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Jerry emailed me with some questions about copyright and why we as photographers should keep our images, I answered them quite passionately!

Watch Digital Files & Copyright, What to Give Photography Clients on YouTube

Copyright on our photographs is not something we should take lightly. It allows us to make a living! Watch my video answering Jerry's questions below, Keep shooting!

I stumbled upon your site and wish you were local. You provide a wealth of information which is greatly appreciated. I have a question for you if you have a minute you might answer. What's your stance on copyright and why?

I'm writing from the perspective of the customer, the client. In commercial photography the client contracts and receives the images and the copyright. I contrast wedding photographers hold hostage images from one of the most intimate emotional events of a couple's life. Why is my question. I understand that prior to digital advances the photographer holding the negatives made sense because they held the technological knowledge necessary to turn the negatives into photographs. This is clearly not the case anymore. Each year advances are made in the processing of RAW files yet the customer's originals are unavailable. At a point these files are no longer commercially viable to the photographer yet hold perpetual value to the bride and groom. I was hoping you could explain, from your point of view why wedding photography is so different from other commercial photography and do you see it changing.
Again I thank you for your time and appreciate all the information you provide.


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0 # lance 2013-01-31 10:02
I agree with you Greg. And you are right, anyone can go to best buy and buy a camera and call themselves a photographer/vi deographer. I know first hand because I am a editor and I have seen the decline of work, lost to people shooting their own events or dj's taking the work. I know this has nothing to do with copywriting photo's but you mentioned people doing their own work, and it is happening. I try to explain to people as you had said also, that we are professionals, we have the required equipment to do the work the way it is meant to be done. The future is scary, that is for sure.
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+2 # Jerry 2013-01-31 12:48
To be honest I wasn't surprised by your reply but I am disappointed.

I'm well aware of copyright law. My background includes years as a professional photographer and as an assistant in commercial studios. In many cases clients hire studios or photographers on a work-for-hire bases receiving both imagery and copyright transfer.

Your reason to hold images hostage is flawed. The price a customer pays for you to photograph a wedding, portrait or event should cover your cost business. If not you're not in control of your business.

At some point in time those digital files will not generate a dime in additional revenue. If you worked through the costs associated with file management minus additional revenues you actually receive you're paying an excessive amount of money and time holding, archiving, and storing files you will receive no revenue for. How is that good business? Wouldn't it make more sense to have a cost structure in place to work with customers that want RAW files?

Assuming your customer is incapable of processing imagery is a false assumption. If your "vision" can only be captured in post then you shouldn't be in the business. In a digital world your "style" can not be protected. Anyone can scan your perfect image and do whatever they wish without your ability to restrain them. Thinking otherwise is foolish and unrealistic. Do you have the resources available to sue everyone that scans a print and posts it to Facebook or sends a Walgreens print to Aunt Sarah?

I've addressed your reply as a photographer, graphic designer, art director and web developer. I've worked through all these issues with the clients I've had. What you failed to address is a response to me as a customer. A customer who's family member's images of their most intimate day is kept unavailable and inaccessible. We know you won't keep those files on hand after about a year. An average wedding shooting 1,000 images at 30 meg+. Please. So you delete them at the expense of your customer.

There are many reasons a customer might want RAW files that don't include altering your vision. A bad photographer who goes out of business leaving the couple with nothing but bad prints. A deceased grandmother captured in only a few photographs the family wants enlarged. A customer whose esthetic doesn't match your vision and only discovers that after the wedding is long over.

At the end of the day what are you and what business are you in? Are you a photographer providing customers your vision through composition, angle, timing and camera ability or are you an image warehouse whose costs increase annually with no hope of income to cover those expenses? You complain about the increased competition and the decline in prices. Those are consequences of not paying attention to your customers and the emerging market. Copyright won't help you with either of those realities.
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0 # Aaron 2013-01-31 14:40
Jerry, I can see your argument. It does make sence to have something in place for RAW file ownership. Short story, I shot a red carpet event along with three other photographers and wanted to buy two pictures of me off his website, and he had this "omg, crappiest vintage edit I've ever seen", all his pictures were just batch processed to a crap edit and many batch processed B&W images. At that time I wouldn't mind buying his RAW image of myself, but his camera was $300 for a kit and prob shot jpeg only anyway.

I do agree after years you will be archiving many many photos and space will eventually become an issue. I've been archiving my photos on smugmug (pro account), but here recently thy had to raise their annual dues by 100%, due to unlimited uploads and with megapixel increases it was inevitable to happen. So cost of storage will go up weather its across the board on website or buying external hard-drives.

I could also see since me being a photographer, what If I wanted to higher said-photograph er to shoot me in my Airsoft gear, Action shots, Creative stuff and want to buy the raw images from said photographer at a cost, so I could edit them as I wanted. Because we all know taking self- portraits are tricky and kinda annoying.
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0 # Brian 2013-01-31 17:59
#Jerry - back in the days of film, portrait and wedding clients did not receive the negatives of their pictures. They received prints and/or albums. I cannot speak to commercial since I have no commercial experience during the days of film.

Clearly nothing is going to change your mind, but the idea of giving clients the negatives (digital or film) has not been the norm in the photography industry.
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0 # Brian 2013-01-31 18:03
Just another thought. Back in the days of film, not only did a wedding client not get the negatives, the photographer would dispose of those negatives after a while too. I was married about 15 years ago. We have a nice album of images and a wall portrait. There are no negative, nor does the studio have the negatives anymore. That's how business has always been done. Just because we are using digital files instead of film negatives doesn't change the fact that the photographer holds onto the negatives or RAW files and will eventually get rid of those files/images.
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+2 # Jerry 2013-02-01 07:07
"That's how business has always been done"
Throughout time industries have held to this belief and perished. Hanging on to the "black box" mysticism previously used by masters of technology didn't help graphic designers, art directors or typesetters from the democratization of their industry. I've seen it happen over and over as technology replaces your expertise with software and hardware. What you that is unique and irreplaceable is the vision prior to the shutter action. Focusing on the product will frustrate your customers and increase the likelyhood they'll find another business that will satisfy their needs. I'm not sure you can say that's a good business model.
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-1 # Earl_J 2013-01-31 22:47
Times have changed... there is now the possiblity of more than one negative.

That should change the gameplan... not force clients to adhere to an outdated approach to their treasured images...

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-1 # Earl_J 2013-01-31 22:38
I agree with you Jerry... I work in an Army history office. We do it the opposite; veterans let us copy their images and documents for our use in our publications, and they retain the entire spectrum of copyright for themselves.
Greg's attitude focuses on his livelihood and future income...
His personal relationships with his clients appear to be ONLY for future income...
Shouldn't the offer of documenting significant and important events in the lives of the clients enter into the motivation of photographers efforts...? (sigh)
I understand the upsale of more products and images - but to provide more intense records of the event for display - not simply to amke more money... I would charge for larger prints and better framing - only for the better image of the recorded event, not simply to make more money.
* * *
IF they never hired me to record the event, I'd never have the images...
why wouldn't the client expect that I'd give them digital copies of the edited images - or the RAW files themselves, if they asked...

I guess I'll never make much of a "professional" in this sort of thing... perhaps my work at the history office has ruined me. . . (wink)
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+3 # Aaron 2013-01-31 14:07
I agree as well...
What is your standpoint on websites like Smugmug, that clients can see their wedding photographs, order prints, and buy digital downloads without you (the photographer) being present?

Something I'm starting to see a pattern with, is the fact that my friends or friends of friends have asked me to shoot their wedding because they've seen my work at the first wedding I shot and liked my work. Then the question seems to always come up, "you can do this for free, right? we're out of money". That on the spot question left me feeling kind but used. The $5,000+ I have invested in my equipment and my artistic style is the candy to my friends eye, as they tend to flock to me instead of a professional wedding photographer. Yes, I've shot two weddings, yes I have an artistic eye but in no way do I feel comfortable enough with weddings to keep shooting them without working with a pro first.

So I have felt my growth in Photography halted because I can't hardly afford the new gear I need. Got lucky with some overtime at work where I could afford an SB910 to replace my beginner SB600, but friends or friends of friends don't want to pay hardly anything for my work.
And those wedding photographs up on my website are collecting dust because I gave them a friendly digital copy, that they took to walmart... You answered this topic in a previous video, but I felt like stressing it again. At the end of the day all our artistic work and editing is ruined when clients or friends take those copys to walmart or cvs and are mass produced without care. Makes you feel like a dog with his tail between his legs. And the entire time I'm killing myself because I've been shooting with a 17-55 Nikkor 2.8 because I can't afford a better, more suitable lens.
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+2 # Steven Gore 2013-01-31 15:01
I am 100% behind you on this Greg. Copyright stays with the photographer as do the raw files, unless the client has a huge bank balance and wants to buy them
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+2 # graeme 2013-01-31 18:00
Hi Greg,
I am just a keen hobbyist but I really agree with you comments on the copyright issues.
Had never thought of the matter much but can see that if you gave away digital copies of say, a wedding, and the client then has them processed at a cheap printer, the quality is crap and the blame goes to the photographer for taking a crap picture.

Love your great web site and the info you pass on.
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+2 # Tony Blackwell 2013-01-31 20:52
I agree 100%. I have and will never give a digital raw file. I supply only processed images.
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+2 # Ron Hart 2013-02-02 06:09
First of all, I agree with you 100 percent.
I am an amature photographer and have been shooting for 30 years. I enjoy photography and making images. However, I believe that weddings should be done by professionals. People see my mid-range camera d300 and assume that I could shoot their wedding and ask me to do it free or for a very low price. I give them names of several professionals in the area that I respect and know. Just because someone can speand under $1000 for a lower end SLR with a kit lens and maybe Photoshop Elements does not make them professional. Plus, even if they had a D4 and real photoshop does not mean people have the skills and experience to do a wedding. In my opinion, we amatures should enjoy making our images and we can get good at the niche we like, but leave weddings to the pros. I do not expect to pay a low price at a resturant just because I have pots and pans and foodmfrom WalMart at home. Thank you for your videos. Reallly, nothing should,have changes between film and digital in that you sell prints, period. People want something for nothing and that is just not right. The professionals should make a good living because they indirectly help us amatures enjoy what we do too. We should respect the professionals and also promote them!
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+1 # Mark 2013-02-03 03:08
My first thought about giving a finished digital files was, so what - it has my watermark on it, people will see it and become familiar with my name and work. But this video, as well as many of the comments, have opened my eyes to the fact that a bad copy is a bad copy on me. It's kind of like hearing a song on a shoddy sound system and thinking the song is meh...but then you hear the song on a high-quality sound system and suddenly you're ready to plunk down 99 cents to download it on iTunes. Anyway, as a photographer, I accept that I am an artist...and as an artist, I accept that I am going to get ripped off, so I want to do anything I can to minimize that, but I don't want to kill my own business. I will probably offer the option of buying a high-quality digital prints disc - at a premium, of course - but will try to inch away from it (if industry lets me).
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0 # sherbi 2013-02-18 20:41
This is some awesome information. I just did a newborn session. And was asked for the digital files. My eyes have been opened. Greg you are correct when you said, that we have to value our work. The money we spend on our equipments and learning. I know I have paid tons to lean and I keep learning as I have improved my skills. Not giving my work so that they can take it to KMart and print a crappy picture of my hard work. Thanks Greg for your continuous help.
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