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.

  • Jillian

    Beautiful!! :3

  • Densha Otoko


  • Deegoz


  • Kris J Boorman

    God dammit

  • Deegoz


  • raysot

    I had the same thing happen to an image I shot of the Blue Angels passing in formation behind the Seattle Space Needle. I sent it in to a local news site and things got crazy from there… Lesson learned was that I should have at least watermarked the image first.

  • Kris J Boorman

    Opinion has been very divided on whether or not I should have watermarked it, from the discussion on reddit. Many are saying that a watermark would have ensured recognition, whereas just as many are saying it wouldn’t be shared as much with one, or that it obviously didn’t need one to direct traffic to my website. I’m still undecided on the matter.

  • Amando Filipe

    I never watermark, I feel like it makes me come off as dumb… am I dumb for NOT watermarking? plus, if someone really wants to steal an image, a watermark won’t be enough.

  • Kris J Boorman

    Whats funny is I don’t even like this image that much – I’m proud of the work put into it, and the fact that it showcases a really beautiful natural phenomenon – but I’m not a fan of HDR. I think it cheapens an image, or is used as a crutch to make a mediocre image pop. This is my only HDR shot, and it is by FAR my most popular.

    Bit funny, that.

  • Rob Dickinson

    Kris – had this happen to a number of images, going viral , sometimes you get credit, sometimes it actually does bring good kama, often its just taken from you and abused :/ but then whats the point of hiding them on a hard drive somewhere too?

  • rtorblephoto

    Dude, if you post an image online, especially on somewhere like Reddit, this is what’s going to happen. I’m not suggesting it’s right, it’s just reality. This is the world now, we either adapt or die. It’s a bit like going out in the rain without an umbrella and then complaining you got wet.

  • arlie

    Good stuff.

  • raysot

    Wrd how that works. My Blue Angels shot was with a Nikkor 800mm from about a mile away. It was fuzzy with a lot of heat atmospherics which made it worse. People loved it.

  • Samcornwell

    I had a photo go to the number #1 spot on Reddit a couple of years ago, and I can honestly say it was the very lowest point of my photography career. Learnt a lot though.

  • Leif Sikorski

    People have to decide if they want to share their work and want to be seen or not – but they shouldn’t expect to be able to control how it gets shared. I’m not quite sure if speaking about damages is adequate, since it got it’s attention. People who wan’t to know who took the photo will find it out by a simple google image search anyway and if the photographic style is unique people will also recognize it. As long as it isn’t used for commercial things I would just sit down and relax.

  • Noel Kerns

    I FULLY agree with you about HDR, and about the appeal of the image itself. I find the image much more compelling for the phenomenon it captures than as an art shot, per se. No offense intended there at all, by the way; I figure since you said it, it would be OK to agree with you!

    That said, I would STRONGLY advise not uploading full-res or hi-res images to Flickr, or anywhere else on the web for that matter. I’ve had a quite number of my images used without my permission over the years, but only online; I’ve never put anything out there large enough to make a print of any real size.

  • Mike Gilbert

    Great write up. Reading this I thought the whole time. Dude should have watermarked it. The beauty of a photo can stand out from some form of a watermark. But if you would have watermarked the image someone would have Photoshopped it out. __ shoulder shrug __

  • ryfter

    I am “anti-watermark” but “Pro-branding”. I have just started to put in small print a link back to my website. I try to make it non-obtrusive. To me, the idea is to hope that the ground-swell will get you noticed by the right person or two. That is about it. If you are really lucky, get noticed by the right person that likes your work, and helps promote it because they like the style.

    People that “steal” your image for non-commercial use, to me, are useless. You would never have gotten anything from them anyhow.

    The people saying you stole it, well, are jerks.

    At work we had an item go viral a few months ago (ever see the Idaho Governor debate?). Our hits were exactly like yours. Huge influx on the first day, peaked at 2nd day, started going down on the third and by the 4th, it was over. We did see an uptick in traffic for the following week, but it is was a modest increase.

    The one thing I DID learn, is try to promote similar things to the first. Try to get people to look at 1 more item. If you can get them hooked, you could see some long-term good. But, as you noticed, the VAST majority are there for the one item and gone.

  • Pickle

    At least you were smart enough to not imgur it and left it on your own flickr account. I posted a few pictures to a local subreddit and had people whining about why it’s on flickr and not imgur and I said I like to keep it with my other pictures and instantly was attacked with people posting direct links (I didn’t upload the highest resolution anyway) so in short, reddit is full of jerks.

  • Don Hoekwater

    Are you sure about the Flickr thing? I know it used to be that way, which is why I removed all my images some years ago, but they supposedly fixed that. I checked and am only able to see low-rez images, though they are big enough to probably get a 4×6 or even a 5×7 out of them.

  • OtterMatt

    As someone who will likely never make a single dollar off of photography, I have to honestly say that this is one of the whiniest, most utterly self-engrossed, #firstworldproblems-worthy posts I’ve ever seen. As much as I hate to sound insulting (especially since you’re obviously reading these comments), but what the hell were you expecting?
    Given that no one was using the photo for commercial purposes, and you were essentially getting butthurt that people were downloading your image from a place (where YOU put it) with absolutely no download protections in any way, you come off as a huge baby. If you’re really that gung-ho about making a living, then you shouldn’t be posting images on places like Reddit. If you don’t even like the image that much, why do you even care who does? And since when is free publicity bad? Hell, write off the hypothetical loss as “advertising” and credit it to yourself in your year-end taxes. There’s nothing wrong with wanting credit for an image, but man, you really look like a jerk for all the emo you’re putting into this.
    Sorry again, but there’s my $0.02.

  • Kris J Boorman

    I’m not ashamed of my honesty and fully admit my naivete.

  • MRowlos

    what you need to do, first and foremost, is to get your head out of your ass

  • OtterMatt

    Full marks for that, at least. And yeah, Reddit is the worst. They’re the new 4chan in many respects.

  • Jim Macias

    First world problems.

  • Wilson Co

    You’re photo is too good not to be shared. It’s other people’s if fault they don’t have the decency or the integrity to give credit where it is due.

  • tomdavidsonjr

    “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.”

    Thank you. I now have to clean Dr. Pepper off of my LCD monitor.

    This was an awesome read. I had a similar (though much less dramatic) experience with a photo: a casual, non-artistic snapshot I took of my dog yawning and put on Flickr. Someone texted me and said “Hey – I just saw your dog on Pinterest.” Having no idea what he meant, I followed the link. And there was my dog. So I did a reverse Google Image search and found Charlie (my family boxer) all over the place. I then did a Google search for some of my actual artistic images (the ones I have sold) and found a couple uncredited uses. I was simultaneously honored and annoyed. I asked two bloggers and one FB Group to take down the images, and they were taken down immediately. Nothing like your troubles, but it did teach me that I should expect that my digital images are going to get stolen if someone finds them appealing. Sometimes people suck.

  • ennuipoet

    Had a similar experience last year on a smaller scale. I took some shots of abandoned pay phones and posted on Flickr. The photos went viral and for a couple of days I was all over the Internet, even had the NBC Nightly News call asking about using them. (They didn’t) I was getting credit for the shots, had a 100K hits a day to my Flickr page, even had a photo agency from the UK sign me to license the photos. I made exactly nothing, didn’t sign a client, sell a print or license an image. Was it really cool to be viral? Sure. Did it benefit me? Not that I can tell, business has actually been WORSE since it happened. But, that’s the Internet, I guess. The only positive is the hits pushed me to the top of Google searching my name and photo business, so I got that and total consciousness at the moment of my death going for me.

  • Jillian

    Lol you’re on the internet. All you’ll have are first world problems, dude.

  • Christopher King

    This is the reality of armchair art patrons.

  • Kris J Boorman

    This is one of the big things I’ve learned.

  • Sean Hurt

    Can we get the hi res version?

  • DickCheney

    People online are so dumb, especially the ones who leave comments on stuff!

  • Travis

    If you’re a photographer and didn’t already know this is what happens when you poat a photo on the internet, I’ve got some bad news

  • OtterMatt


  • Jaime Päivä

    absolutely. when you think you have a killer shot, ask around to your friends, open an account on a stock image site and sell it. don’t post it (specially on reddit) and then try to get money/recognition out of it. think ahead. what you did was beautiful, sharing a great shot with the world. but if you intend to make money/credit out of it, either you think ahead or you’re screwed. honest people make up an infinitely small percentage of the internet. they are not your friends.

  • Jaime Päivä

    btw, yes, awesome shot :)

  • DylanWalkerPhotography

    Not if the watermark is in the middle of the photo and is in a place that is hard to photoshop off.

  • Random Pixels blog

    Let me be the old man here…because I am. I picked up a camera in the Army in Germany in the 60s and shot for 20 years as an amateur with no recognition.

    My first published picture was a one column b/w photo of my sister that ran in the local paper’s wedding announcement page. Finally, in 1983, I managed to get some photos of them shooting Scarface on South Beach that led to a long stretch of shooting pictures for the Associated Press….for money. I still sell those pictures 30 years later. The reason? Because I strictly limit where I post them on the Internet.

    As a photographer for the AP, my pictures were published in every newspaper in the world and I shot plenty of freelance assignments for some of the country’s major newspapers.

    But even though I was known among picture editors, in all that time I had just one photo editor say he called me because he saw my photo…and that was because it was on the front page of the New York Times.

    Bottom line is while “recognition” may be satisfying for a few minutes, I’d rather have the money. I don’t understand this mentality that says just because you made a great image, it has to be posted everywhere.

    Hopefully you’ve learned something from this.

  • Matt

    Maybe itd be good to watermark things from now on as an experiment to see if it effects the next image that makes it big?

  • sean lancaster

    I really only post to Flickr. 14 or 15 of my last 20 photos have made Flickr’s EXPLORE, which means increased recognition. I had a day this past week with over 25,000 views and close to 500 favorites. Today I am over 20,000 views and well over 200 favorites. I have yet to make a penny off of my photography. But I did spend time today sending two emails to sites online that were claiming my photos as their own (website building sites showing how they integrate images). As my images get better each year, I find myself finding images being used more frequently and wonder if I need to change my posting practice. But for now, I still enjoy having people favorite an image I post and engage in some conversation about it. I hope that never gets tiring for me.

  • woofa

    Hey, that’s not your picture!

  • Alexandra G.

    “Dumb”? No, no…social media is about marketing/advertising!

    “Dumb” is to assume you’re the only “John Smith”, and that by just using your name people will magically find you!

    “Watermarks” used to be respected a while ago, now they are bad mouthed all over by those who want to steal photos, and those who don’t understand that “photography” is a business based on intellectual property and referrals.

    Posting naked images online will not bring you clients, advertising yourself online and in print might bring you clients if you’re any good.

    You all need to learn to watermark smart. If you make the watermark small, you’re no match for the clone tool in Photoshop, if you’re only using your name and no contact information the clients you wish to find you will never find you. Open a phone book and see how many more people have your name. In today’s age watermarks should be used to advertise yourself online, and not frowned upon. Learn how to make them look nice to match your brand(you should have a brand), and use them smart.

  • Will

    Sorry but did internet just arrive in your life? Because you’re whole argument is really saying “I was so dumb I was so dumb I was so dumb”. But hopefully someone will publish this article (with due credit) on “21st Century Photography for Dummies” so that some people can learn.

  • mike

    Word of advice: never put ur unique shots on Flickr in hi-res version, bring the quality down to 500×500 or something s****y like that.. for facebook pages, give them one hour max and start to file a complaint directly to facebook and inform them about the time passing that costs u..

  • ScottDonald

    Holly cow, grow up! Any pro or serious photographer would assume posting to reddit would result exactly has things played out. What did you expect differently? If a company tried to use your image for commercial gain, then yes you would have a legit issue. But people sharing a public image publically without giving you credit, well hello and welcome to the Internet. You can be a photographer for commerce and protect images accordingly or you can be a photographer for art and release work for others to enjoy (and filing for copyright as to protect from others commercially benefiting). But the world of open media does not owe you anything after you seek its validation.

  • Marc Flores

    “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.”

    No offense, Kris, but I also left your site after looking quickly through 4-5 images. Your home page portfolio is all over the place (candid/street/product/landscape) and the single images aren’t that strong.

  • Joey Duncan

    damn redditor…….s

  • NDT001

    welcome to the internet! Everything is up for grabs. No exceptions.

  • vertigone

    Uh, isn’t this whole article about how he “learned something from this”?