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.
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