Image protection is a fiery issue among us photographers and there’s a good chance you sit in one of four camps…
1. You don’t protect your work and are happy for publications to post your images in exchange for credit and hope your work will spread around the web to be seen by potential clients.
2. You semi-protect your work with a watermark in the hope that it’s enough to deter potential thieves while not being too distracting for the viewer, but also prominent enough so that potential clients can see your name in case a publication forgets to credit you.
3. You protect your work by not putting it online because you’ve been burnt in the past by thieves and if you do upload an image, it’s so low res that no thief will want to steal it, print it on a cheap phone case and sell it on Amazon.
4. You’ve already skipped ahead to the comments to lecture us all about image copyright law and lambast anyone who’s ever been foolish enough to trust the Internet.
If any of these resonate with you, you might want to check out EXIF.co, an image embed service that protects your work, removes the need for watermarks and puts you in control of where your images go online.
Bye bye JPEGs. Hello embeds.
JPEGs have served us well. They’re small, fine quality and universal. But they’re also easily rippable with a right-click, dragged to the desktop or quickly found in the source code. If you’re putting your work online, you have no real control over who can use your image or where it will end up. EXIF.co puts a stop to that with their image embeds.
I think a good analogy is YouTube. There’s one version of the video, hosted by YouTube and easily embedded by any website. No need for every publication to host their own version of an .mp4 or .mov. The content creator retains control and there’s no need for multiple copies of the video. Now apply that same theory to images. One original image, hosted in one place and easily embeddable by any publication or blog. The creator is still in control and the curators have no need to host their own version of your image.
Your current watermark is probably a translucent white logo hidden on the fringes of your images. That’s light work for a would-be bandit to remove. If you truly wanted to make it hard for thieves, you’d go to the insane lengths of covering your subject’s face with your logo or spoil your perfectly composed landscape with bold branding. Enter EXIF’s smart watermark – a disruptive dark box that appears in the center of your image only when someone attempts to take it. Try right-click save as on the image above. Or even Cmd+Shft+4.
Lock it down.
If you strictly oppose the idea of other websites having the ability to embed your work, fret not. You can easily switch your image embed settings from public to restricted; meaning only your website will display your image. Pretty useful if you don’t want your work to wander off. And while I don’t see myself locking down images only to my site, I do see the potential in partnering with specific publications to do exclusive posts, in the same way musicians work with music sites to release a single exclusively. But maybe that’s my ex-advertising instincts kicking in and I welcome criticism on that one.
Credit where credit’s due
If you’ve ever seen your work online with the caption Photographer: unknown or Photography: supplied, I feel your pain. It’s also what I think you’ll love most about EXIF embeds. Your credits (with links) appear when a viewer clicks the + button in the corner of the image. No more relying on publishers and bloggers to add links to your site or social – they’re stuck with the picture and you stay in control. You can also let the audience know who helped bring your creative to life by linking to your assistant, makeup artist, studio, client – whoever deserves credit.
Follow your work around the Web
If your photo has been featured by a prominent publication, chances are, other publications and bloggers are going to follow suit. Before you know it, multiple versions of your images have popped up all over the place without your consent or sometimes without crediting you. You know what I mean if you’ve ever manually reverse image searched with Pixsy or PhotoTrackerLite. EXIF.co shows you exactly which websites have embedded your image, as well as how many people have viewed the image in total, and specifically on each site.
Do features lead to more work?
I’m sure there’ll be some fierce debate in the comments about whether or not online features are worth it. Does having your work on a blog lead to viewers clicking through to your site, and ultimately, getting you more work? Well, online exposure has led to paying gigs for me in the past. But it’s always a gamble putting your work out there for a potential pay off (and pay-day).
Personally, I’m going to continue rolling the dice. Except now, I’m going to get something out of every post, reblog and share. With the stats EXIF provides on each image, I’ll know how many people have viewed my image, where they saw it, and more specifically, how many people have clicked through to my folio and Instagram. I even know how many were curious enough to explore the location the image was taken at. While these stats won’t guarantee a call from prospective clients, I’m happy to follow the insights and learn which images get the best traction and potentially, which websites to favour in the future.
A work in progress.
I personally think there’s room for improvement in the EXIF product. For one, I’d like the ability to get the embed code right from the image itself (similar to Vimeo), to make it easier for the image to spread. I’d also like to be able to arrange my work into collections, so that if a publication requests a series of images, I can point them to a specific folder, rather than my profile page. I’ve shared this feedback with the EXIF.co creators, so fingers crossed.
Whether you’re happy to see your work in unexpected places, or you’d rather keep a lid on it, I think you’ll find a use for EXIF’s product. In the same way that YouTube embeds replaced the need for multiple .mov files and Soundcloud did the same for the .mp3, there’s a real possibility we’ll be using protected image embeds in the future rather than un-secure JPEGs. What are your thoughts? Do you see the potential in EXIF.co? Will you keep watermarking? Or do you still think having your work online is a bad idea?
About the author: Chris Hillary (AKA Chillary) is a Melbourne-based photographer, part-time copywriter, and full-time gypsy. He is lucky enough to know the creators of EXIF. He is not employed by the company and was not paid to write this article. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find him on Instagram as @chillary.