Long Form: The Truth Behind Blogging

Recently I had one of most annoying and upsetting things that happens to bloggers happen to me. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, I’m sure of it. Two of my photos were taken from my blog and used on a website without my permission. The pictures in question were not of me; they were of a location, and the website was using them to showcase what their business looked like, and they even chose to remove my watermark (which says “atomicredhead.com”) from them. One was cropped out poorly, and on the other “photoshopped” it out. I’m still in the midst of clearing it up. The business has yet to respond to my e-mail.

This move really hurt. It kind of felt like the ultimate betrayal. And I feel a need to both vent and clear up some common misconceptions about blogging.

First, many people believe blogging is an easy way to make money. I do not make any money with this blog. None. At all. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Zero. Years ago I used to participate in affiliate programs, where I used banners that linked to companies’ websites, and a portion of the purchases made after clicking “my” link would be sent to me. Sometimes I still use affiliate links, but it is rare and never with the loudness of previous affiliate banners. I also used to have advertising for Etsy shops. But I had few interested parties, and eventually decided that these ads and affiliate banners looked tacky, and weakened the overall feel I wanted my blog to have. So, today there is zero income coming in from my blog.

The only type of “payment,” I guess one could say, is that I sometimes (and it isn’t all that often, I’ve done seven in the last three years) I am asked to do collaborations with companies. There are various forms of collaborations, but today I only participate in product reviews. How do collaborations work? At this time, personally I do not seek out collaborations, while other bloggers do. A company contacts me asking if I would be interested in doing a collaboration, and then if I feel the company is a good a good fit for Atomic Redhead and you, the readers, I move forward. I have participated in the various forms, including sponsored giveaways and coupon codes. Recently I was asked to either accept a guest post from a company or write my own post about them (without having any experience with their products) for $30. I told them I only do product reviews. I feel like product reviews are better for you all, because I am having a personal experience with an item and telling you about it. I am handling the item. I am using it, typically by wearing it, and I can tell you about the fit and feel. I am photographing it in a manner that may not be done on their website. All of this adds up to a much more real experience, and to write posts about something I do not have experience with feels disingenuous to you guys. Every time I write a product review I attempt to be very clear within the first paragraph that I was contacted by the company to do a review, then I always close out the post with a disclaimer. Another form of collaboration is the ever coveted “Brand Ambassador” position that bloggers and Instagramers can be bestowed with, but don’t ask me how that works, because I legit have no idea. I’m not that important of a blogger.

Now, I also understand that my story is unique, as there are plenty of bloggers out there who do indeed make their living from blogging, whether it is getting paid to write posts, advertising, or other means. That is their choice to go that route. But I would hazard a guess that most bloggers do not get paid.

On the same note, I go out of my way to write posts about products, books, events, and locations without anyone from those businesses contacting me. I provide links. I share stuff on social media. All because I want to. I believe in that company. I had a good experience with a place. And I want to share that with you, to hopefully encourage you to support that company or business and help them continue to survive and perhaps even grow. Even with these posts, take my latest book review as an example, I make it clear with a disclaimer that I wrote that post because I wanted to.

To recap, I make no money from my blog. Only every so often do I do brand collaborations in which I receive product. I voluntarily write about companies, product, locations, etc. because I feel they are amazing.

Second, blogging actually costs money. Before you can really get going with a blog under your own URL, you have to purchase that domain. A domain is a yearly expense, and for us specifically, atomicredhead.com costs $15 a year. This is where I’ll get into using “we” and “us” as this blog is a team effort. My husband, Patrick, is also very involved with Atomic Redhead.

Then there is the stuff we use to do photos with. We use one camera, a Nikon D500, and a few different lenses. But usually we just have one on us when we shoot. Then we use both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit my photos. A side note on this, I do not overly edit my photos. Like I don’t make myself or portions of my body to appear smaller or bigger. I use Lightroom to make color and lens correction adjustments, and Photoshop to apply my watermark, apply a banner, and maybe some other things. Like once I photoshopped out a dude in the background of my photo. But I digress. Anyway, Lightroom and Photoshop are not cheap. But Adobe finally woke up that their products cost so much, and they opted to do a monthly subscription plan. There are different types of plans, the one we use is $10 a month.

Thirdly, there is the time that actually goes into blogging.

Once again, before blogging can really get off the ground, there is the code work and design that goes into it. Sometimes you can use an easy template, and it isn’t that big of a deal, but I like really unique designs. Patrick is in charge of all of that nitty-gritty coding stuff and the design element. Typically I just sketch out an idea on paper and say “Make this!” and he does. We have been working on a new blog design for awhile, but it takes lots and lots of time, and Patrick has a real job, and we love having adventures, so it has been slow going.

Being a blogger means taking some extra time on normal things. Sometimes I take more time getting ready to go out if I know I am going to shoot an outfit for the blog. I put a little bit more thought into my outfit. Sometimes I try to highlight items that haven’t been on the blog, and try not to repeat myself too often. This can be difficult, and sometimes stressful. We take extra time during our outings to do photos of locations and of my outfits.

When we get home there is the time spent on the photos, including uploading, selecting (because I’ll let you in on a secret, I take a lot of photos. I am immensely self-conscious) and editing. Editing can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on what needs to be done. We shoot .raw as opposed to .jpeg, which is more a professional approach, and allows more to be done with photos with regards to color correction, exposure, lens correction, and more. Lens correction can be one of the most difficult and time consuming things to do. We wouldn’t have to do it as much if we had a ton of different lenses, but again, that costs loads of money.

Then there is the time that it takes to write the posts. Sometimes I do extra research on posts. Or, like my Sambo’s or Oujia Board posts, the entire blog post is research. Those two posts, which I want to do more of, take several days and pages of notes to create. They are akin to writing a paper for school.

Plus there is the social media aspect. I always take the time to share my new posts via the various forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as interact with followers on those platforms.

This adds up to hours, if not days spent working on blog posts.

I do this because I want to.

That is why it hurts so much when my photos are used without my permission. I went incredibly far out of my way to do something kind for a business, and they chose to just yank my photos off of the internet, and use them for business purposes. Money making purposes. Now, I could understand this if these photos had no identifier to show where they came from. But these photos had my watermark and even my logo on them. They saw these images, which had the information of where they came from directly on them, and still chose to ignore seeking out permission to use them. Then they actively chose to remove my watermark, attempting to erase my ownership of the photos. They chose to literally take advantage of my kindness.

Now, I have had several companies e-mail me asking to use my photos, which always brings me great joy. It is incredibly flattering when a company thinks your photographs are good enough to use to represent their business. I am typically very gracious with this. And even go out of my way to provide the original, hi-resolution, un-watermarked images for them, so they are not at the mercy of low quality, sometimes pixilated images. Depending on the situation, I typically only request credit and a link to my blog, but other times I have been paid in product by companies.

Because I know all of what goes into a blog, I often refuse to use images that are not my own. I do not want to be at the receiving end of an e-mail from an angry blogger, photographer, or company upset over the use of a photo. I sometimes make exceptions. My Sambo’s post is a recent example of this. I used a combination of vintage images and my own photos to create the post. Some images I knew to be in public domain, while others were questionable, however, due to their use for educational purposes within my post, I am not making money off of using the images, and the active use of the images also being used in blog posts by others, I am in the clear. I even noted that I was not going to directly use a photo due to ownership by Getty, who wanted over $500 to use their image, which, if I’m honest, is a little out of line, because it was just a scan of a vintage menu of a business that is still in business. But whatever. Anyway, the point is, I try to make sure I am always on the correct side of copyright issues. Sometimes I use screencaps from TV shows or movies, or do posts that feature collections of vintage postcards or photographs. I have never watermarked any of these images because they are not mine. Sure, many of them may have fallen into public domain, but I still feel no ownership over them because I or Patrick did not take the picture.

I also continuously provide links to businesses that I purchase from or visit. I want you to have easy access to getting more information about the places or products I discuss. I want you to immediately know when and where a business or unique place is located so you can go there. If the item is new, I want you to be able to buy one for yourself easily. So once again, I am taking the time to make things easier for the readers, as well as provide support for the businesses.

I both go out of my way to do what is right regarding image use, and then I often write about businesses out of my personal belief and/or passion for that business. All of this adds up to a world of hurt and even anger over the use of my photos without my permission, and the further destruction of my obvious ownership of them when my watermark is removed. As I said earlier, this wasn’t the first time it happened. It’s happened a few times. A little over a year ago and I chose to alter how my watermark was done. Previously I opted for a more signature type, that left most of the image free to exist without interruption. But when a shop I loved chose to crop out my “signature” and use the image of social media, I was a little pissed, and I decided that was the last straw. That had happened one too many times (I’ve even had friends do it) and it was time to change how I showcased my ownership over my images. The photos that were taken that sparked this post were taken from the time when I did the signature style watermark, and thus was easy for them to crop it out, although they didn’t fully on one photo, and a portion of my logo is still visible in the lower right hand corner.

All of this said, I will openly say I understand why some businesses just steal customer photos. They know photography is expensive, but they don’t know why. And it is pretty much for all of the reasons I explained about blogging. Sure, anyone can take a picture, but you really aren’t paying for just the photograph. You are paying for their artist eye, their quality of camera, their lighting equipment, their time setting up and taking the actual photo, and breakdown of their set up, their editing software, and their time spent editing the photo, and then finally getting the image to you. The best example I can think of that showcases the difference between a snapshot and a professional is this article from awhile ago showcasing the difference between the photos the photographer’s clients originally took, followed by the photographer’s photos. And there is a massive difference.

The bottom line is that I really wanted to share this experience with you, and perhaps offer a better understanding of what goes into blogging and photography, and also, don’t just steal images, especially when the owner is literally written right on the picture.

March 8, 2018 UPDATE: I have finally heard back from the owner of the business in question. They stated that my pictures were pulled off of just an image search for their business and given to their web designer, who then altered them. They have removed the images, and have offered me compensation in a non-financial, but perfectly acceptable way. In my e-mail I offered to give them the hi-res images if credit is given, and they said they would like that and comply. It appears that in order to get their attention fully I had to threaten them with a DMCA takedown notice that I was planning to send to their web host by the end of the week.

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