Photography, Advertising & Social Media

by William Lulow

An article in the NYT by Sydney Ember and Rachel Abrams speaks about how brands are inconsistent about using photos that people post on social media. The point is made that many advertisers don’t always make sincere efforts at finding the source of images culled from Instagram and Facebook. It further points out that many advertisers are getting pushback regarding the use of ads on phone apps and search engines. (I know that when I’m searching for something, either from a search engine or on the social media, I am annoyed when a banner ad pops up or otherwise interferes with my search. The article points out,  in addition, that many advertisers are also trying to find ways that their ads will stand out from the myriad of commercials out there. They think that these “pop ups” will garner more attention).

This affects photographers whose work isn’t actually copyrighted nor proper metadata appended to images they produce, as is the case with many amateur photos. Photographers must make sure they attach their own metadata to each and every image they intend to post on the internet in whatever form and on whichever social media they choose. At the very least, this will help identify the images and hopefully, force advertisers to do their best due diligence in ascertaining the authors. There are advertisers who make clear attempts to get permission from the authors of the images they wish to use, but the practice is not universal by any means. (I believe that there is a way to append some metadata on each frame a camera shoots right in the camera itself. I know this to be the case for my Canon cameras. But I still add most of my information from Lightroom).

My personal take on advertisers using images from social media in banner ads or other commercial uses is that they should generally refrain from such use unless and until they have written permission from the creators of the content. I wrote a piece a few days ago talking about how “content is king” these days. This article in the Times just supports the notion that advertisers will use good content from wherever they can get it. It seems that it’s cheaper to use someone’s existing pictures than it would be to commission a professional shoot. This not only hurts us as professional photographers, but it also potentially violates the individual’s right to post her images without fear of plagiarism or improper, commercial use. I guess many advertisers figure that the chances of an image taken from an Instagram post and used in an advertisement and then being seen by that image’s creator, are fairly slim. Maybe, they feel that taking this chance is cheaper than creating content of their own. It probably wouldn’t be if all creators went to court over illegal use of their images.

This article only points out that maybe those chances are not as slim as some advertisers actually figure! The point of this whole discussion is that if people are going to post photographs (which they have been doing for some time now), the images must have clear creator identification. Metadata is easily appended to each and every image someone takes through Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Photoshop, Flickr and other image processing software. We, as content producers, must see that we do this.


This is the screen in Adobe Lightroom that will allow you to add your metadata. First, select all the files that you have just captured, then, after you have set up your metadata file, click on the “Append Metadata” choice and your files will all be tagged with your specific metadata. This way, when anyone attempts to upload a file that is yours, all the information you appended to your image files will be there for anyone to see.