Tom Angello Jr., owner of Olympic Studio in Northfield, directs Ken Granger, of Ocean City, while photographing the aspiring actor.

Staff photo by Vernon Ogrodnek

NORTHFIELD — Tom Angello Jr., the portrait photographer who owns Olympic Studio, is taking steps this year to protect his work from piracy.

The studio specializes in weddings, children’s and family portraits, prom and school class photos and model portfolios.

Angello is adding watermarks to all of his customers’ proofs to keep them from making copies for themselves, friends or relatives. The studio produces more than 100,000 proofs each year.

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“People in the business said they were surprised I wasn’t already doing that,” said Angello, 47, of Egg Harbor Township.

The second-generation business was founded in 1972 by his father, Thomas Angello, who recently retired to focus on his jazz music.

“Early on, he had a studio out of the house where I grew up with a darkroom in the basement. It was always fun for me seeing the image materialize in the chemicals,” he said.

Angello said he can still remember the first photo he took that made him think he had an eye for photography.

“I was 13 or 14. My dad gave me a camera, and I took some shots with black-and-white film. My neighbor had this old black 1940s antique car,” he said. “I took a picture of it and thought, ‘That’s pretty good.’”

In today’s Facebook world, where swapping digital pictures is commonplace, many photography customers probably don’t realize their portrait is protected by copyright. And the holder of that copyright is the photographer, not the person in the picture.

This casual copyright violation is becoming a bigger concern as more families replace professional photography sessions with the informal do-it-yourself kind using the latest point-and-shoot digital cameras.

Customers routinely ask him for the digital files of their portraits. He politely declines but usually offers a low-resolution image that customers can post to Facebook.

Angello said it’s impossible to say how much business he might have lost from this piracy.

The Professional Photographers Association, a trade group representing 25,000 people, said illegal reproduction is a common complaint.

“In talking to our members, there’s not as much awareness among consumers. They might think it’s an image of me or my family; therefore, I have rights to it. But that is not the case,” said Maria Matthews, copyright and government affairs manager for the association.

Watermarking with the company’s name is a common tactic. Matthews said photographers also embed copyright information into the digital files or even register them with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, which can cost $35.

“For a lot of photographers, minor copyright infringement can be a wedge in whether or not they make their financial goal for that month,” Matthews said. “We recommend members do whatever they can to safeguard their work.”

Angello said he can spot his own handiwork in prints he has made years ago.

Olympic Studio has contracts for several high school proms, including Wildwood and Mainland Regional. Experience has helped him turn the art of shooting 800 people into a relatively seamless production.

The real magic happens back at the studio where, for an extra charge, he goes over each image pixel by pixel to remove a stray hair sticking up or a barbecue stain from a fancy dinner.

Camera manufacturers such as Nikon are speeding improvements to gear to take advantage of changing technology, such as wireless shutter releases and mobile uploading.

As a result, Angello said, gear that he used to keep for 20 years now becomes virtually obsolete in two.

Angello said he learned to be an early adopter of new technology from his father, who bought one of the first Commodore Amiga and early Apple personal computers in the 1980s.

Olympic Studio jumped from film to digital in 2003 when its yearbook publishers started embracing the new media, he said.

Now, the challenge for customers and his business is preserving the old slides in a new digital format before they are lost to time.

“Every piece of film will dry-rot away eventually,” he said.

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