Whenever you sign a contract with a photographer, whether it’s for wedding photos, family photos, or any other genre – 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 to not use photos online is something that’s important to you and something that you plan on discussing with your potential photographer, you need to stop here first and make sure you have the necessary background to understand the nuances of the conversation. This article will explore why photographers default is to ask for image use permissions, what happens when those permissions are removed and why asking a photographer to not use photos online may have a fee associated with it.
Why do Photographers Ask to Use Photos online?
Before asking a photographer to not use photos online it’s important to understand why a photographer uses photos online so that you can understand how big that ‘ask’ is. There are two reasons why photographers use images online:
- Marketing is primarily content-driven
- This means that even with word-of-mouth referrals, most of us get our inquiries based off web searches, blog posts and social media content.
- Without that content – our ability to reach future clients is diminishes
- Have an up-to-date and accurate portfolio to help them secure future clients
- Even if we had 100% word of mouth referrals (which is not common) we still need to have current work to showcase to those inquiring about our services
Having the ability to showcase our work directly impacts our ability to acquire future work.
How Photographers Use Images Online
When you’re asking a photographer to not use photos online you also need to consider how photographers use images online. Images are used in only appropriate ways such as in:
- blog posts
- social media content
- static portfolios
- …all of which never include last names!
Another way that photographers use images online is for networking with other vendors; this is especially important in the wedding industry. Other vendors frequently as the photographer to share a handful of images that represent their work – when they post these they are crediting the photographer (us!) which also aids to reach potential clients in the future.
Speaking for myself and how Ten·2·Ten Photography operates:
- I do not submit images for contests (which can be major disseminators of images online)
- I rarely, if ever, submit to blogs (and when I do I always inform clients prior)
- I do not sell images to stock sites
- I do not upload to free stock sites in hopes of ‘exposure’
- I do not turn your images into artwork that I sell to others.
- I also do not allow my second photographers to use images in their portfolios (which goes against the grain of what is the ‘norm’ in the wedding industry)
- … and I am quite selective with which images I do share with vendors as mentioned above. (I do not give them full gallery access, which again, goes against the grain of what is the ‘norm’ in the wedding industry).
What Happens When a Photographer Can’t Use Photos online?
When you’re asking a photographer to not use photos online, you’re asking to remove their ability to:
- Keep their portfolio up to date
- Create social media content
- Have new and updated content for their website
- Create blog posts (ie: content marketing – the thing that gives websites a big oomph to get to page #1!)
- Network via content with your other vendors
All of the above ways of using photos are examples of non-paid advertising. As small businesses, advertising budgets can be limited but when we adopt organic content-marketing approaches, our businesses can thrive! Without the ability to adopt content-marketing approaches, the only other alternative to marketing is traditional, paid marketing (like Google ads, wedding listings and social media promoted posts). Content marketing is always the preferred method for small businesses – it helps keep the profits in our pockets so we can make a living and it keeps money out of the hands of big corporations like Google or TheKnot.
Because the above types of usage are industry standard, prices of non-commercial photography services assume that these permissions are given already. When these permissions are removed, a non-usage fee may apply.
What is an Image Non-Usage Fee?
An image non-usage fee, also known as a loss of opportunity fee is something you may find yourself discussing with your photographer if you’re asking a photographer to not use photos online.
It’s compensation for not only the missed opportunities but also for the alternatives that will need to be put in place due to the missed opportunities.
So I have to pay for privacy?
If you want to interpret it that way, I can’t stop you – but in reality, it’s actually the opposite. The value of us being able to use the images was already worked into the cost of your package already – if you want to remove permissions that have associated value, then the package gets restructured.
To be totally upfront – a lot of people don’t understand that the value of being able to use images has already been worked into the cost of the package so when they hear about a loss of opportunity fee or an image non-usage fee, they can kind of get their backs up. But let’s reframe it:
If you think of it that way, it helps you understand the value that you’re asking the photographer to sacrifice by removing the model release clause.
Do all photographers charge image non-usage fees?
No, not all photographers charge non-usage fees or a loss of opportunity fee although it’s substantially more common – especially since COVID. Typically newer photographers don’t always charge a non-usage fee partly because there is an inherent lack of experience of fear of backlash but also because newer photographers are still learning how to value themselves and are extremely eager to people-please, even at the detriment of their own businesses (and yes, we have seen so much of that during the pandemic!) Unfortunately, this leads to burnout and more established and experienced photographers know this which is why we’ve adopted standard practices and policies to keep things balanced.
In regards to COVID and non-usage fees, we have seen an increase in newer photographers adopting the practice of non-usage fees since the pandemic at a rate higher than normal. Why? Because photographers have been incredibly restricted in their ability to work (especially in Ontario) from March of 2020 until around the fall of 2021 and as a result of the significant losses many of us have faced due to the pandemic, a lot of photographers have stopped all forms of paid advertising and rely exclusively on content marketing. More and more photographers are truly understanding the value that sharing images has and they can no longer leave that value unaccounted for.
This means that it’s more beneficial than ever for us to have updated portfolios as well as to have images to create content marketing with. For this reason, many photographers have incorporated the non-usage fee to offset the loss of the opportunity they are facing by removing a model release from their contracts.
How much is an image non-usage fee?
This amount will vary based on each and every photographer so when asking a photographer to not use photos online make sure to ask how the fees work for their individual business.
If you’re looking for rough ball-park numbers, though, image non-usage fees typically run about 15-25% of the package cost. Again, this is an average based on anecdotal discussions with colleagues and may vary from business to business and year to year.
Can the Image Non-Usage Fee be Negotiated?
If a client wants to negotiate permissions for image sharing and is asking a photographer to not use photos online, it needs to be remembered that negotiation means some give and take from both sides. This means it’s more than reasonable for a photographer to charge a loss of opportunity fee for the removal of this clause. Negotiating does not mean that only 1 side requests changes with the other side remaining unchanged. It may not be possible to negotiate a model release out without some kind of balance added into the contract.
Asking a photographer to not use photos online: Final Thoughts
Everybody has different reasons for requesting that images not be used online and all those reasons are valid. Photographers also have reasons why they want (or need) to use images online and those reasons are also valid. When a potential client and a photographer have conflicting views about online image use there are a limited number of options for how to move forward. First, a loss of opportunity or image non-use fee can be applied to help compensate for the loss of opportunity the photographer will face by having their content restricted. Second, it may simply be best to part ways.
From my own experience, about 95% of clients are totally okay with images being used online because they’re hiring me because they trust me and they know that the way I choose to use images is not exploitative and also necessary to support my business. The other 5% are understanding that image usage is part of our standard policies and are better suited with a photographer or company who can either offer the option of non-usage fees or agree to waive components of a contract.