When a Client Doesn't Want Their Photographs Published in Your Portfolio: What Would You Do?

Do you have images or films that are sitting on your file servers and nobody, except for your team and the client, knows you did them? Even if you don't, you will eventually have a few some day. How would you handle such requests to not publish images and can you take any advantage of that?

As photographers and filmmakers we take pleasure in producing quality content so that the world may see it came out of our hands. Sometimes a client has a peculiar request to not allow you to put those results in your portfolio, which means a full control over the publicity of the images. Do they have the right to ask for that? Of course, it's a normal part of the contract between you and the client whether it's written or verbal. We, as content producers, get more clients from showing our work. If we were in the financial area we would boast with our bank accounts showing how successful we were, but in the visual world we display visuals, not wallets. If clients demand us to not publish our work the world outside will think we are not producing any new work. For that reason we have to be compensated somehow, and the most obvious way is by asking for an extra fee for agreeing with client's request although it's not good for our portfolio.

If you decide on applying that kind of policy to your business, it is important to educate your clients before any agreement. It should be clear if they do not want the results published in your portfolio. If that's the case, they should know about the compensation that has to be paid. If you don't ask them or you don't have any formal agreement, they have the moral and business right to ask you not to publish the content in your portfolio for some reason.

Do you agree with that policy? If not, what do you do?

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Tihomir Lazarov's picture

From personal photoshoots standpoint "peculiar" is indeed not the right term. I'm mostly working with business clients and that's why I used "peculiar", as there "privacy" is not the case.

michael butler's picture

I have found that my reluctance to display my photos of children or other potentially exploitive images on the internet has actually increased my business. I am more than happy to show a prospective client those photos on my laptop or in print but I am not going to work with anyone without meeting them first and that is when I bring out my laptop or print portfolio. Landscapes or product placement or inanimate objects are something different but personal photos are just that, personal.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I've had projects where I had to photograph exteriors and the company wanted all the images for themselves without allowing me to publish them in my portfolio. It's a big local company and that was their demand.

It's not always pictures of people that trigger that "exclusivity" request.

Kirk Darling's picture

Not an issue for me, and not particularly peculiar. I do a lot of child and pregnancy photography, and almost none of them want their children or pregnancies pictured online, although they don't mind static displays in my two salon locations or my hardcopy or phone portfolios.

I do lots of business headshots, numerically most are for internal use. Privacy is requested more often than not.

Nothing peculiar about people and businesses wanting their privacy, and I don't charge more for it. I didn't need their pictures online to get their business, nor will I need them to get more business.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

If you can maintain your business with a public portfolio that's not updated that often, good for you. That usually works when word of mouth is the driving force of your marketing.

Kirk Darling's picture

Or sneakernet.

David Mawson's picture

>> If you can maintain your business with a public portfolio that's not updated that often, good for you. That usually works when word of mouth is the driving force of your marketing.

I think you're inventing a problem just for the sake of seeking attention here.

Firstly, if ALL your clients want their pictures kept private, that's obviously essential to making sales in your market. In which you are an idiot - a poor idiot - if you do not comply.

Secondly, if you need to update your portfolio, how hard is it for a competent photographer to arrange trade shoots? You offer free head shots to an actor or a port shoot to a model just starting out, they act as pretend clients, your port is updated. This is so obvious and easy that I really cannot see what the problem is.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

In my case it's big business clients who want full exclusivity over the content without any chance for crediting my work or me showing any endorcement with them. This is the case I ask an extra price for. I'd like to say I worked with <Big Name> and <Other Big Name>, but I'm not allowed to.

It's not just the portfolio update. It's the endorcements you build. As for the portfolio, read my first article. It's exactly about making personal projects all the time.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

I think that issue gets typically less and less over time. We do a lot of wedding films. And we put an explicit clause in our contract that allows us to publish them.

Especially at the beginning this was important. Once you have a certain portfolio it does not harm if a few clients won't allow you to publish the work.

However we do not charge more when they would not allow us to. It feels bad if you - while still in pre-sales mode - punish your client for requesting privacy.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I do that mostly for business clients. I'm rarely photographing non-business clients and for the latter I'm OK with privacy without raising the pricе.

huc romain's picture

I did a photoshoot a video add for a big esport player , and i sign a contract of privacy/publish . They were supposed to release the video in early july and they didnt . And i wanted so much to use it (for example on twitter ) to promote a bit myself . And they still didnt publish the short video and i dont know when they will do . So yeah it's my only time where im so damn annoy.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I feel you. I also have a few projects like that. At least you've been paid for it.

Matt Rennells's picture

It was always my thought that when you're being paid by a business/commercial client, that is ultimately their vision and their property and it is up to them whether you as the content creator can use it in your portfolio. You are working for them and being paid for it -- using it in your portfolio should be negotiated as part of your fee/contract before you do any work if that is your desire.

I do also do some TFP projects that are for portfolio purposes only -- and prior to the shoot, the contract/release is signed by all parties to agree to the final images being used appropriately by all involved.

Lastly, if you have something you want in your portfolio and the client doesn't want you to use it, assuming you don't have a contract that specifically prohibits you from using it, you have to decide whether having that content in your portfolio is more important than your reputation.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, a contract is very important and you should not publish that work if there's no explicit agreement (at least verbal one). I have that clause in my contract all the time and these 2 things are the most important to me for my business: to be paid and to be able to show the work. The second one is not always true, as I said.

As for your thought that you're being paid to make your client's vision come to life: that's not always the case. At least with me, I'm mostly hired for my vision and ideas that positions me as a product on the market. Otherwise I will be just a service (a man with a black camera) that does what the client wants at a desired price. When I'm working with a client who has an idea at hand (whether that's an agency or a direct client), they hire me because of my vision that may shape their ideas in my style. Maybe that's also the case with you but I wanted to clarify the philosophy behind it.

B In SEA's picture

If it's maybe 1 in 20 or 1 in 50 that have this request, just acknowledge it and oblige.

If it's a common request, create a privacy fee, 25% of your fee is probably about right. And add to your contract that 2x that fee will be refunded to them if there is a breach in that privacy traced to you. They will feel better about paying an additional fee if they know there is a penalty for breaching it, and you will be (somewhat) covered from being sued for amounts above that amount. It makes them feel that privacy is truly a service and not just a casual "hey, can you just not post those?"

Kirk Darling's picture

"A breach in privacy traced to you" would not be a refund, it would be a lawsuit. Refund will not pre-empt a lawsuit because a breach in privacy would be a negligence suit, and nothing pre-empts a negligence suit except a hefty settlement. If a client expresses privacy concerns, it's best just to deliver their product and leave it there.

B In SEA's picture

Obviously a lawsuit would be problematic, and a contracted maximum liability of the 2x refund would possibly be thrown out in court. And not everyone is litigious, at the very least such a clause gives you a starting point to resolve issues if you somehow compromise the privacy you were paid to provide.

Of course, it goes without saying, if you offer privacy you should be prepared to ensure you can maintain that.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, for not so often cases there's no need of charging more. I agree with that.

However there are big companies that require full exclusivity to publish the results themselves (all over the place) but not credit you whatsoever. This is a perfect example of a privacy fee.

B In SEA's picture

Full exclusivity and no credit might as well be them buying the image along with the copyright. I've sold full copyright before and it was over $1000 per image, and the other frames from the shoot I still have full rights to. To sell the full rights to an entire shoot would easily cost 5 figures.

Melissa Ann's picture

Haven't read the article or comments, my immediate answer to the question is I'll charge a "no publishing" fee. Because imagine if almost all clients in a given period say they don't want you to share at all regardless of it it is for photographer's promotion or not.... how then do you market/promo yourself and photographs for more work/clients?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Thanks for behind honest.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Even if I don't have an embargo in my contracts I refrain from posting the images until they are published by the client. However for clients who require full embargo (while they can publish them at certain places and that "certain" most of the times is "everywhere") it's good to have an extra fee, because you don't get credit for that.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

If I am the client and you told me you were charging me extra I would go to the other photographer we were considering. A lot clients want to control their image/s, and the images that you as a photographer produce. What If my product is shown on your website with what I as the client consider offensive or detrimental to my million dollar image.
Some will pay for exclusivity, some will use another photographer (and unless you are doing something so extra super special and different there is another equally talented photographer who is "easier to work with). Somethings are ok after a certain date (embargo)

With 2 of my bigger clients I am not allowed to imply any kind of endorsement or employment by the client. But I can use their name to identify the product. With anything Disney / StarWars related images neither the agency or I were allowed to use anything in websites or portfolios.

Does it really come up that often?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

For non-business clients I would not charge an extra fee as you have mentioned. For business clients I had cases exactly like you've mentioned: no endorsement or employment whatsoever as if the images appeared out of nowhere. In such cases I have an extra fee, not only that I can't publish them, but I won't be credited for them either.

I have such cases maybe in 10% of my clients. Almost all the time it's about big clients.

Christopher Ciccone's picture

OT: Please stop referring to photography (or artistic work of any sort) as 'content'.

Erik Stenbakken's picture

I do commercial and editorial photography as well as video. While it's rare that a client makes a "no publish" request, it does happen. Most of the time there are good reasons (more below), and sometimes not (more on that too).

Some reasons clients ask for "no publish" for the following reasons:
• It's *always* the case that an editorial or commercial client gets to publish first. It's not uncommon for advertising clients to request no "behind the scenes" photos on social media too. Often, this is done for protecting their marketing plans. Sometimes, to keep their process secret. Usually these requests are pre-release of the client's materials. They're paying for "bang for the buck" and market impression, and that's their right. Most are plenty happy to have a photographer showcase their product/service after it's launched to the public.
• Editorial clients almost always have an embargo on publishing (or licensing) images shot for their publication till after their publication date. Sometimes that extends for a period after publication. Again, that's their right.
• Some clients have industrial secrets. A competitor could learn a lot if they knew what kinds of machines XYZ used for their production. That's serious stuff, and needs to be honored. Sometimes it's for security reasons.

I once had a client (a building company) ask for a "no publish" ban on the images we were negotiating to make, which were the exterior of a home. I asked why, and, humorously, they didn't know why they asked. My contact asked their boss, and they didn't know either. They had just heard someone say they should ask for that. I then said, "If every client prevented me from using my images to show you -- how would YOU know I was any good?" They thought that was a good point and withdrew their request.

Bottom line: get it all spelled out BEFORE you accept the gig. All those details are negotiable. The pain comes when details like this don't get spelled out before the shoot.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

The "good" reasons are something I agree with without asking for an additional price.

The "bad" reasons are among those I've mostly happened to deal with (like they wanted a "no publish" embargo whatsoever just because someone has told them they could ask for).