Recently I received a question about wedding photographer’s contracts: “In the contract I’m reading over, they’ve stated that they own the photos and can use them in any way they choose. I have to get permission from them if I want to do things with them. Is this normal?“
So first off, my answer is in no way a substitute for legal advice, and if you are concerned, you should ask a lawyer to look over *any* contract that you’re going to sign.
That being said… it’s a pretty standard clause, so yes it is a normal thing to find in the contract with your wedding photographer.
Why does my wedding photographer “own” my photos?
Wedding photographers rely on using images from previous weddings to promote themselves. It’s important that they can share a range of photographs, with different types of couples, a variety of locations and weather situations. Potentially being able to use your wedding photos in their marketing is really important to them.
Owning the copyright of the images is a separate thing completely to the deliverables you’ll receive. The particular package you select from your wedding photographer will specify what you’re receive, but you can usually expect a contract to spell out what you’ll get: high resolution images on a CD, prints or print credit, canvas prints and/or an album.
Marketing their services as a wedding photographer
As well as posting the photos on their websites and Facebook, they might want to cover off posting on other social media, submitting to magazines, wedding blogs and submitting them into photography competitions. If any of these worry you (for example, you don’t want images on Facebook) then it’s important to raise this with your photographer so they know what you’re comfortable with. Remember, the photographer wants to promote themselves, so they’re not going to go out of their way to share a terrible photo of you!
Protecting their commercial interests
Another reason for retaining the “ownership” of the photographs is that the photographer’s pricing and contract reflects you using the photos in a private capacity – so printing some art for your home, sharing the photos with friends and family, maybe sending some photos through to helpful wedding vendors. But if you’re kinda-famous and planning to sell them to a woman’s magazine – you need to talk to your photographer first. You might not have the appropriate level of “ownership” of the photos, and will need to pay extra, or ensure the magazine provides an appropriate credit to the photographer.
If you are running a business and want to use your photos to help advertise your business (say, you designed your wedding dress, and you are going to use wedding photos of you in your amazing wedding dress on your website and in magazine advertising) then again, this could fall under commercial use and you might need to look at revisiting the contract with your photographer.
If in doubt, ask your wedding photographer – they don’t bite!
As with anything, if you’re not sure – ask! Your photographer should be happy to explain what certain clauses mean, and be open to negotiation (for example, if you are someone likely to sell images to a woman’s mag, they may suggest a commercial rate or might add additional clauses in the contract). It doesn’t hurt to ask, and being open and honest about how you feel (and any reservations you may have) is a brilliant basis for a good working relationship.