Photography Thieves

This is not my photo. I did not take it. I do not own it. But it did appear in a photo thief's portfolio.Have you ever looked through a photographer’s online portfolio and noticed that his style and the quality of his photos varied? Not minor variations that could indicate an improvement in technique and talent, but wide variations where some photos just really pop out as so much better or so different than the rest. You may be looking at a photo thief.

In a private Facebook group, one of the members – Paul Sontag (Spartan Photography) – took a photo, flipped it horizontally, used Photoshop to remove a tattoo, then posted it as his own. It seems he didn’t realize that the actual photographer was a member of that group, and he was called out for stealing photos. That sent me digging into the the thief’s other photos. Using TinEye and Google Image Search I was able to determine that this wasn’t the first time he had stolen photos. I was able to find about another half dozen or so that originated somewhere else.

The photos stood out as suspicious because they were so different from everything else he had shot. His normal style is, as a female photographer called it, “trashy and overly saturated”. To me his photos looked amateurish at best and GWC quality at worst. But a few stood out as well lit and composed with excellent styling and a well above average model. Sure enough, according to the reverse image search tools, those were not original photos. Most of them had been copied from Russian or Italian modeling sites, and a few were generic stock photos.

Mixed in with his normal style and his photos of questionable origin were some other pretty good photos that seemed to have been done in a workshop environment. He may have taken the photo, but someone else provided the styling, hair, make-up, wardrobe, and model. Workshops are great places to learn new skills and techniques, but you have to be able to use those skills and techniques outside of the workshop.

Some other internet sleuths did some digging and documented the blatant photo theft and ripoffs Paul Sontag has done.

When you are looking at a photographer’s portfolio as part of your consideration to hire him for your family portraits, event, or wedding photography, make sure that you are looking at the photographer’s real work and does not belong to someone else. Be wary if the styles or subjects vary widely. Look for inconsistency in lighting and locations. And never hesitate to ask for references.


***The photo attached to this post is not mine. I did not take it. I do not own it. It did appear in Paul Sontag’s portfolio, and is wildly inconsistent with his normal style. A Google image search shows the photo appearing in a few other places as well.

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