Keeping awesome photographers happy

Upsetting one member of our community made us rethink how we license images for social media and marketing.

Jul 24, 2015 · 6 min read

Here at Triggertrap we make kit that allows our users to create awesome photos, photos which we simply wouldn’t be able to get out and create ourselves. Check out our Flickr pool to see what we mean.

We see photos from around the globe; shots of SpaceX rockets blasting into space, stunning long exposures of Yosemite, HDR shots of the infamous Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam, and incredible shots from on our doorstep right here in London that frankly none of us would have ever envisaged shooting ourselves.

As the Head of Photography, I look at a lot of the work our users are creating and seeing new photos every single day is possibly one of the best bits of my job.

We really pride ourselves on the community that has built up around using Triggertrap products. We have a thriving Flickr group which, at the time of writing, has 3,300 photos uploaded and over 2,000 members. We’ve started seeing a huge rise in people sharing their photos on Instagram with #triggertrap and there are now over 3,000 photos uploaded there. On top of that, we’re on 500px, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook and G+. Basically anywhere you can share photos, there are probably a few people who have shared shots taken with Triggertrap who have gone out of their way to make it known.

Walter Scriptunas II frequently blows us away with his mind-blowing shots of rocket launches.

We’re constantly looking through all of these places, scouring for the best shots taken with our gear. There’s nothing we like more than finding absolutely mind-blowing photos taken with Triggertrap Mobile, and of course sometimes we’ll want to use these photos. Occasionally we’ll want to use photos in our marketing materials, on our website or even on our packaging. More often than not, we’ll want to share the photos on our social media accounts.

Please, may we share your photo?

When we do spot something we want to share, we’ll reach out to the photographer and ask their permission to use their shot.

Our typical process for acquiring photos used to go a little like this:

  1. Spot an awesome photo.
  2. Comment on the awesome photo with the following:
This is a message we posted on an incredible photo shared on 500Px.

3. The photographer would email us, usually with an awesome story. 90 percent of the time they’re thrilled we’ve reached out to them.

4. We would discuss usage and ask the photographer to sign a license agreement which allowed us and our distributors to use their image for marketing purposes, with full credit to the photographer.

As a process, this worked pretty well for a while. We were building up a library of epic photos. We were sharing photos all over the place, tagging the photographers’ own social media accounts which in turn gave them a little exposure. This all felt great until we hit a little bump.

But then…

One of the photographers we contacted reached out to a forum for some advice around our proposal. There were a few supportive comments from people who were excited about the idea of having their photos shared and gaining recognition from a kit manufacturer, but the tone of the thread was generally pretty negative.

Reading through the comments made us feel pretty bad. We thought that our process for licensing images was fair and transparent. The majority of replies to the forum thread suggested the opposite. It made us think.

Photo by Triggertrap user Alex Molick

A few weeks passed and we realised we had taken it all to heart, and as a result of being getting it in the neck in this forum, we had stopped reaching out to photographers in order to use their photos. The posts had made us feel a bit guilty: Were we doing something wrong? We are photograhers, we care about photograpers’ rights, and the last thing we want is to piss off the community we are a part of.

But on the other hand, we do want to continue sharing the photos our awesome customers are taking, so we decided to shake the process up a bit, and make it better for everyone. We decided to aim for complete clarity and transparency about what we were actually asking photographers for, and how we wanted to use peoples’ photos.

Some times, we just want to share them with our friends and followers online, to say “Wow, look at this awesome image!”. Other times, we might want to licence the images for use on our marketing material (say, on our flyers or on a roller banner at a photography show). Until now, we haven’t been clear enough about which is which, and we believe that’s probably where the misunderstanding came from.

We recently shared this shot from Martin Sanderson on our Instagram profile.

Our Instagram account is fueled by the shots our community is taking. The most obvious thing we needed to add was a way of obtaining permission to share people’s photos (with full credit, every time) but without taking any sort of usage license for anything other than sharing the photos on our social media.

Fixing the issue: A simple sharing license

As a result, we now have two levels of sharing requests. One for asking photographers if we can share their shots on social media, another for licensing their images for marketing use.

With the social sharing request, we ask from the outset for the photographer’s permission to share the photo. There’s no indirect, unclear wording, there’s nothing that could be seen to be dishonest.

An example:

As you can see, the response is pretty positive; and that’s not a one-off: we’ve found that people are really excited to receive this sort of message, rather than the slightly obscured ‘borrow’ message we used to send.

When the photographers contact us, myself, Helin (Triggertrap’s Customer Support Superhero) or Helena (Head of Marketing and Community) reply. We make sure that we’re super clear on how we want to use the photo, explaining that we’re only ever going to share it on our social media accounts and we also make sure we get peoples usernames on the relevant platforms so that we can tag them on the photos.

Advanced licensing

The marketing request helps cover use of photos on things like our packaging, even so, we make sure we contact the photographer (in this case Tim Gamble) to get their go ahead before we send the packaging to print.

The second level of request is Triggertrap asking to use their images for marketing purposes. As such, when we write to the photographer, we gun for complete clarity again: We explain we’d be interested in using the image, but we’re also keen to ensure the photographer gets a fair deal. We really don’t want anyone to feel like we’re not being forthright about how we’re using their photos.

We’re a company with photography running through our veins. There are obviously loads of photographers in the company (myself included), we work closely with a load of awesome photographers, and our whole community is made up of photographers. The last thing we want to do is make anyone feel misled or unvalued. Without our awesome community we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Receiving bad feedback can really, really suck. But ultimately, we see it as an opportunity to act on the feedback and improve the experience — It helps keep everyone happy in the long run.

Written by @Thomas_Langley, Triggertrap’s Head of Photography

Triggertrap Playbook

A look behind the scenes at Triggertrap

Thanks to Rich Harley and Mat Rodger.

Thomas Langley

Written by

I’m the Head of Photography over at Triggertrap!

Triggertrap Playbook

A look behind the scenes at Triggertrap