Are You Stealing From Your Photographer?

By Carrie Kirby on 24 January 2008 114 comments

Dear readers,

We've removed this article from our archives. We have great respect for photographers and their work. We believe people should not reprint copyrighted photographs, even if it is only for personal use. If you would like the freedom to make unlimited reprints of your wedding photos taken by a professional photographer, negotiate with your photographer and ask for unlimited reproduction rights upfront.

Wise Bread is a community blog created by many talented writers. The views of each writer does not necessarily represent that of the entire blog.

Yours truly,

Will Chen


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Guest's picture

I pirate music.
I pirate movies.
I pirate software.

I also drive over the speed limit and remove those mattress tags...

But scanning a photo of myself? Oh... noes, that's bad.... Shame!

Guest's picture

I could be wrong, but my understanding is that *most* (book) writers (and most book writers are not well known) either only get paid royalties, or receive a small writing fee and the rest is paid via royalties. And if that is the case, I bet a lot of writers would be quite happy to just earn a "sitting fee" for their writing.

I would have to double-check the article, but I don't recall Carrie saying she had a problem with paying $5 per print as you are suggesting. I also don't recall her calling the photographer greedy; although other posters here have done that. Since her original article was removed, I just wanted to point that out and make it clear to anybody who hasn't read or doesn't remember the details of it.

The bottom line is that if photographers have created a contract and/or pricing structure that makes them appear greedy to many, then there is a problem; and that does seem to be the case.

So, why is the perception of (the photographer's) value so lacking with so many people. Why is there this perception of "they are only photographs?" Does anybody ever say "oh, it is only a custom hand crafted piece of stained glass?"

Guest's picture

Wise Bread has relinquished its copyright to the article; Will Chen wants to make sure that there is no connection between the article and Wise Bread (which is why he removed it in the first place). He also wants to make sure that it is understood that Wise Bread in no way condones Ms. Kirby's actions regarding the content of that article.

Ms. Kirby now has the copyright to the article and wants to make sure that it remains accessible, so she has given me permission to post it on my site. As I have said before, I (also) think it is important that it remains in the public domain. Here is the link to the article on my website:

The Online Photographer has closed this topic to new comments. I think it is important to keep this conversation going, which can be done here, or on Flickr (

Guest's picture

Just a quick reminder for those who seem to have forgotten: We are talking about photography as a *for-profit* business.

Just because you are not able to get your prints at cost for 25 cents (Which it's usually more for a professional print, by the way), doesn't mean the photographer is being greedy; It means they are making a profit.

It may seems like a large markup (even after deducting operating costs), but it's probably the going rate...

There's nothing wrong or greedy about making a profit in business!

Guest's picture

Thanks for making that point. People are in this career to make a living, just like people in every other career. I don't understand the disconnect.

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My oldest daughter just got married and we paid over $6,000 for their wedding pix. So far they have got 3 cd's with the pictures taken(hundreds....all digital). my daughter tells me there are white dots through the pictures. I say the hell with photographers rights....they get their money up front, and if I can find a way to make a copy of a picture without giving them another $80, I will do it. I detest the whole wedding ripoff, from the church to the reception, to the caterer, to the photographer, to the wedding dress, to the diamond ring. Everyone wants to rape a couple in love and the parents footing the bill! You will hear about me some day as I have devoted the rest of my life to making weddings affordable. Watch out Las we come!!!!!!!! Scott Mitchell

Guest's picture

as far as detesting "the whole wedding ripoff" thing, I'm with you on that! Although, it isn't rape when the other party is not only willing, but actually wants it.

Overall I think weddings are absurd BS. However, I do think that ceremony (in the most basic sense) is important.

Weddings are BIG business for many, although I don't think you will find many photographers actually getting rich off of them. Most wedding photographers can do very well on them, but they just aren't getting rich. And then there are many wedding photographers that are just not very good.

As far as copying their picture(s) goes, I have a problem with that because you have made an agreement with them, and part of that agreement was stating that you wouldn't copy their pictures. As I and others have said before, if you want to be able to copy and print the pictures yourself, find a photographer that is ok with that.

For me this issue isn't about the law, it is about human beings and agreements that have been made between them. If the photographer had made an agreement to shoot your son or daughter's wedding, but then didn't show up because they decided that you were greedy for not having it at a more expensive location (which you could obviously afford), you would be absolutely livid. And it wouldn't be because of their reasoning, but because they screwed you and your family by breaking the agreement they had with you.

If you want to make weddings more affordable, go for it! There will be a market for it. But I also think that there is a significant percentage of the population that isn't very interested in economy weddings, at least not more so than what exists today. The people who like the extravagance of it are still going to like the extravagance of it. And I think we would have to see a major perception change before discount weddings would be "acceptable." And it *would* have to be acceptable to just about everybody directly involved. I think it would take some very clever marketing.

But again, if this is your calling... go for it, shake things up!

Guest's picture

As a professional photographer I do not agree with scanning images because you feel it is your right to do so. Copyright laws are copyright laws period.

What so many consumers forget is that the fee they are paying is for the time and talent of the artist. Many photographers spend years researching, studying, learning, and honing their craft. Just because you have a copy of photoshop does not mean you know how to use it, and just because you have a camera does not mean you know the principles of fine photography.

For example: Lets say you pay $150 for your creative fee. The photographer spends 1 hour in a consultation. The photographer spends another hour location scouting (this includes gas and milleage.) Then the photographer spends another hour setting up, getting to know your family etc. Then the session itself last approx 2-3 hours. Now, that photographer must spend another hour or so going through the images (most I know take around 2-300 per session) and whittling them down to 30. Most professional photographers I know also shoot in RAW which requires special software that cost sometimes upward to the $1000 range. So that means 30 images the photographer must then spend approx 30 min to an hour a piece editing because they must create a black and white conversion of each image (and proper conversions are more than just desaturating.) Now the photographer must not only prepare the images (all 60 of them) for web use, but also for print use, and proofing, and archiving (if you are doing things properly you don't archive a jpg format you archive in TIFF format.) AND..if the photographer is doing it correctly they've color managed for the specific printer at the same time. WHEW!
now you do the much exactly have you paid the photographer and how much exactly have you paid them per hour for all that work from the original creative fee?

And as far as getting "all your images" I do not agree with this. Like many photographers I consider myself an artist because I have studied art as well as photography. I would never put my name on anything that was not fully processed. If you want those kinds of images (just snapshots where you don't care if faces are blurred or teeth look yellow) then just find Aunty Sue and her point and shoot camera and have her take the photos for free.

On another note: alot of photographers today are making cd's available as well as prints and also giving a discount for enlargements and other products.

Guest's picture

I just wanted to say thank you from the photographers who have posted comments. I am in the process of researching a photographer to hire to photograph my children and was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing them to have full complete copywright of the photos and for me not to have the digital files. It is good to hear the photographers point of view and I hope I can find one who I can work with.

I am willing to pay for the prints and for the digital files.
I want a great professional photographer and I know for what I want I will end up paying over $1500. But I've had the photos done at Sears and felt like they overcharged (even though it was under $300) because I only had maybe 5 minutes with the photographer with awful backgrounds and waited an hour to see them (despite my appointment time). I will never do that again. The only part of the process that I liked, was that I received a cd of the retouched photos.

I also know that although I can take some decent photos I cannot take the sort of pictures that I want to have. I want art, not just photos, and to get that I need an artist (professional photographer). I am hoping that I can find one who will be willing to work with me on what I need, and fear that when I find one that is very accomplished they won't have the need to give up any of their rights or put the pictures on cd for me.

This is for the phographers out there, here is what I want from my photographer, do you think this is reasonable?

I would like all photos on cd. I want a record of the photo session and may not be able to find the photographer when my kids or older, or maybe even in two years!

I really only need the rights to reprint smaller photos (4x6 and smaller) just in case I have family over and I've run out of prints, and need to print off a few. I also would like to e-mail the photos to family and friends (who doesn't e-mail photos these days?). I would want to put a clause in the contract stating that if I cannot find the photographer to reprint the larger photos in a reasonable amount of time that I can have someone else reprint them.

I don't want my photographer to have unrestricted rights to do whatever they want with my photos. I would like to be consulted if they are going to publish to the web or use in a magazine for advertisement or anything else. I am willing to share the copyright because I realize that the photos of my children will now become part of that photographer's experience and they will want to add it to their portfolio. In most cases I'm sure I wouldn't have a problem with them using the photos in that manner, but I don't want to not have any control over that. There may be circumstances when I don't want to have my children's photos printed for others. If someone had a nude photo taken of them for the purpose of giving it to their spouse, they wouldn't want that posted on the web (not the same thing, I know, but just trying to make a point).

I am willing to pay for my share of the rights, in addition to the digital prints, and I plan on purchasing a set of prints from the photographer. I even plan on buying more prints down the road, which I would be willing to add in the contract. So, for me it's not so much about being able to print my photos at the local Walmart, (I like having retouched professional prints), it's more about having some rights to my children photos and not having to feel like a thief if I print out a wallet size photo from my computer on occasion.

And who knows where my photographer will be in 15 - 20 years when my children are grown. I don't want them to have low res photos that they can't get printed because the photographer is nowhere to be found.

Are these reasonable requests for an accomplished photographer, or am I going to have to give up talent for wanting some of the copywright?

Guest's picture

Make no mistake about it, there will come a time when technological advancement will make massive, dynamic multi-angle camera setups cheaper than human labor. On that day, the rape of art will end, and photography will once again be the domain of the artist instead of the businessman.

Guest's picture

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Guest's picture

I just recently encountered this issue with not being able to copy pictures of my children because the photos where of professional grade. I figured that since they are my kids that I can do as I please with their images but apparently not, a complete stranger has more rights to their images just because he had the equipment and backgrounds, than I, who paid for the service, the time, and I'm sure the paper. I don't have a problem with paying for anything because everyone should be able to profit from their line of work, the problem that I have was that I wasn't informed or given the choice to purchase not only the pictures but also the rights to do as I please with them. Another issue that some have stated before is that, it's so hard to get a hold of photographers, and what if you can't find him/her then how can you replace pictures that were lost or damaged. Also, what if I don't want my kids pictures posted anywhere, I wasn't asked if I the Guardian would authorize the photographer to use them. It seems like it's a one sided situation here,from now on, I'll make sure I ask for a Copyright release before anyone takes any pictures for me.

Guest's picture

Last poster- you totally contradict yourself!

you say "I don't have a problem with paying for anything because everyone should be able to profit from their line of work"

and you also say: "not being able to copy pictures of my children because the photos where of professional grade" is a problem

You say that you realize photographers must make a living and have no problem paying for prints through when you need copies of the prints, why not buy them from the photographer?

Guest's picture

Wow...I guess I am a little late on this, but I simply cannot believe some of the people in here.

A couple of notes:

- Someone on here said that their photographer gave them the rights to the images. They went on to say that the photographer does not OWN the images. You, Sir, are extremely wrong. The photographer ALWAYS owns the images. They may give you printing rights to the images, but the photographer is always the copyright owner unless it is signed away.

- Some dude on here said that they think that photographers and other wedding stuff is a huge rip off. Well...DON'T PAY FOR IT if it is a rip off to you. 20 years down the road, you will regret not having great pictures of one of the greatest moments of your life. You think that photographers get paid too much for what they do? Why don't you try doing what we do. You try learning about light, exposure, white balance and how to use a camera. If you are a good photographer (I admit, some call themselves pro's and simply suck), then you have spent A LOT of time studying your art.

I am seriously at a loss for words after reading the original article and some of these comments. Some of you need to understand that this is peoples FULL TIME JOB just like you go work construction or in an office. Would you like it if you didn't get paid for your work?

Some of you say "well, I paid $1500 for the photo session...I should be able to make whatever prints I want!"

The problem with this statement is, you paid for something you can't afford. If the max you can pay is $1500, then you need to find a cheaper photographer. The better photographer, the more you will pay. So, if you don't want to pay more than $1500, get a cheaper photog.

I am still at a loss for words. I just don't know what to say. As a professional photographer, some of these comments really get under my skin. Thank you, cheap consumer, for thinking that you should know how I should run my business. Quit thinking you are entitled to something that wasn't in your contract. If your contract doesn't include prints, but the prints from the photographer. If you don't like that, get a different photographer.