There is a lot of information floating around about how to be successful [in business] as a photographer. Whether you are just starting photography as a hobby or shooting every day for clients, you need to adopt some basic practices to secure yourself and your work against catastrophe. Here is some info about protecting your most valuable assets:

1. Equipment Insurance
You’ve absolutely gotta have your gear covered. Ask your insurance agent or check out Hill & Usher.

2. File Backups
After every work session, synchronize two or three hard drives so you have mirror copies of all your files. If you don’t use RAID (I don’t), there are software utilities that make this easy; On Mac I use ChronoSync; on Windows I use RoboCopy.

3. File Archives
Different than regular backups (which are updated frequently), archives are permanent (or at least, long-term). This is where you would go if all else fails. Plan for permanent storage for your best work…. ideally, on solid-state or optical media (no moving parts). USB flash drives, in vacuum-sealed bags, in a safe-deposit box, make a lot of sense to me.

4. Copyright Registration
Take a day to organize a full set of images you want to register; they don’t have to go together like they would in a gallery. Just get them all in there — you can submit as many photographs as you want under one registration. I recently registered one set of images called “Nathaniel Coalson Selected Photos thru March 2009″…. 800+ photos, for $35. I did everything online and received a printed confirmation from US see copyright.gov

When you create a photograph you automatically own the copyright. However, if someone steals your photo, you can’t expect to recoup financial damages unless you’ve registered with the copyright office.

5. Metadata
For all your important digital photo files, you need to enhance them with metadata. Copyright info, contact info, location info and keywords will dramatically increase the accessibility and value of your images. Don’t put this off; if you have lots of photos in your library without any metadata, get it in there. More about this in my Lightroom 2 book.

6. Contracts/Agreements
Any time you let someone use your images, under any circumstances, you need to have that arrangement in writing. Putting a few images in a gallery, submitting photos to an online gallery or competition, etc… there needs to be a clear understanding of how your photos will be used,

Imagine this scenario: you submit four images to a competition online, and receive notice that none of your photos have been selected to appear in the final exhibition. Weeks later, you see one of your photos being used to promote the show. You need to have recourse. Registering everything with the copyright office is the first step (see above).

This is only one example (albeit an infrequent one) but I hope this gives you the impetus to consider how other people might use your photos. Read the fine print. Ask a lawyer.

If there is anything that does not work in your favor, try to have it changed, or WALK AWAY.

7. Web Monitoring
Finally, actively look for your photos online, at frequent intervals. If your files have lots of metadata embedded, this should not be difficult – search engines look at image file metadata when scannning for the index.

Over time, it is likely that you will see instances of use of your photos that you did not approve or intend. In these cases you need to decide case-by-case how to proceed.

If this should happen, following all the steps above, being protected ahead of time will put you in a postion of strength, not of vulnerability.

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