Art is the Adventure for Photographer Elli Morris

Elli Morris has journeyed many miles and it all goes into her photography. When she’s home in Richmond, Virginia the photographer and videographer enjoys the usual aspects of a photography business – advertising work for local businesses, portraits of individuals and the like, but she adds an extra twist.

Whenever she can, Elli gets out and does some adventure photography. She likes to get her feet wet in the James River, capturing images of all the fun available in her community’s back yard. The river runs the spectrum from the adrenaline-pumping thrill of whitewater rafting to the peaceful glide of stand up paddle boards.


Elli working in the river. Photo credit: Rich Young

Although she has traveled all over the world, Elli likes her work to show people that they don’t have to save up for an exotic vacation to enjoy the outdoors. They can do it all close to home and enjoy the great outdoors whenever they like.

“If they see how fun it can be out there, if they can get out and have fun, they are more likely to be environmental stewards,” she said.

That’s one reason her work often is licensed by non-profits working with water issues such as clean water initiatives. They occupy the same space she does.

Elli’s love of photography started while she hitchhiked through the Caribbean. She didn’t have a camera on the trip and missed being able to show her family the places she traveled. Her parents bought her a camera after that and the rest is history.

She began self-training herself as she traveled the world, often stopping in tourist spots to buy postcards, and seeing if she could recreate the technique that made each shot so compelling.

So Elli enrolled in a college photography class. “I walked out of class and thought ‘I can see this entire new world open up, ways to see, ways to participate,” she said. She built up a portfolio and kept trying to improve her skills.

One professor said something that stuck with Elli. He called photography a “thinking person’s art.” Something about that way of looking at the world made Elli realize she wanted to pursue photography as a career. She kept going to school and tried to see if she could find a way to make a living at this “thinking woman’s art.”

Her desires were simple. She wanted to take good pictures, she wanted to get paid for them, and she wanted her work to be seen by others. She invested in years of schooling, years of practice, and generations of professional equipment.

Elli Morris Stills and Motion is the result.

Copyright is fundamental to her photography and videography business. She needs to sell licenses to use photographs or videos to make a living. When someone uses her images without permission, she says, “It’s like a theft. It’s the same as if somebody goes to a retail store and takes clothes, or walked into your house and took things. It steals my livelihood, my work, my right to say ‘I made this.'”

Enforcing that right can be frustrating. A few years ago, someone used one of Elli’s photographs on their business website without her permission. Elli did the research and figured out how to use Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) procedures to request the image be taken down. After a while, the business agreed to take the image down.

However, a few years later, the same business did it again. They used an image without her permission. This time when she sent a request through the DMCA, the business owner “hemmed and hawed” and never took the image down. Not only did the image remain on the site, but the business used her work in brochures and huge twelve-foot banners in a convention booth.

Elli feels stymied. Her only recourse is to go to court. She knows that the licensing fee she might recover is dwarfed by the cost of litigation.

Financially, it doesn’t make sense to go to court, but emotionally, the violation rankles, as do the hours she spent trying to rectify it.

“Not only did they steal my work,” she said, “but they stole my time. That’s my work. You don’t get to do that. It’s not right.”

You can follow Elli on Twitter @ellimorrisphoto or view her work at Images used with permission from Elli Morris Stills and Motion.

IMG_4988About the Author: Rebecca Cusey is a writer and law student. She writes about movies and other things as a Senior Contributor for The Federalist and as a Policy Fellow at the American Conservative Union. She studies law at Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason as a third-year student focusing on Intellectual Property. She lives near Washington, DC with her adorable husband and dashing children. 

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @Rebecca_Cusey