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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Pinterest Conundrum

Photographers struggle to determine whether Pinterest is a marketing savior or a copyright nightmare

A Pinterest pinboard shows photos gleaned from the Internet.

Like so many commercial photographers, I'm always looking for new ways to market my work. We're browbeaten constantly by the knowledge that we must use whatever technological advantages we can to reach out to new customers and engage with an audience that may be interested in paying for our work. New methods for marketing spring up like weeds; it can be difficult to keep up.

When I first learned about the website Pinterest last year, I was intrigued by the opportunity to use the service as a way to see great photographs. Instead of the text-based status updates of Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest allows users to "pin" photographs to virtual pinboards. The users are mostly female, and the preponderance of pins are about fashion, hairstyles, food, home décor and crafts—meaning most pinboards are filled with great fashion photography, food images and architectural interiors.

I must admit, though, that I didn't immediately connect the dots and realize that Pinterest offers an opportunity to promote my own photography to an audience of friends and potential clients. Some photographers are smarter than me, however—like Amie Reinholz, who has only been shooting professionally for a year.

"I'm a newbie," Reinholz says. "When I first started using Pinterest, I used it mainly for inspiration. Eventually, I started a pinboard of my work pinned straight from my blog, so when you click on a picture it takes you straight there. I also caption each picture with my name and the kind of session it was, like 'Bridal Portraits,' so if someone searches for a certain kind of photo, mine will hopefully show up. I have actually gotten two jobs from Pinterest."

Pet photographer Julie Clegg has also found Pinterest to be a useful cog in her marketing machine. She, too, started as a casual user before tapping the site's business potential.

"I kept seeing all of these beautiful and fun things," Clegg says, "and thought I should have a board for some of the awesome pets I get to photograph. I also created another board for the cover shots I have had, and one is planned for tearsheets of my editorial work. I think it's a great avenue for all sorts of marketing and selling. I'm always interested in learning new ways to market my work, and Pinterest has been a great addition without being overly complicated. I think the genius of it is its simplicity."

Simple though it may be, the details do get complicated. For instance, there was another early realization about Pinterest that should have been obvious to me: Legally speaking, the site is a giant collection of copyright infringements. People who haven't licensed photographs are freely sharing images in a public forum online. Some for fun, others for profit, but in either case, without permission, the act of pinning is infringement.

It's this infringement that has divided photographers. Some feel Pinterest's terms of service (which recently were revised in order to assuage photographers' concerns) are so egregious that they have quit the site, while others make use of code (provided by Pinterest) to block their photographs from being pinned. But other photographers embrace the service, infringement and all, in hopes that their work will be spread far and wide, bringing them a new audience of potential paying customers.


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