This week we would like to introduce you to photographer Betsy Finn.
What was the inspiration behind becoming a photographer? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I’ve always loved creating. As a child, I loved spending time with my grandfather in his workshop, where he taught me a little bit about a lot of things. Whether it was woodworking, painting with watercolors, playing with the knobs on his oscilloscope, or learning to code in DOS, I loved creating. My dad also played a part by drawing elaborate scenes with trains, tanks, and other vehicles on scratch paper; he would also let me look through his big camera lens at the world around me. These experiences, along with others, allowed me to grow up in an environment where being a creator was natural.
For me, the creative process is just that. A process, a method. When you create, there is no right or wrong way to do something. As the creator, you decide when something is “finished.” When conceptualizing a project, it’s okay to come up with many ideas before settling on your favorite. I love the fluidity, the ever changing nature of the creative process. You don’t ever have to do something the same way twice—unless you want to, of course!
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
My creative process can take one of several routes, depending on the type of photography, and whether I am creating something specifically for a client, or something more in the realm of fine art. For a typical family or senior portrait session, I will spend one hour photographing my client during the session, but I will typically spend at least five more hours outside of that time planning the session beforehand with my client, retouching the images we created, and putting together album designs or preparing wall portraits. For a fine art photograph, the timeframe is completely different. I might spend a month conceptualizing my idea, drawing sketches and the like, before spending an hour in the studio to create the images. Depending on the complexity of the project, I might spend under an hour retouching, or upwards of ten hours. Not everything I produce makes money, but some of the things I create aren’t made for that reason. Sometimes I just need to create something …simply to create.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
The biggest misconception about photography is that you can just pick up a camera and make money, or that it’s all about the equipment. Photography isn’t about having a fancy camera, and it is undervalued as an art form. I think there are two reasons people tend to think of photographic art as “less” than traditional media. First, photographs exist separately from the final product—the print, or the album, so it is very distinct from, say, an acrylic painting. Second, when people watch a photographer at work, they see someone pushing the button to take a picture. They don’t realize how much the photographer impacts that shutter click. With years of training and experience, I can execute a complex shot very quickly and efficiently. In short, we make it look easy. Photography is so much more than the final “click.” It’s about painting with light, bringing your unique perspective into the composition, and allowing others a glimpse into how you see the world.
When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?
I’ve been aware of copyright for as long as I’ve been a photographer, probably longer. I don’t recall whether my professors discussed copyright specifically, but I am sure it was ingrained in my art education. I also joined Professional Photographers of America as a student member in college, so that may have been where I learned about copyright too.
Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
I have experienced copyright infringement a number of times over the years, but have been fortunate these incidents resulted in negligible financial loss (aside from the time spent resolving the situation). The majority of offenses come from people who mean well, but think it’s okay to do as they wish with the portrait photographs I create. After all, it is a picture of them, so many think it isn’t a problem. This naivete is commonplace, and I think if people understood copyright more, they would be more aware of (and avoid) infringement.
What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
As a creator, it is frustrating to see things I’ve created being used without my permission or approval. But, over the years, I have become more used to copyright infringement, and have gotten better at using each opportunity to educate the public about copyright and why it exists. I think it truly comes down to respect and education. When I feel disrespected, I always want to bring respect to the table.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?
My best piece of advice to photographic creators? Educate your clients before infringement happens. Don’t treat them as a perpetrator, but rather as an ally by explaining to them that you make a living from creating photographs.
Now, obviously this won’t eliminate infringements by dishonest persons trying to pass off your work as their own or a more intentional infringement, but my advice for that is to do what you can to prevent or dissuade infringement. Use a discrete watermark on photographs you post online, and register your work regularly with the U.S. Copyright Office, so that if you come across a financially significant infringement case, you have leverage.
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