What to do when your photo goes viral


jaymi-heimbuch-birthday-dog

I mean that as a question. What to do when your image goes viral... What to do, what to do? I've had to ponder this recently, and I think I have my solution.

It happens sometimes that a photo becomes so widespread that tracking use of it is an exercise in futility and frustration. This photo is my first experience in it. Sure I've had photos used without permission quite a few times in the past. You can't put something online without running that risk. But they are usually one-off instances. This photo, though, has been another thing entirely.

I photographed my dog for an article with recipes for baking a dog birthday cake. We went down to the store and picked out party favors for decoration, and he got to dive in to a couple pup-cakes. I posted the photo along with some others on Instagram and included them in the published article. And off it went.

It ended up being submitted by random people (representing it as their own) to some major animal social media accounts for Facebook and Instagram. It took off like wildfire, being shared all over the place, being uploaded to blogs and websites and people's personal pages. It has ended up everywhere from tech blogs to cute-overload-style sites to a producer working with MTV asking me to use the photo (of course, when I gave him the link to license it, I never heard back). My wife even saw it printed out as a birthday card on a co-worker's desk. When she asked how they got a photo of her dog, they said they just Googled "birthday dog." And yep, sure enough, this photo is at the top of the Google search results.

I have not made a single penny off of this photo. There is a decent chance I will never make an income from it, not with people able to save it or print it for free after finding it in a two-second Google search. I also could never possibly hope to contain all the misuse of this image anymore. But I can stop it when I see it. Or can I?

When I see someone using a photo of mine, I look at whether or not they are using it commercially and if there is credit. If credit is given then I usually write it off. If it is on a non-commercial website, or is not being used for branding or drawing in new users to a site and so on, then I write it off. But if a site is using it without credit and for gain or for branding, then I feel justified in asking for it to be taken down.

Much of the Internet, however, doesn't agree. Most people seem to think that anything on the Internet is theirs to take and use. But it isn't. So often I hear, "Once it's on the Internet, just expect it to be stolen." Well, yeah. To an extent. But it is never okay. Or worse, I hear, "You should watermark it," or, "You should disable right-click-save." Yes, these are mildly helpful deterrents but it puts the blame back on the photographer if their image is stolen, not on the person who took without asking. And none of these perspectives mean a photographer shouldn't stand up for their rights as the creator and owner of a photo when it is taken.

Fitting a request to take down an image in 140 characters on Twitter looks like this: "Hi. Your profile photo is a copyrighted photo that I took. I have not given permission for it to be used. Please remove it." The second warning looks like: "Ur profile pic is my copyrighted pic.Using it violates Twitter's TOS & my rights.Pls remove it so I don't have to report it." Pretty average language requesting someone stop using my photo as their profile photo or background photo (as in, using it for their branding). I could go straight to Twitter or whatever social media site and submit a report of copyright infringement. But it's nicer to ask first before putting someone's account at risk.

Yet that simple request has earned me backlash, especially with followers of one of the people whom I have pinged. Their profile said they were 96-years-old -- and I thought it was a character, an act. Nope, turns out she really is a 96-year-old woman (go figure, some unbelievable Twitter bios are actually true. Makes me wonder about that Bronx Zoo snake...) and with a mini army of followers ready to hate on anyone who isn't perfectly kind to her. And apparently sending a take-down request is beyond the pale. Well, that one was a whole can of worms. Had I researched the account and back-story first, I probably would have put two or three pleases in there rather than just one. But frankly, why would I research every person using my image before sending a calmly worded take-down request? After figuring out she was a real person (and a total sweetheart, hence the angry horde ready to overreact on her behalf) who recently had a scary experience thanks to social media, I told her she can go ahead and use my image for free.

Anyway, age aside, it's the same story: If the site or account responds (and often I am completely ignored), they typically take it down while saying they didn't realize it shouldn't be used.

I just don't get this. It seems so simple. Is it yours? Do you know whose it is? Did they say you could use it? Just like with every other thing in this world, if the answer is "No" to these questions, then you probably shouldn't use it. Sharing is one thing; linking to a source and sharing a photo, video or article via social media is of course desired. You're sharing the source of the photo and providing credit that way. I'm not knocking that. But uploading an image and using it for anything, from a birthday card to a profile photo, without permission is another thing entirely. Then it's not hard to stop and ask those three questions, to consider that someone spent time and energy creating that image and perhaps their income relies on sales of their work. If you can't find who created the image, it still isn't yours to use as you wish.

But too many people don't stop and think about this. So what happens when your photo goes viral? For me, in this case, the answer I've landed on is: donate it.

See, it's not just my photograph but also my dog. My fur-kid. It's jolting to see his face somewhere I didn't authorize it to be, especially a profile photo. The sheer number of times this photo has been taken without permission, without credit, has sapped the joy out of it for me. What do you do when you don't want something taken from you? You give it away.

So, I'm donating this photo to nonprofits who want to use this image for fundraising. If you are with an organization, from animal welfare groups to health awareness organizations to child welfare and anything in between, please contact me with a link to your nonprofit's website, a description of the work you do and how you would like to use the photo. I will donate a high-quality print-ready file to your organization. I will also provide design work if you want your logo or message on the image. You can use it for anything from marketing material to cards to calendars to key chains.

For the most part, I can't control where or how people use the images that have gone up already. But I can at least improve the quality of the photo when it is used. Perhaps that will bring back some of the joy I had in making and looking at this photograph.

So, if you're wanting to use this photo in a real way to do some good in the world, then please get a hold of me so I can get you set up with a free high-quality file.

And if you're a for-profit business or website who wants to use (or has used) this photo on your site, or if you're someone who wants prints or a license for personal use, please throw us a bone and license the image from here or email me to order prints. It's not only the right thing to do but also we'd literally be able to buy more bones. This little guy loves them.

jaymi-heimbuch-birthday-dog
jaymi-heimbuch-birthday-dog

Urban coyotes learn how to navigate roads


Urban coyotes have learned to use roads to their advantage, and that means following safety procedures! © Jaymi Heimbuch

Urban coyotes have learned to use roads to their advantage, and that means following safety procedures! © Jaymi Heimbuch


It’s no great revelation that coyotes are smart. These crafty, clever creatures have figured out how to spread from their original range in the American southwest to every corner of North America and into Central America, from California to Maine, from Alaska to Florida, from Canada to Costa Rica. They thrive in rural, semi-rural, suburban and even the densest of urban cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

An omnivorous diet, the ability to increase their litter sizes relative to territory and food availability, and the natural desire for young coyotes to disperse and claim new territories, certainly all play a role in the species’ spread across the continent. But to not just be able to survive, but flourish in places crowded with humans, where other predators have been extirpated, well, that takes smarts. And one of the most important skills is learning road savvy behaviors.

Car strikes are the number one cause of death for urban coyotes. Road collisions account for as much as 40-70 percent of all deaths for the coyotes studied by Urban Coyote Research in Cook County, Illinois. Finding food and patrolling a territory necessitates crossing dozens, sometimes hundreds of busy streets. Only the most alert, careful, and car-savvy coyotes make it across road after road, year after year.

Road savvy has to come early for coyotes. This coyote pup, only a few months old, sadly lacked the skill and luck it takes to avoid cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Road savvy has to come early for coyotes. This coyote pup, only a few months old, sadly lacked the skill and luck it takes to avoid cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Despite the risk, coyotes still take advantage of roads for travel. It makes sense, considering that pack territories in urban spaces can range from less than two to a little over four square miles, and the territories of solitary coyotes can average as much as 10 square miles. There isn't a whole lot of choice involved.

For coyotes in semi-rural and suburban areas, getting from point A to point B can be quite a bit faster and easier if using a road rather than navigating through dense plant cover. At least, that was the choice of one coyote I witnessed using road-smart behavior on a foggy road one morning.

I was on my way to photograph birds in a bay just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, traveling on a road cut into a hillside with dense scrub on either side. I was day dreaming a little about the morning’s weather conditions and where the tide might be when I got there, when out of the corner of my eye a flash of an image hit me: a coyote looking right at me from out of the scrub brush not 10 feet away. I hit the brakes, but was going around a curve without a shoulder so couldn’t stop without becoming a hazard. I hurried to the next possible spot to turn around and hoped with all my heart the coyote would still be there.

As I rounded the bend back to where I’d seen the momentary flash of a canid’s face, sure enough there she was, trotting up the road in the same direction I was now heading. Her ear twitched back, listening to my approach, and she hopped back up into the brush, seeming to wait for me to pass. I did, and pulled off to the side a little way up, rolled down my window, pulled out my camera, and waited.

I had hardly waited any time at all before she appeared, sticking her face out of the scrub brush, checking the all-clear. She hopped back down into the road and began trotting along on her merry way, passing right next to my vehicle. She went on a bit, slowed and hopped back into the scrub brush — and sure enough a moment later another car rounded the bend coming in her direction. After it passed, out popped her head, she checked for more cars, and hopped out to continue on a much easier, faster path than if she were to scramble over the scrub-covered hillside.

A young female coyote pokes her head out from the scrub brush, checking for cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A young female coyote pokes her head out from the scrub brush, checking for cars. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After checking the coast is clear, the coyote hops out of the brush and back onto the road to continue on her way. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After checking the coast is clear, the coyote hops out of the brush and back onto the road to continue on her way. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The coyote checks in both directions, her ears twitching forward and behind, listening for any oncoming vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The coyote checks in both directions, her ears twitching forward and behind, listening for any oncoming vehicles. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Roads can help coyotes navigate more quickly, but they're a hazard to be taken seriously. Car strikes are the primary killer of urban coyotes. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Roads can help coyotes navigate more quickly, but they're a hazard to be taken seriously. Car strikes are the primary killer of urban coyotes. © Jaymi Heimbuch

As she trotted up the road, I decided to follow, just to see what would happen. As I pulled up behind her, she sped up, breaking from a trot into a lope, but interestingly she stayed on her route on the opposite side of the road. I passed again, pulled to the side, and waited for her to catch up.

The little dance went on several times, with her trotting along the road, listening for cars, passing me, and then me passing her again, the two of us traveling along the road together, or as together as I could hope to be with this clever and confident coyote.

As long as I stayed in my vehicle, the coyote took little notice of how close she got to me -- though she did take care to stay on the opposite side of the road. © Jaymi Heimbuch

As long as I stayed in my vehicle, the coyote took little notice of how close she got to me -- though she did take care to stay on the opposite side of the road. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Young coyotes have to figure out how to safely deal with cars. Depending on their territory's location, urban coyotes need to cross dozens, sometimes hundreds of roads when patrolling home turf. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Young coyotes have to figure out how to safely deal with cars. Depending on their territory's location, urban coyotes need to cross dozens, sometimes hundreds of roads when patrolling home turf. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Listening for cars, moving on and off the shoulder of a road, and timing their dashes across busy highways are skills urban coyotes have to use to survive. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Listening for cars, moving on and off the shoulder of a road, and timing their dashes across busy highways are skills urban coyotes have to use to survive. © Jaymi Heimbuch

In trying to get a different angle, I decided to hop out of my car after pulling over yet again. Even though I hid around the edge of the car, she knew perfectly well something was different, and she came to a full stop while checking me out. I’d pushed too far and broke the magic. Now I wasn’t just a benign vehicle that would continue on, something she deals with all the time. Now I was vehicle plus human, which is another story entirely. She watched me for a bit, came a little closer, but decided to head down into the scrub brush with such purpose that I knew she was not going to pop back out. At least, not any time soon.

When I got out of my car to get a different angle, the coyote became much more wary of me. A car is one kind of danger; a human walking around is another entirely. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When I got out of my car to get a different angle, the coyote became much more wary of me. A car is one kind of danger; a human walking around is another entirely. © Jaymi Heimbuch

While I was sad, and kicking myself, for ruining the moment by getting out of the car, it did encourage me that this brave girl was smart enough to stay well clear of humans. The key to this species’ survival has been invisibility, knowing when and how to stay out of sight.

Urban coyotes are proving every day the incredible skill set it takes to hide in plain sight, to thrive in places where the streets, parks, and wildlife preserves are crawling with humans. Some coyotes are living in territories where there is nearly no natural space at all, where it is nearly 100% concrete, buildings, parking lots, strip malls, and busy streets. And they’re doing it with hardly anyone realizing they’re even there most of the time.

Reports of coyote sightings are becoming more and more common. They are usually reported by people who are scared of seeing them in their parks or front lawns, who are frightened of the risk they seem to pose to pets or small children. However, coyotes have been living alongside humans long enough that we should be aware that they are of no real risk. That is, unless we give them reason to lose their natural fear of humans and make them overly brave. By providing habitat and food sources in our own backyards, we welcome them in. Some people openly feed coyotes, turning them into a true risk. A fed coyote is a dead coyote, as they say, since a fed coyote can become overly confident and even aggressive toward humans, and that leads to being trapped and killed.

There is much, much more to say on the topic of urban coyotes. In my ongoing project of documenting their natural history, I’ll be providing more examples of their trials and triumphs in living near and within cities. But for now, I’ll leave you with this: admire a wary coyote, and don’t do anything that might make them less so. There is great information on coexisting with coyotes at Project Coyote, including how to avoid attracting them to your yard and what to do should you encounter one. And perhaps also admire how much skill they exercise in utilizing what we humans have created, including roads.

Coyotes are here to stay, including in urban areas. We need to stop fearing them and start learning better ways of coexisting with this beneficial canid predator. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Coyotes are here to stay, including in urban areas. We need to stop fearing them and start learning better ways of coexisting with this beneficial canid predator. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A study of jellyfish in black and white


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There is something deeply meditative about watching the jellyfish tank at an aquarium. I have two favorites: Monterey Bay Aquarium (at which the jellyfish exhibit is, understandably, the most photographed exhibit at the aquarium) and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

I could spend hours in front of these tanks, watching the slow, graceful, swirling motions of the purple-striped jellies and sea nettles, or the comical but determined pulsing flutter of the blubber jellies as they cycle around the tank. It's clear I'm not the only one, too, since the Monterey Bay Aquarium has launched a Jelly Cam, letting people watch sea nettles from 7 am to 6 pm every day. Nice.

Their dance-like movements, especially as they twirl around each other, their tentacles seeming like they should become impossibly knotted but never do, is as fascinating as it is beautiful.

Jellies are amazing creatures and their ever-changing shape is a joy to photograph.

Though the exhibits have striking blue backgrounds that set off the pinks, golds, reds and other vibrant colors of the jellies, I like best to focus on their shape, on the movement they convey even in a frozen image. So, I most enjoy processing images in black and white. Black and white is perfect for pulling away the distraction of color and zeroing in on the meditative, contemplative mood that watching jellies brings me.

Calling to my mind both a dream-like surrealism and a reminiscing of our primordial beginnings, jellies will always fascinate me.

Modeling Ruffwear gear above a San Francisco sunrise


My heeler's heart is as light as the sun when we're on the trail together having fun. ©Jaymi Heimbuch

My heeler's heart is as light as the sun when we're on the trail together having fun. ©Jaymi Heimbuch


While I was writing an article about how to train your dog to wear a backpack, Ruffwear sent me a fantastic pack test out with my dog, Niner. The company makes great gear that is well-designed and durably constructed, and we were thrilled to get a new pack to put through its paces. So, we woke up one workday morning, waited impatiently for first light, then booked it out the door and up to a little preserve near our apartment, which gives a gorgeous view of the bay and San Francisco at sunrise.

It is a bit of a hike to get to the top of Corona Heights, but the view is well worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It is a bit of a hike to get to the top of Corona Heights, but the view is well worth it. © Jaymi Heimbuch

One of the greatest parts about this tiny preserve, apart from the view, is the rocky outcrops. They afford the opportunity to get some exercise and balancing practice while scrambling around on them, as well as that "I'm the king of the mountain" feeling that come with standing atop them and getting a 360-degree view of the city.

We love to watch the sun as it rises up over the east side of the bay, and washes the water and city of San Francisco in pink and gold light. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love to watch the sun as it rises up over the east side of the bay, and washes the water and city of San Francisco in pink and gold light. © Jaymi Heimbuch

After pausing to take in the extraordinary sunrise -- well, Niner enjoyed the view while I enjoyed shooting in the pick and purple light -- we got down to work and focused on why we were there in the first place: showing off the goods.

We got down to work, first making sure Niner's Ruffwear pack fit properly © Jaymi Heimbuch

We got down to work, first making sure Niner's Ruffwear pack fit properly © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love that the Ruffwear pack comes with collapsible water bladders so we never have to worry about how to bring along water. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We love that the Ruffwear pack comes with collapsible water bladders so we never have to worry about how to bring along water. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We also love that this model is removable from the harness. Easier to put it on and take it off during breaks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

We also love that this model is removable from the harness. Easier to put it on and take it off during breaks. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scrambling around on the rocks to figure out new shots is always a bonus. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Scrambling around on the rocks to figure out new shots is always a bonus. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Just when we thought the light couldn't get prettier, pink gave way to brilliant gold and orange. Sunrises often pack a colorful surprise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Just when we thought the light couldn't get prettier, pink gave way to brilliant gold and orange. Sunrises often pack a colorful surprise. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When we had enough shots for the article, we started a game of chase up and down the rocks. There's always time for a game of the zoomies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When we had enough shots for the article, we started a game of chase up and down the rocks. There's always time for a game of the zoomies. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Something that has evolved from this partnership of a dog-centric photographer and a really smart heeler is that Niner has learned how to be an ideal model. He's learned how to strike a pose, hold a pose, take commands from a distance so I can get him in a good position for a shot up on a hill or even in a tree, and he looks right at the camera when he hears "focus."

We've worked together on tricks specifically for modeling, such as targeting, bowing, and holding or balancing objects. When he knows he's earning treats, he has extraordinary patience with staying in one spot until released. And he certainly earns plenty of great treats. How could he not? I mean, look at that face:

Over the years, Niner has learned just how to model, looking right at the camera and holding a pose. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Over the years, Niner has learned just how to model, looking right at the camera and holding a pose. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It has helped to teach my dog to take directions at a distance, so I can compose a shot with him a ways away. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It has helped to teach my dog to take directions at a distance, so I can compose a shot with him a ways away. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A great recall has two benefits: getting my dog back at my side, and getting a shot of him with that joyful face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A great recall has two benefits: getting my dog back at my side, and getting a shot of him with that joyful face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Watching the sun rise, scrambling over rocks, sprinting through puddles, and climbing in trees -- there's not many better ways to start a day. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Watching the sun rise, scrambling over rocks, sprinting through puddles, and climbing in trees -- there's not many better ways to start a day. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I think that photography has in some ways helped increase our bond. He loves to work, I love to photograph him, and we both love being out on a trail together, starting out the day with a hike just us together. Whether it's a tiny trail in the middle of the city or driving out of the city at 5 AM to get to the hills on the other side of the bay for sunrise, it is time that we spend deeply aware of the other's presence. Photography adds in that extra element of paying attention to each other. I'm constantly inspired by him to create new images, which leads to even more time logged on trails and walking paths, which leads to even more quality time together.

He has taught me a lot about patience, creativity, sensitivity to a dog's mood, and how to roll with whatever happens because you never know what will lead to a beautiful shot you didn't plan for. I cherish these opportunities with him, whether work-related or not. Three cheers for sunrises in nature with your four-legged best friend!

I get so much joy from seeing a happy smile on my dog's face. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I get so much joy from seeing a happy smile on my dog's face. © Jaymi Heimbuch