The Art of Stealing Photos: A Photographer’s Perspective


Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

If the above photo looks familiar, it may be for one of many different reasons. First, you may have seen it used on my website here, at The Early Registration. Although I have took photos of Chance The Rapper more times than I can count, including his headlining set at Lollapalooza in 2014 and his Milwaukee stop on the Family Matters Tour, this photo from the Revelry Music and Arts Festival in Madison, WI is one of my favorites. Second, you may have seen this photo used by a website with more web traffic than my own, illRoots for example, which was nice enough to credit my work. Third, and least likely, you may have seen this photo used by Elevator Mag, a small-scale Chicago based website that used my image, without my permission, on multiple occasions and without crediting my name or my publication.

Ask any photographer, at least those lucky enough to have their work shared by others, a huge pet peeve is to have your work taken from you without your permission, without compensation, and without even being credited. It is no mystery that many photographers do a lot of work which they are no compensated for. Being that I take photos for my own publication, I receive compensation in other forms (ad revenue), but unless I’m also working for an artist or record label, no one is paying me to take photos in the pit at a particular concert. I have the luxury of being my own boss, which has endless benefits, but just because you see one of my photos of Chance The Rapper, or even my shots from Coachella, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, it does not mean I’m making money off it.

In the same breath, I understand that it is often unrealistic to ask for compensation. Why would anyone pay to use my picture of Chance The Rapper, which they aren’t directly profiting from, when they can go on Google and pick one of the thousand other photos of Chance? It just isn’t going to happen, whether my photos of Chance and other artists are worth the money or not.

It is also unrealistic, in many circumstances, to expect that those who want to use my photos ask me for permission. Recently rapper Travis Scott used one of my photos. While it would be awesome for him to call me up and say “Hey Dan, this photo you took is fire, can I use it on my Instagram?”, that’s just not going to happen. Also, I probably would have since no, since I don’t really like the photo I took of him, as it was shot from the sound board in low lighting and reshared by Travis in a much poorer quality. But before he posted it, he was likely hanging out on the tour bus, Googled “Travis Scott Chicago”, then stumbled upon my website and picked out his favorite photo I took of him at the United Center when he was opening for The Weeknd. People and artists alike post so many pictures on Instagram, many of which are not theirs, so should we expect them to track down the owner for something so small like a blog post or an IG photo? No, hell no.

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Crediting can also be a problem at times. If it isn’t obvious who took a photo, then how much work is someone reasonably expected to do to find the true owner/photographer so that they can properly credit someone? My photos get used without credit on Tumblr all the time, and by the time someone uses my photo it may have been shared around multiple times before I see it used without credits. It just takes one of those persons to not credit me, for my name to get lost in the system. A lot of photographers will certainly disagree with all the above, as there are many that believe you should always get permission, always provide compensation, and always credit. I get that, but it’s just not my opinion.

However, there is one thing that I will always take issue with. If you are contacted by a photographer whose photo you used (whether on social media or your inbox), and they want you to credit them, especially after you used their photo without permission and compensation… Do it, just give them the proper credit, apologize even, and move on.

From time to time I will reverse image search my photos to see who used my shots. This is especially fun because when I have my work shared by big outlets like Complex and MTV, it makes me proud of my work. However, occasionally I will notice when a website saves my photo, uploads it on their own, and then posts it in an article and without crediting my name or publication. When this happens, I find the correct email address or contact and I ask that my work be credited. It’s not a huge deal, but it happens a lot and it is something I’m used to. Still though, I would like my name to be credited.

Earlier this month, after noting my photo of Chance The Rapper went uncredited on Elevator Mag, I reached out to their general inquiries email address. I kept it short and simple, as to not waste anyone’s time,

“Please properly credit my photo of Chance the Rapper that you used for the below article. (Dan Garcia/The Early Registration). Thank you.”

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

I soon found out that such a request, politely asking for a proper credit, was a huge burden. Despite the fact that their publication had stolen my work, not compensated me for my work, and used it without crediting me, giving me a credit now was an issue.
“Could we? yes. your welcome.”
If you can’t read into their tone and sarcasm, than look again. In this person’s mind, I should have asked for them to credit me, instead of just saying please and telling them to credit me. Although I was not rude in my initial message, this Elevator Mag representative felt that I owed them a huge thank you for granting them a free license to use my photo for the low cost of a simple photo credit. After I reminded them, that they were not doing me a huge favor by crediting me for the photo they took without my permission, things elevated to a new level.
“And you wont be invited to any show, production, event or any of those of our partners to take your photos. So congrats to you for making the no fly list. You’ve been marked as spam,” Elevator Mag wrote.
Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Now before you start to feel bad for me, because asking for a photo credit led to the eventual end of my career, by being placed on the “no fly list”, don’t you worry. While I don’t doubt that this person has a connection here or a connection there, there is no person (short of President Obama) that could have the pull to stop me from getting credentials to shoot at the concerts that I want to shoot at. While this is not unlike a lot of my peers, I have established many strong relationships with publicists, managers, and other persons in the music industry that allow me to take photos at the nation’s biggest concerts and festivals, while in return I provide their artists with some great shots and a little added press and exposure. It is a relationship that benefits all parties.

My likelihood of getting into shows, is no different today than it was a month ago. In fact, because of the catalog of shows I shot this past month and because of my recent interview with the great people at Green Label, my likelihood of getting into big concerts is greater than it has ever been.

So why am I writing this? Not to put someone on blast for being rude and trying to threaten the career of a photographer who was simply trying to get credit for his work, but to tell the next guy, if someone asks you politely to credit their work, just do it. Because you aren’t doing them a favor, and in fact you should be happy that they aren’t making a bigger deal or even pursuing legal action. If you ask 1,000 different photographers what other’s should do when using their work, you will get 1,000 different answers. But at the lowest floor of all those answers, at the very least you should always credit a photographer’s work when you are asked to do so.

If you would like to ever use and credit some of my shots, you can find my best photos of some of your favorite artists (Kanye West, Drake, Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters, Billy Joal, Metallica and many more) at


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