Wednesday, 26 December 2012


One Christmaspicture

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Time to add it all up and close

I feel it is time to put a wrap on "case studio Hera Bell". First of all I want to thank everyone who has felt that posting a link to my blog has been a good way to pass information to others who might be interested. With almost 800 visits in the past 24 hours, most of which have come from outside Finland, I think we have managed to spread the word nicely.

Montreal Gazette has replied to one of the actives on (the finnish site where this all began) that they will not run a story on Hera Bells alleged copyright infringements or photo thefts, which ever term one may wish to use. People from the gazette have tried to contact Hera Bell to get some kind of comment from her but have not been succesful, despite their best efforts. I think this is a shame as it would have been extremely interesting to hear ms. Bells side of the story. If her explanations for the findings done by actives would have been less than satisfactory, the newspaper article would have been a great way to warn her potential clients that she may not be all that she claims to be.

On the legal side, it is not realistic to expect legal action to be taken against Hera Bell from this side of the atlantic. The cost of getting the case moving would be far too great in comparison with the potential returns. And, as anyone who has ever been to court can tell you, there are no guarantees on the outcome of a case in a court of law. Yes, the evidence against Hera Bell seems overwhelming, but it must be remembered that almost all of the pictures have been taken from different photographers. This means that a single photographer would sue ms. Bell for the unauthorized use of one image. For a photographer based in Canada, this would be an option and if it were me, I would do it. Without proof of Hera Bell actually making a profit with the unauthorized use of one single picture, the compensation to be gained would most likely be minor but some form of sanctions could be expected.

As I stated in my previous post phototheft on the internet happens all the time. A good example of the scope of the problem is that a photographer friend of mine found one of his pictures being used by a Danish photographer to promote her works just yesterday. The reason why I took more of an interest in Hera Bells doings is the sheer scope of it all and her claims of being a "professional photographer." A lot of her claims have been found to be questionable to say the least in the past few days. I really don't know how much of this whole thing was Hera Bell simply boosting her own selfimage on different photography websites and how much actual marketing for her photography business.

I think there are some lessons to be learned from all of this. For the aspiring photographer starting out his or her own business, this is a good lesson in marketing on the internet. Hera Bell had a very convincing and professional looking appearance on the web and anyone wanting to get their business going should try to achieve a similar image, just so that it is done on a truthfull basis, using ones own pictures and real credentials that can easily be verified. As for the potential client looking for a photographer, one should remember that not everything we see on the internet is as it appears to be and some background checks to verify claims made by the photographer may well be in order before agreeing to pay for services. One must remember that in any form of marketing, the positive sides are the ones brought forward and the negative ones are played down or left out altogether.

Unless something comes to my attention regarding legal action being taken against Hera Bell, I don't see any reason to continue writing about her. After all, her reputation among photographers around the world has been tarnished, her web pages are down and the stolen images have been removed. As someone put it, her "signature style" turned out to be more "stolen style".  However, if she does return to photosites on the internet sometime in the future, with pictures taken by herself (as I hope she will), her return will not be easy. I am sure she will be confronted with comments like "nice picture, who took it this time" for quite some time. As long as she is honest, I wish her strength to get thru it. Gaining trust after it is lost is no small feat.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Studio Hera Bell, part III

 The story on Hera Bell continues. After a few days of searching done by a few really active fellows on a bunch of new "picture pairs" have been found and a pattern can be seen. The latest count of obvious cases published at "who took this photo" is 25. The pattern seems to be that a picture has been downloaded from a non - north american photographer, then "flipped" to a mirror image of the original and either some color management or conversion to BW done in photoshop. With these simple photoshop techniques, the discovery of stolen pics has been made much more difficult. For example, google picture search does not recognize the mirror image to be the same as the original. In this case it did not matter much, as the guys doing the detective work soon discovered this and took pictures published by Hera Bell, flipped them around and did a new search that unsurprsingly started to produce hits.

In the original dpreview discussion on this (a new one has been started since) a croatian pro photographer by the name of Dean Bertoncelj came forward to tell what happend to him. The short version is that Bertoncelj has an account with shutterstock. After receiving information that there are infringement questions regarding one of Bertonceljs' pictures, they (rightfully so) closed his account and requested more information. After Bertoncelj provided proof that HE DOES own the rights to the picture in question, his account was put back online. This took a day or so. Now, this may or may not have cost Bertoncelj money, as it is possible that someone might have been interested to buy his pictures, but with the account closed, it was not possible. Just goes to show that the theft of even one picture can have rather far reaching effects and real financial harm can be done.

Some pictures have been found published by Hera Bell that also appear on other Canadian photographers webpages. These photographers have been informed about these findings and they are considering what action to take. Being in the same country they have the best opportunity to take legal action against Hera Bell. Doing so from the other side of the atlantic may be so complicated that it may not be worth the trouble. This is something that is being looked into, however and if reasonably possible, will be done.

The matter of legal action brings me to something that had some of the fellows playing "interet detective" a bit worked up. One of them posted the story of Hera Bell to mu-43 forum, a site where she has been active at posting pictures. The moderators there locked the discussion and stated that accusing someone is not what the forum is for and such cases should be taken to court. During the most heated search for stolen pictures, this was not viewed kindly and some reposts were done, resulting in one person being blocked from the site. Amin Sabet, who runs mu-43 came forward with a statement in dpreview which clarifies their position. I must say that I think mr. Sabet made a very good point on why they have chosen their course of action and we all should respect their point of view. In my opinion, any further criticism towards that site and its moderators is uncalled for.

The more investigation in to Hera Bells pictures and writings related to them has been done, the more there seems to be wrong. For example, Hera Bell has written on various photoforums about exhibitions where her pictures have been, awards that she has won and so on. With active searching, the only proof of her pictures being exhibited, is the story found in the Montreal Gazette. As for awards that she has won, so far these has been no luck finding any mention of them on the internet, other than by Hera Bell herself. All in all, the whole case is starting to look more and more that Hera Bell has fabricated a lot of her credentials and used pictures taken by other people for marketing her photography business. The scope of it all is amazing, after all the discoveries so far, it is hard to know if anthing about Hera Bell is truthfull. I feel lucky that I did not fall victim to someone like this when I chose my wedding photographer all those years ago.

As for the guys at "dc" going thru the net for more and more evidence, all I can say is that you chaps really are amazing. In all these years I have never before seen such unity. Cheers. ;)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Case Studio Hera Bell continued

Since yesterday, this "blog" has been started. These are the same pics that have been posted in dpreview discussion earlier. I do not know who put it up and if new examples will be posted in the future. I do know that a few chaps are still going thru every single picture they can find on the net that is somehow related to Studio Hera Bell. I'm not sure if it really serves any real purpose, after all ms. Bell has been caught and her reputation is gone. All new discoveries will be only "another stolen picture" without being much of a surprise to anyone or having much of a meaning with regards to ms. Bells downfall. Then again, as some of the actives stated on page 21 of the discussion where this all started "it's freezing outside and there is not much else to do" and "with enough coverage, we can make sure her potential clients in vancouver know what a fake she is." Yes, vengeange can become rather ugly at times, but I must admit that until ms. Bell comes forward, apologizes and cleans up her act and all of her websites, I don't have much sympathy for her.

As can be seen from the cases collected here and as I stated in my previous post, this is not the first such case and most likely will not be the last, phototheft on the net happens every day.

So, if you are a photographer and don't wish to get ripped off, it might be a good idea run a check on where your pictures have ended up every now and then. Google picture search is one way of doing it.

Those couple of cases that happened to me were corrected with a simple e-mail. In the first case, the picture was promptly removed and a reply with apologies sent and the second one I let the young girl keep after I had pointed out that she could not use my dog pics without my permission. She seemed to understand and offered to remove them, at which point I told her to keep them, just so she would remember to ask permission the next time she wanted to use pictures taken by someone else to lighten up her webpage about cute doggies.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How low can a photographer go?

I haven't had time to photograph much and that is why I haven't posted anything in ages. I still haven't been taking pictures, but the following needed to be written:

As we all know, the internet is full of pictures. What a lot of people don't realize, is that pictures found on the internet are not "free game", somebody owns the rights to each one of them. Pictures are taken from websites and passed along without due credit being given to the photographer all the time, without much thought being given to the fact that it is a copyright violation to do so. In some cases this is due to lack of knowledge, sometimes just not caring, because "everyone does it" and then we have the really ugly cases..

Let me clarify a bit. When I talk of "lack of knowledge", I mean the kid who takes a funny picture and posts it in FaceBook or some other place on the web just to share the laugh with friends and does not even know that it is illegal. No real harm done there, eventhough it is not right. The right way would be to post a link to the pictures original site. Then there are the ones who know it is not right, but do it anyway because "Hey, it's just a picture, what's the big deal?" Using the pictures for something such as to give some color or visual effect in school projects, power point presentations at work and so on. These are most often cases of one or two pictures being used without permission and due compensation and/or credit being given to whom it belongs. Not the end of the world, but knowing it is not right and still doing it shows poor judgement and lack of morals in my opinion.

Then we get to the ugly cases. Because there is a massive flooding of pictures out there now, photography has become very competitive and a tough field to make a living in and therefore it is not surprising that some people use every means available to gain an edge. When a professional photographer uses images taken by someone else to make money or even to promote his or her business by claiming that he or she has taken the picture, we are way over the line.

Why am I posting this? As it happens, there is a really heated discussion going on in the Finnish photography forum "" about a Canadian photographer, Hera Bell, who has done exactly this. One of the chaps there ran a check on the net a few days ago to see where his pictures had ended up and found out that one of his pictures was published by this Canadian professional photographer as her own, with a lengthy story of how and when she had taken the picture. She had even used the picture to enter a photocompetition. Soon after this was made public on the Finnish forum some of the chaps there started looking at ms. Bells websites, did some snooping around and found more pictures that she claimed to have taken, but were infact property of others. When the news broke out in englishspeaking photoforums, ms. Bell closed her blog off, "access by invitation only" and a lot of pictures in question have been blocked off or removed completely.

Just so no-one can say this is all just talk without any proof, below are links that are paired, ms. Bells picture and the original:

Hera Bell blogpage (a screencapture of it to be precise)


Not convinced? Ok. How about if we add a picture of the Finnish photographers lightroom screen, with plenty of originals taken at the same location and time of the picture in question:

Lightroom screenshot

That's the picture that started this. Then there is also this one:

Hera Bell "Light & Mood"

Original by a Swedish photographer

There are plenty of others, if you want to look at them click here and see them posted at dpreview. The whole dpreview discussion on this is here. Take note that a day ago Hera Bell claimed that the accusations are false, but has not seen it fit to show us any proof for her claim. It is also worth noticing, that most, if not all, of the pictures in question have been taken by photographers living in europe. Obviously she must have thought that we don't speak english and even if someone did, no-one would notice. Sorry, no such luck.

All I can do is wonder what can make a professional stoop as low as to do something like this? She even asks to respect the copyrights of her pictures on her web site. I'm sure everyone will, she has been a perfect example herself, hasn't she?

Yes. One or two of my pictures have been used without my permission over the years and most likely there are some out there in the wrong places even at the moment. I think I'll run a check to find out tomorrow.