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How Safe is Your Portfolio from Theft?

In this day and age, digital safety is becoming an increasing concern. We are seeing images being hacked from the Cloud and distributed online, as well as a lot of theft involving cropping and reappropriation of images. Someone can recrop your Instagram images right from your feed and sell them for a figure with four zeroes in it. And of course, there is the age old problem of images by Western photographers showing up on counterfeit goods made in Asian sweatshops.

So how safe is your portfolio? Let’s run through a few easy checks that you can do right now to assess your level of risk.


Do you have watermarks on your images?

This is the first question to ask about anything that you post anywhere. Are the images on your website watermarked? How about your social media posts? Yes, even Instagram? Watermarking does not have to be an ugly distraction from your image. You can use opacity levels in Photoshop and clever placement to ensure that your name and logo is out of the way of the action and yet still visible.

There’s an easy way to automate it, too. Set up an action for web which will make it difficult for your images to be stolen. First open the document, then hit record on your new action. Resize it to 1000 pixels on the longest side, at 72 dpi. Now use the place tool to add in your logo and website address to the bottom left or right corner of the image. Hit the button to stop recording. Now whenever you want to watermark images for use online, you can batch process the whole group.

It’s important not to merge layers right away, so you can go through each one and adjust if necessary. When you have done so, you can batch process the layers merging and save the files to close them.


How do you back up your images?

External hard drives are the tried and tested method of backing up images. Yes, they are expensive, and yes, they may fail, but they are one of the best options available to you. Using two backed up drives for all of your work (one as the back up you use, and one as a spare should that one crash) is a very easy way to back up your images.

If you back them up to a cloud storage service like Dropbox, you may be more susceptible to theft than you think. While an external hard drive has a physical presence, and therefore has to be touched to be stolen, the same is not true of digital content. If someone on the other side of the world manages to guess your password or hack into your account, they could have access to all of your files.

Worst of all, you may not even know they have been in and out. They can download everything, and unless your service is set to notify you of unusual logins, you will never be told. There are many benefits to Cloud storage, and it can certainly be used alongside physical data as a very convenient option. For most people, theft here will not be a problem. But if you had a particularly valuable image to protect – for example, if you were a celebrity photographer with some unretouched files of Kim Kardashian looking less than perfect – then you may want to think twice about using an online solution.


What kind of images do you take?

This question probably will not feel very fair, especially if you are someone who comes out on the negative side. But unfortunately, what you take pictures of will probably make you more or less likely to be a target of image theft. There are some images that are not worth the effort of stealing to most thieves. There are others which could be the biggest haul of their lives.

If you take senior pictures, shoot weddings, deal with newborns, or generally have a part time photography hobby which is just something you are passingly good at, you should be fine. That’s the good news.

The bad news is for anyone who falls into the other categories. Those who are most at risk of theft are celebrity photographers, those who work on nude or boudoir shoots, high fashion photographers, and fine artists. If you take picturesque landscapes or stunningly detailed still life, then you could be at risk too.

If you want to assess how desirable your work would be to thieves, consider the uses they may get out of them. If your images would make someone popular on a social network, they may steal them to pass off as their own. If they can resell them by printing them on products, they are definitely a theft risk. If they are something that the world would like to see leaked, you could be in trouble.


Do you add metadata?

If your answer to this question was “What is metadata?”, then you may be in trouble. Metadata is information that is attached to an image and travels with it, whether you add it to a website or simply send it as a file. It can give all sorts of information about the image. This includes when and where it was taken, who took it, who was in it, who the copyright holder is, and what sort of usage it is available for. It can even include tags which denote the content.

You can easily add metadata to your images through Photoshop. Again, you can add this easily by batch processing after you have set up a new Photoshop action with the right data. You can do this for each set of images if you want to add details such as team credits and specifics. If you just want your name and copyright data added, you can create one action to go across all of your imaging needs.

You can also set up metadata in Lightroom, and a few other photography editing suites.


How many followers or fans do you have?

Like the type of images you take, how popular you are may also have some bearing on how safe your portfolio is. When you have a lot of attention on your work, you may find that you become a target for those who want to steal it and pass it off as their own.

This is also a big bearing on whether you should be checking for stolen work being sold on products or as prints. Take the case of British photographer Lara Jade, who made headlines when her self portrait image was used on the cover of a pornographic DVD. Shockingly, she was just 14 in the picture. Rising popularity on the art site DeviantArt led to her images getting more views, and she ended up successfully suing the company that stole the popular image.

Basically, if you have a large following and your photos are getting a lot of views, they may need more protection. Failing that, you may need to think about running checks often to be sure that nothing of yours has been stolen.


So how can you check your portfolio?

There are a number of ways to be sure that nothing of yours has been stolen. First of all, rely on your fans and followers to help you out. If you have a good attitude and listen to their comments, you may find that they bring you cases of your work being posted or used elsewhere. You can then take the necessary steps to have it removed.

You can normally do this through the support section of a website if it has been posted up through a larger site; if it is hosted on a private site, you will need to contract the perpetrator directly and see about having it taken down. If they refuse, legal action may be the next step – but only if you deem it worthwhile, since it will most likely be a costly and drawn out process.

You can also use reverse image searches such as Google’s tool to check for instances of your work on the internet. If you are a high risk group and you often charge a lot of money for the use of your photographs, you could even consider employing someone on a part time basis to check your catalogue regularly.

For most of us, this won’t be much of an issue. But if you are concerned about it, or you find that your work becomes hugely popular in the future, these tips will help you to take steps towards a safer portfolio.


Do you have any more tips for safety in this area? Tell us in the comments!


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