Turn On Your Cell Phones

What if, instead of worrying about everyone with a cell phone camera in front of your art, you encouraged taking photos and sharing?

Don’t dismiss this right away. Let me explain.

On two occasions I have witnessed audiences embrace a speaker or situation that encouraged photography.

Here’s how those went down.

Ayn Hanna and Barbara Gilhooly
Ayn Hanna and Barbara Gilhooly at the Visionary Art Museum. Photo courtesy the artists and used with permission.

Situation #1: Mari Smith at Infusioncon 2013

Before Facebook expert Mari Smith got on stage at the Infusionsoft conference last spring, the “star” speaker preceding her interrupted his speech twice to tell someone to turn off his camera.

The second interruption came with a threat and was uncomfortable for everyone in the audience. I immediately disliked this guy.

Then Mari got on stage and said something like, Okay, everyone, turn on your cameras! This was followed by her endorsement to share photos and video anywhere and everywhere.

This put us at ease. We had a collective giggle because her approach was exactly the opposite of her predecessor. It was generous and engaging.

She undoubtedly received a ton of free publicity because of it.

Situation #2: The Symphony

Before the Boulder Symphony Orchestra performed The William Tell Overture, the president welcomed everyone and pulled out his cell phone.

Janet Fox with her cello. ©2014 Alyson B. Stanfield.
Janet Fox with her cello. ©2014 Alyson B. Stanfield.

Here it comes, I thought. So I made sure mine was muted.

But that’s not what he wanted. Instead of the usual “Please mute your phones” warning, he asked us to take photos throughout the night. The first person to post a photo to their Facebook page got free tickets to the next concert.

After intermission, he gave us an update on the photo-posting contest and mentioned the winner’s name. Then he encouraged more photography and posting and mentioned prizes for future winners.

The symphony was taking advantage of the fact that most people in the audience had a phone camera, and many of those people knew how to share images to Facebook immediately.

Use It

I get that you want to protect your copyright, and I couldn’t be more supportive of that.

I understand that you are concerned when people photograph your work and then share it without attribution. Or when they copy it out of “admiration.” Those violations are unacceptable.

But how could you take advantage of the fact that everyone walks around with a camera in her purse or his back pocket?

How could you benefit from people wanting to remember your work?

How could you encourage sharing of cell phone photography and video?

Tell us your ideas in a comment – and then do it!


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63 thoughts on “Turn On Your Cell Phones”

  1. I always say yes to people who want to take a photo. And while I still include the copyright information with my title and other info when I publish a photo of my work, I don’t get bent out of shape if I see it somewhere without my name attached. But I understand that not everyone feels the same way.

  2. I don’t worry too much when people take photos of my work at a show with their cell phone. I prefer it when they ask – because it gives me a chance to talk about the photos with them. And if they’re photographing it to show to a family member/friend who they think it will be perfect for – I’ll offer to email a copy of the photo from my ipad with the name of the photo so they know which photo they’re looking at.
    Where I have a problem is when people take photos of my photographs with a DSLR or mirrorless camera – those cameras can be good enough that people can make reproductions of my work from the files.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Alyson.
      Changing the magnification [zoom in] on your screen is the easier option.
      My default grey is an issue that I’m working on!

  3. If you can’t beat ’em, figure out how to join ’em. And that’s what you are talking about here. It reminds me of my early days as a teacher of first graders (art teacher of course) and I had them get out their crayons which were quite new, since it was early in the year. I told them to pick a few and break them in half! The classroom teacher practically gasped out loud….you get the point. Anyway, creative souls will figure out good ways to use things.

  4. I went to a conference recently where the speakers tweeted and shared photos on twitter throughout the event. (They did ask us if it was okay.) I felt like I was part of something “legit”. These were agents and editors and authors who had a lot of success together and individually. I notice they all tweet regularly bringing us into their world if we choose to go.
    Nice post, thank you Alyson.

  5. I agree, as everyone has a phone we should try to take advantage of it. I often give a talk about my work at my exhibit openings and would love to be able to offer the audience a free download of images of my art that they could use as background images on their phones. This way you can control which images they have and also include your website details. Much like offering free screensavers for computers. I would like to say I know how to do this but I’m afraid I don’t (yet!). So if anyone else does know how to do this please let me know!

    1. You can build a free App at Infinite Monkeys…It is drag & drop not code…Easy enough for a moron like me…Within the App you can have pictures, text, links, whatever, even files to download…When you give your talks tell them the app address(which you can choose)…They can then go there on their mobile device directly, no app store needed…

    2. Great idea, Alison. And thanks, Sari, for the resource.
      I don’t know about other phones, but I can make a background out of any photo I take on my iPhone – with a single click.

  6. I am ok with people taking photos of my work. The more exposure the better =) I post photos on Facebook all the time, it is the same thing. And usually everyone asks first. Great blog Alyson!

  7. Hi Alison, I participated in a large international exhibition in Paris recently, and at the Opening I was concerned at first when people pulled out their cameras. A few of them would go from painting to painting and photograph or video each one! Then I realized with the bright lights & the glare from the varnish on my paintings, anyone intent on copying my work would be better off just going to my website!
    In reality, most of the people who come through with cameras have valid reasons … eg. they’re reporters or bloggers or teachers or every now & then an actual collector who needs a little more time/second opinion. Most times they’re just artists who are inspired by something in your work, and they don’t want to forget.
    When I walked through the show the next morning, I found myself pulling my camera out to photograph both the work of art AND the label, because that was the only way to capture my favourites so that I could Google them later.
    Back in front of my work, I smiled and nodded when people indicated with their cameras – especially those who didn’t speak English or French – even posing in front of the work with some. And I handed them a postcard with my website address. After all, in today’s world with more supply than demand for art, having your work in someone’s virtual collection, is better than having them walk on by and forget it/you.
    If art sales are about relationships, then exhibitions are like first dates, you want their first impression of you to be a positive one.

  8. We have something called DoorsOpen here and it includes artist’s studios so I have a horde of mostly strangers through on a weekend once a year. Some take a lot of photos of my paintings so who knows what they are doing with them.Some artists put up a “no photos” sign but I don’t. What can they do- make a print? If so- I don’t see that it would mean loss of a sale. I do have business cards with my website but I think maybe I’ll also post a sign with it. I have a sign-up sheet for my monthly newsletter as well. A number of these camera-happy people also like to take a photo of me- sometimes with their children. A lot are fairly recent immigrants.It is a bit strange to me but maybe it is all part of the new social media.

  9. I’ve encouraged customers at art festivals to sign up for my newsletter by offering a chance to enter a drawing for a small piece of my work… so this post makes me think why not use it for social sharing? Instead of (or in addition to) asking them for an email address, have a clever sign suggesting they post a photo to Facebook or Pinterest with your name tagged, as an entry to the drawing.
    Or convert social followers to in-person art lovers: list your galleries or retailers on your Facebook page and set up a “treasure hunt” suggesting they seek out and post a photo of your work in place (you’d have to pre-arrange with gallery staff that it’s ok to photograph). Then hold a drawing, or offer each person who posts some small prize.

  10. Just finished listening to your interview with Mark McGuiness…AMAZING! It really hit home and I posted a link on my blog. Hope that’s okay. It’s scheduled to post later in the pm today.
    Wish I had the financial means to enroll in your workshop but will keep working and perhaps one day it will become a reality.
    Thank you for all you do!

  11. Great ideas Alyson! I really love your cello shot. I am actually going to “steal” the Boulder idea the next time I do a letterpress event…say, everyone take photos of my stationery products, the printing press, etc… post and each one receives a goodie in the mail…. great timing of your post since I am in a Lilla Rogers Make Art That Sells online class + last month our assignment was to create cell phone cases! Happy picture taking.

  12. I never worry about people photographing my artwork, even if it is unattributed. I had the issue with watermarks on the photos of my Website early on. They looked terrible and I hated them. someone told me that there was a program that could effectively remove them anyhow if someone wanted to pirate the photos off the site. Then in a discussion with another artist I was told that when people shared my images off the site it would only be free advertising and the the whole idea of being on the web was for people to see my artwork. Also the quality of the images on the website are naturally lower resolution (compared to Giclee resolution) and in the case of the cell phone images they are not likely to be that good. So the stealing or pirating of the images is less of an issue. I know that some people worry about their images being used commercially and the loss of licensing income from their images but I am not in that part of the art business nor do I wish to be.
    I view my paintings as children and when they are released to the public they have a life of their own. Some may be abused and some may bring me fortune. Artwork isn’t really complete until it is viewed by an audience and appreciated. The energy of that interaction is powerful even if you are unaware that it is occurring

  13. I am pretty relaxed about photographs of my work but have been uncomfortable with my students taking videos and photos of my demonstrations and techniques during my classes workshops. Do you think this is different? I have been asking my students not to. Maybe I should reconsider? It does seem distracting and rude. It also makes the other students panic and get their cameras out too, not wanting to miss an opportunity to document an important process. It just starts to feel awkward…I don’t know. Will be giving this some more thought! Thanks!

    1. Yes, I think it’s different, Sharra. I have a policy against recording my presentations in total. It’s mostly because I use other people’s images and only have their permission to share in my presentation.
      I would develop a policy around this and share before people come to class. Then I’d offer a “photo/video time” for everyone to snap/record for, say, 30 minutes.

    2. RE taping demonstrations: As a student I have to chime in and say that “it depends”. When I sign up for an expensive class ($1K+ with workshop fee, gas, hotels, etc.), I find it can be a waste of time and money if all I have at the end of it are still images of the teacher working and my own examples and notes. A year later, I often can’t remember how I got certain effects. Handwritten notes only go so far as there often isn’t time to write down all the important tips.
      When I use my compact still-image camera to video the demos, I can watch them a year or two later and be right back in the moment: I can hear the instructor’s voice as he/she shares little tips and also SEE how the brush or pen moved (very important in Chinese ink painting as well as calligraphy to see the brush tip – also in regular calligraphy to see the angle of the nib and how the hand rotates it on the fly). Nothing I can write or take still images of can possibly stand in for seeing the brush or hand move in real time. For printmaking workshops too, a lot of the information shared is visual (inking, rolling & wiping etc.) – you just can’t take notes that shows how to do it correctly unless it’s a moving image!
      Unless I can purchase a DVD from the instructor, without my little videos the technique would mostly go in one ear and out the other! I’m now more willing to spend money on destination workshops when I know that I will get value out of the information shared. So far I haven’t found any teacher that is freaked about about discreet taping – some even ask for them later! (I do think that iPads are just too large to be inconspicuous though, as are large video cameras – mine is just above a compact camera.) Just my 2 cents.

  14. Great post! I casually will encourage my commission clients to shoot their pet portraits hanging in-their homes and they often do and they share on FB. I do this by sharing in home shots on the blog and on Facebook. I also send them a watermarked jpg via e-mail and tell them to share it freely. This post has me wondering how I can be more proactive in requesting those in-home shots. I think I need to include a gentle reminder in the Thank you cards that go out monthly. I will start doing that.

    1. Rebecca: Great ideas! I think send a photo of another client with their portrait and say “I’d love to feature you, too!”
      I’d also say “I know you’ll have to put some effort into taking and sending the photo, but it sure helps me a lot when potential buyers see the happy faces of my collectors.”
      Or something like that. I think it’s important that they know how helpful it would be to you.

  15. A couple of years ago I received from a stranger an email which contained an image of my painting. I was startled to receive it and didn’t like the idea of someone taking photos of my work without my knowledge. It was taken at a show about six months prior; she wondered whether the painting was still available, it was. She then made an appointment to see the painting again and purchased it on the spot. Sometimes people need to think about it before they make a purchase or maybe save up the money and a photo is a good reminder of what they love. Needless to say I’ve changed my mind about photos of my work. Also, I’ve seen people take photos of my work at festivals and think they may be artists who want to figure out how I did something or, hopefully, potential clients who want to see how the piece may look in their home. Great post, Alyson. I’m going purloin the idea from the symphony if I can. I love it!

  16. Hi Alyson, Thanks for some GREAT ideas..and I enjoyed the discussion, too! I’m thinking I can use this somehow when I teach a workshop this summer! I also agree with Gretha! I have one collector, who I found out has a “photo gallery” for lack of a better term,,,,on her cell phone, of her favorite paintings of mine…and there’s a boodle of them. At first I was startled to actually SEE this on her phone…but she was sharing it with others (in a group of women that gets together for lunch or dinner each month)….She loves them, raves about them, and shows them off to others…and has turned out to be one of my biggest collectors, from pieces small to quite large!! She pulls them from my website or my newsletters with my most recent work. I feel so very lucky and appreciative that my work has struck such a strong connection with her! And as with Gretha’s collector, mine keeps these in her view so that she can think about where she’d like them…and can admire them while she puts money aside. I am soooo very grateful for what we have available to us as artists- “digital wish fulfillment tools”!!!! Are we lucky or what?!?!?!

  17. How ’bout if you see someone photographing your work, take a pic yourself of that action, then show your shot to the photographer, and ask for his/her name and permission to post the photo of him/her on your website – to show your own fans another new fan “in action” . . .? Also, getting that photog’s name is a way to start conversation, and turn an anonymous admirer into a new contact. Not to mention your asking permission to post would suggest that admirer respond with what s/he might have in mind for that photo of your work.

  18. I’m reading this the day after seeing Matilda on Broadway with my children. Before the show and during intermission, I observed ushers telling audience members not to photograph the stage/set. The set incorporates words and letters and large wood tiles (think scrabble) that fit beautifully in the storyline (which is about words and language and books). The whole thing is really great!
    It would be interesting if the show encouraged that kind of photography of the set rather than discouraged it.
    I understand no photos during a show as that can be bad for performers and the audience, but what amazing “advertising” an audience can provide when they are raving about the set design of a Broadway show… or any kind of a performance on their FB page and pix are included!

  19. This is a great discussion. I remember back in the old days (10 years ago) before EVERYone had a camera in their pocket when taking photographs of artwork without permission at a show was strictly forbidden. It took me some time to get over that, and I don’t mind people taking pictures of my work, as long as they ASK. It drives me crazy when people walk into my booth or studio and just start snapping away without asking or bothering to even make eye contact with me. I have a hard time handling it gracefully. I especially hate seeing the picture later on someone’s blog– bad lighting, poor composition, blech! I have tons of high quality images of my work available online, but it seems people want their own image that they took themselves.

    1. Yes, I started doing that. I also have really great color postcards with four nice images on the front with links on the back, including one to my flickr gallery. Sometimes though, I don’t even have a chance to get to them– they cruise in, snap a bunch of images, and cruise out! Just rude, I think.

  20. We had a couple over for dinner that kept asking me what materials I used to create my faux cupcakes that were on a tray on our buffet. They were left over from one of my shows. I naively told them how they were made. While I was loading the dishwasher the husband came into the kitchen, put his cell phone in my face, and showed me a photo of my cupcakes. He said that he was going to have his daughter copy them for the new cupcake holders they got in their rental store. I was so appalled that I became speechless. By the time I recovered they were ready to leave so the issue was not addressed. A few weeks later we agreed to return something to their rental store for a friend. My husband saw the pirated cupcakes in holders. Due to this bad experience I am certainly not inclined to let anyone take photos of my work.

  21. Elaine Ricklin

    Yes. They had been to one of my solo gallery exhibits before this incident. Actually, the wife got very excited about one of my photographs in my solo exhibit and said, ” I have to have it, I have to have it”. When I told her she could there was silence. By the way this couple is very, very financially comfortable. The large, framed photograph was $250 and the cupcakes were $25, certainly within their price range.

  22. Traci Paxton Johnson

    We can either engage people regarding our artwork or put them off. The latter will certainly mean lost sales. I went to an art festival a couple years ago and there was an artist with her version of Kachina dolls. The artist wouldn’t let me take photos but I still went home to do some measuring to see if a collection of them would look good on a particular wall. I went back to the festival the next day, with the intent of buying 4 or 5 of the dolls. As soon as I walked back into the artist’s booth, she made a sarcastic comment to me. She had seen me leaving the fair the previous evening and saw me carrying a palm frond, so she assumed I was going to try and make my own Kachina dolls. I told her I had no talent for making body shapes or dolls but she was so rude and fearful of someone copying her work that she lost a very nice sale. Every time I’ve seen her at a festival since, she has no customers in her booth but she blames it on a bad booth location or a poorly run art festival. It’s really a shame because she is quite talented but not engaging with her customers whatsoever. I learned a big lesson from her on what NOT to do, which would be impossible for me anyway since I love engaging people and sharing ideas.
    It’s impossible to keep people from copying our artwork, no matter what we do. Hopefully if we are friendly and engaging, there will be a sense of loyalty rather than the thought of “stealing”.

  23. In a similar vein, Getty Images has made 35 million images available, free, for non-commercial use…(like blogging) You can now get an embed code for the image you want, which includes proper photo credits…Getty got tired of chasing after copyright, so turned it around, in the same way this post is suggesting…

  24. Good topic. I just don’t worry about such things. I understand wanting to protect the copyrights of photography and realism. I come from a view point that our creativity is not owned by us, the artist, but given freely by our creator as a gift to share. I have had experience with copyright infringments in the past. But that was before the Www. If one is concerned about it, they should be prepared.

  25. I have been on both sides of the fence about this.I was so protective before and my attitude just made me feel bad about myself. I have moved to the let them take the pic. It won’t take my soul.
    I have enjoyed the ideas here and will try some also.
    Thank you Alyson for the post. So helpful!

  26. I’m on the fence about the whole thing. I’ve had people come through with zoom lenses and professional cameras, taking photos of artwork details (mine is very layered and textural) in order to use it in their own photos, etc. (I told them it wasn’t ok.) I’ve even had someone snap a photo of part of one of my paintings and tell me they were going to layer some of their images on top!!! And the kicker is, the person was also an artist, teacher, and sells their work! So, I’m still a bit bruised over that. I managed to let her know that I owned the copyright to do derivatives of my work and she backed off.
    Still, in a town with three universities and a lot of graphic art students, the likelihood of a student wanting to snap a pic to use in their work is pretty high at times. Very frustrating. I do let people take pics if they ask and are just adding to their photos do not seem to plan infringement. I’m also sensitive on this issue because I do make products from the images from parts of my paintings, as I have fibromyalgia and cannot produce art very quickly.

  27. This question has been playing on my mind ever since I agreed to participate in an upcoming exhibition. The other question bouncing around was how can I spread more awareness of my work than a single weekend exhibition wod allow for – to the point where it was actually keeping me awake at night! (This is the body of work I’ve felt comfortable releasing for sale – so you could say I’m practically an art-infant)
    However, these comments have killed two birds with one stone!
    I love the idea of letting people take pictures of the art on the condition that they give credit – and what better way to do it than have a “selfie” competition!
    I’ll write up a sign telling people to take a “selfie” of themselves in front of the artwork they love the most and tag my Facebook page (note to self: get it finished and published!) in the photo’s description field on THEIR profile. At the end of the weekend draw one winner for each piece and they get a free framed half-size print and 10 signed postcards of their favourite piece as a prize.
    They get to take pictures of the work, I get the promotion on each of their Facebook profiles by their link to my page, and three lucky winners get a free print to keep and 10 postcards to send to MORE people. Win. Win. WIN.
    Thank you, folks. You’re all an inspiration!

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