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"Can I Get a Copy Of Those Photos?"

It's probably happened to you: you're shooting away and someone, usually the venue owner, approaches you. You get that sinking feeling hearing those dreaded five words: "Can I get a copy?"

Most people have little understanding of the photography profession, how image rights work, or even basic copyright law. So as jarring as it can be for a stranger to ask for free copies of your work or even to re-post it without permission, it's important to remember that they might not mean any harm. That little reminder can help you keep your cool in such stressful situations.

Ignorance of image rights is the main reason why it's important to have ironclad contracts that clearly state not only who retains the copyright but also who can and cannot transfer or re-sell images. Ideally that person is you.

In the past I've been relieved at how understanding most people are when politely told that no, I can’t simply give them a copy. The exception was one venue owner who assured me that his contract with my client granted him all media recorded on his property and that he'd "get the photos anyway.” (He was just trying to strong-arm me.)

But most people seem to have at least a slight awareness that their request could produce a "no." My success rate in easily disarming the situation is probably due to the fact that those asking for images do it not out of malice or manipulation but rather naivete.

How to Respond

It can be uncomfortable to respond to such a request. Instead of simply saying "no", offer an explanation or alternative. For example:

"Sorry, we are under contract for this shoot and the images are exclusively for the client."

If the request comes from someone associated closely with the client, offer joint licensing:

"Since your company is involved with this project, I'm happy to offer a split rate in which everyone pays for a share of the license."

I should note that some photographers are comfortable splitting the total evenly between parties, while others raise the total fee by 50%, 60%, 80%, etc. before splitting it. Some will simply have each party pay full price separately. This is your call.

Image by TheDigitalArtist, Pixabay

Or if you do non-commercial work, a polite response could be:

"Absolutely, we will have prints that can be purchased through my online gallery. Just hand me your business card and I'll email you the link when the photos are posted."

Some would argue that sharing images with potential clients or potential lead generators is a useful networking strategy. For instance, wedding photographers have shared experiences with me in which they handed over images from a wedding to a venue owner, making a "business courtship" move to garner leads from that owner.

This type of move sometimes works, but I'd argue that it’s technically harmful to the industry at large. WeddingFinder estimated there were upwards of 500,000 wedding venues in the United States nearly a decade ago (so, definitely more today). If photographers didn’t so often freely hand over sets of images, there would have been additional tens, likely hundreds of thousands of hires for photographers who could have also established great relationships with a venue owner and been paid to do so, to boot.

The truth is that we photographers have helped create a culture of venue owners who expect something of high value (business promotion material) for free. And this appropriation of our property is mostly our fault.

What's your go-to response to the question "Can I get a copy of those photos?" Or do your responses vary based on the situation? Share your strategy in the comments section below.

Lead image by Lukas via Pexels

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76 Comments

Jonathan Castner's picture

I get this rather often. My standard reply is basically "You are in luck! I own everything that I shoot so we can easily work out a usage license for you. What do you expect to use the images for?". This instantly puts before them the fact that I own the images and that I am not giving them away.

If the response is "Well it's just for our FaceBook page ..." I respond with "Ah, no problem. Pricing for that is quite reasonable. Here's my card. Send me a note and we can work out the details". That either ends up in a sale or no more than 20 seconds of wasted time. They get up front that they are dealing what a professional who wants to be easy to work with. If they are professionals then we do some business. If they are cheapskates then they don't bug me much.

Deleted Account's picture

You can shoot images of a property without the agreement of the owner (btw in some cases it is not very polite to do it without the authorization of the owner), but then if you want to sale those images for a commercial use (not editorial) you need a property release from the property owner.
If the property owner will sign you a property release I think that the minimum you can do is to present him some images for free.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Sell NOT sale. Something is FOR sale, you SELL that item to whomever buys it.

Deleted Account's picture

Oooh, I am so, so so sorry!
Excuse me if I made a mistake writing in a language else than my native language…
I am sure that it never happens to you, admitting that you are able to speak something else than english…
And please dont use capital letters it is very impolite !!

Kenneth Jarecke's picture

License images, don't sell or sale them!

Patrick Karbownik's picture

That's why the internet is such a great place with wonderful human beings like you..
People correct someone and that someone instantly assumes he has been attacked and comments like you do. You are indeed a laughing cow.

Deleted Account's picture

I prefer to be a Laughing Cow than a Patrick Karbownik…

Michelle Maani's picture

I hope that using the Laughing Cow (La Vache qui rit) icon doesn't get him in copyright trouble.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

please don't be "that" guy, nobody likes "that: guy

Blake Aghili's picture

I gotta save your quotes and memorize them for my next wedding shoot as an scripted answer lol

Julian Ray's picture

Perfectly stated Jonathan!

imagecolorado's picture

It depends on who it is and what the photos are for. Family & friend stuff, generally no worries. Sometimes though, they get a little obnoxious, wanting CD's and prints and stuff like that. Mention them paying for the costs and that seems to taper off a bit.

Everyone else. I give them a card and tell them they can contact me and we'll talk about it.

Sean Sauer's picture

I like the "you can buy them online after they are posted" direction. What's the best place online to do this? Can anyone recommend a good site? Thanks!

Daris Fox's picture

In the UK you can get a gallery solution from 3XM Solutions at a pretty reasonably cost:

https://www.3xmsolution.com/gallery.php

Wilder Berry's picture
Harlan Bowling's picture

I was recommended to Shootproof a couple years back and have been using them with no complaint since.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Look into Pixieset, I have been using them for three years now. Pretty good place to sell photos, digital or prints.

Deleted Account's picture

It seems to not be well understood in the photographic industry that contracts are really useful instruments, which among other things, will clarify expectations from both parties.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

I only take picture by assignment with 50% deposit at least, from an unique client. So my answer is always that the one paying me is the one owning my work.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

And that may be wrong answer :)

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Can you explain why?
If I was to resell again to someone else my work, I will be banned to work with the client who hired me at the first place.
I'm going out only if I got a deposit from a client and a contract saying that all pictures belong to him. And I'm talking only about this situation.
Of course, if someone ask one picture for him only, I can do that if I have time.

But a copy of all my working assignment can only be provided by the one sending me to this location and paying me. (And I redirect the request by providing the contact of the company hiring me " Please contact them and they will provide you what you need")

Am I doing something wrong?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

This can be deemed as wrong: contract saying that all pictures belong to him.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Ok, I understand your concern.

Still, I'm not sure how it could be otherwise.
I'm getting paid to do pictures of a booth at the AutoShow from a car brand for example.

Start my shooting there and the booth designer ask a copy of my pictures to promote his business... (Real life situation)

Even if he is willing to pay, I don't see me giving the same pictures as the car brand, even for extra money. If the car brand sees them online without his approval, I'm in big trouble.
I also don't see me publishing these pictures without the car brand agreement on my website. He is the sole owner of this day work.

So for me, all pictures I took this day belong to my unique client; the one paying for me to be there this day.

I will give him a folder at the end of the day, I got paid to be there and provide pictures service. Whatever he is doing after with my pictures do not matter to me. I got paid for my day, super happy with that.

Maybe you can share an example where it's fine to give multiple copies of a work days to multiple customers without approval from the original one who hiring you ?

olivier borgognon's picture

well technically the pictures belong to you, that's the basic copyright, but you can do "full buyout" meaning that you transfer the full ownership to them, or can have in your contract that they have exclusive use for XX years, or a non-exclusive usage etc, but copyright belongs to you.

If the client decides to sell images, if you give them the copyright, basically, they can do so, and it's just a question of if you're ok with that or not and how it can affect you and an entire profession by doing so :)

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Still not answering my question:
"Can you share an example where it's fine to give multiple copies of a assignment day to multiple customers without approval from the original one who hiring you ?"

olivier borgognon's picture

Yes, here is an example of what happens to me each year when working for some sport events.

The terms are : When editorial use talking about the specific event, they can share images with the magazines or the blogs, it's part of the contract.

When other magazines, companies, gear providers, blogs or whatever want to illustrate the sport, the event organiser sends the request to me for me to sell the rights to those images to the requestor.

When things are clear, your clients are actually assisting you in respecting your copyright.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You shoot event. Hired by organisers. Do your usual stuff.

1) Sale 1: Some of providers of decorations comes to you and asks - "Could you please spend some time on this new decoration we've installed. We'd like to have good photos of it on our website."

2) Sale 2: Visitors to the event come and ask where can they find the photos, may be have prints. You take their business card and promise to send the link where they can order prints.

3) Sale 3: Event venue posts announcement about each event they make. They need photos for social media.

That's what may happen (may not too :) ) if you don't give rights to copy your photos to your main client.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Sale1:
I'm sorry but I don't find this right. You are spending precious time to shoot something extra and may miss the event. Client is paying you for a day rate or half day, not for you to walk around and do something else.
Sale2: Yes, I will talk to my client and see if he want to serve these extra requests. If my client is agree, he will redirect them to me. Again, it's done with his agreement.
Sale3 = Sale 1. Extra picture to be taken, not the exact copy of what your client ask you to do.

I still find very weird that someone can get paid to be at an event or whatever and not focus on what he is paid for but instead serve extra potential requests; using the gear he is charging to his first client.
I'm not talking on "not being nice" and take 2 extra pictures or giving away business cards, but more having a second job added to the original one.
Again, I will be fine if you come 2 hours earlier to do so, but not doing an second assignment in parallel.

Maybe I should review my way of working, but client are very happy to get a full focused photographer without any limitation on how they can use me for the day or so.

Clearly they will be very unhappy if I'm doing something else during this day just to try to get money on the side.

They will also have no limitation on the way they can use the pictures either; it's very important in corporate business where photos are shared all overs different offices and getting a time limit, for example, is hard to manage on their side.

In another hand; customers in need for social media pictures but not able to hire a photographer and asking the one around at a discount price (Cause they can't afford you at the first place) look not right also as a business practice.

Thanks for reading and happy to see that there are different way to see a business.

olivier borgognon's picture

I am happy to read that you agree or understand my way of working and what is totally 100% agreed with client as they want some images for a certain use. it's called Full buyout or Shared Licensing... on an event or whatever shoot depending on how it's dealt with.

AC KO's picture

olivier borgognon wrote: “but you can do ‘full buyout’ meaning that you transfer the full ownership to them”

“Buy-Outs” can be a vague licensing term; it can have different meanings to different parties. Best practice suggests using exact terms in agreements rather than the term buy-out.

According to UsePlus.org, http://www.useplus.com/useplus/glossary_term.asp?pggl=1&tmid=10600000:

Buy-Out is “an imprecise term used to describe acquisition of broad usage rights to a work, sometimes in a particular market or medium. Buy-Out is a slang[!] term, often misinterpreted as a transfer of copyright ownership of a work from the copyright holder to the client or client's agent…

So, if a buy-out means granting unlimited rights, then write the license as unlimited use (for a limited timeframe, territory, media, etc.). If a buy-out will provide the client with all rights, copyright interest/title, and ownership, use “copyright transfer,” and confirm both transactions in writing.

olivier borgognon's picture

Yes, that's exactly what i'm saying... if you do full buyout, you basically give out everything, except the right to put them on your website once they have used them... that's the correct term in commercial photography (even if in any other realm than photography it can be misinterpreted).

that's why i didn't use the term buyout but "full buyout".

I have never used the term "copyright transfer" or "unlimited rights" personally.

I will either be in a situation of full buyout, where the copyright is still not transfered, but it's almost like it, with me still being able to showcase them once they use them (which prevents me from even showing them)

or otherwise i will use the term for the rights :
Shared use, exclusive use, and the realm of diffusion (worldwide, europe, country, etc. ), Duration of distribution rights, media or platform (print, web, and be precise on what & where), etc.

Would it be a way you would use it too ?

AC KO's picture

My point was simple: Do NOT use the terms “buy-out” or “full buy-out”, or any derivative forms of the work “buy-out” to describe any of your licensing arrangements. Buy-out is slang and NOT a legal term!

olivier borgognon wrote, “I have never used the term ‘copyright transfer’ or ‘unlimited rights’ personally.”

A “copyright transfer” and “unlimited rights” are well-established US legal terms to describe licensing deals, with the former transferring and giving up the entire copyright, title, and all rights and where the creative has neither legal interest, nor attribution rights, nor creative rights to the work (see BTW #1); while the latter term grants the licensee one or more very broad rights to exploit the work, but where the creative still retains the copyright ownership and all other rights not granted.

olivier borgognon also wrote, “Shared use, exclusive use, and the realm of diffusion (worldwide, europe, country, etc. ), Duration of distribution rights, media or platform (print, web, and be precise on what & where), etc.”

Those are much better and more exact licensing terms to use. When applicable, I also like to include a timeframe for when the license expires. You also want to include a catch-all phrase that states something like: “All other uses not described in the licensing agreement are reserved with the creative.” Ideally, you’d want a copyright attorney to double-check your paper work and to make sure your licensing deal is a good deal for your business.

Again, skip using the term buy-out in your licenses with American entities: It’s an unclear term that has different meanings to many people. Use exact legal terms where applicable. This helps mitigate confusion between your licensing intent vs. your client’s understanding.

BTW #1, if you’re based in the US (or you have a US client) and the client demands the assignment to be a work-for-hire, you should push them to accept a “copyright transfer,” instead. Per 17 USC § 203, a copyright transfer permits a creative to terminate his/her copyright transfer after 35 years, i.e., the creative gets to “recapture” his/her copyright from the client (licensee) NO MATTER WHAT THE TERMS OF THE CONTRACT STATED! Many US music bands who recorded albums on or after January 1, 1978 are either terminating their sound recording copyrights or negotiating more favorable financial terms with their record labels.

BTW #2: I searched the US Copyright Office’s on-line database, but didn’t see any creative works (photos/videos/blogs) registered under your name; please tell me if I’m mistaken. If you’re licensing your creative media, then it should be “timely” registered with the US Copyright Office, as a it gives you leverage to go after American infringers who exploit your works without your blessing. In addition, a timely registered copyright work PROVES to a US federal judge that you created the work and own its corresponding copyright! If you don’t believe me about the importance of timely registering your copyrights, then watch the first 20-seconds of this Washington, DC copyright litigator YouTube video: https://youtu.be/cBOKkrleY3Y.

Even if you’re a European citizen living in Switzerland, it’s highly advisable that you timely register your photo copyrights with the US Copyright Office. In this article, just replace the word “corporation” with “photographer” to understand why: http://donahue.com/resources/publications/copyrights-registered-u-s/.

BTW #3: You’re website sharp and has strong imagery! You should also affix a creative-looking business watermark LOGO to your posted photographs. If an American-based infringer knowingly removes, covers-up, or changes your watermark, metadata, photo caption/copyright attribution, licensing information, or other “Copyright Management Information” (CMI) to hide their copyright infringement, you’re eligible to pursue up US$25,000 in statutory damages, attorney fees, legal costs, and other damages against the US party who violated your CMI (at timely US copyright registration is not required for CMI actions): https://www.photoattorney.com/7-reasons-add-watermark-photos/ and https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2007/07/06/using-cmi-to-sue-for-unregist... and https://www.dbllawyers.com/internet/use-watermarks-metadata-combat-onlin....

Prost u. bonne chance with your outdoor & lifestyle professional photography!

olivier borgognon's picture

hey AC KO,

First of all... THANK YOU ! Thank you for your time, for the links, for the very complete and fascinating answer, and the whole effort and energy you took to look into my work, and on the details on copyright US law, I am extremely grateful, comments and words can't express it fully.

I will rework my wording for contracts, that's a given with everything you came up with, and No I am not registered in the US Copyright office, never thought to do so, not that I didn't feel it was not important, but never really know it was useful. Will look into it, on my 3 items for this week.

The point on the watermark is very interesting too. My view was ... the larger the watermark, the worse the photographer, however placing it properly and discretely would clearly work and bring it's worth of securing images. I even think i can find a wordpress plugin to affix my watermark post-media upload on my work.

Once again, everything you gave here is gold, and has hit home, what a treat to share powerful information, discuss, and bring such energy boost to the table.

Have a luminous day !

Scott Mason's picture

What genre of photography do your comments pertain to, cameramanDop?

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

I'm based in China and working on assignment from agencies based overseas.
They ask me to come to a factory or office and do corporate shooting portrait or Stock footage.
No way I can give a copy, even to the team I'm meeting there. All belong to the agency who is paying me.
I'm also do fair, event coverage and fashion show.
I covered Victoria Secret for Fashion TV as reference. Again, not a place where the picture can be copied without my client approval.
I have been also working for Apple to to architectural picture for them. Can I give a copy to the architect without Apple's approval? Clearly no.

I consider that my day rate is covering my cost and offer me a nice and decent life already. I prefer to give 100% to my unique client and not play around for few extra.

I have understand that some sport event kinda allows this, but again, this is not the same as someone walking to me during a shot and ask full copy of my pictures. In 100% of the work I did, it will be a big no go.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It sounds like you are doing what in the USA we call "work for hire". Are you doing video or photos? There are sometimes different procedures for video.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Yes, that's what I'm doing: work for hire.
I'm doing more video, but picture is a large part of my income. This is where I make more money cause investment is minimum compare to video.

I have applied my work attitude from video to my photography work. I don't care if the picture will generate million or just be put on social media. For me, the press of a button and creativity will be the same for both. I got pay per picture/per time and gear. If client want one picture in one day, he will have better result than 50 picture done for the same time. So I charge per time spend on a project and explain this upfront. I guess a lot of profession is the same.
If the client is happy, he will hired you again; I don't need my name on the bottom of a publication to feel happy.

I consider my rate quite high already compare to the talk I can have around with colleague. I don't see me losing time putting restriction and chasing client if they decide another use. Going to court will let you loose the client anyways, so I prefer include any uses they may want from start and the right price for it.

I run one day in a potential problem. I hired a photographer for BTS pictures of my video team. But the client asked to get pictures of his office staff working instead. (maybe was miscommunication with the agency) But the photographer I hired, despite the fact that he will spend the exact same amount of time and with the exact same equipment, decided to raise his price cause it was not BTS of a shooting, but BTS of an office. This is absolutely not my way of working. In both case; no specific staging or setup requested, and both picture for social media.
I did not fight and took for me the extra cost without charging the client extra. But will never hired this photographer again. Because you go to this room instead of this one; you are charging me more?

If they said "can you lower your price; it's for social media?" I just drop the project. I can't remove part of my brain or go with a lower end camera and lens to have lower prices.
Thanks for reading.

Scott Mason's picture

cameramanDop, I'm glad you shared your experience and the terms you work with. Since you're across the sea from both me and many other readers here, it's always good to gain perspective on how people operate in other countries.

If anyone else working in China would like to share their image right experiences, I would encourage that. I'm curious if "work for hire" is the norm in your country.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Well, I have been in China for the past 15 years and have plenty of experience there, seeing the "foreign freelance photographer" coming and leaving few years later...
It's a country where you can find so cheap team that you can't fight on price. I know anyone with a camera is a photographer in many part of the world, but China will be the worst. rich kid coming with latest camera selling themselves for 50 USD for an event and having access to PS farm able to retouch 2,000 pictures overnight is the norm...

And as a foreigners, freelance is not allowed, period.

Most of my colleagues are just holding a business visa; it may work for time to time, but this is not right. I have created my own company, and hold a working Visa and permit. This is not an easy and cheap things to do, but get immediate confidence with client when I announce so. The right client will understand that I have prepare myself and ready to stay; so will be a reliable choice. In another hand; the client who is looking for cheapest service is not the one I want to work with.

I'm coming from the video work where "work for hire" is the norm, so I have applied this to the picture service and found that it simplify my job a lot. I consider my price super high compare to locals, but in standard with my life needs.
As explain in another post, if the client do not respect his engagement on publication and use your picture again and again without your approval; China will be the place you don't want to got to court. So better be prepare for anything!
(To be valid a contract should be written in Mandarin for example, that's a hassle to start with).
I got paid upfront 50% ALL THE TIME. And provide sample with tag and phone number so large, that, any PS guy will not be able to remove it. When payment is done, client can enjoy my work. in 15 years, I only have one defective project when the second part never came. (But he never got my pictures either).

I don't consider China as a easy country to work, but if you have a different attitude and confident on yourself, respect the rules, there are opportunities, still.

Robert Lavers's picture

I have no clients nor contracts (and I don’t do work which a pro should be appointed for), although now loading images onto Shutterstock and the like. Last year taking beach shots I included a chap and his small son in silhouette against the sunset, and he asked if I could send it to him. Fair enough I thought but neither of us had cards or pen and paper so couldn’t follow up; however would it be reasonable or tactful to do so in exchange for a model release?

Andy Barnham's picture

Maybe, your example is a definite case where if the father had been willing to sign a release that there was benefit to both parties. The annoyance comes when someone who has contributed nothing or little to the process asks for the images for free.

Scott Mason's picture

Great response, Andy.

Robert, you're on the right track. If you plan on selling the image, say on a stock site, you'd definitely need the model release. If the image was just taken for your enjoyment however, that's not necessary.

Jon Dize's picture

I have a long standing rule. If I ask you to take your photo, I own the images, I decide when, where, how the image is shot and the end use of the image... I pay! If you ask me to take the photo and decide when, where, how the image is shot and the end use of the image... You pay! Everything shot involves a model release, property release and licensing terms. Or... I go fishing.

Jon Dize's picture

I think all photographers, professional or otherwise do that now and then.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Yes, it would.

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

"What's your go-to response to the question "Can I get a copy of those photos?" it's so ironic at the hypocrisy / double standard shown here on this written article. You're trying to show the "value" of photography and say:

"Some would argue that sharing images with potential clients or potential lead generators is a useful networking strategy... This type of move sometimes works, but I'd argue that it’s technically harmful to the industry at large."

YET... "Lead image by Lukas via Pexels"

You're using/supporting a site that gives away images for free even for commercial use. Your actions speak louder then words. Many written articles here use Pexels and Unsplash for free images... by using/promoting those sites you're showing how much you value images. Why should business or someone bother paying you if they can go to those site YOU use for free?

Andy Barnham's picture

I agree with your statement about hypocrisy, however do you know 100% that the image was chosen by the author behind the piece? Or was it chosen by someone else independent of the author?

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

I know people who write for F-Stoppers and the ones I've talked to choose what goes in the article before they submit it including the images. The author can certainly chime in and correct me if I'm wrong.

Regardless, if I wrote a piece like this I would not allow the use of Pexels or Unsplash. In addition, even if it was chosen by someone independent of the author, it's still hypocritical of F-Stoppers to a site "for photographers" and produce tutorials on "commercial photography" and write about licensing yet jump on the chance to use free images.

Just my 2 cents.

Andy Barnham's picture

All fair enough and I agree. My point was making sure you had all the facts, which you do.

Unsplash’s licence worries me with all responsibility assigned to the end user. How is any end user supposed to get model or location licences for anything offered?

Alexis Cuarezma's picture

that's a great question to ask the people here at F-Stoppers since they use those site regularly. Lee Morris and Patrick Hall , this would be a great article or video for you guys to talk about since you produce educational videos for photographers and also allow the use of images from Unsplashed and Pexel on your site that generate revenue. Would actually like to your point of view on this.

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