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Asking a Photographer to Not Use Photos Online

Whenever you sign a contract with a photographer, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you’ll see a pretty standard clause appear in the contract. Something along the lines of “Photographer reserves the right to display the images for reasons they feel are appropriate including in portfolio, blog, publication or advertising.”  If asking a photographer not to use photos online is something that’s important to you and something that you plan on discussing with your potential photographer, it’s so important that you read this article.  This article will explore why photographers default is to ask for image use permissions and what happens when those permissions are removed.

Truthfully speaking, the majority of people are okay with a photographer using photos of them online but it’s getting more and more common to run across clients who do not wish to have images posted online at all so they ask to have the clause removed from the contract.

But is it really that simple?  Can a clause just be removed?  What repercussions might there be for the photographer?  After all – it’s there for a reason, right?

Whether or not that clause can be removed is entirely up to the photographer.  Some photographers make exceptions for clients whose work is very dangerous (such as an undercover cop) but generally speaking, photographers will either not waive the release or waive it for a fee.

Wait… what?  A fee?  Are you saying we have to pay for our privacy?!?

Relax.  Breathe.  Try not to punch your monitor or throw your phone.  This is going to be a difficult conversation to have but we’re going to do this.  Hear me out.

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You’re not paying for privacy, you’re actually getting a discount for letting the photographer use the images and here’s why:

A photographer gets their next job based on their portfolio. Every year that goes by, a photographers skills grow and evolve and their portfolio needs to reflect this. This means photographers are in constant need of updating their portfolio if they want to keep attracting clients who love their style.

  • If your portfolio isn’t updated often or doesn’t contain up to date material, it can affect your potential for booking future clients.
  • Photographers also require a large online presence in order to compete in such a competitive market. Blogs need to be numerous and social media posts need to be plentiful. If your presence online is minimal, it can affect your potential for booking future clients.
  • Aside from social media, photographers use online strategies like SEO (search engine optimization) to get visitors on their website. They do this by blogging using keywords and getting backlinks from publishers who feature their work. If you don’t have images to send for publishing or to use for SEO strategies, if can affect your potential for booking future clients.
  • Publishers aren’t the only ones who want to showcase images from a wedding day – other vendors from that day want to as well! It’s common for photographers to network with vendors after a wedding and share some images with them that they also post on websites and social media. This mutually beneficial vendor relationship relies on the photographers abilities to share images. If you don’t have images to share with other vendors, it decreases the odds that that vendor will refer you to their clients in the future, can affect your potential for booking future clients from that vendor, and give you a reputation in the industry of being “hard to work with” because you won’t share.

If a photographer doesn’t have images to use to promote themselves organically – all the ways we listed above – then the photographer has to resort to the old fashioned way of doing things: paid advertising.

The thing is… that paid advertising they’d have to do isn’t in the original budget. Because the standard in the industry is that photographers reserve the right to use the photos, the photographer doesn’t have to factor in traditional advertising costs into their original packages (or at least as much into it) because they can almost certainly rely on a couple allowing for image use so they can promote themselves organically.

When a couple wants to negotiate the removal of this clause, however, many photographers explain that there’s a fee to do this and that fee is compensation for the additional advertising costs and loss of networking opportunities the photographer will incur by not being able to use the images. This is why you need to think of it not as having to pay for privacy, but rather that you’re getting a built-in discount by agreeing to image use.

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Still not understanding the impact that withholding part of a photographers portfolio can have on their business?

That’s okay – there are a lot of pre-existing feelings that people have when it comes to this topic and I want you to try really hard to put those feelings aside and let yourself explore this same concept outside of the photography world:

Imagine you’re a chartered accountant. You’re looking for a new job with a new company so you start doing some extra education. You take a course that’s going to look amazing on your resume and you know it’ll help you get your next job. But as you’re applying for the course, the teacher tells you “Oh, by the way, you can take this course but you’re not allowed to put it on your resume.” You’d likely be baffled. Sure, you can take the course and learn some new skills but if you can’t put it on your resume, how will people know what kind of up-to-date skills you have? You’ll have to hope an employer will hire you without that course and then you can wow-them after the fact but that sure it risky. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to just cite the course on your resumé?

While this may not totally be an apples-to-apples comparison, for the sake of the big picture here, this example shows why it’s so important to photographers to be able to showcase their work.

King Edward Hotel Wedding Photos
Some photographers opt not to work with clients who don’t accept their studio policies and that’s okay because everyone is allowed to operate their businesses differently! For some photographers, it’s simply not worth the hassle and limitations that putting limitations on a portfolio causes.  For other photographers, they acknowledge that this is a reasonable request by clients, but they also want the clients to understand that in turn, the photographer will request a reasonable compensation for the extra advertising and networking limitations they will incur – this amount will vary depending on whether partial permissions are granted (detail images and non-identifiable images can be used) or if the complete clause is to be removed from the contract.

As a final point to note, this is something that I’ve explained to clients many times not as a means of trying to “win” an argument but as a way to bring some reality back to the situation: unless you ban every guest from bringing a cellphone and unless you scrutinize every other vendors contract and ask them to remove the clauses where they can take their own photos of you (or of you and their product or service), it’s virtually impossible to keep the wedding offline. This is the reality of the digital age – showing images is a norm these days.

So when it comes to asking a photographer to not post photos online, what’s the standard?  The default in the wedding photography industry is that contracts include a clause regarding image usage permissions that the client agrees to. If a client wants to negotiate the contract and remove this clause, it’s important to remember that negotiation means some give and take from both sides which means it’s more than reasonable for a photographer to charge a fee for the removal of this clause for compensation. While the occasional photographer may waive without a fee under very special circumstances, given that this is a much more common request now than it used to be, the norm in the industry is that there is a mutual understanding from both sides and the contract can be negotiated for a fee that reflects the impact of removing a standard clause.

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