This morning, my day started like any other. I climbed out of bed, turned on the computer, walked over to the Kuerig, and started brewing a cup of coffee. I sat down with my coffee, signed on to facebook, and began checking notifications and replying to messages. That's when I opened up a message from a friend, linking me to someone's facebook page. I clicked the link, and sure enough, there was an image of a supercell I shot in 2012, except it was totally oversaturated, contrast pumped up to all hell, and someone else had their name slapped across the bottom of it. They were taking my work, and trying to pass it off as their own! 

This was hardly the first time that this has happened to me. Heck, it happens every couple months. This isn't even the first time it has happened to this image! This image is reaching Hollingshead level of thievery. It was shared on facebook by George Takei and I F---ing Love Science, gaining thousands of likes and shares for the page owners, but without any credit to me. It's my own fault. I posted the image without a watermark on 500px with the hopes of earning thousands of cents in print sales. Dumb, dumb, dumb. 

I tried to message George Takei, asking to be credited for my work, but with millions of followers, I doubt that the message was ever read. I did successfully contact the administrator of I F---ing Love Science, and they did credit me several days later, but the damage was already done, an opportunity to expand my brand was totally gone. 

This morning though, there was a course of action I could take. I could screenshot the post of "Hackmaster", as my friends from facebook dubbed him, then make my own post calling him out. Although I asked people to wait to say anything about him using my image, within seconds, people were calling him out on his page. I can't imagine the shame and terror he must have felt when he realized he was busted. 

Many of my friends started digging through "his" work, and we quickly realized most (all) of it was actually stolen; storms, sunsets, portraits. It was blatantly obvious that this was the work of many different photographers, rather than just Hackmaster. By this point, people were flooding his page with angry comments and links to original images that he tried to pass of as his own. I urged him to remove all of the stolen images and publicly admit to what he had done. He has already posted a status owning up to his actions, and claims to be in the process of removing the images, but the damage to his reputation is already done. People may quickly forgive, but they sure as hell do not forget. 


  Some of you may ask, "Well he wasn't making any money off of it. What's the big deal?" The big deal is that I spent thousands of dollars going to school to learn how to make that photo, thousands more on the equipment to be able to make it, and countless hours honing my skills to be able to make that image. Then, I drove over 1,000 miles from Florida to Nebraska, setup in a lightning storm (somewhat risking my life) to make this image. I then drove over 1,000 miles back to Florida, spent several hours editing it, to make it look just right (which he fucked up with a few clicks of a mouse), then posted it online for the world to see and enjoy...not to steal and claim as his own. 


Although he didn't make any money off of it, he is falsely touting himself as something he is not. If you love photography, as you so claim, you sure wouldn't steal people's photos. Not once when my work was awful, did I even so much as think about lifting a photo off the internet and trying to pass it off as my own. He was most likely just looking for attention that he is lacking elsewhere in his life. For that I do feel a little sorry for him, but aside from that small spark of sympathy I have for him, the way he went about getting the attention infuriates me. Well my friend, here's the attention you so desperately craved. Enjoy.

This is far from the first time something like this has happened. I'm sure many of you remember the late Megan Gould. What word do you think of when you hear that name? Her reputation for stealing photos continues to follow her, even after her death. There are plenty of places that work can be stolen from. There was a case last year of a storm chaser taking a screen shot of a tornado on someone else's live stream, then claiming he took the photo with his cell phone. Silly. If you want to take storm pictures, SHUT OFF THE COMPUTER AND GO OUT AND CHASE! 

A couple simple clicks of a mouse can ruin your reputation for a very long time. Maybe forever. Think you can get away with it? You can't. Sooner, rather than later, someone is going to catch it, and call you out on it. 

o, now that we have some background on my experiences with images being stolen or misused. What can you do to prevent it from happening to you? First, understand that there are two different types of people who may misuse your work:

Low Risk "Thieves"

Technically, when someone downloads your photo for personal use, especially if it is offered on your website for a fee, they are stealing your work. It's kind of like music or movie piracy, on a personal level. They aren't distributing it, or trying to claim credit for it, perhaps they wish to use it as a desktop background. They may even "share" the image with followers on social media, simply without giving credit to you, as in the case of Mr. Takei and the lightning image. The bright side is many of these people aren't computer savvy, and it is relatively easy to prevent them from using your work without permission. Disabling right click or adding a watermark to the image is usually enough to prevent any damage from this type of person. 

High Risk Thieves

These are the people you need to worry about. They intend on misusing your photos without credit, or sometimes even selling your work for profit. Even worse for us, is they are often just as or more so computer smart than we are! They have a plethora of tools at their disposal that make it easy for them to lift your work, even if right click is disabled, and sometimes even if the work is watermarked. 

Unfortunately, once you post a photo online, it is open game for people to try to steal it for either credit or profit. The only foolproof way for you to stop these types of people is to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office ( Technically, once you press the shutter button, your work is copyrighted by you, but legally that is not the case. Your work floating around online is pretty much free for anyone to use until it is legally registered as a copyrighted piece of work with the United States government. It takes just a few simple steps to upload your work. You can legally copyright all of your best images, that you think may be stolen, for just $65. This gives you legal standing to sue persons that attempt to steal your work or publications that use it without compensation. 

Which Approach Should You Use?

For professional photographers, simply put, all of them. Disable right click on your website, and/or upload a transparent image above yours.You should also watermark your photos AND register them with the United States Copyright Office. I should take some of my own advice, and once I am caught up on the website, I plan to boost my security and register all of my work. 

For the casual photographer (I despise the term "amatuer photgrapher"), this is where you need to make your decision. Are you only trying to block the "low risk 'thieves'", or are you also concerned with the "high risk thieves"? Here are some factors you might want to consider when making your decision:

What's the nature of your business? Is it mission-critical to prevent any theft at all?

Would watermarks be visually distracting or hurt your work? You don't want to come across as paranoid to potential clients. 

How much of your work is online? Are you trying to make money from it? If you're only displaying a few photos,you probably shouldn't worry about high level security.

All of these questions should be considered together. If you can make image protection subtle, do so; you don't want to annoy legitimate visitors. 

Blocking the Default Right-Click Menu

As I mentioned above, this method can be easily circumvented; it's only about blocking the low risk "thieves". If that's all the protection you need, though, it's a simple fix to add. Just add the following code to your page before the closing </body> tag:

<script type="text/javascript">
document.oncontextmenu = function(e) {
   e = e || window.event;
   if (/^img$/i.test(( || e.srcElement).nodeName)) return false;

This script blocks the right-click menu from appearing when any image in the page is right-clicked. The menu will still appear for other content in the page; just not for images.

Tricking the Thieves

Blocking the right-click menu is a good start, but it doesn't stop people from dragging the photo to save it, and it's extremely easy to circumvent if you're technical savvy (think Chrome Developer Tools or Firebug for Firefox). A better solution is to automatically overlay a transparent image over the real photo. The downloader right-clicks, saves, thinks they've got your photo and ... oops! Not so fast. They end up with a transparent image, not the real photo.


This easy script uses jQuery to automatically apply this effect to photos in your page. To enable the effect, add the following code to your page before the closing </body> tag:

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
$(function() {
   var pixelSource = '';
   var useOnAllImages = true;
   // Preload the pixel
   var preload = new Image();
   preload.src = pixelSource;
   $('img').live('mouseenter touchstart', function(e) {
       // Only execute if this is not an overlay or skipped
       var img = $(this);
       if (img.hasClass('protectionOverlay')) return;
       if (!useOnAllImages && !img.hasClass('protectMe')) return;
       // Get the real image's position, add an overlay
       var pos = img.offset();
       var overlay = $('<img class="protectionOverlay" src="' + pixelSource + '" width="' + img.width() + '" height="' + img.height() + '" />').css({position: 'absolute', zIndex: 9999999, left: pos.left, top:}).appendTo('body').bind('mouseleave', function() {
           setTimeout(function(){ overlay.remove(); }, 0, $(this));
       if ('ontouchstart' in window) $(document).one('touchend', function(){ setTimeout(function(){ overlay.remove(); }, 0, overlay); });

The parameters are highlighted. By default, I've configured the script to use a pixel gif from the Wikimedia commons. (A pixel gif is a 1x1 pixel transparent image.) You should download the referenced file, save it to your site, then replace in the script with the path to your local copy.

Watermarking Your Images

The previous two solutions are nice, but a quick screenshot is all it takes to work around them. Watermarking is the way to go. It isn't bulletproof, but if they are strategically placed, it is quite difficult for anyone without extensive knowledge of photoshop to remove them. It should be said that there is a fine line between protecting and destroying your work. 

If you are so paranoid about someone stealing your work, that you need to lay a huge watermark across the middle of the image, maybe you should think twice about posting your work online. In my opinion, the viewer experience is totally ruined by the watermark on the left. It's all your eyes can focus on. A strategically placed, low opacity waterwark, like the image on the right offers almost as much protection and maintains most of the viewer's experience in viewing your image. I used to simply put my watermark in a corner of the image, but am now considering placing it over an important element to deter cropping. 

You can use a photo editing program, like Photoshop or Lightroom to add watermarks to your work. There are also several online and desktop watermarking tools are also available (just run a Google search). Again, experiment to find the right balance for  providing adequate protection, but at the same time, keeping the watermark subtle.

Unfortunately, image thieves are something photographers will have to deal with each and every day of the digital age. Fortunately, there are simple ways to protect your work. 

Have you been a victim of image theft? Do you have any tips or tricks for protecting photos? Please share in the comments!