March Newsletter: Understanding Copyright and Good Photos

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Busy and fantastic is how I describe February 2013. It was cold enough to form ice on Lake Superior, which makes this year better than last (the winterless year). It was still not as icy as previous winters, but it was good enough to get some great photos. February was also a busy month for me with two full workshop and several private lessons. I also picked up a new kayak and have been testing it when the big lake is open water. It was also National Haiku Writing Month, which meant that I had to write a haiku every day. That’s harder than it sounds. Here’s one that I like:

white out —
the neighbor’s light
through the dark

This month has been great for workshops, too. I’ve had great participants and want to thank them for coming on a workshop with me. Some have already signed up for another workshop with me. I appreciate that.

Quick Photo Tip

photographer at winter workshop

A photographer at sunrise during my first 2013 Winter Photography Workshop.

During my workshops, one thing I see people struggle with is getting gear ready for the shot. The key to be ready for the shot, is to have everything ready to go before you leave the car or as you’re walking to the location. Here’s how I do it. I anticipate the shot I’m going to take and have that lens already on the camera. Same with filters, they’re on the camera before I need them. An example is if I know I’m going to take sunrise pictures, I put my wide angle lens and filter holders on the night before. When walking to the location, I’ll extend my tripod legs, so they’ll be ready to go when I get there. My filters are ready to go in my pocket. Once at the location, I just use the quick release to mount the camera on the tripod, pull the filters from my pocket, connect the shutter release (I recommend avoiding carrying the camera with the cord on in case it snags and breaks either the cord or camera — I’ve seem the former on workshops, but not the later, yet) and shoot away. Sometimes a few moments can mean the difference between getting the photo and missing it.

Quick Photo Tip Number Two

One of my photography instructors taught me that when photographing a subject imagine that you and it form an atom. The subject is the nucleus and you’re an electron circling the nucleus. As you spin around the nucleus photograph it from every different angle, focal length and height. The two photos below show how you can create a different look and feeling from the same subject on the same night by using this technique.

Understanding Copyright and Photo Sharing

photographers in the Kadunce River Canyon.

Photographers on one of my Photography Workshops in a river canyon.

This month, I asked on Facebook what topic I should cover in my monthly newsletter. Copyright came up. As copyright is a question that I get often, I thought it would be worth covering instead of a specific camera technique. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover, click the links at the bottom of the newsletter to leave a comment.

As photography has gotten more popular and as the digital medium has made sharing photography easier, it has also gotten easier to steal someone’s photo or to have your photo stolen. Having a photo stolen is a frustrating experience, and I’ve had it happen several times. It can also be a costly experience in terms of lost time and money dealing with the issue. The good news is that if you live in the U.S. the copyright law has you covered. Before I go on, I want to state that I’m not a lawyer and this is my understand of copyright from a working professional photographer perspective. If you run into problems, you’ll probably need to contact a lawyer.

The first thing to keep in mind with photography is that:

  • The second you press the shutter button and the picture is recorded, your picture is protected under copyright. You don’t need to do anything else. (This also means that if you take someone’s picture with their camera, you own the copyright on that photo. Interesting, eh?)

Here’s the relevant portions from the FAQ at, the official website of the U.S. Copyright Office.

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

So, what happens from there?

  • If you sell a photo: 1. You can either sell them a licence to use the photo in a rights managed way or a royalty free way. The former means they only have the right to use the photo in the agreement you come to. For example, First North American rights usually means they get the right to publish the photo in North America before anyone else. This is what most magazines prefer. The later means that they can use the photo for anything as long as they want. Or, 2. You could sell them the copyright. That means they now own the photo and you can’t use it. It’s rare for this to happen (and expensive!). NOTE: Giving someone the rights to use a photo doesn’t have to involve the exchange of money or anything more complex than an email say, “You can use this photo for xyz.”
  • Work for hire: Sometimes, in some agreements, you might be hired to work for hire, which means that if you produce something your customer owns the copyright. Again, rare. It might also happen if you work for a company and your primary job is to photograph stuff. It’s best to get these types of agreements in writing, etc…
  • If you put a photo on the Internet in a place such as your website: You still own the copyright. Visitors can view the photo at the place you placed the photo. They can’t download it, use it as a phone or desktop background or print it or use it in any other way without violating copyright (and this next part is important) even for personal use. If someone does any of that, it’s theft.
  • If you share it on social media, such as Facebook: This depends on the agreement you consented to (that you probably didn’t read and that they can change without informing you) when you signed up for the service. You usually still own the copyright, but the social media site gains the rights to display the photos and use it however they’d like. For example, on Facebook, if you post a photo, other users can share that photo by pressing the “Share” button, because you gave that right to Facebook when you signed up and when you posted the photo. Other users still can’t download, use as a desktop or phone desktop/background, print or use it in any other way. If they do it’s theft.
photographer and sunris

Sunrise over Lake Superior on one of my winter workshops.

So basically this: You own the copyright, unless you licence the use to someone, they can’t use it, download it, print it, etc… unless the licence you signed allows them to. Social media allows other users to do some things with the photo, such as share, but not other such as download, print, use as a background, etc…

Someone stole my photo, now what!?!

  • Stay calm. Don’t panic. This is going to take time, so just chill a bit. This happens, sometimes it happens, because the other person doesn’t know better. It usually happens on the Internet.
  • Get a screenshot. I use Lightscreen.
  • First, contact the webmaster via a contact form or email on the contact page. Kindly, explain where your photo can be found on their website, that nobody obtained your permission to use the photo, and to please do as you request: remove, credit, pay you, etc… Most likely, they won’t give you any cash, although, especially if you’ve sold images for Internet usage, they would lose a lawsuit. 95% of the time, the person will credit with a link if you want that or remove your photo. Note: if you had a logo on the image and they cropped it off, they are scum of the earth, so just have them take it down — they most likely knew they were stealing and didn’t care.
  • If they don’t take it down or they tell you to piss off, then email them with a threat of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) takedown notice if they don’t remove it.
  • If they still don’t then file a DMCA takedown. I’m not going to cover this, because the first step never fails.
  • On Facebook, you need to report the offending page and copyright violation to Facebook. This happens on Facebook when a page uses your photo without your permission and without using the “Share” button. Many Facebook pages with high numbers of users exist solely to use other people’s photos without their permission or knowledge — not using the share button. (Keep in mind that the share button is good, because it links back to you).
  • For personal use: I love it when people ask me if it’s okay if they use it as a desktop or phone background or Facebook cover, but not so much when they print it, because that’s how I make my living. What are you going to do though? You’ll probably never know.

Keep in mind using the “Share” button on Facebook is 100% a-okay and helpful to the photographer, so, please, use it and share my work on Facebook.


Some photographers choose to licence their photos to the public using the Creative Commons scheme. Basically, the photographer chooses one of six licenses and then posts it along with the picture. Personally, I don’t like this, because there’s nothing out there to protect users if the copyright holder revokes the license.

Should You Put a Copyright Symbol on Your Photos?

Maybe. If someone is going to steal the photo, they’re going to remove it and strip the EXIF data of your copyright as well. The way to counter that is make the symbol big or put it in the center, but that really distracts from the enjoyment of viewing the photo. The way I look at it is that it’s advertisement. The photo should speak for itself and the logo should stay out of the way and be small. That way if someone wants to know who shot the photo, they can easily find it, but it won’t get in the way of viewing the photo. If they’re going to steal it, they’ll use content aware fill in Photoshop to remove your copyright anyway.

If you’re worried about your photos being stolen, you can use TinEye Reverse Image Search to help find your photos on the Internet.

For the non-photographers on my newsletter list here’s the takeaway: Ask permission before you use any photo you find on the Internet, and always use the “Share” button on Facebook to share my photos. :) Share them on Facebook early and often!

Giant Water Bug Photos

giant water bug in Minnesota

A giant water bug found on the Winter Photography Workshop.

During the last winter photography workshop, the group hiked up the Kadunce River and at the first waterfall that we climbed, we found a giant water bug hanging out on the ice. Todd Myhre, one of the workshop participants, did some research after the workshop and determined that the bug was a belostomatidae. Todd has a much better photo of the bug on his website than I do. Make sure to check it out here: giant water bug.

The important part of the research was discovered on Wikipedia. Wikipedia says, “Giant water bugs are a popular food in Thailand.” So, there you have it; this was our mid-morning snack and we didn’t take advantage of it. It probably had a satisfying crunch with a frozen wintergreen mint aftertaste. It’s Cook County’s favorite river hiking snack.

Canvas Discount

I’m running a 10% sale on canvas prints until March 14th. When checking out enter: Canvas10

PBS’s The Playlist

PBS’s The Playlist posted their video/interview/profile of me shooting the sunrise on Artist’s Point to Youtube. Here it is if you didn’t see it on Facebook.

Upcoming Minnesota Photography Workshops

photographers on lake superior winter photography workshop

Photographers at sunrise on one of my winter workshops.

What people said about my Winter 2013 Photography Workshops

This is a small sample of the feedback I received following my two winter photography workshops:

  • Loved the workshop! I have no suggestions to make it better. – Carla, Edina, MN
  • The workshop exceeded my expectations. Much more feedback and hands on help then other workshops I attended. – Scott, Minneapolis, MN
  • Every Minnesota photographer should do this to see what our state has to offer. – Dan, St. Paul, MN
  • Bryan’s expert technical skills and knowledge of photography made for a great weekend. – Todd, Shakopee
  • Bryan is awesome. He is well experience and taught me lots of new techniques for landscape photography – Kumar, St. Louis Park, MN
  • It was amazing from all aspects. It had everything; answers to my queries, unknown beautiful locations, technical tips. – Sourov, Kolkata, India
  • Good balance between instruction at group and individual level. Also, instruction was good mix between beginner instruction and more advanced tips and tricks. – Steve, Minneapolis, MN
  • The workshop was just what I needed as an advanced amateur. The best part was the individual attention we all were given. – Chris, St. Paul, MN

When asked on the evaluation form if they would take another workshop with me, all the participants answered, “Yes!”

Select Photos from February

Here are select photos from February 2013.

Parting Photo

Sometimes, you just have to go all in to get the shot.


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Showing 2 comments
  • LeAnn Jaksha

    I have a question about copyrights. I did read over the article in this news letter. My question is, the other day I uploaded a photo to Walgreens to have it printed and to be picked up later. When I got to the store they wanted to see the copyright release form. I did not have one as it was a picture I, myself had taken. The clerk and manger then discussed it for a few minutes and finally decided to let me purchase it. What is there to do in these situations? I no longer had in on a SD card as the photo had been taken months prior.

    Thanks for your help.

    LeAnn Jaksha

    • Bryan

      If you took the photo, you own the copyright and you don’t need a release form. You can embed your name and copyright into the EXIF and if questions have them look at that.

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