Are you a florist, venue or planner? If you’re a wedding vendor of any sorts there’s a good chance you’ve had problems with getting photos from wedding photographers in the past. Every few weeks I see yet another post pop up in different wedding industry groups asking “Why do some photographers refuse to share their photos?” and I thought it would be a good idea to totally lift and veil and be super upfront. I’ll be sharing experiences I’ve had as well as providing examples that some of my peers have provided me permission to discuss.
I also want to start by saying that most photographers are willing to share web-sized images that may or may not be watermarked for the purpose of vendors using in a blog post or on social media.
If for some reason a photographer is refusing to share images or isn’t answering your emails, it’s possible that something else is going on.
There may be publication limitations. Some publications reserve the right to publish images first and if other vendors acquire and start posting said images, the feature could get pulled. It happened to me once and I’ve yet to get accepted by that publication again. It was a very unfortunate circumstance where a team of vendors simply couldn’t wait for the images, got them from the client instead, and blogged, put in portfolios and posted all over social media.
Preference for Privacy
Some photographers provide a curated gallery to share with vendors in lieu of simply sending them access to the entire wedding gallery. Why? We work for the clients, not for the other vendors. We want to nurture our relationship with other vendors – for sure! – but we also have to remember that our clients are people too and they may not be okay with vendors being given full access to hundreds of photos that include personal moments that they prefer to keep private.
Client Concerns about Branding
I’ve had clients ask, during consultations, if it’s mandatory that their images get shared with other vendors. One bride told me a story of how her sister-in-law became the “face” of her makeup artist’s brand… without her knowing! Her face was everywhere; blogs, online advertisements, promo material, business cards and she was not happy.
This is one of the reasons that when photographers do give out images they keep them web-sized only and limit them to blogs and social media. If a vendor wants to use the images on a larger scale where the person in the picture may end up being part of another businesses branding, the client’s are always consulted.
Specific Client Requests
There have been a few times where I’ve had clients who have had sub-par experiences with other vendors and have made specific requests that that vendor not be given images. While this doesn’t happen very often, after a near decade in the industry, I have run into this a few times.
The Marriage Doesn’t Last
‘Til death do you part? Um… maybe “’til 3 weeks later do you part”. While this isn’t common, it has happened a twice in my career. One couple informed me that they broke up when I sent them their gallery and second couple broke up while they were in the midst of designing their albums in the months post wedding. When I was contacted by vendors to share photos from the respective weddings I gave final say to the client – they both said no. I respected that. One client requested that everything be taken down (even from my own site) and the other was okay with me keeping mine on my blog (since they were already up) but didn’t want anything else distributed to vendors or sent for publication. Sensitive and unique situations need to be met with the same sensitivity and appreciation for the situation.
At the end of the day, our “boss” is our client. We work for them. We are one of the vendors whose workload is primarily after the wedding and our queue can get jam packed. When we’re nearing max deadlines our priority is to get images out to client first. Vendors after. Patience is a virtue.
This is the hard one to talk about, but it’s important. As entrepreneurs, photographers will do everything to make it to the wedding. Even if they have the worst cold or a horrible migraine they’ll make it. Sometimes even bigger emergencies come up and while the photographer is still able to show up on the day and do a kick ass job, the behind the scenes stuff slows down a bit. This ties into workload worries (above). Sometimes we’re dealing with things behind the scenes and it’s all we can do to take care of our clients.
In 2015 I lost a pregnancy in the middle of wedding season. It was horrible. I still shot every wedding but I took some time to recover and my behind-the-scenes slowed down a bit. My clients were all amazing and understood. It wasn’t an issue at all, except for one vendor. I got emails on a weekly from a vendor asking for images from a recent wedding. I responded with a very polite yet vague “I’ll get to it soon but things are a bit behind right now” message. It was no one’s business what had happened but they couldn’t leave it alone. I started getting DM’s on Instagram and PM’s on Facebook. I was trying to physical heal and grieve and I was being harassed by a vendor for images.
If you’re ever wondering why a photographer is refusing to share their photos, consider that maybe they’re dealing with some pretty big stuff behind the scenes and that you should go easy on them.
Entitlement vs. Respect
Some vendors I”ve worked with have been amaaaaazing. They find out who I am pre-wedding, touch base with me and say hello. They follow me on social media and they work at developing a relationship. They respect the value of the product that they want to ask for and approach our relationship with respect.
… and then there’s the “your images are going to look so good on my website!” vendor. You know, the one who says that on the freaking wedding day. The ones who are basically telling you that you’ll be sharing with them and not even asking. Are vendors actually entitled to photos? What are your thoughts on that? (and yes, this actual situation has happened to me)
If a vendor approaches a photographer in a way where they are basically telling the photographer “you WILL share with me” that can be a huge turn off for the photographer as it can imply a lack of respect for the value of the product. Some photographers may decide not to share images if they feel like they and/or their work is not respected and that’s totally their prerogative.
Money Out the Door
Social sharing of images is a grey area in terms of copyrights. In general, if a few images here and there are shared without being altered in any way and with proper credit being attributed to the image originator, other vendors can re-share images on the social platforms on which they were posted. Once images migrate to websites and blogs, however, that is considered commercial usage. This isn’t just my opinion, this is a fact. When you’re using an image to help bring money into your own business, you’re using it for promotional purposes. Many photographers contribute to stock photo websites and even provide full commercial photography services. They use their profit from these services to pay their bills. So why would they simply give commercially usable images away for free if it’s also how they make a living? Yes, they took the photos for the client but does that mean they have to allow you the use of the photos to help bolster your own business too? If you don’t agree with that you don’t have to; but is it really your place to judge whether or not whether the world of commercial photography is worthless?
This is probably the most “controversial” reasoning out there but I’m not here to pick and choose which reasons to share. I’m sharing everything I’ve heard or have experiences to allow the reader to come to their own conclusion.
Everyone Has a Camera
Vendors can take their own photos of their work any time. Even if they have only an iPhone there are so many online tutorials and workshops available to teach non-photographers how to take awesome pictures. Given the fact that everybody has a camera, there’s no reason that you can’t take your own photos of your work. If you prefer the quality of a professional’s photos over what you can do yourself, that’s fine, but be open to the fact that they may require compensation if your request is to use them commercially or that you may have to wait longer than you’d prefer to get gallery access.
Already Established One Way Streets
This is more often the case with venues but it’s a great point to add in.
Venues can treat photographers like second class citizens sometimes. I’ve been in situations where they refuse to feed me (even though the bride had be seated at a table like a guest and was expecting for me to get the same meal) and even give me a hard time about asking for a coffee after dinner. I’ve been in situations where my “vendor meal” was a cold McDonald’s hamburger and fries. I’ve been in situations where venue staff have refused to even give me a chair to sit down in, let alone a table to eat at. I’ve been in situations where the refuse to let sit in the room during the meal and told me the reason was because “photographers are not aesthetically pleasing” Yep. Those. Exact. Words. I’ve worked at venues that didn’t want me to leave my gear back by the edge of the room (even though it wasn’t near any serving areas) and insisted that it be removed from the room because they simply didn’t want it there … then these same venues turn around and ask for pictures.
How is this even okay? You want my images yet I’m not worthy of even having a place to sit at your venue? Respect is a two-way street. Photographers have a legal right to distribute or not to distribute their intellectual property; as I first mentioned, most photographers do like to share but treating a photographer poorly may make them exercise their right to withhold distribution.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Or, like, several-dozen-times bitten, four hundredth time shy.
When a photographer creates an image, they put their everything into it. They spend years carefully creating their style and when they send a gallery off to a vendor, many either watermark the image or ask for a photo credit.
And then it happens.
Or worst…. freaking TOASTER.
Ugh. The Instagram filter.
You happen to be scrolling past the vendors page, the vendor with whom you just shared your beautifully edited images and who you gave all the important posting info it. And you see that your image has been cropped, a god awful filter has been applied and they didn’t even credit you (although this is arguably better than being credited for such an atrocity).
There’s a good number of vendors out there who still alter images even though they are asked not to. There’s an equal number who don’t attribute credit, even though they said they will. Some photographers have just had too many bad experiences like this and have stopped sharing as a result.
So why do some photographers refuse to share their photos?
Most photographers do share their images and I can’t stress that enough. But when a photographer refuses to share their images it’s likely because they’ve either been burned really bad in the past and would rather avoid the situation again in the future, are protecting privacy concerns of a client or are willing to provide commercial releases but limit to web sized and maybe with a watermark. It’s very rarely that a photographer outright refuses to share. Threatening a photographer with “Well, I won’t recommend you to my clients” is not an acceptable way to respond when a photographer declines sharing rights; that shows a misunderstanding of intellectual property, a lack of respect for the value of the product you’re asking for and not to mention, it’s incredibly intimidating which can then label you as a bully.
Luckily most photographers do choose to share; but let’s all do our part in keeping our community awesome and making sure that we take the time to understand and appreciate the true value of what each and every wedding professional does and do our hardest to not pass judgement on others business decisions.