Checking Items Off Your Bucket List: Photography

Neighborhood cat escaping his yard

A neighborhood cat escaping his yard.

Back in February, I blogged about making a reasonable mini-bucket list. We all have big, bold things we'd like to do someday, but often someday doesn't come or the task is too big/expensive/time-consuming for us to fit into our lives. So I wanted to make a list I could reasonably tackle right then.

You can read the full post here, but one of my items was to learn more about photography. Here's what I said back in February:

I have always been interested in photography. It's one of those creative pursuits I "hope to learn" one day not for career purposes but for a hobby. But especially after my blog photo lawsuit debacle, I now am REALLY interested in learning how to take my own photos. I've gotten a few fun apps on my Iphone, but obviously that's very limited.

And I know a DSLR camera would be the next step, but those are expensive and at this point, I'd have no idea how to operate it. So I feel like I'd need to take a class if I decided to invest in that pricey of a camera. So this one has some cost involved. But I'm still really interested in pursuing it.

So, I was a bit intimidated by the learning curve and the upfront cost. However, in March, I took a trip to NYC to visit the Penguin offices and meet the publishing team involved with my books. On that trip, I had the chance to do lots of sightseeing and took lots of pictures--but all I had was my Iphone to do it. So when I came back home, I decided that the next royalty check I got, I would treat myself to a fancy camera and find a camera class.

In April, I bought the Canon Rebel T4i and a 50mm lens after chatting with Twitter friends/photographers on what I should get (extra thanks to Jenn LeBlanc for sending me long, detailed emails answering my newbie questions.) Then I researched and found an Intro to Digital Photography class at a local university for a really reasonable price. It was seven classes, two hours once a week. 

I just finished the last class this week, and I'm so happy I decided to take the plunge. It was a risk to do during deadline time. And I almost talked myself out of it with "you need to be using all your non-mommy time on writing" but sometimes you need to refresh your brain with non-writing creative pursuits. 

Of course, this was only an intro class and now I want to learn more, so I'm going to probably sign up for another class in the fall. But at least now I can use my camera on manual mode and feel confident about taking photos.

So if you have one of those lingering bucket list items that is doable, I encourage you to take the time to try to fit it in. It's a nice feeling to do something purely for your own enjoyment or enrichment. Not because it's practical. Not because it's necessary. Not because you need to make money from it. But just because you want to.

And though I'm still learning, I'll share some of my pics I've taken over the last few weeks. If you want to see more, check out my Flickr.  (And btw, I list almost all of my photos as creative commons on Flickr so feel free to share using the creative commons guidelines.) : )










So what's on your reasonable bucket list? What would you like to tackle next? Or, what are you currently checking off your list? 


A Bright Side - Writers Building a Photo Sharing Community

Wow, it's been a crazy weekend here at the blog with my copyright post this last Friday. I had to close comments finally because things were starting to spin into the name-calling direction. But before that, there was a vibrant and impassioned discussion in the comments and I appreciate everyone who chimed in with things that added to the discussion.

And clearly based on the shear volume of visitors and attention the post has I gotten, I wasn't the only one confused over the Fair Use laws. So I'm glad that even though this wasn't a fun thing to go through, the word on the right way to use photos is getting spread. That's good news for bloggers AND photographers.

One benefit that came out of this was bloggers and writers getting inspired to create their own photos and to share them. Kristen Lamb, founder of WANA International and the blogger/author behind the #myWANA (We Are Not Alone) hashtag on Twitter, even started a group on Flickr where we writers can submit our photos for free sharing with other writers for blog use. Already I'm astounded at the gorgeous pics some of the WANAs have submitted to the group. I guess I shouldn't be. Writers are a creative lot. : )

And it's definitely made me start looking at random things I could photograph for blog posts. On today's agenda was kidlet's toys. Here are some photos I've taken. (I think kidlet had as much fun as I did with the process.)

USA map puzzle

His favorite puzzle



For back to school posts



Recreating the Jurassic Park scene for my Plot-Driven post



Yes, I violated kidlet's dolls to create a pic for my Sexual Tension post. Let's ignore that they're technically brother and sister. I was just channeling Flowers in the Attic.


Kidlet's creation

Kidlet's creation.


So I'm a person who always tries to find the positive, the bright side, of situations. Life's too short to stew in negativity. So that's what I want to do in this situation as well. One obvious positive thing that has come out of this is awareness in the blogging community and a swell of people changing things now that they know better. But also seeing writers get together to help each other out warms the cockles of my heart. 

I hope the creativity and the desire to make things better continues.

Now just a heads up--I'm going to be attending the RWA conference this week so my internet access is going to be limited at best. I have the lovely Tori St. Claire guest blogging here tomorrow, but the rest of the week, I'm taking off from the blog. I hope to come back from RWA with lots of great new information to share.

I hope you all have a fantastic week!

How has learning about the copyright rules changed how you're going forward with your blog? Are you more motivated to take your own photos?

Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story

Photo is my ownSo today I'm forgoing the usual Fill-Me-In Friday post to talk about something that I've been wanting to blog about for a while but couldn't until the situation was wrapped up.

For those of you who are super observant, you may have noticed some changes on my blog over the last few months. Tumblr posts went away. Fiction Groupie disappeared. I deleted most of my Pinterest boards. The Boyfriend of the Week has changed format. And all my previous posts from the past three years--all 700 of them--now have new photos on them.

Why is that? What happened?

Well, you've probably figured it out from the title, but it's because I've been involved in a case regarding a photo I used on my blog. Like most of you, I'm a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards. 

Here is an example of a disclaimer I found on a bigger site (name of blog removed):

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

And site after site had the same kind of thing. Just look on Tumblr, that same type of disclaimer is on a ton of them. And I'm thinking--well, that must mean it's okay because if that weren't true, sites like Tumblr and Pinterest couldn't even exist because reposting pics is the whole POINT of those sites. So off I went doing what everyone else does--using pics from Google Images, putting a disclaimer on my site, etc. 

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need.

It wasn't fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn't matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it's a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.

Here's what I learned about Fair Use:


  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc. (more on that below.)

I didn't know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don't have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work. I've already had to send my own DMCAs to sites that have pirated my books. So I definitely don't want to be someone who infringes on someone else's copyright. A photo is someone else's art and unless they tell me it's okay, I don't have the right to use it.

So what can you do?

1.If you've been using images without approval from the internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.

Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I'm proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren't yours.

2. Search for photos that are approved for use.

3. Take your own photos and share the love.

Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take--open up a Flickr account (here's mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)

4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.

I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I'm not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you're saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that's enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm leaning on the paranoid side now. I don't want to be the test case. And I don't want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn't want pinned. 

So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (though the Pin It button is not always a safe bet either because if the site owner doesn't own the pic but has the Pin It option automatically pop up, it's still not okay .) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it's advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty photos? I'm going to look but not touch.

ADDED: Also see discussion in comments about posting and sharing pics on Facebook. Same rules apply. (*comments were lost in site transfer)

5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.

That's your safest bet. If you're not 100% sure it's okay to use, don't. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don't need to risk violating someone's copyright.

6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.

It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn't want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.

So I know many of you are probably thinking--she's being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I'm going to do better (from the Maya Angelou quote Oprah always used.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can't go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I'll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. :)

So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists. 

*This post is not intended as legal advice. God knows I have no background in law. This is just my experience and what I learned working these past few weeks with people who are experts at copyright.