The colors were different, the images her own, but the wording on the web site of a birth photographer just starting out was familiar. Very, very familiar. As I read, my heart just sank. The wording was mine. It was the wording I’d spent weeks working on to get just right. I’d written, rewritten, deleted, restored. I’d laid awake at night trying to find just the right turn of a phrase to convey what I wanted to say. I’d perused the old beat up thesaurus my husband won in elementary school. And just when I thought I had it perfect, I’d had friends and family read and give me feedback. This triggered another round of edits.
And with a simple copy and paste, this new photographer had stolen my hard work.
It’s called plagiarism. And in the last week, I and several other photographers have found our work copied word-for-word, or maybe slightly altered, on other photographers web sites. This is not OK.
Just as photos are copyrighted, so are words. You cannot simply find someone who “says it better” than you think you could and use the oh-so-handy copy and paste. Not even as a placeholder. If you want to have some placeholder wording as you design your site, do what the professionals do and use this.
Your web site and marketing materials need to represent YOU. They need to be who you are, and how you run your business. In these days when the photography market is pretty well saturated in a lot of areas, the only way to stand out is by selling YOU. No one else can be you. And copying someone else’s words is not who you are. I have even seen a few instances where photographers have copied another person’s “About Me” page, only changing the names of her kids! It’s just baffling, can you not come up with your own information about yourself?
Maybe writing is not your strength. I get that. We all have weaknesses and things that we can’t do no matter how hard we try. Two of mine are chemistry and surfing! And that’s OK. You can hire someone (or if you’re lucky, use a friend or spouse who has the skills) to turn your own thoughts and ideas into nicely worded text. But you – and only you – should first sit down with paper and pen and make notes about what you want to say. Make a list of words that appeal to you – words that you feel describe the work you do, why you do it, and what experience you hope your clients will have when working with you. Write a list of facts about yourself you want your clients to know about you. Think about how you might turn one of those qualities into a short anecdote to include in your “about me” page. Maybe this exercise will take a few days or weeks before you’re even ready to get started working with a writer who can help you turn your jumble of ideas into paragraphs.
If you find you have absolutely no ideas to give to your writer, time to face a hard truth. In order to have a successful business, you need to have your own vision and direction for the business. In the words of a fellow birth photographer, Leilani Rogers: “If you are lacking direction in your business and can’t articulate how you feel about things or how you want to run your business then you are not ready to own one.”
Don’t think you won’t get caught, either. With a simple Google search, or by using sites like Copyscape, it is very quick and easy for incidents of plagiarism to be caught. Back when I taught at a midwifery college, if I suspected a student of plagiarism I could generally find the source within a minute or two. This is one instance when imitation is NOT flattery at all. Trust me, when someone finds you’ve lifted the writing from her site, she will not be happy that “someone really wants to be you and thinks you’re THAT awesome!” (a direct quote from someone who shall remain nameless, apparently trying to make me feel better…)
As photographers, we count on our photographic copyrights to keep our livelihood secure. The exact same copyrights that we expect our clients to respect also protect the written word, whether it is in books, magazines, brochures, websites, etc. I strongly encourage you to show other photographers the same respect that you expect from your clients. The work of articulating your business vision to your clients through the written word is not an easy one, but it is worth it. Not only will you maintain professional integrity, you will have the opportunity to carefully consider and refine your business in the process.
More resources to help you with creating your own unique website that represents you well:
Writing Your Photographer Bio Great list of things to do – and what not to do! – and lots of examples.
Four Steps To Finding Your Writing Voice Excellent advice from a middle school English teacher. Her whole site is full of good tips, so browse around!
How to Write Effective Website Content Pretty much exactly what the title says. Make sure you read all the way down to the “best practice tips”, because that’s where the best tips are.
How to Build an Irresistable Photography Website This one costs, but is absolutely jam packed with great information and worksheets to walk you through the process. Well worth the investment!