Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Ideas, Techniques, Photos and Theft
Over the years I have met, more than a few photographers and artists who are afraid of people stealing their work, their ideas and their techniques. Some of them have refused to put their images online, some keep their images at ridiculously small sizes, and some won’t even show their work at all. I kid you not, I have known a handful of photographers who are “building their body of work” and are so afraid of someone stealing their ideas, style, whatever, that they have gone years without showing the work to anyone.
Playing It Close To The Vest
In a similar vein, there are a ton of photographers who jealously guard their models, their locations, and how they execute their work. I have heard of photographers who make their assistants sign non-disclosure statements! The first time I ever gave a presentation to a photography audience on how I was using Photoshop to create stock images, back in the early 90’s, a stock agency owner approached me afterwards and warned me that I was making a mistake in sharing what I was doing.
In fact, over the years there has been no shortage of people urging me to play my hand closer to my vest.
Copycat Fears and Best Selling Images
I can certainly understand those fears of revealing too much. I can’t believe how blatantly people rip off other people’s images. With the speed, at least on microstock sites, with which images can be online, I agree that copycat image-makers are a royal pain and no doubt have a significant negative fiscal impact as well. My fear of having my own images copied keeps me from sharing which of my images are best sellers. The same fear nags at me every time I put another stock photo online…oh well.
Staying Under The Radar Isn’t The Answer
One thing I have learned over the last twenty years is that staying under the radar isn’t the answer. The courage to share your process (within reason), to get your work out in front of everyone, and to rise above those very reasonable fears of seeing your work, ideas and techniques stolen in so many ways, brings with it rewards that cannot be denied. Do you think the benefits Chase Jarvis gains from sharing his world online out-weighs the risks of being copied and the threat from competition that is enhanced by the information he doles out?
The Benefits of Sharing
In my own experience the benefits of sharing have been enormous. The rewards have ranged from free gear (I was once given a $45,000.00 Leaf Digital Back on the condition that I share my results with the camera at trade shows…duh!), to important contacts (in the long run more important than gear), free film, and all manner of opportunities. If I hadn’t been open to sharing I would never have been invited to join Blend Images as a founding partner…probably the biggest opportunity in my career. The latest reward for putting my work and ideas out there is in the form of traffic to my website that continues to increase weekly. Yes, I get ripped off all the time, but my rewards are definitely greater than my losses.
The Risk of Sharing
Of course, along with the risk of theft, putting yourself out there brings the chance of rejection, embarrassment and, of being ignored…ouch! I once fell off a stage while not paying attention to where my feet were taking me, have been corrected by the audience more than once while demonstrating Photoshop, and have had my share of rejection. But again, the highs are way higher than the lows.
Expansion, Contraction and The Spotlight
Sharing your work, your process, your thoughts and opinions all help integrate you into the photography community. Sharing expands you; playing it close to the vest contracts you. Sharing is a path towards greater commercial success as well as the rewards of appreciation from individuals whose lives and careers you touch. So if you find yourself tempted to stay under the radar, let me suggest that being in the spot light, while sometimes uncomfortable, is a far better approach.