I wrote the original post on this subject four years ago, but just recently I got an email from a member of one of the forums I'm active in. The message was about one of the members who had stolen another photographer's images and was using them to promote their own website.
Then, a few days later I had somebody IM me who asked if I knew a particular wedding photographer. She photographed a wedding and then disappeared with the client's money. She's been entirely unresponsive to phone calls, emails and has left the area. It's been over four months and she's disappeared.
The two issues are different, but the common denominators of dishonesty, zero integrity and how damaging these stories are to our industry leave me with a knot in my stomach. We're an amazing industry with the responsibility to help people capture memories. And, while that might sound sappy and even a little hokey, it's all based on a foundation of trust. When that trust is violated, the stories spread like an urban myth and hurt everybody!
Fortunately, most of you would never think of stealing another photographer's work, but that doesn't change everyone's responsibility to be involved whenever the issue comes up. It's also a testimonial to the importance of ALWAYS exceeding client expectations and NEVER compromising on the quality of an image, or for that matter your relationship with each client.
I've left the comments to my original post below, but feel free to add to them. Here are a few things to think about to help raise the bar on the quality of work being shared.
Your Galleries: Using somebody else's work and suggesting it's your own, right off the bat, besides being unethical and illegal, is idiotic. Sure, you might get a client or two, but what happens when you can't deliver? What happens when your client is thoroughly pissed off because their album doesn't look anything like what you convinced them you could do?
Images from Workshops: In all honesty, it's almost just as bad when you show images you took at a hands-on workshop while standing next to the instructor. At a program in Ohio many years ago, Jerry Ghionis made the following comment,
"Don't shoot over my shoulder, because you won't learn anything. I'd rather you photographed me capturing the image, so you remember what I'm teaching. Plus, if all of you from this area run images of the same couple, it challenges your own credibility."
Posting Images in the Various Forums: It's really simple. Don't post images that aren't yours. There's a wonderful thing about social media in photography, so many people watch each other's backs. If there's one theme everyone has been exposed to, just because of what's been in the industry news over the last few years, it's stealing other photographers' content. StopStealingPhotos.com is one website that has been chasing down claims of image theft. If you haven't been to their site lately, take a look.
Stock Photo Images: Okay, so in theory, if you bought the rights and included a photo credit, you're on safe ground. NOT! I use stock images all the time for illustrations on my blog posts. I pay for them, and I always give the photographer credit. But, everything changes when you're a photographer and using images to show your work. Every image shared on your website is automatically assumed to belong to the artist doing the promoting.
I ran across a photographer a few years ago who used stock photos throughout his brochure, price list and then mixed in a few in his galleries! No photo credits anywhere, and he tried to tell me he wasn't suggesting it was his work, just creating effective advertising! That's just not acceptable!
Work to build your skill set and show only your very best work. Share only "wow" images in your galleries - images so good that you'd only have to show a single photograph to get hired! Learn the craft so you can capture stunning images under any conditions. There are so many resources for you at conventions, in traveling workshops, online and in print. Don't settle for mediocrity and obviously NEVER claim work that isn't your own.
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.