I participate in a lot of online photography communities and one of the common themes I see often is discussion about sharing images with vendors.  Should a photographer share images with vendors?  Is there a fee?  Should there be fee?  Do the vendors have the right to demand photos?  What if you had a sub-par experience with the vendors, do you still have to provide images?

There are so many questions about photographers sharing images with vendors I thought I would shed some light on the topic based on my years of experience (good and bad!)

The first thing to remember is that as a photographer, the images are legally yours.  You created them, you own them.  Check the copyright laws in your country – if they’re anything like in Canada, the person who takes the photo owns the photo.  This means that you have the right to do with it what you want.

Sounds brutal?  Stay with me here… it gets better.

While photographers are under no legal obligation to share images with any vendor, many often do.  Why?  As a sign of good faith, an appreciation for the collaboration and mutual respect shared between the vendors and as a way of establishing a stronger professional relationship with vendors you’d love to work with again.  If you’re a vendor and a photographer has chosen to share images with you, consider yourself lucky!

Photographers are giving away thousands of dollars worth of images to vendors.  Yes.  There IS value to those images beyond the cost that the bride and groom paid you for your services.  Why are we okay with that?  Why is this the “norm”?  In the wedding industry, at least in Canada, it seems to be the norm to share images for free.  Granted, most people share web-resolution images only (and many still watermark) but the images are given away for free.  The Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators has an online guide that gives you a good idea of just how much your images are worth.  Yes, you have worth – treat yourself as such!

To sum it up (very, very briefly) the cost of each and every image depends on how it’s used, where it’s used, how visible it is and for how long it can be used.  Each image that a vendor displays in their portfolio could have a value of several hundred dollars… per image if displayed for only one year.

Doing an incredibly rough estimate based on my own experiences and the images I’ve shared in the past year alone (and how I’ve seen them used on the internet and in print advertising) I have given away at least $6,000 in what could have chargeable fees for usage.

This makes me want to ask two really bold questions….

#1 – Photographers: Are you aware how much you’re giving away?

#2 – Vendors: Are you aware of the true value of what you’re receiving when a photographer generously shares images with you?  Look at your website; how many of the images you’re currently using for advertising have generously been donated by photographers you’ve worked with?  Could you imaging if you had to pay a fee to use these?  How much do you think it might cost you?

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Now that photographers and vendors both have had a wee bit of an eye-opener in terms of the value of images, I want to finish by saying this:

To all the photographers out there, if you wish to share images with vendors (as I still do) it is well within your right to do so and to put caveats on how the images are used (web resolution only, watermarks, online display only for up to 1 year, etc.) and it’s also well within your right to decide not to share if you feel that way.  If there’s a vendor with whom you may get plenty of referrals from and would love to work with again, sharing images is definitely a great way to nurture the relationship.

That being said, to all the vendors reading this – please understand that it is up to the photographer to decide if they are sharing, how they are sharing, which images they are sharing and when they will do so.  Vendors who are in need of images immediately for portfolios should consider hiring a photographer for a portfolio shoot in lieu of relying on the generosity of photographers.

I decided to finally write this article (after having it in my “pending” folder for over two years) because of the variety of questions that I have been seeing come up in online communities lately.  Horror stories of venues requiring the photographer to sign a release of all images in order to shoot there, vendors writing harshly worded emails demanding image use and most recently – vendors who have benefited from free image use in the past now asking for a % of the photographers fee for being exclusively referred.  What has the industry come to?  Is it really okay to treat wedding photographers in such a way?

You are a photographer.  You are an artist.  You are a business person.  But most importantly; you have worth.  Never let anyone take that away from you.  Make the decisions you feel comfortable with and remember that no matter how much experience you may or may not have, there is always someone in the industry who looks up to you and sees you as a leader.  Ensure your actions make yourself proud and keep our craft respected.