theft and copyright infringement.  For me, there is always room for improvement, and this watermarking method can be used for places where your uploaded photo cannot be linked to your photo website when a viewer clicks on said photo.

Note #1: farbspiel photography’s tutorial uses Photoshop, as do I.  I am going to assume – however erroneously – that most other decent photo editing applications have similar commands/methods.

It took me a freaking hour to figure everything out based upon the tutorial.  I’m not really familiar with layers and masks, and there were parts of the instructions that – even with farbspiel photography’s screenprints – were not clear to me .  I created this post with additional bits and pieces here and there to help clarify some of those issues.  I’m a spell-it-out-for-me kind of gal, and I know many of you reading this may be the same (guy or gal).

OK, here we go.

  • In Photoshop:  File-New

I copied my settings after the settings in farbspiel photography’s tutorial:


  • Using the Text tool, I created my watermark, formatting the font type, font size and text color.   If you are in Photoshop, look to the right of your screen and you will now see your text listed as a layer.

Originally, I deviated from the tutorial in that I simply created a single layer for the entire copyright watermark, rather than creating a separate layer for each segment.


Then, I realized the value of creating separate layers, because I can return to my original watermark file and change it up, simply by deleting or re-doing a specific layer (like the copyright year).  Duh.


Now that you have created the look you want for your watermark:

  • Click on Layer – New Fill Layer – Solid
  • Give this layer the same name as what you have given your new watermark (I called mine “Signature”).


  • Leave everything else as-is, and click on OK
  • You will be shown the Color Picker
  • Choose black


  • Click OK
  • Hold down the Ctrl (on a PC) key and click on the first (or last) layer you have created.  You need to click on that little white layer icon thumbnail beside your layer name in order to see that particular layer outlined in blinking white dashed lines.
  • Release your hold on the Ctrl key, and then right-click on the next layer  icon and choose Add Transparency Mask .  You will now see that next layer highlighted in blinking white dashed lines.
  • Continue to do the right click thing on your other text layers until you see all of your text watermark outlined in blinking white dashed lines.


  • Click on the white box next to the little locking icon in your Fill Layer
  • Right click and choose Delete Layer Mask
  • The Fill Layer will remain, but the white box will be gone.
  • Now, click on that icon (the highlighted yellow one) at the bottom of the Layers screen, which is the Add New Layer Mask icon


  • Once you have clicked on that, you will see your signature watermark  with a black background in the thumbnail of the Fill Layer.
  • While your Fill Layer is still selected, choose Color Dodge from the drop-down box.
  • Double-click to the right of your Fill Layer name and you will see the Blending Options box.  You can play around with the options, but for this post, which follows farbspiel photography’s tutorial, choose Drop Shadow and Bevel and Emboss.


  • Click OK
  • Save your new watermark as a .psd and keep this file open
  • Open up the photo you wish to watermark
  • Go back to your watermark file, click on the Fill Layer (the one that has the thumbnail of your watermark signature), then right click and select Duplicate Layer.
  • On the pop-up screen, make sure you have your destination photo chosen:


  • Click OK
  • Go to your destination photo and you will see your watermark signature as a new layer.  You will also see the watermark on your photo.


Here’s where I veered off of the remainder of farbspiel photography’s tutorial because I already liked the look of my watermark and am pretty good at “eyeballing it”.

  • Edit-Transform-Distort
  • Your watermark is now boxed in


Each of those little square “markers” (or whatever they are called) can be used to move/distort your watermark.  I just chose to arrange the corner markers as you see in the screenprints below to get to the finished product.



Once you are finished with your watermark arrangement, hit Enter

You may now choose to keep your original photo and your watermark layers separate, or merge the layers by selecting Layer-Merge Layers

As you can see from the photos, I decided I didn’t like the look of the watermark in this particular image.  I returned to the original signature.psd file and removed that www.rebeccalatsonphotography.me layer.  I saved the file as a new psd file (so now I have two nifty watermarks).

Voila!  You now know how to create a workable watermark that you can move/distort and blend in with your photo which, at the same time, indicates the copyright and ownership of the photo without too much of a distraction to the viewer.

Thanks farbspiel photography and Daily Peta Pixel!

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Filed under Lessons, Photography, Watermark

Point-and-Shoot Beauty

This post is for all of you out there who own or have ever owned a digital camera that everybody calls a “point-and-shoot”.  It’s digital, but not an SLR nor is it a “prosumer” camera (well, not really).  It’s a camera that we carry in our purses (I do), use on vacations, take various and sundry “snapshots” (as opposed to “serious photography” – hah) and own when we maybe can’t afford a SLR (although those things are coming down in price).  It’s the kind of camera people own when they don’t think they are very serious about photography and don’t want to involve themselves in the post-processing of their photos.  It’s the kind of camera that alot of (sometimes snooty) photographers pooh-pooh over.

OK, granted, SLRs definitely have better resolution, more lens choices, and alot more bells and whistles for a photographer to play around with, but I am here to tell you that you can get beautiful images from your point-and-shoot.  That fact was made crystal-clear to me when I attended a half-day seminar in Houston hosted by Nikon about 5-6 years ago.  The speaker (a well-known photographer whose name I absolutely cannot remember right now) had a 16 x 24 enlargement of a turtle taken with a 3mp camera he once owned.  I don’t know what kind of post-processing magic he used to get the size and resolution he got with that enlargement, but the fact that the image was captured using a point-and-shoot was what got all of the attendees’ attention.

I owned a sucession of point-and-shoot cameras long before I ever could afford to purchase my first digital SLR.  My very first digital camera was an HP-brand 2mp point-and-shoot and was my first foray into digital.  After that, the only time I ever used film for any further length of time was when I went into my medium-format phase.  After my HP camera, I bought a couple of Minolta Dimage point-and-shoot cameras between 2002 – 2004.  The images below are from those two cameras.  Of course, a little freshening up with some post-processing was applied, which doesn’t hurt a point-and-shoot image, by any means.  Oh, and (the 2004 images, anyway) look quite nice as 8×10 framed photos, btw.

If you like these images I shot using those early digital cameras with resolutions between 3 & 5mp, just think of the kind of images you can capture with today’s point-and-shoot models!


Filed under Photography, Point and Shoot

Brazos Bend State Park, Texas (Eliminating the Stir Crazies and Testing A Telephoto)

Normally, I like to stay home and go nowhere during my weekends and days off (when I don’t have a plane ticket to someplace out West, that is), because I commute 84 miles round trip to and from work every single day.  It gets old and I’ve been doing this for a little short of 14 years.  However, after an extended series of weekends at home, I began to get a little stir-crazy with cabin fever and needed to get out and about somewhere with my camera.  So this past Saturday (Jan 28), I took my cameras and a couple of lenses (including a rented Canon 70-300mmL IS lens) and hit the road to Brazos Bend State Park.

I used to joke “if you’ve seen one alligator, you’ve seen them all”, but I don’t really mean it.  This little photographic oasis out in the middle of nowhere is a wealth of photo ops – particularly of the winged kind.  Herons, birds of prey, moorhens, grebes, ibis, egrets – they all make this place their home (or at least, their stopover).  Deer, armadillos, snakes (poisonous and non-) also make their home in this park.

I don’t have much experience, really, with bird photography (or any wildlife photography, actually), but I’ve been looking at a number of birders who post their photos on Flickr, and I also had the pleasure of traveling with a bird photographer during my 2011 Ireland trip.  So I figured I should probably work on my photo techniques pertaining to wildlife.

During the winter months at the park, the birdlife is not as varied as it is during spring and summer.  And the alligators don’t really come out unless it’s a warm day.  So I have decided I should make at least three more trips out to the park: spring, summer, and autumn, and blog about the differences I see during each of the seasons.  This post is the Winter post.

I left my home at about 6:15AM and arrived at the park a few minutes prior to 7AM.  The park doesn’t open until 7AM on Saturdays, so I just sat in the car outside of the entrance and listened to all the birdsong, including the deep hooting of a nearby owl.  After paying my $7 entry fee, I headed down the road at 30mph, stopping along the way to allow some deer to cross.  This image was taken looking outside of my windshield.  Not the sharpest of images, but I didn’t yet have the correct camera settings and was in a hurry to get the shot before the deer scampered away (yes, I had stopped and the emergency brake was on – no photographing while driving for this kid).

My first stop was at Creekfield Lake, across from the visitor center.  Aside from the crows, my first wild fowl view was of what I call the “Buzzard Tree”.  Buzzards (aka vultures) are not a pretty bird, but their wingspans and appearance in the air certainly are impressive.

Creekfield Lake is a small lake but has the prettiest scenery around it, I think.  Although the day was forcasted to be clear, sunny, and in the upper 60’s, that morning at 7AM, it was overcast, very windy, and downright chilly.  I was pretty tickled because cloud cover always makes for interesting scenery shots.

Note the leading line of the trail and the fact that I used the rule-of-thirds for placement (ahem).

My next birdlife view (and audio experience) was of the coots (the bird kind, not the old men kind).  Those birds are on every lake in this park.  During this time of the season, they outnumber the other birdlife around the lake.

So I walked around the paved .5-mile interpretative nature loop, stopping now and then to photograph the coots and the various vegetative life, of which there is a wealth in that park.

They call these stumps “cypress knees”

Tree fungus

Spanish moss drifts and lands everywhere (for those of you who have read my posts regarding “rules” of photography, you will note that I not only did not use the rule-of-thirds with this image, but I placed it smack dab in the center (as I have done with a number of other images in this post).  Hah!  So much for “rules”.

I was hoping to spot a heron or egret or duck, but I didn’t see any of that this early in the morning around this lake.  I figured it must be the time of year.  I did see a bright splash of red from the corner of my eye while walking and I spotted a couple of cardinals (or “redbirds” as the locals call them).

I also had the good fortune to see a little blue bird high up in the tree limbs – I was told that – like lady bugs – to see a bluebird means you will have good luck.

Having used my tripod only for the landscape shots of the lake, I realized it was going to be a bit of a hindrance for me.  I tend to photograph “on the fly”, using a tripod mainly for landscapes and preferring to handhold the camera and lens when it comes to capturing images of moving subjects.  These little cardinals, for instance, were constantly moving.  So I lay the tripod down and began to test the handholding IS capability of this Canon 70-300mmL lens.  I like it!  Combined with a full-frame camera, the clarity of the images is wonderful – even after  75-100% crop.  And it’s a light lens (compared to the 70-200 lens).  I have small, arthritic hands, so this lens was great.  I’d use it for weddings (I have an upcoming wedding shoot) except that the lowest aperture on this lens is 4.5; unless the wedding is held outdoors during the day, they are usually interior, low-light affairs calling for a lens with the capability of at least f2.8.

For almost all of my images, the ISO was set to 640.  I learned this trick from a Flickr contact.  I set the ISO relatively high so that I could get super-fast shutter speeds in the sunlight in order to freeze a bird’s movement.  My aperture was set to 6.3 and the shutter speeds varied from 1/500 to 1/2000.

After circling Creekfield Lake, I returned to the car and drove back toward the park entrance and 40 Acre Lake.  While I am of the opinion that Creekfield Lake has the prettiest scenery, I believe 40 Acre Lake has the best wildlife viewing opportunities.  I ended up visiting this place twice – once during the early morning hours, and then again between noon and 2PM.  Turns out my second visit was a good choice; by then, the temperature and sun were warm enough to elicit the American Alligators to come out and bask in the warmth (I didn’t see them earlier in the morning, when it was much cooler and windier).

40 Acre Lake has a 1.2-mile trail encircling the water with an observation tower at the northeast corner.

As I was walking around the trail, a couple of photographers passed by, each one carrying two of the biggest Canon lenses on tripods that I have ever seen in my life!  Good thing those men were large themselves, because it would take a large person to lug one of those things around.  For a split second, I had “lens envy”, but after the two men passed on, I happily went about the business of testing the “little” telephoto lens I had rented.

Again, I saw plenty of coots,

but I also saw ibis,

roseate spoonbills (here’s an example of the great crop capabilities of the camera/telephoto combo about which I wrote earlier in this post),

The original image:

The cropped image:

a snowy egret,

a blue heron,

Original – can you spot the heron?

Crop #1:

Crop #2:

Fishing for breakfast:

another cardinal,


a cormorant,

plenty of Spanish moss,

fish (boats are prohibited but it’s free to fish, so many people were out with their poles and tackle boxes that morning),

and of course, alligators (6 different ones along the shore).

I saw a number of these “gator wallows” (my term, but maybe that’s what they actually are called) along the shoreline.

And another original vs. 75% crop:

While perambulating around the path, I naturally climbed up the observation tower for some views:

To the West

To the East

To the North

To the South

And to the Southwest (all of these observation tower images exemplify another one of those “rules” of photography: perspective)

During my walk, I saw the effects this long Texas drought has wrought.  All along the non-lake sides, what once flowed with dark water and brilliant green pond scum was now a dry dusty green and brown.

As I continued along the trail back to the parking lot, I stopped to photograph some tree bark, thus bringing to mind another one of those “rules” I have written about:  pattern (and texture).

Another stop I made while in the park was to Hale Lake.   I didn’t stay long there, though, because I was beginning to poop out and feel the effects of my slightly sunburnt face.  I had a little trouble finding the lake (drove right past the trail) and hiked about half a mile out of my way before realizing my mistake.

Hale Lake is what I call an “oxbow” lake – a part of the Brazos River that was eventually cut off and bypassed in favor of an easier route for the river water to flow.

By 2PM, cars and crowds had multiplied exponentially – time for me to head home and process the photos.   I had a great day at the park.  Cabin fever and stir crazies are banished and I came away with some wonderful images.

Plus, I know now that Spring is just around the corner (in Texas, that is).

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Filed under birds, Brazos Bend State Park, nature, Parks, Photography, wildlife


The first time I ever really took notice of hummingbirds was when I was married and still living in Seattle some 17 years ago.  My then-husband was looking for some recreational property and we took a boat ride with a real estate agent (who seriously believed he had the power to read minds and make people do what he wished…..) out to an island off of Anacortes.  We were investigating a beautiful log house under construction at the top of a hill (while trying to keep our distance from the nutty agent), and I was looking out the huge then-glassless picture window.  All of a sudden, I heard a loud buzzing noise which I attributed to a large bumble bee I couldn’t see.  Like magic (practically scaring me out of my wits), this little creature with loudly humming wings zipped up and hovered a few inches from my face before just as quickly disappearing, leaving me enchanted.

Now that I live in Southeast Texas, I actually have greater access to these busy little creatures….in September (I’ve since learned they come across my area in the spring too, but I’ve never really noticed them before except during September).  SE Texas is a sort of “stopover” for  the Ruby-Throated hummingbird on their migratory trek from the far north of Canada down into South America.

By September, they are hungry, their energy reserves rapidly depleted but with still a very long way to travel.  So my parents would set out two to five feeders filled with nectar (do NOT use honey and do NOT use food coloring).  Anywhere from one to 19 birds would flock around the feeders’ flower-shaped feeding funnels.

I learned then just how territorial these little guys are.  Often they would spend more time chasing away interlopers than actually stopping to sip from the straw.

Getting a great photo of these teeny little birdies is quite the trick sometimes, unless you are very patient and have lots of time to stand around or sit nearby a feeder.  Hummers are skittish, but because they soooo want that sweet stuff in the feeders, they get over their shyness pretty quickly and will ignore you if you don’t move around much.

What I discovered during my various hummingbird photo shoots is that my two best friends are a telephoto lens you can handhold, and a flash.  I’ve tried the tripod route, with some small measure of success, but handholding a lens with image stabilization allowed for a greater number of good photos.  For me, a flash was necessary to stop the wing action and get a clear shot under normally shadowed circumstances, since my images were usually captured in the morning hours (one of the few times I actually like using a flash).  Oh, and it goes without saying that fast shutter speeds are quite helpful – especially if you aren’t using a flash.

The images in this post were taken between 2006 and 2009.  I didn’t take any photos during 2010 or 2011 (Dad died in 2010 and neither Mom nor I thought to set out any feeders in 2011).  I’ll try to remedy that this year.  One thing to remember if you are going to set out feeders yourself:  change the sugar solution often (if it hasn’t been emptied out by hungry hummers, that is).  The solution has a tendancy to go sour pretty quickly, which can make the little guys sick.  Nobody wants that!

So read up on hummingbirds, look at other photographers’ images, find out the best places in your area to see these cuties, and have some photographic fun with them!


Filed under hummingbirds, nature, Photography, wildlife

Dance! Capturing The Art

While I may not necessarily be that fond of Texas (I’m a Montana mountain gal), I willingly admit that living in this state has afforded me some great opportunities to make the acquaintance of and photograph some very interesting people:

Entertainers out at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as the Gypsy Dance Theatre,

various performers within the King’s Feasthall at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as The Cannibal Tudors,

and performers with the Colombian Orchid Ballet.

I enjoy photographing dancers working their magic, but capturing a dance image can be a tricky task.  For me, it’s mainly because the lighting is not always optimal, and during those times when the lighting is pretty decent, the stage setting may not be the prettiest.  I would love to try photographing performances of the Houston Ballet and downtown Hobby Center musicals – especially since I don’t use flash – but the ushers are eagle-eyed and I would rather be able to enjoy the performance sans camera than risk being kicked out of a show for which I paid alot of money.

So, how do I capture the art of the dance?  In addition to aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO adjustments, I also use the rules about which I have written in previous posts:

5 Rules of Photography In No Particular Order

A Few More “Rules” Of Photography (To Be Followed Or Not)

Following are some images I’ve captured over the past 3 years with tips on how I took them as well as other tidbits you may or may not find interesting.

The photo below is of Soraya during the fire dance performance of the Gypsy Dance Theatre out at the TX Renaissance Festival.  For this image and the fire dance image shown near the beginning of this post, I used my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens (I’ve since traded it in for the Canon 85mm L lens, but this 1.8 lens is a good lens – light and easy to handle and produces wonderful images).  I used a high ISO of 5000 in order to get some faster shutter speeds (this one used a shutter speed of 400).  While the photo looks like night, the actual surrounding area was more like dusk, so the trick of using a high ISO in order to apply some really fast shutter speeds is a trick that rodeo photographer John Hamilton uses for his fantastic daylight rodeo action images.  I didn’t even have to use any noise-reduction software to these images.  Soraya’s dance was slow, so it was easy to capture some nice clear shots.

I used a Canon 17-40mm lens and a less-fast ISO and shutter speed (1000, 1/125) for this shot of Florita and her fire arcs.  She moved around a bit more, and what I ended up doing was just holding down on the shutter release button and letting the camera click, click, click; I do this alot, actually, when photographing dancers – with both IS and non-IS lenses – because I am generally assured of at least one nice, clear image out of the series.  I cropped out extraneous crowds.  Most of the dance photos I have captured are usually against less-than-desirable backgrounds.  Just the nature of the location.

His character name is Istan Bull-kebobs and he was one of the acting cast members in the King’s Feast show back in 2009 at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  A former Houston ballet dancer, this young man was wonderful to watch (how often does the King’s Feast get a real live ballet dancer in its midst??)  Photographing him was realllly difficult.  The lighting in the Feast Hall sucks photographically.  Oh, if I had used flash, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I HATE using flash in that place.  The light is harsh, it bugs the hell out of the performers and the Feast patrons, and it elicits icky shadows.  So, I used an ISO of 1500 with a 24-105mm lens at a shutter speed of 1/30 and aperture of f4 and held down on the shutter release.  In retrospect, I should have used a higher ISO with that lens so I could have gotten a bit of a faster shutter (although I would have had to apply more noise reduction).  I made it my mission throughout that renfaire season to attempt a relatively clear capture of Istan dancing, and I managed to pull off a couple of winners.

The fan dancing image below was taken at the 2010 Graduate International Culture Night at Rice University in Houston.  The stage setting for these wonderful dances was terrible – an awful background for photography.  And the lighting sucked – basically it was provided by a couple of colorful strobes.  I used a Canon 70-200 telephoto (with IS, since the photos I took that night were all hand held), and ISO of 6400, shutter speed of 1/80, and an aperture of f2.8.  The resulting photos definitely needed noise reduction applied.  And in the case of this photo, I cropped the image in order for the viewer to focus more on the lovely dancers (I’ve included the before- and after-cropped images)

Below is Gypsy Dance Theatre performer Soraya and her snake in the King’s Feasthall of the TX Renfest, using my Canon 50mm (f1.4) prime at an ISO if 1600, shutter speed of 1/60 and aperture of 2.5

Below is a new-age dance performance by Top Cat Dance during the Houston Fringe Festival (a performing arts festival) at the Hope Stone Center.  I managed to get one single decent image of this particular dance because the only light source I had was the black light used in this performance.  No tripod because the movement was constant (I’ve never used a tripod for any of my dance shots).  Lens: 70-200, ISO 6400, shutter speed 1/80, aperture f2.8.  Focusing was a bitch.  Noise-reduction software applied.

Below is a demonstration of Cumbia (a Colombian dance) by the Colombian Orchid Ballet in Houston’s Rice University student center.  I cropped this image because I wanted to focus on principal dancer Dalila.  I also wanted to eliminate as much of the less-than-desireable background as possible.  As usual, lighting was not the best, I did not use a tripod, and movement was constant, so I held down on the shutter button and used a high ISO.  This image I also converted to monochrome, as you can see below.  I like the use of monochrome with people and with landscapes because black & white is wonderful at showing the subtle nuances of light, shadow, and texture – stuff that color images don’t always delineate as well.

Ah, now the lighting in the photos below was prime, but the stage setting sucked and sometimes it was just not worth it to try and clone out the crap (although I did managed to clone out some intrusive microphones – and this was prior to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill).  This image and the other two below were taken at the Houston iFest during a performance of the Colombian Orchid Ballet.  They demonstrated the Cumbia, along with some wonderfully energetic dances featuring the Marimondas and El Hombre Caiman (Colombian Folkloric dancing).

The image with the hand prints on the background was taken in a large ball-room area of the Rice University Student Center.  Lighting was better than usual, but still not optimal.  I like this image, but it may be a little bit too “busy”.  I try to stick (more or less) to a photographic rule which I didn’t list in either of my posts:  simplicity.  That rule is totally optional, and it’s probably not even a “rule”.

These next images were taken during the Houston Fringe Festival mentioned above.  The Colombian Orchid Ballet performed at two different venues on two different evenings.  This venue was at the Houston Met Dance Center.  For that evening, I was all dressed up nice and pretty (I always try to put forth a professional appearance, although I was probably over dressed for this one event as it was during a Houston summer).  The venue was a large gymnasium.  I discovered a series of stairs leading up to a dilapidated balcony overlooking the performances and I made full use of my 70-200 and 24-105mm lenses.  The balcony was used for storage and I had to watch my step in my heels.  Oh, and it was sweltering up there!  I captured not only the Colombian Orchid Ballet, but also another new-agey sort of dance company whose name I cannot remember.

So there you have it – my attempts at capturing the art of Dance.  For the most part, I’ve been successful in capturing some pretty good images.  And I’ve had some wonderful models with whom to work.  Maybe my information will give you the impetus to go out there and try your hand at dance photography.


Filed under dance, Photography

Copyrighting Your Photography – It’s So Important


The other day, I was in my Flickr site looking through my Contacts’ photos.  One of my contacts Aaron Reed listed a link in his commentary to one Tom Schwabel, another Flickr member whose photographs are stunning.  Tom had written a very detailed commentary on the importance of copyrighting one’s photos and why photographers should register their images with the U.S. Copyright Agency.  Unfortunately, Flickr ultimately requested Tom to remove his commentary because of reports of abuse.  I read his commentary and saw no abuse whatsoever.  As Tom put it: “Apparently the picture nabbers don’t like it when information is posted that may hinder their picture nabbing habits.”

I have no illusions to the fact that my photos have been nabbed by somebody somewhere. Due to my own stupidity for not registering my images in a timely manner, or for uploading a photo that might have a higher resolution than I should have uploaded, I’m sure my images are probably on some cheap computer screensaver or in some magazine near or far.  It seems to be the nature of the business and I have to determine whether or not I want to go after these yahoos – is it worth it to me and can I afford it.  Questions for me to think about that I always pushed aside.  There are people out there who – rather than take the initiative to be creative themselves, or to pay for the use of a photograph – have no problems whatsoever stealing someone else’s photographic work and claiming it as their own work for their own purpose.

About a week ago, some guy from Europe wrote to ask me to please remove my copyright mark and send him (for free) a higher-resolution version of one of my Ireland photos so he could print it out and give it to his girlfriend for a birthday present.  After I had a conniption fit, I sat down to my laptop and wrote back to him, explaining why I would NOT do what he wanted and why it would be better for him (morally and ethically, if for no other reason) to purchase that photo from my website.  He’d be getting a better-resolution image and it would certainly look nicer than what he would have gotten from that one jpg to which he was referring.  I’m sure he probably went ahead and either cloned out or cropped out my copyright mark and printed that low-res shot for his gal.

I received another request a month or so ago from an Eastern European travel magazine who wanted me to send them – for free – my entire Ireland photo collection so they could print the photos in their magazine; they couldn’t pay me because they were on a tight budget…..I told them no.

I generally don’t re-blog stuff, eschewing that in favor of my own writing (ok, a little hubris here).  However, I personally thought Tom’s piece important enough to post here and I hope the photographers who read this post will think about all of this.  I certainly thought about this and am now in the process of registering all of my precious images.  I should have done this eons ago.

Please note, this is a very long post – also, as Tom notes below, he is not an attorney – this post is taken from his own experiences.  He wrote this because he wants fellow photographers to be aware of what can (and does) happen to images.  Thanks, Tom, for letting me re-print this on my blog.

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” It is inevitable that, if you are fairly active here, someone will eventually profit from your work without your permission. No, I’m not talking about bloggers. I’m talking about a person or business that should have paid for your work. Maybe they’ll sell your photo on greeting cards. Or maybe use some software to upsize your photo and sell it on large canvas for hundreds of dollars. Or use it to advertise a multi-thousand dollar photo safari. Or license it to others as low-resolution religious microstock. I’ve even heard of someone who found out from contacts that one of his Flickr photos had won a large prize in a major photo contest. Only he hadn’t entered any contests. Someone else had borrowed his photo, entered it as their own, and claimed the prize. Flickr is the wild-wild-west of the internet: the de-facto free stock photography library. No, you didn’t hear that everything here is public domain?

The consequences of someone “borrowing” your work can be larger than you think, beyond the license money you might have missed out on because of the borrowing itself. Suppose someone approaches you to exclusively license your work for a big ad campaign, a deal which could be worth thousands to you. Well, we can all dream, right? As part of clearing the deal, a lawyer plugs your image into Google or TinEye (more on that later) and sees it on 100’s of other sites, even other people’s photostreams right here on Flickr, credited to other people. They walk away from the deal because they can’t be sure you own the work thanks to all of those copies credited to other people. They don’t want to risk being sued for infringement because they were sold a license to use the image by someone who wasn’t authorized to do so. Sure, one innocent blogger adding your picture to their blog won’t hurt. But there are billions of people on this planet. So the collective group of innocent borrowing bloggers doesn’t look so innocent anymore. Think it can’t happen? Trust me, it can and has. Though copyright law isn’t quite like trademark law, failing to protect your copyright NOW can make it harder to obtain fair compensation for your work down the road. For example, a judge isn’t likely to award you very much should you end up in an infringement suit if he sees that you have ignored tons of infringements you were aware of in the past.

Rather than fuming when someone grabs your stuff, be prepared to do something about it. But before I talk about what to do once you’ve been infringed, let’s talk about what to do before you get infringed. Hopefully to prevent the infringement, but at least to be prepared to make the strongest possible response to an infringement case.

The material that follows isn’t legal advice and I am not a lawyer. If you think you need actual legal advice, seek a lawyer. This is just a summary of my experience in these matters. It might make your head hurt. Your mileage may vary considerably. But hopefully, it will help you understand a bit more about the complicated matters surrounding protecting the work so many of us are passionate about creating. You are free to link to this, reproduce excerpts from this text, or reproduce the text (but not my photo!) in entirety on the sole condition that you provide credit and a link back to my photostream. If you have anything to add or suggestions on changes, please contact me. This is a living document.


It is true that you own a copyright to any work you create from the moment you press you camera’s shutter button. This means there is actually very little content out there that is not copyrighted. The oft-used, “I didn’t know it was copyrighted excuse” is a load of steaming hot crap. In most countries you need not do anything special to defend your copyright.

In the USA, things are a little different. You can’t take a case to court without a registration. Without a timely registration, you are limited to actual damages (infringers’ profits attributed to the infringement and/or lost license fees) and cannot recover legal fees from an infringer. Most of the time actual damages won’t be terribly large so you’d need a pretty big fish to make back your costs lacking a registration (even for a basic cease and desist notice you’d be looking at a few hundred USD in costs). While you can register anytime, a timely copyright registration provides for a vastly enhanced statutory damage award of up to USD $150,000 plus reimbursement for legal fees and costs should you end up in court. No need to prove actual damages. This can make it very much worthwhile to pursue infringements, however small. It is amazing how the threat of a $150,000 lawsuit over a registered copyright brings compliance. Not only that, but you’ll find many attorneys willing to take your case on contingency if you have a timely registration (assuming that the infringer looks to have some money they can part with). By timely, I mean that you must register your copyright with the US Copyright Office within 3 months of first publication or prior to the start of the infringement in question (but not the start of ANY infringement, fortunately). In other words, if you register your images within 3 months, you are fully protected. If you register after 3 months, you’ll be protected but only for those infringements that start after the effective date of registration.

Thanks to the electronic registration process (eCO), registering your copyrights isn’t as tedious as it used to be. Gone are the days of long paper forms. Read the information below carefully. Your registration application must be as accurate as possible should it ever be challenged in a dispute. The first thing a defense lawyer will attempt to do is invalidate your copyright registration to eliminate the statutory damage award. That said, it seems many courts are relatively forgiving of mistakes in registration so long as they are innocent.


Currently, eCO does not allow for group registration of published photos. However, there is a pilot program to enable this on eCO for which you can register to participate. With the help of some perl scripting, I registered my entire photostream using the pilot. See additional information on the Pilot program for Group Registration of Published Photos:


A group registration of published images can be done for $35 and can include any number of images, just so long as they are published in the same year. You’ll need separate applications for each year. There is some debate as to what published means in the context of the internet. According to the US Copyright Office, publication is defined as such:

Publication has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, “Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.” Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public.

Simply showing prints or a slideshow to others does not constitute publication. Posting images to a private website might not be considered publication either. However, I would consider posting publically viewable images to Flickr as publication. If in doubt about whether a photo is already published, it is always safer to register as published and later change to unpublished. The reverse (unpublished to published) is problematic. See http://www.photoattorney.com/?p=48.

So, it pays to promptly register your copyrights. In fact, the method recommended by the ASMP is to register your photos as unpublished before you ever even share them. You would not need to re-register them when you publish them. But if you’re like me and too excited to share some fabulous new image you got over the weekend, waiting to register before you show off your image could be a problem. If you are impatient like me, registering your published images every three or so months will keep you covered for the most part. If nothing else, REGISTER YOUR COPYRIGHTS immediately if you ever get your work published to a widespread audience. It could be the best $35 to $65 you ever spend on your photography. That said, remember that the US Copyright Registration will only help you for infringements in the USA, but finding even one could pay for all of your registration fees.

So now you’ve registered your images. What else can you do to be prepared?


The best cure for copyright issues is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Many ask why I post unsharpened, low quality JPEGs on Flickr, complete with ugly watermarks. Watermarks…we all hate them. They are ugly. The requirement that copyrighted work must bear a copyright notice hasn’t existed for decades (yet, it is still a common misconception or excuse that it must), either in the USA or elsewhere. Everyone just crops or clones out watermarks anyway. So why watermark? For one, I’ve discovered most folks just aren’t interested in ripping off your stuff if it has your advertising (watermark) in it, not theirs. They’re lazy. That’s why they are ripping off stuff without asking in the first place. They’ll move on and find another image that doesn’t need to be cropped or cloned. If they rip it off anyway, at least it might still have your name on it. I’ve also included “flickr” in the watermark to indicate where they stole it from, in the astronomically small chance that someone did want to contact me for legitimately using the image.

Supposing an infringer was to crop out your watermark, their ability to successfully claim innocent infringement will be substantially reduced. In the U.S., the statutory damage award could be reduced to a mere $200 plus legal fees if the defense successfully proves innocent infringement. Similar principles may be found in the laws of other countries. For example, in Italy, copyright damages are only awarded by courts in the case of dated, named photos mentioning the author, essentially what would be covered with a watermark. If the exemplars do not contain such indications, it is mandatory to prove the bad faith of user. While it may be possible to prove bad faith of the average Flickr photo-nabber who nabbed an un-watermarked image, I’d rather not chance it.

But there is yet another very important reason to watermark in the U.S. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§1202, Integrity of copyright management information) calls for minimum statutory damages of USD $2,500.00 (and up to $25,000) per work for alteration of copyright management information. Thus, if an infringer in the U.S. clones out your watermark, you could be awarded an additional $25,000 ON TOP OF any damages for copyright infringement itself. This is the one case in the U.S. where you can collect statutory damages without a prior copyright registration. A healthy digital workflow also adds EXIF information to image files. Not only is this important from a copyright perspective (even more copyright management information), many agencies will require this information to be populated anyway.

Hopefully, people who might want to use your work will see past the watermark to know if your image is a good one. That said, you can’t make your watermark so ugly or your image quality so low that you drive people away. The key here is to make it tasteful but functional. That’s NOT something I’ve personally mastered yet. I wish I could show my honest contacts and friends the best versions of my work. I am punished on pretty badly on 500px, where people can be brutally honest, for showing those small, blurry, watermarked shots. So it can hurt your exposure. Showing my work at its best makes it attractive to thieves, and I’m just not into having my work dragged around the internet. You need to strike your own balance between exposure and protecting your work. Lately I’ve given up with tasteful watermarks because so many people still crop it, and many of them are out of reach of the US DMCA. Surely, though, my stuff is crap. Nobody is going to steal it. I think you’d be surprised. I’ve had photos ripped off that I honestly thought were turds. So how do you find them?

 Finding Infringements

There are a growing number of great resources for locating copies of your work online. They are based on image “fingerprinting” technology, which allows you to search for an image using an image. At a high level, I think these work by downsizing your image to a very small image (say 32×32 pixels) with a very limited number of colors to create the fingerprint. The fingerprint is then compared to a database of fingerprints from images crawled around the web; obviously far easier said than done. They’re able to find matches, even if the image has been resized, cropped, has had watermarks added or removed, borders added or removed, etc. It can and sometimes does find false positives and you should watch for that. One common false positive I get is the autumn maple tree in the Portland Japanese Garden, of which many people have similar shots under similar conditions. Anyway, I’ve listed two below:


Go to http://www.tineye.com. Either upload or provide a link to a jpeg file. Their search database is rather small, but they were the first or one of the first to make this technology available. They seem to be able to correctly match images that have been modified quite a bit from the original.


Go to images.google.com. Click on the image of the camera to the right of the search box. Enter the URL of one of your images (you need the actual URL of the jpeg file, not the spaceball.gif that Flickr overlays on your image pages to prevent right-click downloading) and click search. Their search database is HUGE. The drawback is that their matching technology doesn’t seem quite as good as TinEye’s.

For Mozilla users, searching for matches on these and a few other search engines is combined into one handy add-on: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/who-stole-my-pictures/

There is also this handy little tool to make searches easier to do, which uses Google and can be made into a bookmark. Go to the page with the original image, click on the bookmark, and then click on the image you wish to search. I know it works with IE but can’t vouch for any other browsers: http://jarred.github.com/src-img/

You may be surprised by what you find. Probably over 90% of the uses of my images are unauthorized. Due to the viral nature of the internet, once an image gets out into the wild, it goes EVERYWHERE. FAST. Often infringers will add their own watermarks to your images. Through this I can literally trace the progression of some of my images around the internet as watermarks are added and deleted along the way. Yes, infringers infringe from other infringers. Here’s an idea – if you find a contact’s picture somewhere unexpected, be nice and ask them if they know about it. Bet they probably didn’t. If we all police each other’s images, we’ll be sending the message that it isn’t open season on Flickr images.

So now you’ve found some things that don’t belong. What next?

Found an Infringement?

 Before you do ANYTHING:

1. Take screenshots of any infringement you might end up pursuing.

2. Check the internet archive (aka Wayback Machine) to see if you can find out how long the infringement has been there. http://www.archive.org/web/web.php I’ve used information gathered from this archive to successfully shoot down infringer excuses before, often leading to payment of my demand shortly thereafter. I don’t provide the information I find here to infringers in the initial communications. When they say it has been there only a week and I then show them it has been there 6 months, I’ve just demonstrated bad faith on their part.

3. Save any and all correspondence you might have with the infringing party.

You will need all of this as evidence. Once you have secured screenshots and supporting information, you have several options to deal with infringements, in increasing levels of escalation:

1. Do nothing. 2. Ask for credit if there is none. 3. Ask for the image to be removed. 4. File a DMCA notice with the hosting provider to remove the image. 5. Send a cease and desist and settlement demand yourself. 6. Have a lawyer in the infringer’s country send a cease and desist and settlement demand. 7. File a lawsuit in the infringer’s country.

When deciding what to do about a copyright infringement, one needs to consider the potential upsides and downsides of taking different courses of action. For me the choice between less extreme and more extreme options depends on whether the infringement is personal or commercial in nature. In the latter, there is a clear financial loss. There are a few caveats I’ll get to later. Be sure to look at those before doing anything.

The Low Key Approaches: Doing Nothing or Asking for a Photo Credit

In many cases, such as personal blogs which receive considerable amounts of traffic (beware that many “personal” blogs derive substantial advertising income using the posted content to drive traffic, these I cannot consider “personal”), it could be best to try turning a negative into a positive. If you can get the blog owner to add a link to your photo page along with a credit, maybe the extra traffic and free advertising is worth something. If nothing else, the link backs improve the chances that someone finds your legitimate stuff in a search engine. Maybe you’ll even politely show someone the error of their ways – the “everything on the internet is free” attitude is too prevalent these days. Chances are a blogger would never have paid to license your image anyway, so you haven’t really lost much from that infringement. If everything is already properly linked, credited, and not used in a commercial context, the best option is probably to leave it alone. But be sure to level set your expectations from a photo credit. I’ll have a rant on that later.

The DMCA Notice

Much of the time you’ll find infringements on blogs or media sharing sites where a photo credit or link isn’t really practical or possible. Occasionally you’ll find commercial uses where it is unlikely you’ll actually be able to get to the infringer (perhaps the contact information seems bogus or it is someone in a country with weak IP protection). Often contacting the infringer directly is impractical or requires you to register with some site. And contacting infringers directly and dealing with their multitude of excuses is a pain. If the site is hosted in the USA, the powerful DMCA comes into play. Fortunately, a majority of sites out there are hosted in the USA. Service providers are legally required to block or remove content “expeditiously” when they receive one of these, and you don’t need a lawyer to write or send one of these. Usually you’ll find instructions on how to send a DMCA on the service provider’s abuse or terms of service page somewhere. The basic requirements are standard across the board (they’re specified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, aka DMCA) so I have my own template I use for every notice. The requirements are as follows:

‘‘(i) A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed. ‘‘(ii) Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site. ‘‘(iii) Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material. ‘‘(iv) Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted. ‘‘(v) A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. ‘‘(vi) A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

The last two components are particularly important; without them the ISP will not act on your notice. While not necessary, I add extra verbiage to point out that my work is registered and what the potential penalties can be. Most providers are very prompt and remove the illegal version of your picture within 72 hours. If they fail to comply with the notice, you can sue them for the infringement as opposed to the infringer. Sometimes providers in other countries will also honor a DMCA notice (in my experience this works about 40% of the time). Not only does it get your images removed, but some sites have multiple infringement policies that get users kicked off for receiving repeated infringement complaints. And a nasty note from an ISP to an infringer carries more weight than a personal note from you.

So how do you locate the hosting ISP? I use http://www.dnsstuff.com. Run a trace route and then look up the IP address using the WHOIS lookup. Of course this is one of a million sites that allow you to determine the hosting provider of an IP address. Do whatever works for you.

One note though. There seems to be a number of sites that claim to host “user generated content” but in fact use their own “DMCA policy” in an attempt to avoid liability for their own misdeeds. If they are not registered as an ISP with the Copyright Office, have actual knowledge of infringements on their site, obtain financial benefit directly attributable to infringement on their site, or do not have contact information or policies conforming to the requirements, they may not actually have any safe harbor status. http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/

According to the DMCA, Section 512 (c) (2), safe harbor requires, among other things:

(2) Designated agent. — The limitations on liability established in this subsection apply to a service provider only if the service provider has designated an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringement described in paragraph (3), by making available through its service, including on its website in a location accessible to the public, and by providing to the Copyright Office, substantially the following information: …

I sometimes challenge such sites if they appear to be abusing the DMCA. I have yet to attempt collection of damages from such sites, but the thought has crossed my mind often. Sometimes you’ll come across some site in a foreign country where the ISP either fails to respond or requires you to obtain a lawyer and follow the legal process of their country for removal. For non-commercial infringements obviously this isn’t practical. For this you have another option: you can file a DMCA with Google and/or Bing to have the infringing image removed from their search catalog. Though they are not actually hosting the content, they will act to limit their exposure to contributory liability for providing links to the infringement(s). Not as good as eliminating the infringement itself, obviously, but at least it will be harder for others to find it.


Elevating Tensions: The Demand Letter

A business using or selling your photo is making money from your stuff. They should have paid for the use of your image. And you’re not getting anything. That’s THEFT. Hurry up and prepare to make a strong response to the infringement. If you can get their true identity and contact information, sending a letter claiming copyright infringement and asking for money is usually the first step in escalating an infringement case. However, before sending that letter yourself, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I made the mistake with a few early cases of asking for too little, just to guarantee a settlement. After gaining experience with a few cases where escalation with a lawyer was required, the eye-watering settlement amounts in the lawyer’s demand letters made me realize this. The amount the lawyer demanded was 5-10x what I would have requested in the beginning. If you stop to think about it, however, asking for an amount that is equivalent to what you would have legally licensed the image for sends a message that it is worth it to infringe your images. At worst, the infringer gets caught and has to pay the usual license fee. At best, they pay nothing. Where is the incentive to license your image? So, unless you have done your homework and know exactly what you are doing, contacting them first could severely damage your case and limit what you might get. Don’t undermine yourself. For your first case or two, it may be best to have a lawyer make first contact so you gain an understanding of the process. If you do send a letter, make sure any demand for money includes something to the effect of “for settlement purposes only” to make it clear that amount you are demanding is only applicable to a settlement.

Some talking points for your letter might include:

1. Point out the copyright laws in the infringer’s jurisdiction. Be specific. Instead of writing “according to copyright law in your country”, write “according to Italian Law No. 633 of April 22, 1941, for the Protection of Copyright & Neighboring Rights, as amended (Legge 22 aprile 1941, n. 633, Legge a protezione del diritto d’autore e di altri diritti connessi al suo esercizio).” If their jurisdiction allows for a large statutory damage award, mention it. If you have a registration, mention it, even if it is not applicable to the infringer’s jurisdiction. If the infringer is in the USA and violated the DMCA by cropping your watermark, mention it. Make it clear to the infringer that you have done your homework and know exactly what your options are. If you don’t have a registration (yet), you don’t have to mention that fact, but of course don’t lie about it.

2. If you sell prints or license your work anywhere, perhaps through Getty or some other agency, mention this fact so it is clear that you are suffering an income loss. Provide a link to your highest priced portfolio so they can verify how much you typically license your work for.

3. Provide a price quote using Getty or an online stock photo price calculator for a similar rights-managed (RM) usage to the infringing usage.

4. Point out that you would rather not involve a lawyer and thus will offer to settle for a more reasonable amount than the legal maximums. Make it clear that you will pursue further action if they don’t comply.

Sometimes this approach works. I’ve collected settlements both inside and outside the US using settlement demand letters sent myself. Obviously, the letters are more effective when you and the infringer are both in the same country. But I am always prepared with a backup plan, because often this does not work and further escalation is necessary. Keep any settlement demand letter professional and stick to the facts – make it very clear you know your options and are prepared to use them. As suggested in my talking points, research the laws and legal system in the infringer’s country and attempt to locate some local law firms that could help you. Approach settlement demand letters with every intention of following through with whatever amount of escalation is required. Most importantly, don’t threaten. No, “if you don’t pay, I’ll sue you” as that could be construed as coercion.

Some folks would argue to go softer on infringers in hopes of turning them into future buyers of your images. Perhaps even negotiate a license for the infringer to continue using the image(s) they swiped. While this is completely up to you, I haven’t found any cases where I believe an infringer would ever provide me with future business.

Enter the Lawyer

If either your self-sent demand letter fails or you decide to move straight to this step, you’ll need to find a lawyer in the country where the infringement is taking place. Generally speaking, if it isn’t in the U.S., don’t bother getting a U.S. lawyer. A U.S. court can’t enforce a decision overseas. Some countries have no meaningful IP protection. We all know which countries those are. Don’t bother with them. Sheila has been kind enough to start maintaining a list of lawyers in different countries. I have used a few on this list; many work on contingency:


The lawyer will need to evaluate whether taking action is worth it, hopefully before you start running up a bill. In most countries outside the USA, damages are limited to actual damages, meaning the actual license fees you lost out on or the profits made by the infringer using your image. In Germany (and I suspect many other EU countries), the damages also include legal fees and are doubled if the infringer didn’t have the courtesy to credit you when infringing your image. Unfortunately, few countries outside the USA allow for contingency arrangements. This means you’ll need to risk losing a few hundred bucks (typically USD $400 to $800 for a demand letter). Some lawyers will require this up front; some will deduct this from the settlement amount or court award if the action is successful. If it isn’t successful, you’re out some change. Thus, pick your targets VERY carefully. The object is to come out ahead, not in the hole. Make it a business decision, not a personal crusade to stick it to the infringer. As I mentioned in the section on registration, the USA is quite different. You’ll generally need that copyright registration certificate to make pushing forward worthwhile. Having that certificate in hand will lower your risk since you may be able to find a lawyer willing to take your case on contingency, lured by the potential of large statutory damages.

You’ll also need to weigh the financial solvency of the infringer and the probability that you’ll be able to settle out of court. You really don’t want to end up in court if you can avoid it. Your infringer probably doesn’t either because it runs up a pretty big bill fast. It is USD $300 just to file in a Federal District Court (you MUST file copyright cases in Federal Court, not small claims court – probably for this reason many image licensing agreements include a 5 to 10x charge for improper use that can be pursued under contract law as opposed to copyright law), and that doesn’t include the bundle your lawyer is going to charge. A trial in Germany is actually a bargain at EUR 2400. In South Africa, a trial will cost between USD $3,200 and USD $16,000. And we all know how expensive litigation is here in the USA. You must also consider the case where your infringer is bankrupt: you could receive no compensation and be stuck paying your own legal bills, leaving you substantially in the hole. Again, a contingency arrangement makes cases in the USA a no-brainer.

Keep in mind these matters often take several months to resolve. Even without a lawyer a settlement usually takes about a month. With a lawyer expect it to take 3-6 months. While lawyer-facilitated resolutions have taken a long time and I haven’t received much more after accounting expenses than I would have going it myself, those that have ignored my self-sent demand letters have often paid dearly for doing so. Hopefully they have learned a valuable and hard lesson.

Additional Note: Prior to engaging a lawyer, you may want to consider the tax consequences of a lawyer-facilitated settlement or court judgment, particularly if photography is only a hobby and not a business. You may end up paying taxes on the full settlement amount, not the amount you actually received. Something to consider particularly if the lawyer’s contingency percentage is high as you could pay more in taxes than you actually receive!

 The Gotchas

The point of the following is to illustrate that copyright law is complicated, especially here in the United States. Make sure you have a clear case before proceeding. Otherwise you could find yourself being sued!

Derivative Works?

The case that prompted the original version of this post was interesting due to the fact that the infringer claimed to be selling my photograph as an original oil painting. The infringer couldn’t have had the full-size original image. Either it was a print from an upsized image or an actual painting. We’ll never really know. The website selling the paintings was using my actual photograph. And it really doesn’t matter if they were paintings or not. No substantial creativity was added to the original work. The original copyright still applies. It does raise an interesting dilemma for us photographers though. Just as making a piece of art from a photograph may encounter copyright issues, taking a picture of a piece of art can cause trouble. Everyone knows the sculpture of the bull on Wall Street, right? A couple of years ago, the sculptor slapped copyright infringement suits on a bunch of folks that were selling photographs of his bull. I believe he won. Even if he didn’t, the targets of his actions spent quite a bit defending themselves from his claims. Something to keep in mind if you begin selling your photography and it substantially includes anything that might be construed as someone else’s work. Note that an exception is made for architecture in the USA (but not necessarily other countries). So we’re really only concerned with sculptures and artwork here.

Fair Use?

You may get bloggers who attempt to use “Fair Use” as a defense for using your image without permission (or attribution). Fair use is mostly a concept in US Copyright Law. One of the four points for evaluating fair use requires that the original work is not substantially duplicated. Unless they are displaying only a thumbnail of your picture or a very small crop, it is unlikely that the courts would find in favor of the fair use defense (US Courts did rule that fair use applies in the case of thumbnails in an image search engine). I am much more sympathetic to this argument if my work is properly linked to the source, credited, and not used in any sort of commercial context.

I once got a really amusing excuse when someone tried to claim a little known copyright exemption for religious worship:

§ 110. Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the following are not infringements of copyright:

(3) performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work or of a dramatico-musical work of a religious nature, or display of a work, in the course of services at a place of worship or other religious assembly; I had to look that one up. No, it does not apply to the sale of my image in religiously-themed Powerpoint presentations for use by religious organizations. They eventually ended up paying up.

 The Worthless Value of a Photo Credit

I promised a rant on photo credits. So here it is. A few years ago, an image of mine appeared as Photo of the Day on a major worldwide photography magazine’s website front page, as a result of my submission to their photography contest. Did the magazine tell me about it? No. Did I get anything for it? No. Safe to say hundreds of thousands of people probably saw my photo and photo credit. Surely, all of that attention must have been good for something, right? WRONG. Did I sell a single print or license a single image as a direct or indirect consequence of my photo credit? NO. Did it open the door for me to publish anything elsewhere? NO. Did anyone other than me really even care about my being “published”? Well not really. Unless you count the hundreds of people that helped themselves to my image from the magazine’s website and dragged it all over the internet with no credit to me. Want to be irritated? Imagine having your photo forwarded to you in an “amazing pictures” chain email that has circulated all over the internet without any credit to you (worse yet, credited to someone else!).

So, for anyone who thinks that getting an image published is the magic ticket to the BIG LEAGUES, I’m here to rain on your parade. Don’t give away an image for a photo credit in hopes of a break. It isn’t worth it. You won’t make it big. Nobody cares who takes a picture. They’re not going to go search out who took a picture. There is only thing they care about: is the picture any good? You won’t develop a following on one or even three images. Photo editors and creative directors have specific needs for specific projects that they need NOW. And it is highly unlikely that your photo credited image is the one they need NOW. So they are NOT going to search you out to see what other images you have nor do they want to see the rest of your portfolio. You’ll develop a following slowly over time by consistently delivering top-quality images and forging meaningful connections with those who like your work. Interact with your followers, give them helpful information, tell them a story about how the image was made, etc. You know what it cost you to make your images – the gas, your camera, the expensive vacation, the sleep you lost to get up for sunrise at 4 AM, the hours spent standing in a freezing cold creek…it wasn’t free. Consider that. Your stuff might be worth more than you thought.

 If you choose to give away an image for a photo credit, give it away simply because you want to give it away.

Always read the fine print before uploading or mailing any of your images anywhere. If there is no fine print, have a contract, however informal, that spells out what someone can and can’t do with your image. Perpetual royalty-free rights to all entries, including those that don’t win anything, are very common with contests, especially the big well known ones. In all likelihood, by entering you will give away your image for a handshake and receive nothing in return. Sure, you retain copyright. But you may have just closed the door on monetizing your image later on. I’d rather go for a small amount of sure money than the off-possibility of big money and some essentially worthless exposure. Worthless exposure does not buy a new lens or the gas to your next shoot. Think about if you are really OK with this. Would you be OK if the sponsors used your image for a major advertising campaign and gave you nothing for it – not even a photo credit? The same advertising campaign where they might have paid some other photographer thousands of dollars for the rights to use an image? If not, consider contacting the sponsors and ask if the rights granted can be narrowed to something more in line with the needs of the contest alone. Or consider a juried competition, in which you typically retain full control over your image. The prizes aren’t as enticing and there may be an entry fee, but you can gain visibility and perhaps add something to your photographic resume without giving up rights that may prevent you from making use of your best works down the road. It is unfortunate that so many people submit their best photos to contests only to have the rights unknowingly tied up down the road.


Do yourself and all of your fellow photographers a favor. Take a stand against all of the borrowers out there. Send the message that isn’t open season on all of your photos. Your photos have NONZERO value. Getting paid for a few infringements will surely prove that to you. Copyright infringement is a headache, but you can make the best of a bad situation and come out ahead.

Some additional information:

PhotoAttorney Blog by Carolyn Wright, a copyright attorney and photographer here in the USA: http://www.photoattorney.com

Stolen Photographs: What to Do? (UK) http://www.epuk.org/Opinion/994/stolen-photographs-what-to-do

Copyright Basics: US Copyright Office http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf

ImageRights.com: Specializes in international copyright damage recovery for small business photographers (have not actually used them though the service sounds intriguing, so don’t take this as an endorsement).”

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Filed under Blogging, Copyright, Photography

HDR Photography – If My Words Were Chocolate, I’d Be Eating Some of Them

I’ve been saying in all my photo commentaries on other sites how much of a fan I am NOT of HDR photography.  But I think I may have changed my mind….and I may have to eat some of my words.

What’s HDR?  It’s the acronym for High Dynamic Range imagery created through multiple shots of the same image using different exposures and then merged and “tonemapped” using a program like Photomatix into a single image that presents a greater range of lights and darks and colors.  It’s not 3D, but – when done well – the image has a richer tone to it, with much more definition and texture.  Like your HD TV, sort of.

Anyway, I’ve seen very few photographers who can actually pull off a really nice HDR image.  I tried it once, during the start of the HDR rage, with this new program called Photomatix.  I sucked at it, and so did most other photographers who tried their hands at it.  There was only one photographer out there of whom I knew could really create (and still does create) outstanding HDR photos:  James Neeley.  Since then, there have been other photographers like Rick Sammon (who also writes great photography how-too books) who create wonderful HDR photos as well.

So, the other day, for yuks and giggles, I decided to download the trial version of Photomatix.  I did this because I wanted to do some experimenting with my photos beyond what I already knew.  The latest iteration of this program sure has come a long way since I dabbled with one of the first versions some years ago.

You know what?  I liked what I saw!  Well, with most of my images, anyway.  Some images, even as HDR images, don’t look much different from the originals.  Then there are other images I created using Photomatix that totally stink, stank, stunk.  I think HDR is an acquired taste, and I’m still of the opinion that most of my photos look better as just plain old photos, and not HDR photos.  On the other hand, some of my photos are eye-popping as HDR images.  It’s all subjective, but you be the judge.

St. Mary Falls, Glacier National Park, non-HDR

As an HDR image

St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island, non-HDR

As an HDR image

Swiftcurrent Lake morning non-HDR

As an HDR image

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland, as non-HDR

As an HDR image

Lake McDonald non-HDR

as an HDR image

Swiftcurrent sunrise and moonset in Glacier National Park, non-HDR

As an HDR

Swiftcurrent alpenglow during sunrise, as non-HDR

As a HDR image

So, how is this all done, you ask?  Well, I’m still a novice at this myself, but I can get you started in the right direction and then you can have fun playing with settings yourself (like I am doing).  And if you are already pretty familiar with this stuff, then take a look at Stuck In Customs for more in-depth HDR tutorials.

Photomatix is the HDR software.  You can get it as a stand-alone, as a bundle (stand-alone plus plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom) as a plug-in for Photoshop alone (costs less, but doesn’t have some of the bells & whistles that the stand alone has) and for the Mac.  I paid the $99 and got the stand alone version.  According to their website, it’s good for as many computers as you have, as long as you are going to be the only one using the computers on which you have downloaded the program.

Before you dive into HDR, you need to first have multiple photos (with multiple exposures) of a single image.  Through various YouTube tutorials, I learned you can create a stunning HDR with only a single image, duplicated and saved using different exposure settings (rather than taking multiple shots of the same image).  This actually allows the resulting HDR image to be a little sharper, which was another one of my quibbles about HDR photos – they generally are not as sharp as a single image, and I like making enlargements of my photos.

So, go into your photo editor of choice, and open up an image.

Now, make anywhere from 2  copies to 4 copies of this image.  I use Photoshop CS5, so the commands I give here are for that program.  Your photo editor should have something similar in its menu bar.

Go to the menu bar and select Image-Duplicate

Give your duplicated image a name – I named mine for the exposure settings I planned on using:

I made 4 copies of this image.  I then changed the exposure settings by 1.  So one image was underexposed by 1, another image underexposed by 2, another image overexposed by 1, and another image overexposed by 2.  Plus, the original image with its original exposure settings.

For each image copy, go to the menu, chose Image-Adjustments-Exposure

Once you’ve changed all the exposure settings for your images, save each image.

Now, open up Photomatix and select Load Bracketed Photos 

Click OK

Unfortunately, Photomatix would not allow me to “Snagit” the next screenshot, so I’ll try to walk you through this.

Once you click OK, the images load and the program checks to make sure each image has a different exposure setting.  If it thinks exposure settings for more than one of the bracketed photos are the same, it will say something and ask you if you wish to make changes, either manually or allowing Photomatix to make the changes for you.

Once you are satisfied, click OK

The bracketed photos will be merged and you’ll be taken to a screen with the finished product, plus a number of presets from which you may choose, in addition to sliders where you may make your own tweeks.  Also, you will see a very helpful histogram on the screen.  The object of the game is to make sure your histogram doesn’t have spikes at either of the far ends.  And you don’t have to have a perfect bell shape to your histogram, either.

Here’s my worked version, which really isn’t too different from the original.  But…..I’m not done with the photo.  It’s going to take some work to get it to look like I want it to, and that is best done in Photoshop CS5.

So, once I’ve made what selections  I wish in this screen, I click Process

And get the final merged, tonemapped or fused version.  FYI:  tonemapping and fusion represent different processes to get an HDR image.  You can read more about this in HDRsoft’s FAQ’s

So, I save the image, then go into CS5 and open it up there.  I then proceed to work with the settings I wish until I get the resulting image I like.

Here’s another image I worked using Photomatix.

The original Dallas Divide sunrise image:

The original tonemapped version:

The tweeked tonemapped version:

Ok, that was the “quick & dirty” rundown of how to create an HDR image using Photomatix.   And I take back some of what I have said about not liking HDR imagry.  Guess I’ll go melt the dipping chocolate.


Filed under HDR, Photography

Blown-Out Highlights: Waterfalls (and the Silky Water Effect)

Blown-out highlights.  No, I am not referring to a bad hair color.  I’m talking (writing) about photos you have seen or taken where the lighter colors of a photo (in particular the whites) are so blinding/glaring that you see no detail at all, even though you know there was detail within those light colors when you looked at the scene you ultimately photographed.

In this post, I’m going to show you what I do when attempting to recover some of the detail in a photo with blown-out (over-exposed) highlights.  Sometimes, these procedures work really well for me, sometimes not so much.  I know there are other methods out there I haven’t yet mastered (which is why I someday want to take one of those week-long Photoshop courses offered by Rocky Mountain School of Photography http://www.rmsp.com/ or Santa Fe Photographic Workshops http://www.santafeworkshops.com/ ).

In 2008, I went on my very first organized photo workshop – to Glacier National Park, MT.  In future posts, I’ll discuss my photo tour experiences (and post photos). One day during the workshop, we hiked the short trail from the road to a place called St. Mary Falls.  I’d never really photographed running (rushing) water before.  There are others out there who have water photography down to a fine art:  Darren White Photography, for one  http://www.flickr.com/photos/drwhite75/sets/72157610515657296/  I was definitely not one of those people.

Most people, when photographing waterfalls, are aiming toward what is called “silky water”.  Basically, the camera shutter speed is set to “slow” (for example: 1 second instead of 1/500 of a second) to capture more than just a passing glance of the rushing water.  The longer the shutter speed, the more “silky” the effect…and the more potentially blown-out (over-exposed) the image may become.

Here’s a (un-edited) non-silky water shot – well, relatively non-silky.

Versus a silky water (way un-edited) photo (an example of silky water and blown-out highlights):

At the time of the workshop, I didn’t quite know enough about photographing water to realize that I did not even own what I really needed, which was a dedicated neutral density (ND) filter (this is why you take workshops – to reach beyond your comfort zone and learn about stuff like this).  I’m not referring to a graduated (split) ND filter, but an actual “all-over” ND filter, which is a round or square piece of gray glass or resin compound that fits over (or in front of) the lens.  The gray comes in varying shades or “densities” or “stops” (1-stop, 2-stop, 4-stop – meaning that’s how much the camera’s exposure is “stopped” down or lowered when capturing a scene with that filter attached).  ND filters are great for long shutter speeds to slow down motion such as running water in order to create that “silky” effect, while keeping the light colors of a scene from being blown-out.

If you are going to purchase a ND filter, then remember: you get what you pay for.  When it comes to camera equipment, get the best that your budget will allow.  Don’t short-change yourself or your photos.  I’m not advocating that you break the bank or starve yourself (or your family) in order to purchase the higher-end stuff (I know it’s difficult to maintain priorities, but sometimes camera gear doesn’t come first).  I’m just recommending that you get the best you can afford and not go onto ebay to pay $3 for something that you will ultimately trash upon viewing the results.  BH Photo  www.bhphotovideo.com and Adorama  www.adorama.com carry a wide range of ND filters and pricing to fit all budgets – and really, these photo sites I have listed carry good stuff.  It’s where I do all of my shopping for photo gear.

All I had with me at the time was a graduated (split) 2-stop ND filter and a polarizing filter.  So I screwed on both filters (watch out when doing this and trying to use your wide-angle lens because you will definitely get vignetting). Below is the original shot as it came out of the camera:

Attractive, right?  Well, it has the potential to be attractive after a little post-processing.

For one thing – I definitely remember standing at this spot, marveling at the lovely dark turquoise hue in the waterfall itself.  You don’t see much of that in the shot above.  Following are the procedures I took to eliminate as much of the blown-out highlights as possible and bring out the colors to achieve the end result pictured below:

Better, yes?

I am sure I will say this in almost every “how to” post I write, in case you don’t read any of my previous posts.  First and foremost, I am not an expert – by any means.  I am simply writing about what I know and how I do it.

Regarding photo editing applications – there are a ton of them out there and everybody uses something different: Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Aperture, Picasa, Picnik, Lightoom, etc.  What I tell you here can pretty much be applied to whatever post-processing software you use – different commands, different tools in the virtual toolbox, but the result will essentially be the same.  I personally use two programs:  Lightroom 3 (LR3) and Adobe Photoshop CS5.  I do some things in LR3 because they are easier for me to utilize, and I do other things in CS5.  I don’t know the total ins and outs of either of these very complicated programs like Scott Kelby  http://www.scottkelby.com/  or Rick Sammon http://www.ricksammon.com/Rick_Sammon/Home.html do, but what I do know, works for me, and I’m constantly learning new stuff in both of these programs.

So, I upload the photos to LR3.

I choose a photo (that first one highlighted) and click on the “Develop” link at the top right.

One of the first steps I always take is to scroll down to the Lens Correction panel on the right side of the screen and click on the “Enable Profile Corrections”.  This corrects distortions inherent in whatever particular lens you may be using on your SLR (I’ve noticed that this option doesn’t appear to make any difference on photos I upload from my point & shoot – a Canon G11).

Once that is done, I start to play around with the photo.  Since there are plenty of blown out highlights in the whiteness of the water, the next thing I want to do is bring back a little detail wtihin those whites.  I scroll up to the top right side of the screen and play around with the Recovery slider.  It’s an awesome little tool that works really well to bring back detail, although it tends to darken the rest of the photo.  I also utilize the Clarity, Vibrancy, and Saturation sliders to bring back the “oomph” to the photo and to add saturation to the colors.

FYI, Vibrancy and Saturation are oftentimes confusing.  Saturation boosts the color saturation of the entire photo.  Vibrancy is more selective (don’t ask me how it knows) and boosts only those colors in the photo that are undersaturated.  So, why not use just the Vibrancy slider and ditch the Saturation altogether?  It all depends on what you are after – what you want to see in your photo and what you want your photo to show you (and others).  I usually play around with both sliders, then either keep both, or set one or the other back to zero.  Be careful when using these two tools, as it’s quite easy to over-do.  You don’t want a fakey or fantastical-looking photo….unless that is your aim, of course.

The photo above still looks a little blown-out to me, so I use one of my very favorite tools in LR3: the Gradient Tool.

I use this awesome little tool mainly for exposure control for parts of a photo.  However, as you see from the panel that opens up when the gradient tool is clicked, there are other slider options which may also be used with this tool.  All you have to do is drag the little plus-sign (which turns into lines as pictured above) through the areas you wish lightened/darkened/saturated/etc.

Note:  if you are going to drag a straight line horizon from top toward the bottom or from the bottom toward the top, remember to hold down the Ctrl key (on a Windows PC) as you hold down the left mouse button and drag the gradient up or down – otherwise, those lines will go every which way.  Just test it out for yourself to see what I mean, since I don’t think I am explaining that aspect very well.

I fiddle around with the blacks, contrast, and brightness sliders, too.

When I’ve achieved what I want in LR3, I do one last thing:  scroll down to the Tone Curve panel and use the Light slider.  This slider is more subtle than the Exposure or Brightness tools – it adds a nice glow to the entire photo.  CS5 also has a Curves tool, but I find I have more control using those sliders in LR3 and I understand them a little better in this program than in the more complicated CS5 – that’s just me, of course – you may find it easier to work with Curves in some other program.

I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do in LR3.  So I compare the before-after views before finally exporting the photo as a TIF which I will then open up in CS5 for further tweaking (because it still does need further work IMO).

I’ve saved the TIF file and now open it up in CS5.

One of the first things I do to a photo in CS5 is go to the menu bar, select Images – Auto Tone and take a look at what CS5 would do to the photo.

Some of the whites look a little to harsh to me, so I go to Edit – Undo Auto Tone.

I next choose Images – Adjustments – Brightness/Contrast and fiddle around with those sliders.

I’m still not sure I like what I see, so I go to Edit – Undo Brightness/Contrast and move on to the Images-Adjustments-Levels panel.

Sometimes I use one or a combination of the three tools I’ve listed above to achieve my results.

I noticed that my image, while looking good, has a bit more of an aqua cast to the entire photo than I really want.  I decide maybe I need to do a little color balancing.

Image-Adjustments-Color Balance.  I tweak the Red slider a little bit to eliminate some of that aqua (cyan) cast to my photo.

Much better.

As I work on this image, I see little spots here and there in the white: they might be water spots or dust particles on the image sensor.

I definitely wish to get rid of those, so I use one (or both) of the following:

The Content Aware tool, which is accessed by selecting that little lasso icon on the left side of the screen.

Use that lasso to outline the item you wish eliminated, right click, select Fill and make sure Content Aware is shown.

Click OK and voila!  Most of the time, this works like magic – sometimes, though, it does not, and you have to do a manual clone job.  Note: this Content Aware tool is only on CS5 and now on the latest iteration of Photoshop Elements.  So in all probability, if you don’t have either of those programs, you must use whatever clone tool is available in your program’s arsenol.

You will see a little empty circle on your screen.  You can adjust the circle size.  For CS5, you need to place the circle in an area of the photo which you would like to “clone” over to the part(s) of the image that need to have those spots eliminated, Ctrl-Alt to capture that area, then place the circle over the spot and click on the left mouse key.  Voila! spot(s) all gone!

My final act before I apply a little sharpening to this image is to use a bit of selective dodging and burning (lightening and darkening).  In CS5, you can switch between the two tools by left-clicking and then highlighting the option you wish.

I finllally apply a subtle bit of sharpening: Filters-Sharpen-Unsharp Mask and I’ve vastly improved upon the original photo.

You can take these instructions and apply them to any images with blown-out highlights: skies, horizons where it’s dark on the bottom and light on top (like mountain photos), any other photo with alot of light-dark areas in the shot.

Of course, the instructions above are not the only methods to achieve these results; many photographers more experienced with Photoshop use Layers for this purpose.  I don’t know a thing about Layers, in all honesty, which is why I never mentioned them in this post and won’t mention them in any other post until I myself am proficient enough to ponderously expound upon this issue 😉

I see this is another looonnng post.  Sorry.  As I attempted to describe my editing processes, I came to the realization that post-processing is not always simple or straight-forward.  I don’t think about it because I happen to LOVE photo editing.  Photography is an art, I’m an artist, the photo is the canvas and the editing software contains my box of paint  brushes. Oftentimes, it takes more than a single editorial”brush stroke” to create a Masterpiece.  It all depends upon how well your in-camera settings captured the shot (about which many photographers will brag online) and how much time you wish to devote to an image.

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Filed under Blown-Out Highlights, Lessons, Photography, Waterfalls