Should We Own the Copyright to Our Wedding Photos?

I don't want my face to end up on a billboard without my consent. Is that an unfair request?

Two Cents: Is Copyright Included In A Normal Wedding Photography Contract?

Q: Dear APW,

After striking out twice with wedding photographers we really liked (but were already booked over a year in advance), my partner and I found a wedding photographer we liked and was available. She was actually a little over the budget, but the photography is important to us.

At the end of a Skype call where we all agreed her approach sounded great, my guy asked about whether or not we would have the copyright to pictures. We have a friend whose wife had some photos taken of her which were then sold to a national nonprofit for use in their publications without her knowledge. We’d just rather that we controlled what was going to happen to the photos the photographer takes of us on our wedding day. The photographer told us it would be $2000 more to own the copyright to the photos.

After looking over the wedding photography contract, we let her know that we were happy to have her actually own the photos as long as we changed the model release so that she would have to ask us before using the photos in other places. She came back and said it was still $2000 dollars.

Is this a common practice in wedding photography? For most people does the photographer retain the rights to resell the pictures of your wedding to other clients?

OKAY APW (And APW photographers), what’s standard here? Do you own your wedding photos? Were you sent hi-res or low-res or physical images? what’s the best way to solve this problem?

If you want the APW community’s two cents, send it to QUESTIONS AT APRACTICALWEDDING DOT COM, and we’ll do our best to crowdsource you some answers!

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  • I’m in Minneapolis, and it seems like owning your copyright is pretty standard for the photographers here, but of course, YMMV. I was more concerned about owning our images from a printing perspective – I didn’t want to be locked into only getting prints/albums from our photographer and paying exorbitant rates.

    • AJ

      Agreed – our photographer gave us the rights to our photos. This was a must, as I’ve seen awesome Shutterfly wedding albums!

    • Noelle

      Allowing for personal use/printing rights while the photographer retains actual copyright is pretty standard these days :) I think wedding photographers that aren’t including high res images with a print release for wedding photos are becoming few and far between.

      One thing to note – some may limit their high res images to print only to a certain size so they can still ensure that very large prints are sourced from them and would accurately reflect their editing colors, because not all printers are correctly calibrated (so your image could end up looking very green, or the blacks get exaggerated, etc). If this is an issue for anyone, you’ll want to ask your photographer about it.

  • Clare

    My understanding is that it’s pretty standard for photographers to retain copy write. When my partner & I shoot weddings, that is definitely in the contract. (Even though we have never submitted photos anywhere). In our case, its part of what guarantees the photos can be used in our portfolio.

    That being said, it should be possible to find a photographer willing to waive that section: perhaps for a fee, but 2000 seems rather steep.

    • Erika

      So I have a question if any of you are still listening. 12 years ago I was in my best friends wedding. last week a family photo from her wedding ended up on a cable news satire show as stock photography, and had been edited to include another random person, all for comedy. She had no idea how this happened. Turns out, her wedding photographer had posted her wedding photos for sale, as stock photography, on Getty Images. She was horrified. But, the “model release” apparently allowed the photographer to do this, to profit on her private family event, without her ever knowing about it. To have her image used, to promote whatever, in a very public way. Is this normal? It seems so incredibly wrong, such a violation of trust, and a lack of integrity. We signed the release thinking we were allowing her to use our images for her own personal marketing and promotion. This was never the intent. Would love some thoughts, especially from the photographer perspective?

  • pistachio gelato

    I definitely skipped over a photographer because his FAQ informed me that he will own the copyright and that clients have to sign a model release form. I’m a very private person and don’t want my wedding showcased on the photographer’s blog and it really rubbed me the wrong way. For the letter writer, I would suggest finding another photographer.

    • Gray

      You may have paid for copies of the photos and you may be featured in them, but the photos were only possible through the use of the photographer’s talents, skills, equipment, and editing software. This is his or her livelihood and the only way for them to continue doing it is by presenting examples of such skills to potential clients.

      By refusing to allow your photos to be used on their blog, you make it harder for them to attract clients in the future. If every client thought as you did, it would not be possible for them to continuing doing their job. Certainly no one would hire a photographer without seeing examples of their work first. That’s why the fee is necessary (although a bit steep in this case): you are diminishing their ability to stay in business.

      On the flip side, if they are able to use photos on their blog then… your photos are on a blog, and strangers will occasionally look at them and think “That’s a lovely photo.” That seems quite a bit less severe of a consequence.

      • Violet

        That’s the beauty of this situation: a potential client can full-well understand why the photographer wants to retain the copyright and use the photos to promote their business, and still decide that is not okay by them. There actually can be negative consequences to having your photos publicly available. People in certain industries or government positions often keep a low profile; other people have escaped violent relationships and don’t want abusive exes finding out anything about them online. Just as it’s fair for the photographer to want to use their work to promote their business, it’s fair for a couple to decide to go with another photographer. From what I’ve seen, there is no shortage of people clamoring to have their photos widely available. You’re right that if EVERY client refused, photographers would be in trouble, but it doesn’t seem like that’s anywhere near an issue.

        • Noelle

          Thankfully, it’s not the case with most clients :). I’ve had conversations with other photographers in the past where they’re astonished that clients would ask for the copyright. Sometimes it’s just a case of misunderstanding (and managing client expectations appropriately). Other times, there are special situations warranting the clients’ concern. In the case of the original poster, they were certainly well aware of why they wanted to know the photographers’ stance on copyright.

          We as photographers need to remember that while our clients’ photos are our livelihood, it’s also *our clients’ lives* that we’re photographing. I think many of us are more than willing to honor privacy requests. (We might get a little grumbly if the images are especially awesome, but we will still honor that client’s wishes)

          • Violet

            Awesome, yes. And the relationship between client and photographer is key here. While my photographer agreed not to use any of our photos on her public site (and we signed our contract to that effect), anytime I posted any on Facebook to our limited set of friends, I used the ones with her water mark. So there are ways to help each other out. : )

        • Gray

          All great points.

          As a person working in a creative field (not a photographer though) I just feel the need to defend photographers when people get indignant about rights. I think it’s great if clients want to find a photographer who’s philosophy on rights matches up with their own, but a photog who chooses to retain control of usage shouldn’t be judged harshly either.

        • Wyn Paul Williams

          Their talent or abilities is why you hire them / pay them to do a job, it seems ridiculous in the extreme that they should then own the product you paid them to make, the law clearly needs to be changed in this area the photographer is effectively your employee for the day if they want to then make money from the wedding you paid for and the time you paid for then they should have to pay YOU

      • Cam

        Or in my case my photos are on a blog and I live in fear that the person who stalked me will happen upon them and I might have to deal with a whole nother round of their trying to contact me. I’m happy to show off photos in my own home and tell people I know about photographers, but I am a lot better off when identifiable photos of me are not widely accessible.

        It’s unlikely that all clients will be extremely private or have other safety or work related reasons to not have their photos displayed online or even in print, but it’s incredibly likely that a portion will and it’s reasonable for them to look for photographers who are able to accommodate that.

        • Gray

          That’s a good point I hadn’t considered, thanks. Certainly in that case consequence for having your face on a blog is pretty severe.

          As a person working in a creative field (not a photographer though) I just feel the need to defend photographers if people get indignant about rights. Absolutely it is reasonable to find a photographer whose approach to rights matches your own need. I think it’s equally fair for a photographer to decide that managing rights in a certain way is best for them and conduct their business as such.

          • Agreed. I am an artist too and copyright is a big deal. And (I’m not a lawyer, so this is not a professional opinion, but I have looked into copyright law pretty in depth) copyright law in Canada and the US says that photographers own the right to images they create.

            My understanding is that keeping the copyright is standard practice for most professional photographers, and I believe it’s fair. It’s their artistry and interpretation of the moment (and skill and knowledge of how to use their equipment…and their very expensive eqipment and hours of work on the day and in the many hours of editing) that created the final image. As a client, I firmly believe that a photographer should own the copyright to their work and I would never advise a photographer to give that up.

            And there is also a big difference between a client “owning the coyright” and a photographer owning the copyright, but granting permission for the client to use the photos. Copyright is about who has the control to use and distribute artistic work (like images), and as an artist, I believe the artist should own those rights because it’s tied to being able to earn a living with your work. If you ask a photographer to give you the copyright, that means they can never do anything with any of those images. No prints for a hard-copy portfolio, nothing. And who knows, their very best image ever might be at that person’s wedding, and, in a sense, it would be “lost” to them and their life’s work.

        • Emily W

          Had a bride with a stalker….yikes! We modified her model release and we even were able to feature her wedding on a blog because there were enough photos she felt safe sending out. We made up a pseudonym for the couple and the blog editor thought it was awesome!

      • Kearney Taaffe

        I have several friends who take photographs both as a side business, and as a full time business. In speaking with 2 of them, they both said, “Wedding photos belong to the couple. We retain copies to print them [the couple] duplicates, should anything happen to them.”

        And, they also had this to say about using wedding photos on their website, “Photographers should ALWAYS hire models to promote their work. Find models who will take headshots, or a few the photos, for their portfolio as payment (I think with the photographer’s watermark), but never use a client”

        So, why should photographers not hire models and use them to display their work?

  • Susan

    Kudos to you guys for actually reading, understanding and negotiating the contract — I’m a lawyer and it was amazing how terribly written some vendors contracts were and, that, when I would offer basic suggestions to make the contract actually make sense, it was the first time they had ever gotten any comments on their contracts.

    On the copyright “buy out” fee, I have heard of this from a few other friends so it’s not completely anomalous. I would suggest, if you are still really interested in going with this photographer, having a more detailed conversation about what uses exactly your photographer feels like she needs for her business and what uses you and your partner are and are not comfortable with. If she sticks to the line that ANY modification of the standard copyright and release language requires $2000, you might want to look elsewhere. What we did with our photographer was we negotiated a revision to her standard contract language to reflect that she could publish our photos on her own website but any publication or use outside of her own portfolio required my prior approval. I do not believe there was any “model release” language and I believe she does still own the copyright but she agreed that I could use them for anything noncommercial without her prior permission/consent.

    • Noelle

      Honestly, I’m not that shocked at the $2000 copyright release fee. That photographer is relinquishing their ownership of their own work; for some photogs that’s a big dealbreaker and so they will charge accordingly.

      • Susan

        Do you think it’s standard to require a fee for allowing the photographer to retain copyright but requiring the couple’s consent before selling or publishing the photos on third party platforms (e.g. magazines, blogs, stock photo services)?

        • Noelle

          It probably differs from photographer to photographer. With some that I know, I could actually see them charging that much even for that, but others would likely charge far less or would simply agree to consult with the client first without charging extra.

          On a personal level, I’m not sure I’d want to compromise my rapport with the client that much to charge for that.

        • CRC60

          As far as I know yes it’s standard to separate the two topics (copyright and “use of someone’s likeness”) because the couple’s consent for someone to use their image is a state-by-state legal matter whereas the right to copy is a matter of federal copyright.

    • StevenPortland

      I agree. Some photographers have horribly worded contracts. Actually, I should say some photographers have contracts that horribly handle the copyright issues.

      • Susan

        YES! I was so tempted to just send vendors back a redline of their contracts with “Here — I fixed this terrible Frankenstein contract for you!”

        • Emily W

          I probably would have thanked you! :)

  • Mrrpaderp

    This is so timely for me as I’m looking into photographers right now. I definitely need to be able to print my own images, that’s nonnegotiable. But I’m conflicted about the copyright release. My wedding pictures will be the photographer’s art, and I believe s/he should retain some rights to her/his art. Just like if I bought a painting – the artist still would be able to use a picture of the painting in her portfolio. An artist always has a connection to their creation; cutting them off from that seems so wrong.

    On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with pictures of ME being used as a promotional item without even notifying me. What if the photographer uses images of me for a charity I don’t support or want to be associated with, like a Westboro Baptist Church fundraiser? Also, professional models are paid for their serves; it seems inequitable to use me as a free model without giving me so much as a heads’ up. If you’re going to make money off me for something I’ve paid you for, I feel like I should get some kind of rebate!

    • Noelle

      Honestly, for wedding photographers I see this situation as being quite rare. I can’t think of images I’ve taken at a wedding that would even make sense to sell to an unrelated non-profit (or other business).

      I’ve worked with non-profits and businesses outside of weddings where I’ve done actual photo work for them. In particular there was one where I took promo photos for a summer school, and the organization got releases from all the parents beforehand. However, those were all assignments where I’d shoot something for them and then we worked out the details of usage, not where they saw some images of mine that they wanted to use.

      • KH_Tas

        Use of wedding/family photos by anti marriage equality groups without the consent of the parties is sadly not at all unknown.

        • Noelle

          Sad! I had no idea that was even going on :(

    • Lawyerette510

      I think it’s just important to make sure then in the contract, that the contract gives you additional rights beyond normal copyright law about how the photos can be used.

  • Noelle

    I’ll jump in here as a photographer. I hold copyright on all of my photo work; it’s in my contract as well. It is very much an industry standard (at least for wedding photography), and usually what happens to me is that most clients confuse “copyright” with “right to print and share for personal use”.

    I’ve had clients that ask me to not share their photos publicly. Technically I don’t have to honor those requests if they’ve signed a contract with me, but I have done so anyways. If I really want to use an image or two for my portfolio, then I have a discussion with them about it first.

    Most photographers will only use your photos for their own personal promotion, too. I want to retain the right to choose which images best represent my business and my work.

    • Kearney Taaffe

      I have several friends who take photographs both as a side business, and as a full time business. In speaking with 2 of them, they both said, “Wedding photos belong to the couple. We retain copies to print them [the couple] duplicates, should anything happen to them.”

      And, they also had this to say about using wedding photos on their website, “Photographers should ALWAYS hire models to promote their work. Find models who will take headshots, or a few the photos, for their portfolio as payment (I think with the photographer’s watermark), but never use a client”

      I’m curious as to why they would do that, but, you not?

      • Noelle

        My philosophy as a wedding photographer is that I am good at what I do because I can capture awesome photos and portraits during a hectic wedding day. Hiring models for a styled shoot is fine, but it also means you have all the time in the world to set up everything *just so* – which is almost never the case on a typical wedding day. If a photographer only shows models on their website, how do you know they can deliver similar photos when you are left with only 15 minutes for portraits? (it’s happened to me, and I still deliver)

        I want to show future clients how well I do with real people in real weddings.

        • Kearney Taaffe

          I completely understand that you want to show your clients you’re good, but, how do you convey to potential customers, “This shot was during a super hectic time” on a website?

          Since, I don’t know too much about photography during weddings, it would seem to me, a photographer could have the models run, jump, literally do anything that mimics a real wedding.

          I’m sorry if I am coming across as rude. It’s just having modeled for 5 or 6 faux wedding shots (just helping my friends out, I didn’t even want the pictures) how someone would know a staged shot at dusk vs a real shot at dusk.

          • Noelle

            I see what you’re saying. However weddings are so much more than portraits and details – it’s the candid moments that you can’t create in a styled shoot. That’s what many wedding photographers are particularly gifted at, and one of the primary reasons my clients hire me.

            Also in many cases, we can’t schedule portraits to take place at dusk :) we have to work around lots of less than ideal lighting and weather situations.

          • Kearney Taaffe

            So True! Places that only open for weddings are hard to work around. And unexpected April showers are super hard to work around too :-D

            Thanks for explaining things to me, I really do appreciate it

          • Noelle

            Of course! It’s a sticky topic, and I understand a client not wanting their face or their family’s faces on the internet or elsewhere.

            I’ve read very heated debates among wedding photographers on whether it’s even ok to use a styled shoot in your portfolio, which leads down another rabbit hole of discussion (Does it qualify as “authentic” work? Was it from a workshop? Can you reproduce similar work at a wedding? etc). These are just my personal opinions based on what is most important to me as a wedding photographer. :)

        • quiet000001

          The interesting thing is that in other areas, often if someone wants to use a creative piece in their portfolio or marketing materials, there will be some agreement with the original client that allows that – perhaps a discount on the cost to the original client to ‘pay’ for using the piece in marketing, or a credit towards future work, something of that nature. It isn’t always assumed that the thing that was created at the client’s request can be used however the artist pleases without any kind of consideration for the client at all. Wedding photography is one of the few areas where we’re like ‘well, that’s just a risk of having a wedding photographer, you might end up in a brochure or something and not know it!’

  • egerth

    For what it is worth, our photographer was fine with us adding the “you need to inform us first” clause at no extra charge.

    So, I would say keep looking because you can probably find someone who is ok with retaining copyright but will let you know first without a hefty fee.

    • Eenie

      Inform you or obtain your approval? Cause those are two different things. It needs to be worded appropriately.

  • Amanda L.

    Our wedding photographer holds the copyright to our photos, but she also gave us all of the images on a flash drive for us to use. We used the engagement photos to create our own guestbook on Shutterfly (we asked her first before doing this, but it would have been over $500 to have her do vs $35 for us to do it ourselves). She saw it at the wedding and complemented it, so I don’t think it was a big deal for us to have done that for our personal use. We also ordered photo cards with the images after the wedding. I did add the copyright info on the back of the card, though.

    Even though she holds the copyright, she had a convo with us about where she would use the images, which was basically her portfolio or on websites/social media linked to her business.

  • emilyg25

    I don’t think I’d hire a photographer who DIDN’T retain copyright (or charge a hefty fee to transfer it). That’s their creative work. If you’re uncomfortable with them using it for different things, you can discuss that and add clauses to the contract. But they should keep the copyright. I do require a print/personal use release though.

  • StevenPortland

    I am an intellectual property attorney. There is no question. In the United States, when the photos are taken then the photographer owns the copyright to the photos. The copyright owner (photographer) has the right to control: (a) who gets to reprint the photos, (b) who gets to make derivative works of the photos (such as a painting based on a photo), (c) who gets to sell copies of the photos, and (d) who gets to display the photos publicly. It is more customary now that you can pay an extra fee to the photography to buy a copyright license. Usually that license is just for the right to reprint the photos (i.e., use the photos for personal use, such as on Christmas cards or in a wedding photo book). The reason for this fee is that the photographer will lose out on the money that you would have paid her for the prints. Since one of the rights of the photographer is to sell copies and another right is to publicly display the photos, the couple and the photographer can also negotiate how the photographer will be limited in these activities. For a fee, the couple is purchasing those rights (and not just a license) away from the photographer. Sometimes this is will not be an additional price in the contract, but it is understandable if the photographer wants to charge a fee for this, to make up for what the photographer otherwise would have made commercially on the photos.
    In my humble opinion, I wouldn’t spend $2000 to prevent a photographer from using the photos commercially. I would go to a different photographer.

    • Bronwyn

      “It is more customary now that you can pay an extra fee to the photography to buy a copyright license. Usually that license is just for the right to reprint the photos (i.e., use the photos for personal use, such as on Christmas cards or in a wedding photo book).”

      Actually, in my area of Canada (which has a similar, but not identical copyright regime) it’s customary that the photographer retains the copyright however a “print release” is included in the contract at not extra fee. This means that the couple can print the photos themselves, whenever and wherever they chose without violating the contract while the photographer retails the copyright to the photos.

    • A question….

      I have a question for you…I have not hired a wedding photographer, but I have hired a film crew for my company and worked with them to produce videos.
      My company fully owns the videos and the raw footage that we paid to have produced. If I were to hire a photographer for my company (we happen to be a publisher) we would own those images and the photographer would not be able to sell them to anyone else. The film team could show the work as a demo, but beyond that they are restricted.
      Why is wedding photography different? While I understand the desire to use photos in promotional materials (blogs, portfolios), as I see it a couple is hiring the photographer to take photos, just as a company might, and I don’t get why it is standard practice in wedding photography to retain the rights in a different manner.

      • StevenPortland

        In case you don’t see my post above….The author of a work (such as a photographer of photographs) owns the copyright under U.S. Copyright law. However, if the author/photographer is an employee then it is the employer who owns the copyright. For example, if a publishing company has one of its employees take photos for a book, then the publishing company is the rightful copyright owner. However, if the publishing company hires an independent photographer to take the photos, then the photographer is the copyright owner. In this case the contract between the photographer and the publishing company should include a section in which the photographer assigns the copyrights to the publishing company.
        In your question you say that “we would own those images”. Actually, the photographer would own the copyrights unless the contract between the two of you states otherwise.

        • StevenPortland, this is exactly what I was going to say! (But less eloquently.) I have been in this situation as an independent artist with a copyright “misunderstanding” situation. And it never got resolved… :(

    • AP

      Thanks for sharing this! I never felt so fortunate to have lawyers in my family as when I was signing contracts with wedding vendors. Our photographer was happy to amend her contract (especially if we did the edits and talked through them with her) to both require our permission to use photos of us promotionally and so that we had a print and reproduction release. In fact, we didn’t have to amend so that we had reproduction rights. It’s not uncommon to give a print release, at least in our area, and that was a dealbreaker for me – I didn’t want to have to go through our photographer to get prints of our photos, especially if we ever wanted additional prints in the future. Some vendors get defensive about things like that, and that was a major red flag for me.

      Because she was so great (both about contract amendments and generally) and we didn’t go through her for all our prints, I try to spread the word about our amazing (and SUPER affordable) photographer. If anyone needs a rec for the Milwaukee/Madison area, let me know!

      • lamarsh

        Just got engaged and am planning a wedding in Madison – would love to hear your photographer rec! Thank you!

    • DannyAdelante

      I have a follow-up question. We hired a wedding photographer for our wedding five months ago. Since the wedding, she had been evasive, and a couple of weeks ago, let us know that her hard drive and memory card were both corrupted and she had lost our wedding photos.
      I don’t really believe her. If we ask for the hard drive and memory card, both of which are damaged, according to her, to see if we can recover the images ourselves, would we have much success?
      Looking her up online where she has used different names reveals this has happened before.

  • Eleonora Teplinsky

    I agree that it is ridiculous. We were going to use Brett Mathews Photography (NYC) but ended up not going with them for this very issue. They are the only photography company i’ve heard of in the NYC area that does not give you the rights to your photos. Their reason was basically that they wanted us to order any photos through their printer (Which costs A LOT of money..and all goes to them). Ultimately, it was not at all what we wanted.

    • emilyg25

      It’s pretty common for photographers to give you personal use rights so you can print photos, make books, etc. But they generally retain the copyright.

  • Violet

    Our photographer just had us cross out the model clause before signing the contract. I said I was comfortable with her using “detail” shots that didn’t include us or our faces to help her book future gigs, but she said it was fine; she shoots other weddings and there are more than enough people happy to have their photos shared wherever, that she didn’t need me to feel at all uncomfortable. Our photos have not appeared on her website, blog, or Facebook page, just as I hoped!

  • Audrey

    This was the wording in our contract around copyright, which I thought was very reasonable. We did not pay any extra for unlimited personal reproduction. She also requested no posting on social media websites without her okay.

    “Photographer maintains copyright of all imagery and grants client unlimited
    rights to produce reprints and enlargements from digital files for personal use

    The photographer reserves the right to use reproductions for promotional or
    exhibition purposes (such as on “photographer’s website”), and will secure advance
    permission from the client for any other use.”

  • Gina

    Photographers do and should have the copyright to their photos. However, I feel like you want to find someone with some sensitivity to the fact that photographs can be a very personal thing. I clarified with my photographer ahead of time that I didn’t want the getting ready photos (in underwear or with dress unzipped) to be in her portfolio and of course she agreed. Two years later, when she took pics of my 3-month-old and we took some nursing pictures, she asked what I thought about including them in her portfolio. I said go ahead, but I feel like that’s just common courtesy, and a photographer who point-blank says “no, I have the right to use the photos however and whenever I want and will charge you $2000 for any request to the contrary” may just be a bad fit for other reasons, too. Their willingness to work with you on that may translate to willingness to work with you on other issues, and visa versa.

    • Violet

      This whole comment.

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    • A question….

      but I don’t get why. If I/my company (publisher) hire a photographer to take pictures for a book I’m working on my company fully owns the rights. Why is wedding photography different?

      • Gina

        I’m not talking about the legal rights, I’m talking about the photographer’s willingness to work with a client. And, I think the two are different. The purpose of taking pictures for a book is public. The purpose of taking pictures for a wedding is private. The individual being photographed for a book is usually being paid for use of their likeness. The individual being photographed for a wedding is paying for the service. Someone being photographed for the cover of Maxim and someone being photographed in a boudoir shoot for their personal use/partner justifiably have different expectations about how the photograph will be used.

      • StevenPortland

        The author of a work (such as a photographer of photographs) owns the copyright under U.S. Copyright law. However, if the author/photographer is an employee then it is the employer who owns the copyright. For example, if a publishing company has one of its employees take photos for a book, then the publishing company is the rightful copyright owner. However, if the publishing company hires an independent photographer to take the photos, then the photographer is the copyright owner. In this case the contract between the photographer and the publishing company should include a section in which the photographer assigns the copyrights to the publishing company.

        • Violet

          Anyone else thinking in response to Steven’s comment, “Bam. Lawyered.” a la Marshall Erikson from HIMYM?

          • Eenie

            I’ve very much appreciated his expert opinion on this matter!

          • Lawyerette510

            I adore it when StevenPortland goes all lawyer in the comments!

        • Cosmic

          Even without signing any document is he still entitled to do whatever with the pics?

      • Amanda

        nope: the copyright is owned by the photographer. publishers own the licence to reproduce it. unless it’s a work for hire agreement, in which case, the photographer could conceivably hand over the copyright.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      On hundred percent this. The legality of the situation is kind of all over the place. But how someone responds to your requests is VERY telling of what your experience working with them will be like. In a lot of cases, photographers charge extra money for things they perceive as being a PITA. Which I don’t begrudge. It’s not always easy to remember which clients you gave a special agreement when you’re, you know, creating a postcard for your business or something. But you definitely want to work with someone who’s going to hear you and also explain things to you like a human. Like, “I completely understand why you would request that, but it’s going to do XYZ things for my business, so I’ve built this fee in to protect myself and I understand if that makes me not a great fit for you guys.” Etc.

      ETA: Though I personally believe happy couples are worth more than ALL the potential commercial sales opportunities in the world. The chances that some national brand are going to want to use your photos? Slim, and you can always go back to your clients and renegotiate if something happens (or leave it open ended like the question asker suggested above.) But the chances that you WON’T get business because you upset a current or potential client? Pretty high.

      • Candi

        Great points Maddie!

        I am a creative and artist, so I have been on both sides of the coin. I respect and can understand the need to protect artistic integrity of works created. I just wonder, percentage wide, how rampant is this really a problem for wedding photographers. I have never had my reputation smeared from edits made to photos I took for a client. For one, I don’t include my watermark on photos. So unless I am credited in photos, no one would ever know that it’s my work. Second, I can always request that clients do not credit me on work that they have edited.

        For my wedding I am finding myself on the client side of things, and it is an eye opener. Besides all of the legal speak, I would much rather work with someone based on how they respond to my requests for amendments to their contracts. While I completely understand the legal copyright arguments from the photographers, it appears that this whole thing is unfairly slanted to the benefit of the photographer. It makes me question, if the photos produced are planned to benefit both parties (the photographer to grow their brand and business opportunities, and the bride to capture an important life moment), why is the bride the only party to pay a fee and also be the only party significantly restricted on rights around the photos.

        It would be nice to see a mutual respect for both parties.

        If the main concern of the photographer is to be able to promote and market their work and business, the contract can specifically give the photographer the rights to display approved photos in their promotional materials. Keeping the copyright is a blanket that covers much more beyond this need.

        Or, if the photographer wants to ensure that they will not be restricted from using photos to promote their work, maybe they should pay models, set designers, costume designers, wardrobe, hair and make-up artists, caterers, venue space, directors, and a production team to create a set for their marketing materials. Consider that the bride has just created a $10,000 – $25,000 production for the photographer to create their art, AND she is paying the photographer to be there.

        When you use the bride’s wedding photos in your portfolio, are you asking permission from the cake baker to use their art, from the gown designer to feature their dress, from the make up artists, from the decorators and venue for their interior design work, from the caterers to provide visually appealing displays? Are you paying wedding and event liability insurance for every aspect of the other vendors? Can you as the photographer imagine the cost that you would have to incur to pay full day rates to all of these vendors and also people to act as models and extras in your custom built set in order to build your portfolio? And this is just for ONE wedding. I have seen portfolios that included at least 50 weddings. How much value did that photographer receive from having free access to all of these custom designed “sets”? And not just free access, but being paid to be there as well.

        If a bride is happy to let you use the photos she paid you to take of her day as part of your marketing materials, keep in mind that more went into the creation of the photos than just the photographer’s artistic vision alone. What about the portfolio of the cake designer? Is there a reason the bride shouldn’t be allowed to give the cake designer permission to publicly display the photo of the cake to promote their business? It is mutually beneficial to the photographer as well to have a beautiful cake to include in the photographer’s portfolio without having to pay that baker.

        The bride/family is the “hub” of the wedding production, and if the copyright is left with the photographer, that affects her relationships with other vendors and creates an unnecessary bottleneck to celebrate the event she produced and financed.

        In terms of creating portfolios, the bride has created and paid for an environment in which all vendors/artists are benefiting from each other’s artistic expressions to create a “whole” that is greater than any individual contributors. All are benefiting, but the photographer is the only one who wants to hold and restrict the copyrights, even though the photographer depends on their artistry more than the others depend on the photographer’s artistic expression.

        To wrap up my sermon, we ended up going with a photographer that operated more like I do in my business dealings with clients. I have received way more work by drafting contracts that are mutually beneficial to both my business and my clients, rather than creating an over-reaching, broad, and boilerplate contract.

        Boilerplate language in a contract is fine, but make an effort to be open to tweaking the contract to mutually benefit both, in understanding the value that the client can provide as well.

        At the end of the day it’s about respect for both the client and the artist. Everyone isn’t always a good fit for each other, and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong per-say, with these contracts. But rather, how well does it fit for both parties.

        *Note: I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t make legal arguments. But I can tell you that when the words “Legally, technically, and I own the rights” became the focal points of discussions for services, as opposed to focusing on the needs and concerns of the bride on what is supposed to be an important and happy day, I kindly and respectfully let the artist know that I don’t think that we are a good fit and I wished them well and thanked them for their time. :)

    • CJ Mooney

      What a load of rubbish. They’re charging a fee that more than covers both their service, and the copyright. The retention of copyright, by wedding photographers is just another scam that the government will probably deal with, one day

  • Eenie

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, but we had a similar issue with our photographer. We amended the contract to include us “liking” in a private gallery the photos that she is allowed to use for promotional use on her website or blogs (which…may not include any of me and my husband). She is not allowed to sell any of the photographs commercially. Any other posting (including facebook and social media) have to be approved by us first. I completely understand her need to be able to advertise her work, but she did not request an additional charge for these changes to the contract. I agree with people below and you should probably find a different photographer.

    For anyone looking for examples, here is the text we used:

    “The Client hereby grants to the Photographer and its legal representatives and assigns, the use to publish photographs of the Client and Guests, or images in which the Client and Guests may be included, for advertising purposes only. The Client will select which images from the gallery that The Photographer may use by “favoriting” the images in their Online Gallery. The Client hereby grants The Photographer access to post the favorited images on FB, IG, Pinterest and on The Photographer’s blog/website only.”

  • cupcakemuffin

    This would be a dealbreaker for me. What we worked out with our photographer was that she would retain the copyright, but would check with us first before using the photos outside of her personal website/portfolio (for example, submitting to a wedding magazine, etc. — probably unlikely as we aren’t supermodels, but who knows!) And similarly, we could print for personal use, but would check with her if we wanted to submit to APW/Offbeat Bride or similar sites.

    I get why photographers wouldn’t want to make that deal or would want to charge for it, and of course LEGALLY that’s their right, but to me it would signal someone who wasn’t going to respect my privacy and comfort level, both of which are really important for someone who is going to be sharing some super intimate moments with me! I would also just hate the feeling of being nickeled and dimed, and it would make me worry there could be more of that coming down the road with this person. Honestly, I would move on — while I think most photographers will charge if you want to a full transfer of copyright, I think many are willing to work with you on what will happen to your photographs after if you’re uncomfortable with them being public/sold/etc.

  • Emily

    I don’t have solutions, but kudos to all of you who are thinking about this before the wedding. I wasn’t on top of things enough to figure out that I wouldn’t have rights to print my wedding photos from places other than the photographer (i.e., prohibitively expensive). This is still something that really bums me out a year after the wedding and I wish I’d been more on top of it.

  • dragonzflame

    Ours used one of our photos (couldn’t see faces) for some promotional postcards they had made. We were okay with that, even a little flattered – though they did ask first, I wouldn’t have been happy to discover they’d done it later.

  • Another Meg

    I could use some photographer advice.

    I got married when I was very young and the marriage was wrong and didn’t last. This post made me wonder about the photos. Yep. They are on the photographer’s website. Photos from my last wedding are on that photographer’s site and I think it’s awesome. But these…it was not a good marriage, and seeing his face made me want to vomit.

    The photographer switched careers and the site is pretty clearly dated, so I’m guessing she just left it to languish. But the photos I carefully destroyed are out there on the Internet and I can’t unknow it.

    Photographers, do you think it would be an ok thing to email the photographer (if I can find her current contact information) and ask her to remove them?

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      Former photographer whose website has languished: I would 100% be fine with this. YMMV, of course, but if she’s not currently upkeeping her website, then it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

    • Emily W

      Chiming in as a photographer here to say that, no matter how AMAZING the wedding was, and how much I loved the photos, I’d take it down. You don’t deserve that reminder.

  • Emily W

    Photographer here. As a lot of people have mentioned, there’s a different between holding the copyright (it’s my work, I am the artist”) and model release. I will never, personally, release my copyright, because it gives me the sole right to edit the photos. And that’s the artist part of me. I also ask that you get permission before submitting photos to a blog or publication, because some of them are very particular about exclusivity. And I don’t want to get myself or the couple in trouble with an editor.

    That said, I don’t see that it’s unfair to ask your photographer where they’re going to use the photos. My contract says I can use them in advertising, but I also make sure to respect my clients. I had one client who wanted me to blog her wedding, but didn’t want their names or faces in the photos, because she’d had issues with a stalker. Another couple was fine with prints at a show or a sample album, but didn’t want them all over the web. Personally, I always check in with my couples before submitting their wedding to a publication. I’ve had couples ask me to confirm before I use their photos in ads on 3rd party sites, as well. I’ve had couples who ask me not to post too many images of them kissing, or of their kids, etc.

    In my opinion, you should be able to print your photos yourself. Yes, I love when you print them through me because my lab does stunning work, but I know you can’t do that in 10 years. [Side note: if you’re getting a big print, please get it from a good lab, because the larger they are, the more likely it is that your local big box store will screw it up. Save up for a pro print for the that goes above your mantle!] You should be safe to drive around without worrying about your face on a billboard, or in a magazine at the doctor’s office. If I client asks me not to blog their wedding, I respect that. A good referral is worth more than an ad on a blog (or a billboard).

    I’m pretty particular about what I post online, so I try to think how **I** would feel if I saw my face there.

    • That is totally fair. If a photographer doesn’t have enough work to display with the odd client making these types request than they can’t be veryexperienced Can they?

  • Caroline

    Part of our contract was that our photographer would seek written permission before using any photographs of our wedding with people in them for anything (promotion on her website, facebook, publication) besides providing them to us. This did not cost extra, but was very important to us. We are private people, my husband especially. The photographer kept the copyright however, which seems to me to be how it ought to be.
    We got the rights to use the images for unlimited personal non-commercial use, including for friends and family, and including making our own prints, and we got high res jpegs. Again, this was included in the normal price, not extra.

    • CRC60

      “Again, this was included in the normal price, not extra.”

      A good takeaway from your experience is the photographer “packaged” various rights into one basic and convenient fee. This is a smart marketing move.

  • Granola

    One other tangential issue to work through in your contract is what happens if you’re dissatisfied with the photos, for example. We tried to request RAW files instead of hi-res ones because we wanted to be able to edit them as we saw fit, but the photographer wouldn’t budge because she felt that if we edited the photos in a way she didn’t want, it would make her look bad. All in all we had a pretty rough ride with our photographer, and her contract was a great example of one that was really poorly worded (my dad is a lawyer and I’m pretty comfortable with contracts and we went through it line by line.)

    Also, the other piece here is the concept of a model release, which Stephen from Portland may have mentioned. The photographer owns the copyright because he or she created the photo. But the couple may be agreeing in the contract to license their likeness for her promotional use. On a commercial shoot, whomever is being photographed signs a model release allowing the photographer and/or company to make money of their likeness.

    So it’s the copyright (always the photog unless a work for hire), the model release (the person being photographed) and the reproduction rights (which should be included in your contract for little to know fee, in my experience).

  • Kelly Benvenuto

    I’ve scanned but not read all of the comments here so perhaps some of this has been covered already, so I’ll just chime in based on my own experience as a wedding photographer. All of my contracts have me as the copyright holder. Included in the contract is a model release, and clients receive a personal use release, which allows for standard use of images (making your own prints, albums, etc). I have been asked in the past to sell copyright to images ($2k doesn’t seem unreasonable to me) but have never done so (What if I take the most amazing picture ever at your wedding but I can’t even claim credit for it? The images I make are my livelihood). I have also been asked for privacy – a concern I can understand and work with – and have a contract addendum for those clients that allows for use of some and not all images to be used (where the client has the opportunity to indicate which images they are not comfortable being seen publicly), and that has been a happy middle-ground for my business needs and my clients’ needs. Ask how the photographer you like has used images in the past – while s/he may not want to sell copyright, licensing images to third parties (like the case that happened to your friend) may be something that photographer does not do anyway. Good luck with your photographer search!

  • gross

    Wow, I’m so grateful for this thread. I’d never even thought of the copyright issues but thank goodness now I know to never hire a photographer. I’m way too private of a person to be willing to pay someone money to have the right to publish or distribute photos of me!! Yikes.

  • no, get a different photographer. I understand that the photographer should retain copyright, but it’s completely unreasonable to charge for privacy.

    I work as a Medical writer in an agency. We do writing for large pharmaceutical firms. Sometimes we sell copyright if clients to want distribute things, but we charge wouldn’t $2000 to keep a report confidential if the client didn’t buy copyright, that is downright ridiculous.

  • Jane

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned, but is the reason one photographer I know is verrrrrry clear about the copyright not being purchasable is that a client who had the standard hi-res files and personal print rights then tried to use the pictures commercially — as in the client sold them to someone for advertising, which a personal print release does not let you do.

    Commercial fees are non-trivial, and even if they don’t request a model release, there are no-people-in-them shots that can be a real addition to a photographer’s bottom line.

  • Christina Vandenbergh

    Has anyone seen a location with a contract stating that the location owns the rights to all photographs taken of the venue? From the photographers we checked with they didn’t say that would be a problem as legally they would have precedence over the venue, but what about for friend’s photos from their cell phone?

    • StevenPortland

      That’s not a clause that I would ever agree to. Cross it out of the contract with the location and have both you and the location rep initial the deletion. The person who takes the photo owns the copyright. They may give permission (license) to the couple to use the photographs, or they may turn over the copyright (assign) to the couple. The location should not have any ownership in the photos.

  • CRC60

    One thing to keep in mind… don’t confuse copyright and model-release issues.

  • EC

    For folks who care, Lauren Fair Photography, based in Philadelphia, allows their client to retain the copyright as part of the standard package, and their work looks lovely

  • Brian Richardson

    I’m dismayed that copyright is owned by the photographer and that all the good ones will invariably say no or gouge for an exclusive license. It’s my wedding and we’re private people. Is it really too much to ask to simply create the photos and grant the license without extortion? Seems unfairly biased in favour of the photographer. Another example of digital copyright law taking advantage of the consumer for the sake of artificially creating revenue opportunities for someone who’s already taken a month’s salary for 3 days’ work.

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  • Kemesha

    My husband and I are going through an issue with our photographer after he shared on his website, social media and now on wedding wire etc, and it’s available on google a photo we thought was too private for social media. We had a destination wedding and hired a local photographer. I also had concerns about publishing photos due to the nature our work and we were concerned about what could and should not be share in the internet. I had verbal acknowledgement from our photographer that he wont be posting photos and then 2 months after our wedding about six photos of us were on social media and internet including the one we thought was too private. We requested for him to remove that one photo from all sites and he argued this. I told him I will be changing my review on his facebook if it is not removed as the photo is being shared on his facebook. He said he will hide it from his feed. We gave him 5 days and We also wanted him not to use it in the future on any promotional items. He did not remove it and it’s still there and I changed my review on his facebook and also on google review. He since then sent a threatening email to us about taking the review down or he will take action but he still has the photo up. How is this right and how can a photographer not respect someone’s right to privacy? We feel like we paid for a service which includes respect and customer service but clearly this isnt so. What can we do in this case?