Google+, Social Marketing and the Changing Photo Industry

On June 30th, 2011, Google finally unveiled its new Social Networking beast, Google+. There had been rumors of its existence for months, which was mostly known by those of us that scour the internet on a daily basis looking for the next best thing. As a professional photographer it is vitally important to stay a head of the game when it comes to social media and social marketing. You see, the industry has dramatically changed in the last 10 years. Photographers like William Neill and Scott Bourne used to be able to survive on having a stock photography catalog of 40,000 images or photographers like John Fielder used to make a ton of money off their physical book sales, those times are gone.

Between the advances in technology making it easier to afford nice DSLR cameras, the sheer drop in value of stock images because of micro-stock companies and the absolute tidal wave of “new” photographers entering the industry while there are fewer and fewer paying contact jobs….things have changed. It isn’t better or worse…it is just different. While those entering the market place do not know any differently, it is the last generation of photographers that I see still holding onto what was and not focusing on what is.

Social Marketing

Because photographers cannot rely solely on selling stock photography or can’t count on big paychecks from publications choosing their images for their covers, the importance of social marketing has never been greater. These days a photographer can actively have a social presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, 500px and now Google+ to name a few. This allows photographers to establish a name for themselves, build up a following and hopefully make some solid connections in order to secure future print purchases, find more contracted photo work and even get into photo education (The single largest revenue stream left in the market). If they are incredibly gifted, both in their photography skills and their business sense, they can establish successful branding, such as Trey Ratcliff has done with his Stuck in Customs website or David DuChemin has done with his Pixelated Image blog and ebook publishing website, both of which make quite a bit of money from their photography business. The significance of having an efficient & effective social networking presence is vital for any hopes of having longevity in this line of work, atleast for the vast majority of us.

Value of your work ≠ Value of an Image

I think there is a HUGE misconception when it comes to people truly understanding the difference between valuing your work and the value of a single image. Most professional photographers will tell you that you should NEVER give your work away for free. The reason they say this is because in reality, it ultimately devalues their work. Because sooo many people have entered the photography market or more accurately, so many people now have DSLRs, there has been a massive influx in higher quality (atleast technically speaking) images then ever before. Some photographers will shoot for free when attempting to build a portfolio and others are so excited to have some one want to use one of their images for publication, they both literally and figuratively give it way. So why would someone pay $3000 for a professional print of the Denver Skyline when they can now get it for $10 from a micro stock website or $50 in print from an amateur that has pretty decent work.

Personally I charge on average, $100 an hour when I am contacted out on a job. That value is for my skill and the time involved in order to deliver a finalized product. But if I took a single image out of the work I did on that job and tried to sell it, it immediately gets devalued from that $100 an hour starting point. It comes down to supply and demand. This is why there is a difference between the value of your photography work and the value of a single image in your portfolio. You might be able to sell a print of one of your images for $20 or $200 or $2000 if you are lucky (or have amazing work), but  that doesn’t happen on a regular basis. The average value of a single image out of my portfolio is usually well under the cost of what it took to get it, such as my trip to Nepal in April. Having those images in my portfolio, however does allow me increase my marketing ability, fill more workshops, make a few more prints sales and get ultimately get more photography business.


I was one of the few that some how managed to get into Google+ on the day it was announced. I was and still am excited about the possibility that it can bring to my business. However soon after it launched, Scott Bourne wrote THIS article on his blog, talking about how you need to be careful when it comes to uploading your images on Google+. While I agree with the fact that EVERYONE should read the TOS (Terms of Service) agreements for any online service you sign up for, I disagree with most of what he has said.

Scott’s issue’s stem from these words in the TOS agreement:

“By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

“You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this license shall permit Google to take these actions.”

Now if I didn’t understand the current state of the photography industry and just read the above parts of the TOS, I would probably freak out as well. 10 years ago, I probably would be worried about an agreement like this, but I am not today. The reason for that is that I have so much more to gain from having a solid social marketing presence then I do from protecting the completely subjective value of my images. On top of that, I don’t know anyone in their right mind that submits images onto the web that have a higher DPI then 72 (300 is suggested for high quality printing) or images larger then 1024 pixels.  Now what, I ask, am I risking if I publish a 720 pixel wide image, with a DPI of 72? Absolutely nothing is the correct answer. Even if Google was to act like the scary corporation, that Scott Bourne makes them out to be, and takes my 720 pixel image and uses it for a blog post, what have I lost? How much would I gotten paid for that? Having said this, I am not advocating that you should post hi-res tiff/raw files of your photo work for anyone to take, but who does that anyway?

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

I think the most important piece of the Google+ TOS agreement that Scott Bourne forgot to mention is this:

“11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. (for remainder see #3 below)”

It is 1000x more important to make sure you always retain the full rights to your photography work then it is to worry about some obscure person using an image of yours on a blog. This is something I truly do take incredibly seriously, even when I work for companies such as National Geographic, whom which I taught photography for in Ecuador for a few years back. As long as I control the rights of my images, so that I can continue to utilize them to bring in revenue, I am all set.

*Update: If you fully read the entire TOS, Google explicitly lays out way it was worded the way it was.

This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services”

The bottom line is the Google is not in the business of ruining yours. They gain nothing from stealing your work and abusing the TOS that they have set in place. In the US specifically, they have to cover themselves legally since we live in the most sue happy country in the world.

In Closing

In the end, you have to pick and choose your battles when it comes to your photography business, much like you have to do in life. Understanding the changing photo industry and how that relates to your current business model is the key. For me, it will always be worth sharing my work and showcasing my skill as a photographer to secure future financial revenue rather then worrying what someone might do with a low res, non printable, watermarked image of mine on Google + or any other social network website.

By the way, Trey Ratcliff licences ALL of his images as Creative Commons and I guarantee he makes more money with his photo business then 95% of most other people out there.

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  • Leanne Doroszuk

    Loved this article. Very informative. Thank you

  • Pam Wolfe

    Good information. Thank you for breaking it down this way.

  • Jonathan Liles

    FYI, Trey Ratcliff uploads is full resolution images–which can be acquired easily, for free, by anyone, through his Smugmug gallery.

  • Craig Ferguson

    This post pretty much sums up my feelings toward the situation. I’m going to add a link to this post into my blog article from last week on Google+.

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  • Kathy

    Thanks – I tried to talk with Scott via Twitter about his article; it wasn’t a pleasant exchange.

    I compiled data on TOS for all the photosharing sites for an analysis for PBS MediaShift. Google is by no means a bad actor, although the services with the best licensing arrangements for photographers are Flickr and Posterous.

  • Mark Mayhew

    good post, if I can’t find u on Google+, could u add me? thanks

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  • Rob-L

    A lawyer’s view on the Google+ TOS – “Google user licenses: Clarification would be nice, but no need to panic”

  • MiamiTom

    Excellent article! I am living proof of the value of having your images “out there”. A year ago I was found by a curator of a Miami gallery, and because they found me, they invited me to be the highlited photographer at the City of Miami’s 114th Birthday Party!
    They sponsored the printing of around 12 images (onto large canvas) and I had a great time at the party showing my work. (see I was told by the curator that she found me on the net, and this is because I have several websites that I use to promote my work.

  • Anson Alexander

    First off, great article! I think you’re really clearing up the Google+ TOS for everyone.

    I’m not actually a photographer. I’m a blogger and business person so it doesn’t hit me quite as hard when I first read the selected lines from the TOS that you quoted above.

    I do, however, believe that when a company releases a service like Google+ where the users have the ability to share, reproduce, download and interact with the media that is posted, Google has to put verbage in their TOS similar to what they did.

    If they didn’t, they would undoubtedly be sued by hundreds of people claiming that Google is at fault for copyright infringement because some 15 year old decided to share a photo on Google+ and now everyone has access to it.

    I can’t really comment on whether or not this is good or bad for the photo industry because I do not know enough about it to do that. What I can say is that I don’t believe Google is trying to screw anyone, they’re just trying to make sure they don’t get screwed themselves.

    Good work!


  • Johnson Consulting

    This article is earth shattering…and I really love it because it addresses all of the fears I try to share with my clients every day. You have to operate with common sense when it comes to ANY creative work, but you also have to THINK with common sense too. Why in the world would Google try to destroy the business of anyone who uses its service? Correct answer: they would not. Thanks again for this article. It’s timely and so important. Best…cj

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  • Andrew Seymour

    Very well done article!

    Thank you for your post, and I have used some of your thoughts in my own post on the same subject!

    Thank you again!

    – Andrew

  • Anoop Negi

    It is always a worry to have a TOS that seems to take away the rights of a photographer.

    Thanks for the analysis on the TOS with special attention to the fact that

    “” “This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services”

    I guess this is fair enough then.

    I am a photographer of the internet generation and I owe it all to the visibility afforded by that medium. I keep my photos on flickr (( )) and the images are never watermarked. That way a large number of social and charitable and blogging entities can link up without remiss and give a wholesome appearance to the article of link up. It is a strategy worth following. The situation is however different if a commercial entity is concerned.

  • Michael Petersheim

    Interesting article; the concern, though, isn’t with what Google (or anyone else) will do with the image to which you granted them a fairly harmless license. The concern is that by granting them any kind of irrevocable license you are automatically throwing away your ability to sell an exclusive license to that image. If you don’t use exclusive licenses in your photography business, I agree, the TOS are pretty innocuous and there’s no cause for concern.

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  • Bill Wells

    Thanks Colby,

    Your post is informative and loaded with insight. Recently started following your blog which I found through Google +. While your post isn’t about Scott it does attempt to dispute or augment what he states about Google’s TOS … or at least what he states his legal counsel offers.

    Everyone is Scott’s “pal” until they disagree. Then they’re suddenly “trolls” or worse. Though today he posts of finding on the advise of his “pal” Scott Kelby, I give him 90 days or less until he’s had a change of mind/heart and posts images to Google +. Interesting to note that he refuses to upgrade his account at because they only accept Paypal.

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  • Bruce

    Thanks Colby, for setting the record straight. Thanks you for breaking it down. So many of us just will not read the small print in a TOS. On the issue of 72 dpi uploads, I believe images (no matter their pixle size) are automatically converted to 72 while being uploaded to most of the social sites. Correct me, if I am wrong.

    Thanks again!


  • Brian

    Just Scott B. being Scott B… I just tend to take everything he says w/ a grain of salt.

    Great article here Colby – excited to keep following you.


  • Donovan Conway

    Thank you for clearing up the Google+ TOS

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  • Curtis

    Scott’s point was that you relinquish some control of the photo one it is posted. Scott makes his money selling the exclusive rights to pictures. With Google’s TOS, the instant a picture is posted on G+ you have given up exclusivity.

    • CBphotography

      Considering Getty has no issues with Google+, I am pretty sure that you are fine in most places. That being said, I don’t licence exclusive rights to my images. From my understand, if he does exclusive rights, he can’t upload the photo to ANY social network.

  • Scott

    Thank you for this post, it’s helped to clear up my concerns with using G+. Specifically for me it’s about getting my work seen without completely devaluing it. Low res images with a watermark should get the job done. Might be time to jump in with both feet with G+ and 500px.

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  • Dorothy Mattesen Drobney

    Great blog, Colby – so glad I discovered you on FB, and the web!

  • Colby Brown Photography

    Thanks Dorothy! Glad to have you around!

  • Zachary G. Rackovan

    Great blog Colby, I was starting to wonder about the impacts that it would have on my stuff. I am glad that you cleared it up. Do you ever travel with your workshops? I am in St. Louis.

  • Colby Brown Photography

    I will be expanding my workshops, but currently they are based out of Coroado. Keep in touch though. I will be sure announce my future workshops.

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