Things I Learned After My Photo Hit #1 on Reddit, and Why I Probably Shouldn’t Have Posted It


Last night, I posted a photo I took (shown above) in 2012 to Reddit’s /r/pics subreddit.

After I posted it, the upvotes slowly began to trickle in. Within the hour it had amassed around 4000 upvotes, peaking at around 6500 and holding the top spot for a long while. Recognition! Sweet, sweet recognition! It felt great.


For many aspiring enthusiasts, the notion of having even a single one of your photos get so many positive reactions is a worthy aim, and I admit that I would probably be jealous of anyone who had it happen to them. In fact, I already had been. That jealousy was likely the final catalyst in the decision to post it.

Normally I wouldn’t post one of my photos in that manner. The “Fuji shot” had already made a splash, having been licensed by Bing Japan for their background image of the day, in July of 2013. It had also been my first competition win, having won 1st prize in Getty Image’s national “A Moment Connecting – Japan” entry. With that came a little bit of a headache, as it meant that people were now able to download my image and use it as they liked.

It turned up on a few “foreign buzzfeed”-style sites, a couple of “free desktop background” offerings and had made the rounds on Tumblr. Nothing too bad, but at the time it felt like the crime of the century.

I spent about a week or so chasing up these sites in order to have credit noted or the image taken down, but after having very little response from any of the websites, I decided to admit defeat, and go with the notion that if the image was going to be shared, it was going to be on my own terms – and hey, I could enjoy a bit of an ego boost if it got popular.

Having learnt my lesson on being so liberal with my original-resolution jpeg, I uploaded a very low-res version to Imgur for the Reddit post.

Posting it meant it would be shared a lot more – that much was obvious, but I figured that no-one could do a lot with such a small image. Which brings me to the first important thing I learned from posting my photo to Reddit’s /r/pics:

#1. People will do a lot with a small image

After the post had sat at the number one spot for a few hours, someone notified me that a Facebook page belonging to “Distractify” (a media sharing site) had displayed the image.

I checked it out and true enough, it was there for all to see, with no mention of me or my websites. It had been shared 874 times at the time I found it, and there were close to 100 comments.

I added one alerting them that this was my image and to contact me immediately. What followed were various comments telling me that it was my fault for putting it online, that I should be grateful, and that my street-portraits were hosted online without the subjects permission, so I was just as bad (whole other can of worms).

With no response from Distractify, I PMed them on Facebook, e-mailed them and tweeted them. I didn’t get a response until I issued a DMCA takedown via FB itself, at which point I got a cheery message from Distractify saying “Thanks! We’ll credit you now or we can take it down – whatever works for you.”

Well, two things. Firstly, by this time (at least 12 hours later) their post had already been buried under numerous new ones. The damage had been done. Secondly, the post had already been removed. Not sure what happened there.

I am sure the image has been posted on a wealth of other “content” sites, but I haven’t the energy to check. The damage has been done. At least it was only a low-res image, though. Can’t do much with that.

Anyway, second thing I learned…

#2. People will get the full-res image anyway

Huh. So Flickr has some security leaks.

Even though I’d disabled access to my full-res image, Redditors soon began posting it in response to others asking for a desktop version. As some of you know, this is doable by viewing the page’s source code and finding the file. After that it’s a simple copy+paste job and a right-click to get it.

My wife was lovely enough to ask users to remove their links, explaining that it enabled the image to be used in ways I wasn’t ok with. Most of them complied within a good few hours. Some didn’t. Either way, the damage had been done.

#3. People won’t believe it’s your own photo

This one is relatively short, but I still found it bizarre. I’d say about 20 users posted results from reverse-google-image-search, such as screenshots of the results or my website and Flickr. They’d say things like:

Climbed Mt. Fuji, huh? So you are Kris J B, owner of THIS WEBSITE and THIS FLICKR who took this photo TWO YEARS AGO? Yeah right.

Y.. Yeah? The image is already online… Why is it a surprise that a photographer would post his images online? I don’t understand the karma-whore witch-hunt ethic. Karma is absolutely useless.

This third point is important because it taught me that I will get seriously stressed out if people start accusing me of photo-thievery. One chap was adamant that the image was actually from 2009, because Google’s reverse-search had presented the subreddit /r/woahdude, created in 2009, where my photo had been reposted.

He would not listen to reason. He accused me of lying through my teeth and that I was stealing someone else’s hard-earned work.

I didn’t like that. I got so stressed I had trouble sleeping. Gotta be careful to ignore the trolls.

Moving on

#4. The recognition you gain will not be very fruitful

Here are the visitation stats from my website:


Outstanding! 20,000 people visited my site! Some people even messaged me asking if they could buy a print!

… I have not heard anything more. I did not sell anything.

Oh well, at least my other images got exposure…?


Not really. As you can see, nearly everyone who visited my site came for the original image, maybe scrolled once or twice through others in that set, then left. The shop page didn’t even make it into the top ten most-visited.

Now, I didn’t post this with the intention of making money, but after seeing the visit count I was over the moon. I thought to myself “If I make one sale, I’ll be a happy chappy!” but alas. No big deal.

If it’s taught me something else important, it’s that the site works well as a portfolio, not so much as a print store. That’s very useful information!

Oh, and my photography page on Facebook went up by 4 likes. I am considering that a win, no matter how small. I consider those 4 extra likes genuine fans. It’s a win.

It has made me greatly question the value of digital portfolios, however. I used to carry my portfolio on an iPad when visiting restaurants or bars with the intention of selling wall art, and had my heart sink as they idly swipe past each image without really looking. Luckily, however, I switched to a printed portfolio which ensures the audience gives each image reverence – and I made two sales from this method!

Why I probably shouldn’t have posted it

So I learned a lot from the last 24 hours. The damage has been done and I’ll probably see “that Fuji shot” posted on all sorts of Buzzfeed wannabe sites when I finally dare to reverse-google it… But still, those are some valuable lessons I learned. AND I had a lovely time talking with all the interested users, Fuji-climbers and photographers.

So why do I regret it? Because 30% of the 1000 responses that filled my inbox were just the word “illuminati” and it made me want to pray for a meteor strike. That is not a nice feeling. Oh my god, Reddit main subs can be annoying holy s**t.

Good night.

Followup: Let it be known these were my 100% honest thoughts fresh after the nuttiness of the proceeding 24 hours after posting the photo to/r/pics, and that I have a much more positive outlook on the whole situation as of now.

It has, after all, brought great attention to my work, but more importantly it’s taught me a great deal about the nature of digital media and marketing oneself online, which is something I knew nothing at all before this (as it is embarrassingly clear from this writing).

About the author: Kris J B is a Kent-based photographer and a graduate from Canterbury Christ Church University, where he gained a BA in Film, Radio and Television in 2008. Visit his website here.

  • Sarah Bauer

    I am so sorry to hear of the dreadful experience you have had over posting your image on the ‘interwaves’ it is almost like people/organisations see it as OK to steal and use either for business or personal gain. I’ve read articles where the pros and cons of putting a watermark on images are discussed and feel that it is pointless going to the effort of a watermark or a low res image because if someone wants it they will get round what is viewed as a minor annoyance to them. I used to enjoy sharing my images on various sites and enjoyed the positive feedback, but about 2 years ago I found one of my images being used by a business who had lifted it off Flickr and like you spent far too long trying to get them to either remove it, credit me for it or pay me, so I gave up. The same experience has happened many of my photographer friends. Sad times!

  • doctor sid

    If you post an image online, then be prepared for it to show up anywhere… watermark or not. Maybe stay away from posting images over 72ppi or don’t be putting up images a thousand pixels wide. But don’t get upset when you post an image on any website and you see it somewhere else without your permission.

    If someone wants to do something with it, they will wether you want them to or not and if you are looking for work in the photo biz, get in line with the million other iPhone users who think they can make the same image… and for less.

    The days and chances of some random art director seeing your image and wanting to buy it or hire you are VERY far and few between. With products like Nik Effects and other filters, great photography is just a mouse click away.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for sharing your story

  • Blake Bronstad

    A lesson I wished I had learned before trying the same thing two days ago and succeeding to the same level (and to my surprise). Uploaded an image to imgur without making an account, then made a reddit account and posted it on there…5 hours later and no sharing it made it to #1 on reddit’s front page and now has over 2 million views. I’m dumbfounded and slightly annoyed that I didnt grasp the point of this article first. I literally had 5 uniques come to my portfolio website. Ha! Internet victory turns Internet fails.

  • Blake Bronstad

    I tried doing what the author did as a test two days ago. Made a new reddit account and uploaded an image via Imgur. Within 5 hours it made it to #1 and now has over 2m views. I reverse image searched it on Google and there are more than 20 pages of results…and my personal portfolio website has had nearly nothing in terms of visitor increase /: Whoops

  • James Light

    Uhm…you know you can make a lot of money in copyright infringements, right?

    A takedown notice? That’s like politely asking a grocery-store robber to bring back the stolen goods.

    Credit? Watermarks? Do they make you money? (Well, sort of … when stolen, increases worth in copyright infringement claims)

    I hate it when media companies suggest using your images for credit. The only people that actually google your name are other photographers …

    Contact an attorney (I love the Photo Attorney) and get what you rightly deserve … $ … and buy yourself a 1DX/D4 … or both … ; )

  • Diana b.

    I think a light watermark wouldn’t hurt. I do it and I still get shares. If they like it, they will share. :) maybe a watermark with your web address so they can look at the real thing un-watermarked (but protected)

  • Diana b.

    also doesn’t it read somewhere on FB rules that if you post a pic on FB it is no longer yours exclusively?

  • Lobr

    You say “damage is done”, like you could sell it better if it would not be already spread all over internet. I know, it’s a real stress. But sales are sales and reposting is reposting. One is rarely turns to another. All the millions of image uses you have, if it was not for free, it just would not happen at all. People would have spread another image instead. On the other side, you still can sell it to NG, Shutterstock or something. Does not matter if you lost control or not, there is always a fair buyer for good image. Again, I know it’s a stress. But that’s how it works. I am saying this because I’m, kind of, related to the industry.

  • Damien

    Not exactly. FB owns the rights to share your “post” (which includes a copy of the photo) but they have no rights to your actual photo, beyond its use in the post. You still have copyright even if you publish it on FB or if you publish on the web generally. Simply posting a photo to fb does not commit the work to the public domain.

  • Damien

    You clearly have a very limited understanding of copyright law. The share button on facebook doesnt generate any lawsuits because by posting an image you grant facebook rights in use of that photo in those posts (and any subsequent shares). This does not destroy your copyright, you have simply licensed it to FB for use in posts. So you couldnt sue someone who shared a photo you uploaded to fb, however, if they took that photo off the post and used it in some other form, that use is not covered by the license and therefore you have a copyright claim against them.

    Simply posting a photo to FB or to the internet at large does not commit the photo to the public domain, the same way playing a song on the radio doesnt commit the song to the public domain.

    You seem to think that simply because enforcement of a copyright on the internet is difficult (as the article pointed out) that somehow this means that a copyright holder CANNOT enforce things. They can, its just difficult. Many simply choose not to. But thats their right… they could also choose to sue anyone and everyone. However, simply not attempting to enforce your right does not mean that you had no right to begin with. All those unpermitted uses are infringing, whether they will be tried or not… they dont become justified simply because its difficult to enforce. Thats just something you need to take into consideration… again, the entire point of this piece.

  • Sarah Bauer

    Well that just proves it Blake that it really isnt worth putting your shots online……..only for people to steal!

  • aleksthegreat

    I took a portrait of a homeless man last christmas looking for his daughter. While I wasn’t looking for sales or anything, he just asked me to post his portrait on my site in hopes his daughter would see it somehow, it increased my likes by hundreds and my page saw hundreds of thousands of views, I was on the news, he was on the news, his daughter and ex wife was on the news. I’ve made sales in the past and some afterwards. The deed itself and the recognition both positive and a few negative were worth it. The truth is you’re not gonna make money in the photo business anymore. You have to have access to a lifestyle that is in vogue and beyond what the average person can access in order to make a living. Just be happy that people liked your photo.

  • Mike Flacy

    Interesting post! You have described the Reddit community perfectly.

    One point though, I can see why you weren’t able to push people into your shop. You have no call to action to get people from a photo in your portfolio to your shop where you sell prints. You are completely relying on someone specifically clicking on Prints, clicking on the picture they are interested in and then clicking the purchase button.

    Something as simple as a small pop-up or graphical badge (on the portfolio page) that mentions the image is on sale in your store and links to the specific page which the photo can be purchased would increase your conversion rate.

  • Esteban Contreras

    this post would not exist if the photo hadn’t been posted on Reddit, and I never would have seen it. glass half-full.

  • Josh R.

    This exactly! To be fair though, I think part of it is different markets. Retail photography depends a lot more on people posting cheesy images on social media and people loving them then looking up who shot them. With commercial work it’s a bit different.

  • Josh R.

    I’ve got a good friend who always says that an exhibition is a public display of your past mistakes, or something to that effect. I always liked ti because it’s so true! Your next image is always your best.

  • Josh R.

    So funny I just called out a friend for sharing a site with your stolen content maybe 30 minutes ago. Love your work.

  • Josh R.

    It’s an interesting conundrum and it’s actually a valuable criticism. The reason it’s like that is because he mixes all his portfolios together for the home page. You could either not show a gallery on the home page, I just show images representing my available galleries, you could specialize more overall, probably a good idea, or you could have the home page randomly display different portfolios but always one then the next and instead of mixing them together.

  • Dongs Speedwagon

    Woah does anyone else see the pyramid in that picture? Illumanaughty

  • dylanstefan

    yes, nothing special…. have you seen his website ?

  • neonspark

    well, it’s reddit, what do you expect? There are better sites to share images at like 500px and others. But ultimately if you plan to monetize an image you better think twice before posting on contests that have wide open licensing agreements.
    maybe this is your sprint board picture, something you’ll never monetize but that opens the doors for you.

  • d0ppe1ganger

    i like taking and sharing photos too and it’s very strange to see that quite ordinary image of nature mountains shadows etc (you can get tons of hd like this in two clicks) could be such a drama. oh i can see it now! website says CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHER

  • chicagoCabbie

    Karma is absolutely useless……..I like that…..because its true……

  • Paul M

    Absolutely, a lot of websites which aggregate data from other sources exist to get advert revenue from page views.
    The less they pay for their content and the more views and click-throughs they get, the more profit.
    It’d be a game of wack-a-mole to remove content, so the only thing I can really think of is to brand or watermark the photos so at least you earn recognition.

  • mactekus

    Always register your images… especially if you have a winner. Ask me how I became a millionaire. Better call Saul.

  • freeopinions

    I have been a Photoshop user for about 20 years. I am not even all that good at it, but I can take off almost any watermark in less than a minute. If I wanted to steal your image, (I don’t) it would be easy, watermark or not.

    Likewise, if I wanted to steal an image, it would be a simple matter to put my own watermark on it, claiming it as mine, with the watermark as “proof.”

    Bottom line is, if you don’t want your images shared all over the world, don’t put them on the Internets….

  • Kris J Boorman

    Thats a brilliant way of putting it. Thank you.

  • cardmaverick

    Nope, they don’t. I’ve found my images posted to flickr reposted all over other peoples blogs, etc… and there is never any attempt to crop the bottom bar out. They’re too lazy, don’t know how to do it, etc…

  • Jacob Lollar

    For what it’s worth, it is an awesome photo.

    If you’re interested in an actual photography community, try r/itookapicture. R/pics is garbage in comparison.

  • ajfudge

    My opinion is: if you watermarked it, at least the people who will visit your website have genuine interest in you and your work, whereas those mere “sharers” and “content collectors” will probably have second thoughts to repost your photo. The former can generate potential income while the latter will give you the nasties. Popularity is fine and all but in this age a photographer is easily antagonized and always cornered to helpless defense. I like your shot, though. At first glance, I thought it was a shadow of a bridge or some castle (haha. stupid me :p).