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Photographers Discuss Ethics of Special Event Photo Use

Photographers Discuss Ethics of Special Event Photo Use

As image-driven social media explodes, special event photographers face a blurry picture of how clients use their images.

There's only one way to share the beauty of a great special event with anyone who couldn't be there, and that's with photographs. But the explosion of social media—which is ever-more image-driven—can lead to unwelcome overexposure for event photographers. Today, photographers often find their event photos spreading throughout the Facebook-Twitter-Pinterest universe, which might bring more business or might be pointless because no photocredit is included.

Most event photographers interviewed by Special Events have embraced the notion that clients today want broad use of images, and now plan their work accordingly.

"The typical 'millennial generation' couple expects full usage of images," explains Melissa Musgrove, owner of Melissa Musgrove Photography of Santa Barbara, Calif. "I give permission for making prints up to 8-by-10 and for web sharing. Couples like to print off their printers and share images online. I want them to have fun with the photos. And I hope each time they do, they think, 'Gee, Melissa was the best photographer.'"

But to ensure quality, she puts extra stipulations on bigger images.

"I explain that anything larger than 8-by-10 they must order through my studio, because a wall-size portrait needs additional retouching and possible enhancements," Musgrove explains. "You might not see the pores or blemishes in your face in a 5-by-7, but make it a 20-by-30 and you sure will. I want my clients to know I'm not holding image size 'hostage,' but that I truly have their best interest at heart, as well as my reputation."

Atlanta-based photographer Nancy Jo McDaniel makes it easier for her clients to share her images by giving them two sets: one high-resolution and one lower, the latter for posting to social media.

"That is great exposure, and I probably do it way less than most of my competitors in the Atlanta market," McDaniel says. "I find I do not have the time to follow up with Face book posts or magazine submissions like I should."


But while many photographers are more liberal about granting wider use of images than they were a decade ago, they still want a clear understanding with clients just how broad that use can be.

"I have a conversation about what they intend to use the photos for, and nearly 100 percent of the time, my standard terms of usage fills their needs," explains Stephanie Leblond, head of Stephanie Leblond Photography of Calgary, Alberta. As an added bonus, "Knowing their intended usage ahead of time also helps me prioritize shots during the event."

Leblond says the assumption on the part of some clients that once they get her CD of images that they can do whatever they want with them is the most common misconception about photo copyright.

"Having access to an image--whether on CD, through email, or found online--does not mean that you have the rights to use it," Leblond says. "I find that most people infringe on copyright unwillingly, so don't hesitate and have that conversation with your photographer!"

The problem arises, Leblond finds, when clients share her images with third parties.

"I ask my clients to let me share the images with the other suppliers, instead of them sharing from their CD [she provides]," she explains. "The reason for this is that it gives me the opportunity to lay out the terms of usage with the new user. I find that once a third party gets photos--media outlets excluded--my terms tend not to be respected. For example, I ask for photocredit and also, when used online, a link to my website. In almost every case, when I am not the one who shared the images directly, I do not get either, whereas when I share with my fellow suppliers directly, they are happy to provide these."

In contrast, veteran event photographer Nadine Froger of Los Angeles-based Nadine Froger Photography lets her clients share photos as they see fit.

"Whenever we are contacted by publishers or magazines that want to publish our images, we put them directly in touch with our clients to obtain their approval and also make sure that these specific images can be published," Froger explains. "We feel that this system works well and is foolproof. It not only protects us and our clients, it also allows our clients to keep total control over their work."


For most photographers, the failure of publications and other media to give a photocredit is the most common abuse they find, and one that's hard to remedy after the fact.

"We recently photographed a beautiful wedding outside of Mexico City in a town called Cuernavaca," notes Jeff Kathrein, owner of Clearwater, Fla.-based K&K Photography. The images turned out so well that the client submitted them to one of the biggest magazines in Mexico. "The images were sent with strict and explicit instructions to be used only with exact print credit shown," Kathrein says. However, "Our images ended up being published but no credit was given. An unfortunate circumstance and clearly illegal on their part, but hardly worth the effort or expense of having our legal representative pursue damages."

Like many other photographers, Kathrein embeds his brand on his images "so the person showing them would have to make a definite effort to remove this branding." But such problems aren't his biggest headache.

Instead, "We do, however, make sure to keep an eye on our images being used by--for instance--venues at which we have photographed events," Kathrein explains. "An inexperienced marketing department at a venue may choose to use one of the images we have supplied to them--as we do for all of our venues--for their own online or print campaigns. Because we also shoot commercially we understand the exact value of booking a scheduled/paid shoot for a venue for their marketing department to use to promote their venue. Print and online use rights agreements most certainly come into play as standard practice for the use of these images by any commercial facility. We have found that the line has become blurred with use of these images, mostly because new and inexperienced photographers offer use of their images to these venues free of charge, which--when they learn more about how much it costs to successfully run a photography studio--ends up shooting them in the foot down the road, and shooting everyone else in the foot on the way."


A hot topic among photographers today is how—and if—to use Pinterest, which allows members to upload and share images they like. The controversy is over what photo rights users—wittingly or unwittingly—give to Pinterest once they post.

Leblond describes Pinterest as "brilliant." "From a marketing point of view, the incredible traffic is certainly appealing and the potential of having followers 'pin' straight from my website, and with the link attached, is very exciting. Having said that," she cautions, "under the current copyright law and as the site is set up right now, Pinterest is passing legal responsibility to the users who, unbeknownst to them, break copyright law with nearly every pin. Pinterest warns users that they must have ownership of the images or rights to use them; however, we know that users pin without such licenses in almost all cases. There is a controversy going on about this in the photo industry right now."

She adds, "In any case, I think that Pinterest is a game-changer, and we will hear more about these issues in the next few months."


Several photographers interviewed say that a changing world has changed how they share their images with clients.

"I've been shooting weddings for 26 years, and I came kicking and screaming to the release of image files," Musgrove says. "It was a conscious decision to let the irritation go; it was causing me too much stress. This generation was brought up on the Internet. They aren't 'stealing' my images; they're having fun with them. They are excited to share them."

Kathrein recommends keeping the focus on professionalism, from both client and photographer.

"We do our best to work with our planners and educate them about the work that goes into creating quality images for our clients and partners," he says. "We find that once they see that these images don't just 'magically appear' and that it takes skill, foresight and quality equipment to effectively and routinely capture them, they tend to correctly give credit where credit is due."


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