Posted by: Jeff Langevin | May 20, 2009

Think Your Flash-based Site Will Protect Your Images? Think Again…

I constantly hear photographers saying that they want a Flash-based website “so people can’t steal their photos”. Well folks, as a professional web developer for the past 10 years and a as photographer there is nothing that drives me up a wall more than hearing that statement. So I’m going to set the record straight once and for all:

Flash is no better at protecting your images than an html-based website. Let me repeat that so it sinks in…

A Flash-based website is no better at protecting your images than an html-based site.

Now you’re probably saying, “You’re wrong! People can’t click on my photos in a flash site and save them. Ha! Ha!” Well, I’ll counter that with, show me your Flash-based website and I’ll have a copy of your image in less than 15 seconds. You are correct that I can’t right click (control-click on a Mac) on an image and select “Save As”. But thinking that’s the only way someone can get your images is fooling yourself.

In reality, I can snag any one of your photos without a second thought from either type of site. First we’re going to show you how someone can steal your images from a flash-based site. Then we’ll talk about ways to minimize risk. We’re not ostriches here. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that you shouldn’t put information out there which might help the bad guys. We’re educating the good guys here on what the bad guys can do so we can protect ourselves.

First open up Photoshop (or some other image editing program). Next navigate to any image on a Flash-based website (or html site that has right click disabled). On a PC press Control+Print Screen (on a Mac Command+Control+Shift+3). You’ve just copied the screen to your clipboard. Next switch to Photoshop and click File > New. You’ll notice that the image dimensions are the same as what’s been copied to the clipboard – your screen. Click Ok. Next click Edit > Paste. Voila! You now have the screen as an image. Simply use the crop tool to remove everything but the image you want and there you go. A few more steps, but the same end result.

Look folks, as photographers operating in the digital age, we need to stop kidding ourselves. If you post something online, anyone can grab your images and use them for their own purposes. Is that illegal? Yup. Does being illegal stop people nowadays? If you think it will, you need to get out of photography right now. Why do you think the Recording Industry of America is so up in arms over music downloading? Because most people either just don’t care about copyright or don’t think about the possible ramifications.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Are you just going to delete all images from online sites and go brick-and-mortar? Of course not. The best I can do is to make basic suggestions to help reduce possible misuse of your images.

First off, always re-size your web images to 72 pixels per inch (ppi). That’s the resolution at which your monitor can display an image. So it’s how people will view your image in a web browser. Don’t go uploading your large images at 240ppi or 300ppi. That’s essentially handing any thief your negative.

The second thing I suggest doing is minimizing the dimensions of your images. Keep your images to either 400ppi or maximum 600ppi on its longest size. Why? Well, think about it. If someone wants to use your image on another website, this still won’t stop them. But it will keep them from having a high-quality printable file.

Let’s say your image was 600 pixels on its longest edge and at 72ppi. They can still print the image at 240ppi (or 300ppi depending upon your printer manufacturer’s recommendation), but they would only have a 2.5″ print. (At 400 pixels on the longest size, they’d only have a 1.67″ print.) Keep in mind though that most newspapers print at 150ppi maximum.

The final thing I recommend having on your images is some sort of copyright mark. And this one can get a bit controversial. A copyright in the corner of the image is easily cropped out, but at least “stakes your claim” so to speak. I am now seeing more and more professionals putting a light watermark across the middle of their image. While some people highly dislike this due to its intrusiveness when viewing the image, it is much tougher to remove in Photoshop than cropping text from the edge of an image. While I currently still put my copyright at the bottom edge of my images, I am considering changing that.

So there you have it. This may have sounded like some tough love, but photographers posting their work online need to educate themselves as to the realities of the world we’re living in. I’m not saying that Flash-based websites are bad. In fact, they can often be much more visually interesting because of their dynamic nature. If you like them for that reason, then absolutely go with Flash. But please don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security.

If you have further questions about anything discussed in this article or web technology in general, you can contact me through my website



  1. Personally I don’t like Flash-based web sites since the iPhone doesn’t (yet) support Flash. I’d much prefer a web site that used JavaScript and DHTML to achieve animation and rollover effects. (And one of these days, I’ll get around to making such a site!) The fact that you can’t right-click on an image in a Flash animation, besides not making the image any harder to steal, also prevents someone from liking right to a particular image they may want to share with a fellow photographer. There are reasons beyond theft that someone might want just a particular image from someone else’s site.

  2. You are exactly correct Jeff. THe same thing goes for videos and audio. Plain and simple, nothing is “safe” in cyberspace, if someone wants it enough to take the trouble to get it, they can.

    Educating the populace is the right thing to do.

  3. Great post, Jeff, and you’re so right about Flash not being the “fortress” people expect it to be. If it shows up on my screen, I can copy it — end of story!

  4. Jeff I would agree that it’s not a fortress but it is a better deterrent. It’s obviously clear that if someone is looking for photos to steal, they’ll do it regardless of deterrent. Not even branding or watermarking will prevent someone intent on stealing particular images. However, Flash is a deterrent against the *casual* copyright violator… the guy who looks up a word on Google, switches to “images” and sees your photo and downloads it for his use in a website, blog or Powerpoint presentation for his boss. And the truth is, it’s the casual copyright violator who is the biggest spread of the inappropriate use of intellectual property on the web because the inappropriate use then spreads out geometrically from them. And 99% of the time, they don’t even realize what they’re doing is inappropriate and violates copyright. I’m willing to bet that one of the reasons most successful and notable photographers end up getting Flash based websites is probably something to do with this. It keeps their photos at bay and off of Google Images… just as long as someone doesn’t post a hard link to a well-read blog somewhere, which inevitably happens as well. ;)

  5. Unfortunately, if you use Firefox it is easy. Right click anywhere on the website screen, choose “view page info,” scroll to “media” tab. Now you can scroll through the flash elements and choose the image of your choice. Much higher res than a screen shot. Watermarks are easy to hide as well. Image resolution is the best way to protect your assets.

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