4 Signs That Your Clients Are Ripping You Off (and what to do about it)

Update March 27, 2012:

Dear Smuggers, we screwed up, big time. 
In the original version of this Pro Tips blog post, we featured screen grabs of photographs from a customer whose work we admire and respect. We did not ask their permission before publishing the post, and the photos were displayed in an inaccurate context. This was dumb, and we are ashamed to have caused this photographer even a moment of grief.
Our editorial team has been working hard to help customers make the most of their SmugMug accounts. In this case, we wanted to spread the word about image protection. To our dismay, we made a really bad decision that hurt a customer we have nothing but respect for, and we are so sorry.
Our Editorial Policy going forward is to Ask First, Period. No image will ever be used in our blog posts, emails, or any other communication without your permission. 
We messed up, have learned a hard lesson, and are always committed to doing right by our customers.
–The SmugMug Family


Picture this:

You spent all weekend at the local soccer match shooting thousands of photos. When you got home you made sure to download, edit and upload them all right away. Parents are expecting photos! So you immediately shared the link, anticipating a slew of gushing order emails. Finally you drift asleep, thinking about the hundreds of successful dollars you’ll see in the morning.

But you get nothing.

If this sounds familiar, today’s your lucky day. We’ll talk about four painful symptoms that may indicate that something’s seriously wrong with your business.

1) No Sales. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Did you forget to enable buying in your gallery? If you’re hearing crickets from the peanut gallery, this could be the case. When it’s off, your viewers have no way to add items to the shopping cart, even though they’re still able to browse photos. They probably think that you don’t intend to sell your photos at all.

HOW TO FIX IT: Visit your Gallery Settings and be sure that you’ve got Printing enabled. (It’s towards the bottom.) To be extra sure you did it right, take a minute to log out of SmugMug and browse your site like a customer.

2) No Download Sales: You Can’t Sell What You Give Away

Are clients emailing you every 5 minutes for their photos, but once you share them you don’t hear a peep? This could mean you’ve enabled your Originals. Don’t do this if you’re trying to make money! With Originals on, any visitor can easily download a full-res version of the image for free. It’s fab for friends and family. Bad for business.

HOW TO FIX IT: Open up your Gallery Settings and scroll down to “Security & Privacy.” Make sure any size other than Originals are selected there. You can go as small as Medium if you’re feeling saucy, but remember people won’t be able to enjoy screen-filling photo goodness that way – but our data shows going too small will harm your sales.  X3Large + Watermarking (see #4) is probably your best bet.

3) No Profits on Print Sales

You’ve received an order, yay! But there’s no profit. Uh oh. This means you haven’t properly set up your pricing and clients are buying your photos at-cost. If you’re reading this post, chances are that’s not exactly what you had in mind.

HOW TO FIX IT: Hit up this tutorial that guides you on setting up your pricing using Pricelists. You can set the amount of profit you earn (recommended) or set your final price that’s shown in the cart. Not sure how much to charge? Just don’t go too low. Here’s why.

4) Surprise! Your Pics Pop Up on Facebook

You’re browsing social sites and to your dismay, you find your photos in your stream being shared by your clients without your credit… or your permission. How did they get there?

HOW TO FIX IT: Make your (water)mark! Look here to see how to turn your logo or name into a transparent image and slap it on your display copies. Any legally-purchased downloads or prints will be clean and clear unless you set a Printmark, too. While you’re at it, enable Right-Click Protection and use the Easy Customizer to type easy buying instructions into the custom pop-up message.

Now we hope that you’re better-prepared  to take on the next few gigs and start setting your sales on fire. Stay tuned for even more tips, tricks and best practices to help you have your best year in the biz.🙂

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

57 thoughts on “4 Signs That Your Clients Are Ripping You Off (and what to do about it)”

  1. Whew – luckily I have not made any of those mistakes – yet many people don’t seem to care in teh slightest if the watermark is plastered across the photo when they share it on FB and make it ther profile pic ANYWAY. I don’t think disabling sharing is of any point – then they’ll just take screen prints – so I’d just as soon make it share-able so it at least points back to the website from their page. And, I just revised all my watermarks last week – they’re bigger and span more of the image now – so if they’re nto going to buy the download copies and just keep sharing the ones from teh gallery – fine. But everyone is going to see where they came from LOL.

  2. Can you do this for all galleries at once so you don’t have to go through each Gallery individually and make these changes??

    1. Hi Pat, yes you can! If you open up the Gallery Settings in one gallery, look for the “Multiple Galleries” button at the top. You can choose several galleries to apply the change, or across your entire site.


      Don’t forget that you can also create your own Quick Setting with your security settings already turned on, so you can apply them to new galleries that you create.

  3. This is a great post to read. I have had the issue about the photos poping up on social media sites. But they were taking a screen shot and posting it. Always remember there is a way around.

    1. Hi James, that’s true and why we recommend that you use all of the image protection features together. Watermarking will ensure that your name and brand are included with the pic should they take a screen grab. Then it’s not theft… it’s free advertising!🙂

  4. Great Post! Any way to make “Originals” in “Gallery Settings” red or different looking or have an asterisk? That could remind those of us who *know we’ve been told* but forget, to use it only for friends & family.

    1. That’s a great tip…so I must be an idiot. I have all of the other protection features on and actually tried to “beat the system” myself in Customer View and can’t find a way to get my stuff free. I thought I needed “Original” available to ensure maximum image quality in prints or something.

      One other thought. If downloads are not available (priced at $0), then perhaps that’s what’s protecting me.?? Actually, even if I make originals available, but price them steeply, I guess I’m struggling to see where I am losing money. Again, I must be an idiot. Thx.

      1. “I thought I needed “Original” available to ensure maximum image quality in prints or something.”
        I agree Ryan, it’s easy to think toggling “Originals” is the right thing to do for customers. If it warranted a mention in the blog post, it might be worth some kind of flag on the site to reduce unnecessary friction and confusion.

    1. Hi Chuck, sharing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When your link gets shared with others, that’s more potential business for you (AKA free advertising). And as long as you have the other protection features enabled it shouldn’t result in any additional theft.

      Again this is why we highly recommend watermarking your images with your logo or name, so they know who shot it and can come tell you that you rock.🙂

  5. The headline is pretty misleading. It probably should have said, common mistakes made by a new SmugMug user.
    The client is not ripping you off if you did not enable purchasing, set up prints at cost, and had it set up so they could download load the Originals.

    The last one is more slimey.

  6. Yes…….that was a lesson learned the hard way with motocross photos. I think I kicked my hiney around the house for days after I realized that one.

  7. Hey, can you clarify what you meant by “and use the Easy Customizer to type easy buying instructions into the custom pop-up message”. I am not sure what that mean but sounds like a good idea!
    Thanks for all the info. I have had my photos set on original for over a year & only now recently realized this was a bad idea. Yep…I got screwed!
    All new accounts should be given this information.

    1. Hey Marti, if you open up the Easy Customizer and click on the “Photos” dropdown bar, you’ll see a field where you can customize the popup message that’s displayed when you have Right-Click Protection on.

      Hope this helps!

  8. Or the client could take a picture of their computer screen with their phone and upload them to Facebook. Yep, actually had someone do that…I was a mix between aghast and semi-flattered that they went to that extreme to share the pics. Let’s just say I’ve never seen my work look so bad.🙂

  9. Watermark watermark watermark. People (including teens) will grab screenshots or pluck your photos out of browser cache to get them and then post them on facebook. If your photos are watermarked, you will at least get some advertising in return for the theft. Right click protection only guards against the computer illiterate.

    1. The original will nearly always fall beyond the screen edge, so it’s not screen-grabbable. If you rt-clk protect, there is no way to get the original usefully.

      1. Careful here: There are plug-in tools like scr**ngr*b for m*z**la f*ref*x that will provide a complete screenshot regardless of the part of the browser window that is actually shown on the monitor.

  10. My problem is – 287 Wedding pics posted – They only purchase 5 4X6’s and 2 5X7’s.
    After six or eight weeks I delete al 287..

  11. Rolf Dunker :
    Careful here: There are plug-in tools like scr**ngr*b for m*z**la f*ref*x that will provide a complete screenshot regardless of the part of the browser window that is actually shown on the monitor.

    I would NEVER depend on right-click protect for anything. You can do a view source and just pull the url out of there. Easy-peasy. Limit your maximum size and watermark–only way to go. And there will still be those that would rather spend an hour removing your watermark than paying $1 for the digital image. They have more time than money, so they’re not going to be buying anything anyways.

  12. Colin Purrington :
    Does anyone use profanity in their watermarks, to prevent people from just using screen grabs?

    Hmmm…I wonder if this would in some way violate the SM TOS? I think it would be effective. But the funny thing is, stolen images uploaded to fb are a violation in the first place. I’m sure fb would have freaked if all the sopa/pipa stuff passed. They would have had to spend billions to create products to safeguard our rights. Too bad the mass mob of the Internet killed that idea with ignorance…

  13. Mike :
    My problem is – 287 Wedding pics posted – They only purchase 5 4X6′s and 2 5X7′s.
    After six or eight weeks I delete al 287..

    For weddings, I always get all of my profit up front in the shooting fee, so any picture sales are bonus. Shooting a wedding like an event is just the same thing–a loss leader.

  14. Why is an article about photographers protecting themselves from being ripped off proceeded by a disclaimer that you yourselves stole another photographers work and posted it on here out of context?

    1. Hi ds, thanks for posting. It’s rather ironic that screengrabs we used to illustrate some points in a blog post about image security are the subject of the very same thing, isn’t it? We know we made a mistake, and we should’ve checked with the photographer first before using those screengrabs, and that’s why we posted our edit to this blog post.

      1. I don’t think it’s ironic. I think it’s hypocrisy. It’s an article about protecting images. And it’s an article that used stolen images.

  15. OMG, you’re kidding? I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am. I guess I thought that the public lambasting following the Perfect Pairs contest would perhaps have made some impression on SmugMug. I guess not.

    “”But the real issue. The one that hurts the whole photography industry, is that one of our own, SmugMug, values our work — capturing the photo, building the business and marketing that business, even social marketing the business — as “Free.’”
    10/13/11 FotoBento.com

    1. Hi Jill, thanks for posting here. We learn from our customers every single day – and your posts on the Perfect Pairs contest were the subject of plenty of discussion and we changed up things as a result. This issue here, is unrelated, we just made a mistake, and we’re sorry for it, and have updated this blog post to state that.

  16. What I learned today is that if you don’t watermark your photos, even SmugMug will steal them. This PR blow comes at a bad time for SmugMug with PASS picking up steam from The Photo System launch.

    1. Hi, thanks for the post. We used some screengrabs we shouldn’t have, trying in good faith to educate our customers about available image security options. We should have requested permission to use these grabs, and didn’t, and we regret this mistake. Our intention on this education-oriented blog post was to bring attention to the options available to our customers. That’s why we updated this post with the edit at the very beginning of the post. Thanks.

      1. Hi Andy, thanks for your reply post. I hope the negative viral press that’s exploded around this blog post doesn’t outweight the positive intentions of the post.

      2. Ditto, Andy, to SMUSER below. I can’t believe all of the grief you are getting over this “oops” in your own screen grab. Leading with it tells me 2 things: 1) If SM leaderhsip can ‘accidentally’ “steal” an image, ‘Lord knows that a legion of weasles out there will be able to do it en mass if we don’t protect ourselves. 2) SM stands for something. They aren’t just a business. They are photographers too. The are treating us like they want to be treated. They have ethics. THEY are just the kind of people I want to entrust my $$ to to run my site and help me build a business.

        Shame on you SM for making a boo boo, so here’s a slap on the wrist. You likely already punished yourself profusely. On the OTHER hand, BIG KUDOS for coming clean and using it for good.

  17. Hey smuser (and everyone),

    My view of what happened is some young and wonderful writers who are themselves photographers and care very much about image theft, got lulled over the years by so many photographers thanking them for pointing to their public images.

    Most of us do it in our everyday lives because it’s what makes the Internet so popular: we see images we love and spread the word.

    What happened in this case is after so many blog posts the writers didn’t consider the different context of this post and ask permission. They’re really sick about it (we all are).

    I made a similar mistake years ago when we were just two people and I linked a customer’s public images in a help page, with credit, thinking I was doing this wonderful thing to give them the exposure that so many people crave. But it was viewed as image stealing for our gain, and after that I always purchased stock images whenever I wrote a help page, or used my own.

    We’re really sorry this happened.

    1. Would these “young and wonderful writers who are themselves photographers and care very much about image theft” have liked their images stolen and used in another company’s article about what to do if you don’t want your images stolen?

      While it is wonderful that you purchase stock images or use your own–you are a co-founder of SmugMug–so shouldn’t you be making sure that ALL, of your writers do the same?

      It’s an article about photographers protecting their images. What writer steals images for a post on how to protect yourself from image theft? What editor lets that slip by? And what company co-founder blames age and complacency?

      1. When I read this I thought, whoa, harsh, and all my defense mechanisms kicked in. Then I called Valerie and she explained why she also thought my comment was lame.

        So I finally had to get over myself and face up to the fact that it was really dumb and inexcusable. So, in retrospect, many thanks for posting this.

        I posted what I hope is a real apology:


  18. I have been with smug mug for over a 45 days. the first time i installed about 500 photos had over 6000 hits !!!! sold one photo! yea only one asked smug mud for help and they sent me an e male on how to fix the problem ! I DID ! ? next week i installed over 500 photo ! had over 3000 hits sold only 4 4x 6. I have had hundred of photos stolen and very little help from smug! i asked if the problem could be fix from there end and
    all i get is something like a cover letter !!!! i will give them one more try then if the problem is not fix they are fired!!!!!!!!!!! smug mug needs a phone # and they do no’t have one!!!!!!can you be leave this!!

    1. Hi Nick, I’d love to help you personally. EDIT: found your email on the help desk and replied. I went looking through your galleries, you have right click protection on, good, watermarks on some galleries, but not others, and you have easy sharing and external links allowed on some galleries that don’t have watermarks. I’d love to help you get your site buttoned up properly, and also help you with your pricing as well. I’m standing by to help you, shoot me reply at the help desk, thanks.

  19. Shame on you SmugMug! One could argue the issue of artist copyrights and the use of their work is fundamental to your business. Does Ford or GM inadvertently forget to put an engine in a car. At the very core, you facilitate selling photography… Not stealing it. And yet, you steal your client’s art to promote your business. (that is the function of a blog)

    And then to add irony to injury… What was that article about, exactly?

    You should know better. And, the unemployment number should be increasing by AT LEAST one this week.

  20. Honestly, the best way to sell photos isn’t necessarily to do everything you can to protect them. Have we learned nothing from Napster/Grokster/Limewire and DRM?

    The best way to sell photos is MARKETING! WE NEED BETTER EMAIL MARKETING TOOLS and MORE ways to share photos!!! When I shoot an event I use Instaproofs.com to sell my photos to customers, but to SHOW OFF my photos I use SmugMug. Would love to do both on SmugMug.

  21. Thanks for the tips. They are great reminders. I’m a very happy Smugmug user and will continue to recommend the service to friends (even if I always forget to send the discount coupon).🙂

  22. For several years I have been taking photos at a private school – and uploading them. Lots of hits – few sales. I hear about them popping up on FaceBook – I even see some with watermark (the big gross PROOF – with a student comment about hating it when the letters are over his face).

    This year, I right click protected everything from the beginning. After seeing a player on the coach’s son’s facebook page, I put a big watermark on all photos – it’s part of the setup when I upload to a new gallery.

    I was talking with a friend of my wife – and she talked about simply grabbing pretty images from on line for use in her business. I told her that it’s theft – she clammed up and gave me a dirty look.

    Somewhere, our culture has figured out that it is ok to steal photos (and music) wherever they may find them. We (artists) have done a very poor job laying out the principle.

    Of course, everyone these days can take photos – and many people freely share their files (via email or facebook). I suspect many say – I shared mine, so I expect you to share yours. And, the fact that you have invested 100 times as much in equipment as me is just not my problem. and, the fact that yours are better than mine doesn’t matter – it’s my kid on your photo, so I am entitled to it.

    Answer – watermark.

    that said, a very successful photog, Tray Ratcliff, a smugmugger, seems to openly NOT protect his images. On his site he says that he is selling original, limited editions and that anything less than that is not a Ratcliff. So, you can download a no watermark high resolution file of his photos (I did this to see if it was – and it is).
    Can/will his prints be multiples better than what I can do? Probably.
    Will I steal and print his images to hang in my home? Never.
    If I was joe college student and had a friend with a decent printer and needed a poster for the wall – would I make a print of his pic? Possibly.
    Does it work counter to you and me who don’t expect people to download our images? I think so.

    A friend of mine said my trying to sell photos at this school is like fishing in a dry hole. After 5 years, I don’t think that there is any appreciation for the work.

    and, right protect or not, I can copy any photo on screen with my phone – and there are worse images on line than camera copied shots of good originals.

    yes – I am disappointed.

  23. Dan, I think you touch on some very important points, mainly that the culture doesn’t respect the ideas of copyrights anymore. I think the whole sopa/pipa fiasco showed this at its best. Companies that should have been behind the idea of protecting copyrights were opposing the legislation. How can the public know what is right when companies can’t even get it right?

    The solution here is that there really isn’t one. For every one person protecting their copyrights, there’s 10 others giving away work for free. As a professional, you can be counted on do to the job consistently, which hobbyists necessarily can’t. That’s what I think is going to be the separation in the future between the pro and non-pro. Not the equipment, but the business mindset and professionalism.

    And even when people are aware of the law, they can take advantage of it. I was published in the January issue of Madison Living magazine without credit and without my permission. As a publisher, a magazine knows the law. But they also know they can claim ‘innocent infringer’ and get away with paying a small percentage of the $150k damages for using a federally registered copyrighted image without permission. The law doesn’t even work. I’ve been infringed and it’s been a pain trying to get justice. In the end, I’m going to end up getting nothing. Awesome. Makes me want to never take another photo again…

  24. I am sure I don”t have near the great works you guys are all talking about. But I do have a few photos, that I’ve yet to upload, that are favorites of mine and would freak out if I saw them illegally used elsewhere. Maybe we just have to forget all this online, website stuff and get back to doing shows, galleries etc. There are many sick and twisted people out there that don’t care about you and your pictures. I mean come on, they steal kids!! Our identities could be stolen, cars, money, and the list goes on and on. In a crazy twisted way it’s a compliment of your great work. Just do what you can to protect what you love and don’t quit shooting.
    And as for SmugMug, I think it’s great they fessed up. They could’ve swept it under the rug and moved on. We all mess up from time to time. Hopefully they won’t do that again.

  25. “With Originals on, any visitor can easily download a full-res version of the image for free” I tried to download with originals on and I still have right click protection. I was wondering how is it possible when the Originals are on.

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