Go Ahead, Steal this Photo and Make Prints


What’s he gettin’ at?

This is the most common “complaint” (note, the complaint only comes from Photographers – not regular people!)  I get in the comments when I talk about copyright and Creative Commons Noncommercial.  Every day, like today, I upload a maximum resolution photo here to the website.  People hem and haw, “Well, aren’t you afraid that people will just download your work and print it themselves?”  No, I’m not afraid.  And generally, I don’t live in fear.  If people want to do this, it’s not the end of the world.  Maybe they are just a fan that has very little money and they just want to make a small personal print to enjoy on their own.  They know they are not getting the best quality or a Limited Edition copy, but at least they get to enjoy the art.  In fact, I think that is kind of nice.

I believe the world is mostly full of people who would rather do the right thing for the artist and see the Good Reasons to buy a print now or in the future.

Good reasons to Buy This Print (btw, every day we offer up a new print, where there is a link to purchase it right under the photo).

  • Purchasing a print ensures it is Limited Edition and more rare.  This makes each one unique and a collector’s item.
  • Purchasing a print supports the artist directly, who most people know spend a lot of time, effort, and finances to produce the imagery.
  • Purchasing a print results in a vastly superior print, which can come on canvas, high-quality fiber-paper, or metal.

So, to me, these are three pretty compelling reasons to purchase the print.  I believe the most people out there are good, so we provide affordable options so people can make something custom that works perfectly in their home.

Daily Photo – The Glaciers of the Alps

Getting to the top of these mountains happened just in time, late on a cool, crisp day on one of my first afternoons in Switzerland.  I knew things would be beautiful way up here in the upper atmosphere, but I honestly did not expect the streaming confluence of flowing ice.  This is always a nice and unexpected aspect of glaciers – how they look like they are flowing and still at the same time.

The Glaciers of the AlpsGetting to the top of these mountains happened just in time, late on a cool, crisp day on one of my first afternoons in Switzerland.  I knew things would be beautiful way up here in the upper atmosphere, but I honestly did not expect the streaming confluence of flowing ice.  This is always a nice and unexpected aspect of glaciers - how they look like they are flowing and still at the same time.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.


While you’re at it, here are some more to Steal

Hehe… or, well, you can get the Limited Edition copy below each one.

The Bay at Portofino This isn’t really Portofino, but it sure does look like it, eh? We might even make the case that it is more pretty than the real Portofino! This is a beautiful resort in Orlando, over at Universal Studios.  All the colors in the sky and the buildings seemed to melt together, so I stopped for a quick photo.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Bay at Portofino – Order your Limited Edition print of this photo

The Secret Passageway to the Treasure After the crowds of Angkor Wat, it was nice to go find a remote temple in the jungle and be alone. This temple laid under the jungle, completely undiscovered for centuries.  The hallway and mysterious chambers seemed to go on forever.- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

The Secret Passageway to the Treasure – Order your Limited Edition print of this photo

An Abandoned Game Trail in China

Alone on the Ancient Great Wall – Order your Limited Edition print of this photo

Road Trip New Zealand!

The Long Road to New Zealand – Order your Limited Edition print of this photo
  • Oh wow! These glaciers are awesome – how beautiful! And the clouds are heavenly!! Super shots all of these!

  • I appreciate the hard work that you put into each photo, we know that often they just don’t come out like Jiffy-Pop like snapshots of Uncle Ralph’s 60th birthday party.

    I don’t download other people’s work because, well, it is stealing. See, I live in Ukraine (USA expat) and here EVERYONE steals software off the net…everything. Seriously.  I have had a hard time explaining to my friends and family that it is wrong because the artists need to get paid. To which they reply “This is Ukraine, we are poor, we can’t afford that DVD so we download it off the net.” This goes for software also. “So it is okay to be a thief??”  This argument goes round and round and I have finally given up even commenting on it to them. But they know how I feel.

    I would gladly order several of your prints on canvas no less because they are worth it. I once paid $2000 for a photo of Australian Gum Trees in Hawaii … which my ex-wife got in the divorce! But, I will have to scrimp and save my money for a D700 or D3s (wildly expensive here — you don’t wanna know what they are pricing the D800 and D4 at …) and enjoy your photos as you post them daily!

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for all the great information and broadcasts you do. My favorite website!

  • I don’t have much use for prints, but I love your photos for my wallpaper and for my computer jigsaw puzzles (there’s a great app called Palapeli for that) – the high resolution makes them ideal for such use so thank you for CC licensing.

    I think you should totally get Flattr buttons on this site so ppl could support your work with small donations. Flattr is like a facebook “like”, but backed with real money. More info on https://flattr.com

  • Casper van Zyl

    Your comments are so true Trey. I am not even dust under your feet and I share with my workers and friends,family that they to can enjoy the sights of the world around them. WhenI do think I have a winner no one seems to like it they like the ones, I feel that are just OK. These 4 of yours can hang in any gallery around the world and people will come and see,and admire your work. Not me ,but most of the artists out there not every one ,only become famous when they are dead, so its hard work that one has to put in now to reap the rewards later. “Your Children”
    Thanks for sharing and bringing the world into our homes.

  • Anonymous

    I’d buy a print but I’m hoping you’ll forget and leave one in the garage at Jester when you move. :]

  • Trey, your philosophy is as always the one I would always adhere to (if I was also a successful photographer). As someone as yourself who lets people download your images, it is of course not stealing at all; I have downloaded some of your images for wallpaper on my mac and they look stunning. If people wanted to print them as well, well you have let them have that choice. It would only be morally wrong I think if that person  then began selling prints of your work. But then that says a lot about how little they believe in their own ability to create their own success. Anyone who wants your work whether they choose to acquire it buy money or not, is still helping spread your work around and I believe that that ‘letting be what will be’ will come full circle and contribute to your success. The fact that other photographers fear this so much is very disappointing. It makes complete sense to me. 

  • Hi Trey, wow that is absolutely fantastic, thanks for sharing, but now I have a dilemma and it follows on from Pete’s comment below. Are you saying that if I download the full size image and get it printed to hang on my wall then I am stealing from you, because I absolutely would not want to do that, or is it it only stealing if I try to sell your images? I thought the idea of creative commons was that it is fine for personal use, but not for commercial, which I absolutely agree with and use on my own humble efforts. I’m not hung up on having a limited adition print and have to say that I am rather staggered by the prices on the site when I know I can get something similar locally way cheaper (OK, maybe not the same quality, etc). Sorry if this opens up a big old can of worms, but maybe that was the idea of your title and comments?! I’m just trying to get this whole issue clear in my mind, so hope you appreciate that. I personally would be more than happy to pay to download the images at full resolution or make a contribution somehow (didn’t you used to have a “buy me a coffee” link somwewhere on the site?) but I don’t think I will be ordering prints any day soon, so where does that leave me? I totally agree that your “open” philiosophy is the way forward and certainly would not want to abuse that trust, but there seems to be a rather murky middle ground between buying a print directly from you and just using your images as wallpaper on screen – help, I’m confused!!

  • Those glaciers look unbelievably cold and dude that photo of the great wall is unreal!  I just want to walk to that sunrise.  As far as stealing goes I don’t have a wall big enough in my house to do these justice. Would I be stealing if I left my photography website for you to check out?  http://www.photobotos.com  

  • Anonymous

    Mother of God!! 🙂 Todays photo is incredible. Great work Trey.

  • Stephen Coombs


    I love the images that you share with the world.  This article has made me think (and re-think) how I want to proceed with my personal policies on my photography.  (I am looking at becoming more than a hobbyist that does get paid from time to time.)

    I do have a couple of questions tho.  Firstly, when you say limited edition, how many is the limit and is it by print type/size, and is the product marked as limited?  Secondly, you mentioned buying from you gives a better product, how so? Is it better quality printing, resolution?

    Thank-you for all you do, say and share with us as we all travel the path of photography.


  • Trey Ratcliff

    Thanks! 🙂

  • Trey Ratcliff

    I have different limited series at different price points.  For example, I sold a 2011 series that is no longer avail – and those will be more valuable than the 2012 and 2013 series.  I also have an artist-proof – a series of 50 – and those start at $2000 or so.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    Yes  “stealing” is a strange word with bits, isn’t it?  I guess the only thing to think about is if you are benefitting from my hard work in a tangible way without giving me any compensation.  But, you know, like I say – it is not a big deal…  I think that there will be room for a “transaction” some day.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    hehe – I may have some extras I will be throwing away – I should get you over.

  • Jon M

    My hat’s off to you, Trey, for figuring out a way to make a living by doing what you love and not having to stress over who may be ‘stealing’ your work or not.  I guess many photogs are simply jealous that they haven’t figured out how to make the same process you use work for them (do what you love and get paid well for it at the same time).   Keep up the good work and enjoy those trips!  

  • Trey mate, I love your laid back, relaxed attitude. There’s already too much to get your panties in a knot over in this stressful, overcomplicated world. I’m telling ya, you’re gonna fit right in with those “she’ll be right” Kiwis in New Zealand.

  • Nick Bumgardner

    I don’t understand why anyone would get mad about it. I have followed your work for a long time and been amazed by many of your photos. You have the right to license your photos anyway that you want. Anyway great photo!

  • Making a print for personal use has never been “stealing”. In fact, it is perfectly legal in the US as it falls squarely within “fair use”.

    I understand wanting to support the artist, or get something directly from him, but I am not entirely sure why someone would consider such prints to be “limited edition”  when anybody with a access to a good printer – and these days such services abound –  can produce an identical print.

  • The fact that you openly shared your photos made me not want to abuse it even more. Because I couldn’t afford one of your prints, licensing it to print on my own for my home was a very suitable alternative. 

  • This resonates, feels like a good way to go…I would like to hear a bit more or read if there’s already a post about it – your take on limited editions as there are so many ways and notions on this. 

    (cue up “He’s Gone” by The Grateful Dead) I’d rather “steal your face right off your head” and move to New Zealand m’self.   🙂

    I’ve already taken to heart a fair bit of what you’ve shared, spoken to and modeled my initial push to get me to get more of my imagery out in front of more eyeballs to tickle synapses and pump up endorphins. 

    e.g. imagery for an upcoming art exhibit:


  • If I copyright my images so no one can use them, and I don’t share them on Google+ or Pinterest etc… then the only people who may see them are people who find my website – my website doesn’t get a lot of traffic!

    But since I’ve been sharing my images on Google+ and Pinterest 1000’s of people have had the chance to see my images. I don’t mind that they may have ‘stolen’ them it’s just nice to get them seen!

    I’d rather spend my time enjoying taking images than worrying about what might happen to them? After all at the end of the day the internet is one gigantic marketing tool – you know the risks when you use it!

  • Florian Freimoser


    I (almost) completely agree with you, really commend you on your approach and I find your opinion very valuable. Your attitude has actually encouraged me to start putting my photographs under a creative commons license as well. However, in comparison to you I am somewhat cowardly as my license is  different from yours and so far I have not made the original full resolution files available.
    Most of the uses that the creative commons license permits I would have allowed anyway and therefore I am happy with this solution. In my opinion besides “stealing” one reason to somehow restrict the use of a photograph is to control what it is being used for.


  • Pretty much why I don’t watermark anything anymore. I really don’t see the point. If they want it and can’t/won’t pay fine; but at least I know they liked it enough to go through the trouble! 

  • steve walser

    I’m happy just seeing them on my screen.  More inspiration , please!  8^)

  • Trey, you rock and I love your work!  I’ve admired your work for a long time.  I would love to have limited edition prints of so many of your pieces, but for now, I’ll just admire them on my screen.  You are awesome and keep doing what you do!

  • Like so many others, I used to try watermarking etc but it made me paranoid – a feeling I have never really had before. I’m now licensing under Creative Commons Non Commercial and I gotta say, it makes life so much easier. You can live your life for what ifs, but at the end of the day you spend more time worrying than enjoying the amazing things there are in family, nature, music, technology – whatever gets you going! I’m not saying everyone should do what I do, but you can if you want to!

    Thanks Trey! 

  • I very much enjoy posts like this and your attitude towards sharing. Fear is our worse enemy.

  • Anonymous

    I just love your work!  I love your attitude as well.   I do think if someone were to download them to  print the images themselves then A. they’re being disrespectful (especially of your time and effort) in not being willing to pay you for your work and B.  They’re not going to get the quality.

  • Paul Jennings

    Trey – I’m curious about your reasons for moving to NZ. There’s got to be more to it that “nice scenery”.

  • Love your point of view on this. I take the same view with pics I post to Facebook. In a lot of cases, I’ve already been paid for the work by a client who doesn’t mind me promoting their event/business via my social network. If people that were involved want to lift a copy, so be it. But I do have one issue to pick. A print (or anything else) can only be unique if there is just one of it. A Limited Edition print, by definition, means there is more than one. Five, or 10, or whatever you define as a limited edition. So, you see, unless you define a limited edition as a single print, then a Limited Edition print being unique is a contradiction in terms. #grammarnaziatwork

  • william Long

    Muchas gracias Trey.  Having aspirations to make photography pay, but no real expectations, I now freely upload my best photos at original resolution anywhere and everywhere I can.  Share the beauty.  That’s where it’s at.  Share the beauty.

  • Those are crazy awesome snowy mountains. great shot.

  • Fair Use only covers if they print on their own personal printer in their home – not their home office, not a printer that is used for anything deductible as a business expense.  For someone to take a copyrighted image and have it professionally printed – whether by a print house or a drug store photo lab – they need a license to do so.  Fair Use is an aspect of copyright, not Creative Commons.  Creative Commons Noncommercial approaches the situation from the angle of providing access to the work, while copyright approaches it more from an aspect of limiting access to the work to protect the artist. 

    The prints you can get from this site are Limited Edition in the sense that they’re through a vendor that Trey has approved, and that includes everything the vendor does, all the way down to how they do their color conversion for print.  They are limited in that we’ll only do so many of a given image, and they’re special in that Trey and the team here see the process from beginning to end to make sure they are of great quality.

    Sure, good print houses abound these days, but without a license from us (which will typically come with a CMYK color conversion done by us, if needed) you simply aren’t going to get the best quality you can.  If one prefers to just purchase the license to have it commercially printed, we’re here to make sure the quality is there. 

  • Hi Peter,

    You might be interested in my reply to another commenter below, talking about the difference between Creative Commons and copyright and the like.  We do offer an option to just buy a license to have a photo commercially printed.  Sometimes this can be a cost-effective way of getting a print, but honestly we really try to steer people to the official route through the site, because we have more of a hand in the quality that you get. 

    To clarify, in short: to have a copyrighted image printed professionally (by a business or on a non-professional printer machine that is used for business), a license is required.  That is the only way that money changing hands has been authorized.  Otherwise, the person who prints it for a person as well as the customer themselves are liable.  The license fee covers that. 

  • Anonymous

    Trey.  Do not tease me like that.
    BTW – if I can somehow help you out in your move let me know.  I have a big 2011 F250 and i am more than willing to throw in some leg work to help you move stuff around if you need it.  We aren’t too far away from each other.  10 minutes or so.  Just keep it in mind. (512) 789-8789

  • We are in the midst of a move but once we get settled in the new house, I’m really looking forward to dropping some cash on a couple SIC and RC prints for the new casa de my peeps.   My wife and I haven’t been able to agree on just one and it would be rather silly hanging in my rental 🙂

  • David Vaughan

    Hey Trey,

    Great photos, I love the sense of depth they portray.  But when I look at them, I don’t want to steal them, they motivate me to want to go out and take more photos, go more places, reprioritize my priorities.  They help me raise the bar of where I want to be and what I want to be doing.  Thanks for sharing the pics.


  •  Luke, we’ve had this discussion with Dan where he explained better than I could do how you are trying to re-define “commercial”, and now it looks like you are also trying to re-define “limited edition” beyond what is traditionally accepted in the fine-art world – not to mention some US state laws such as California.

    Why do they need a license to have a Creative Commons licensed image professionally printed ? As for quality, why would a licensed image yield a better print ? And what does CMYK has to do with that ? Most printing devices, ranging from inkjets to lightjets are RGB for color management purposes.

  • Anonymous

    Hello Trey! Thanks a lot for this explanation. I recently dished out $100 for a “The Open Road” print, with frame. It was a great buy! Its currently hanging up in my room where I can look at it every now and then and get lost in it. I would really love to have more of your other work but as a medical student, money is very hard to come by. I hope this gives me a permission to download and print some of your images at a professional printer (of course, I will definitely pay for them when I can).

    And of course, once I become a rich doctor (sarcasm), my office will have your photographs bought from you and professionally framed (great PR for you too XD)

  • Limited edition is just that – an edition of the print that is limited in some way.  This can range from Trey’s numbered and signed metal prints, where we know we will only do a very specific predetermined amount, to the prints offered on the links below the photos, where we’re not sure what the amount is, but they won’t be available forever.  They both fall under the criteria of limited edition – I’m not sure what your criteria are. 

    The images are creative commons to allow people to use the work noncommercially – that’s a key distinction.  Normally a work protected by copyright cannot be used noncommercially without written consent.  Creative Commons allows people to do so without obtaining that consent, provided they adhere to the Creative Commons attribution criteria.  Commercial use very much includes a professional print shop making money by printing Trey’s images.  A license is required for that transaction to take place.

    As for why a licensed image yields a better print, the answer is in support and that color conversion.  Inkjet printers are RGB, sure, but professional print houses do not use inkjets. (and if they are, you aren’t getting a good-quality print.)  Commercial printing is effectively 100% done in CMYK, and when we get a request for a license and conversion, I spend hours doing the color conversion to make sure it’s just right.  Then I hang on to that file and use it for future requests.  Even a pro print house simply does not have the time to spend hours on conversion before they print, so you get a better print when you get it from us.

    Remember: making a print for personal use is covered by Fair Use, but you have to print it on your personal printer in your own home, and it cannot be a printer you use for any business related to making photographic prints.  Also, a friend of yours who owns a print shop cannot simply print the image for you and not charge you for it.  It’s still a commercial transaction – just one where the dollar value was $0.

    This is a little more detailed than we typically get, and these factoids are not necessary for the majority of users, whether they want to purchase a print or just print it off from their desktop, but I provide the clarification because you’re asking about the details.

  • A classic shot from Gornergrat – what great weather you had! I was there for 3 days last Aug. and had exactly one morning where mountains weren’t hidden behind a sea of gray flat cloud cover….

  • Thanks for the precisions, but it’s not “my criteria”. For instance, from New York state law Article 11 – § 11.01 (NY because it’s the largest art market in the US), others are similar. Emphasis added:

    “Limited edition” means works of art produced from a master, all
    of which are the same image and bear numbers or other markings to denote
    the limited production thereof to a stated maximum number of multiples,
    or are otherwise held out as limited to a maximum number of multiples.

    One may have differing views about substrates, but inkjets deliver the best gamut and sharpness of any digital printing devices. Both them and Lightjets are used in commercial labs, so I don’t understand where the 100% CMYK comment comes from. What are the devices you have in mind that produce fine art prints in CMYK ?

  • As Stuck in Customs is an Austin company, Texas law would be what concerned us most, but I’ve added a note to research that. Thanks for the reminder.

    As for the CMYK, I don’t know what to tell you besides the fact that every major book publisher and print house that we have dealt with uses printing presses and almost exclusively use Cmyk. While I am sure there are quality places out there using RGB, the dominant mode in print is still Cmyk. I am not saying Cmyk is better; it’s just the fact that most places will be doing a conversion, and we feel you’ll get a better one from us.

    If you have any questions or want to continue this discussion, let’s take it “offline” in email. ([email protected]). These are interesting points, but this level of detail isn’t really in the spirit of Trey’s article. I respect that you disagree with some of what Trey’s saying, but I’d prefer we take it to email.

  • Always happy to be of help. I don’t have any more questions, since your last precision has sufficiently made it clear that we are not talking about the same thing (me and the article: fine art prints – you: commercial mass reproduction), probably because you are the “commercial licensing guy”.  Far from being too detailed, there is actually one piece of information from that conversation that may be useful to Trey’s readers, since he has given permission to make personal prints:  their modest photo inkjet printers often produce much better prints than the printing presses you are referring to.

  • Craig Strachan

    As always, awesome pictures and wise words. 


  • Craig Strachan

    As always, awesome pictures and wise words. 


  • ratty daddy dinkdum

    OMG! Your photos are spectacular!!!

  • Lee Highsmith

    Trey – you are on the “pay it forward” model when it comes to this kind of thing, and I think it is a fundamentally healthy thing for you and Stuck in Customs.  Your open and trusting stance certainly makes me want to support you as an artist and your company.

    Honestly, I don’t see why fair use is so hard to understand. 

    (BTW – wish I could use my WordPress or Gravatar ID to comment here)

  • FurryMoses

    Wouldn’t the point be, that when someone publishes your image in a magazine, after editing it, and not acknowledging you as the author, you would have some recourse when you found out?

  • I agree with your philosophy. I just cant seem to get past that final hurdle of posting a hi res pic without a watermark. I think your take on the issue is admirable and I support you by buying products such as your tutorial (wonderful teaching technique btw) I will make the compromise of posting my pics in Hi Res but will continue to put a discreet watermark along the edge. Maybe one day I will become more of the glass half full type you always seem to be. Its a character flaw of mine I acknowledge.

  • Thank you for sharing your pics thay are amazing

  • Great shots!  Like the word “confluence” and now I know what it means.

  • Haha. I just download them to put on my desktop. But then I delete them to add the next awesome photo you upload. 😀

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