"Can I Get a Copy Of Those Photos?"

"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.

a stock photo of close-up money with the silhouette of a boy praying over it

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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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 !!

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…

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:


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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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.

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