Yours, Mine, or Ours?

There has been some hubbub going around the photography community about clients re editing, instagramming, and in general altering images.  I figured if photogs are arguing over it, most clients probably have no idea what is appropriate or not.


First, anytime a photographer takes your photo, they should also have you sign a contract.  READ IT!  If there is any aspect of it you don't understand, ask your photographer.  If there is something you aren't comfortable with, don't sign it.  It may be frustrating, but it is better to cancel the shoot than to have an issue after the shoot when you have signed a legally binding document. 


Part of your contract should cover copyright.  This aspect can be among the most contentious for photographers and clients.  The moment a photograph is snapped, the photographer who took the photograph owns the copyright.  It belongs solely to them.  No one has the right to copy, alter, edit, use, or even print the photo without the photographer's written consent.  To allow someone to use a photo, a license is given.  When a client wants to print a photo, they must obtain a print release.  Photo printers such as Walmart , Target, and Snapfish require this document before releasing and sometimes even printing photos they believe are professionally done.  There are many types of licensing which are specific to the needs of the photographer and the client.  Without it, it is illegal to add an Instagram filter, crop, remove a watermark or logo, etc.  Any use or altering of a photo without a license is a violation of copyright law and is subject to legal proceedings.  The best way to avoid legal headaches is to communicate with your photographer and know what they are comfortable with allowing and have a document stating it.  Some photographers will allow a client to use or edit an image but many more believe that they are hired for their style and artistic abilities and that editing is part of the service they provide.  You wouldn't hire a chef and recook the food, would you?  


Another area that should be covered in a contract is called the Model Release.  This should cover how the photographer is allowed to you use your image.  Is he or she planning to post your photos on Facebook, their website, their portfolio?  Perhaps your photographer plans to enter images in a contest or use them commercially (ie: sell a license to use the photo to another company such as a publication).  If you don't want your photos on the internet, communicate that to your photographer.  Many photographers are willing to work at your comfort  level IF you are paying them for the session.  If you are getting a free or discounted session, there is typically the expectation that the photographer may be much more liberal in the use of images.  If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, if you have questions or concerns, talk to your photographer before your session.  


Each photographer runs their business a little different, therefore it is IMPERATIVE that you communicate.  No photog wants to see their work altered beyond recognition or used beyond the terms outlined in their contract, nor do we wish to see our clients/models upset by our use of images.  


I hope this has given you a clearer understanding of the issues involving copyright and model release.


*I am not a legal professional and this is not intended to be used as legal advice.*