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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

To Have and to Withhold

The third-from-last paragraph in this weblog entry about the future of wedding photography covers something I’ve always been amazed by:

Most photographers guard the negatives/hi-res files, releasing them to their clients only after a few years or for a fee guaranteeing a revenue stream from extra photo orders. (How this became an accepted industry practice is beyond me.)

I’ve recently heard people talk about not receiving digital copies and having to go back to the photographer to get prints. Why does anyone still put up with this shit? The idea of paying someone who then owns the copyright on the mementos of your special day is creepy, hire a more enlightened photographer and hang onto the rights to your own life.

(As well as the comments below, see the discussion over at Acts of Volition.)


Indeed. My sister was recently married, and I asked the "official" photographer, who also happens to be a friend of the family, about it.

His response was reasonable enough, and it's completely logical given a bit of thought: the photographer has to make money one way or another. You can either pay a big chunk up front and retain all the rights to the photographs (which we did), or you can skimp on the salary and make them work off of commissions, so to speak.

The bride and the bride's parents both recieved a DVD of the photos worth keeping, though I suspect ours may have been a bad burn, since none of the files would copy correctly through Explorer, and GNU cp kept spitting back that "Xdddd.JPG is a directory". Very strange.

Ben Karel, 20th May, 4:18am

Auto-linking the commenter's favicon? Damn, that's slick.

Ben Karel, 20th May, 4:22am

I realise prints have traditionally subsidised the up-front cost, but that revenue must be falling (a lot of people now scan their photos and cope with the slight loss of quality), so hopefully photographers won't charge too much extra and more customers will consider the issue.

(see… for info about the 'favatars')

Matt Round, 20th May, 8:00am

Stumbled upon this topic and as a semi professional photographer who has photographed around 30 weddings I may have some insight as to the copyright issues. Now if I don’t consider the cost that I incurred going through photography school, I would guess that I have close to $9,000 invested in cameras tripods and cases. Add the university and it triples and finally add another $2000 in supplies to get through the. Then I had to enter into the digital world and that meant a new camera body, new lenses because my old camera lenses are no longer wide enough due to the 1.6 crop factor of the 20D a computer and of course Photoshop. This adds another $5000 and Digital seems to date itself 5 times faster than film-based photography. Photography can be quite lucrative with weddings costing in the thousands, and of course with the advent of Digital, the cost of film and part of the processing fees go out, but still Ben Karel is correct when he says that the photographer has to make the money somewhere and how most photographers do this is by making sure that they get paid for every print made. On the other hand, due to only doing photography part time and the immense amount of travel that I do, I prefer to make my money up front and then to be freed of the commitment and thus part of my package is the negatives both digital or film. What becomes difficult is if I want to make a print for my own after the negs have been delivered; there are times that I wish that I still had access to those negatives. I hope this helps with some of your frustrations.


— Josh, 27th May, 11:29am

This sort of thing was commonplace because photographers got away with it. Personally, I suspect it was simply never challenged. I think, since the photographer is hired by the wedding party to perform a job, that the photographs they are taking are a "work for hire," and the photographer does not own them.

Now, it is conceivable since the photographer is an independent contractor rather than an employee that that would explain why photographers claim they own the photographs they take.

It's only because of the split between ownership of the physical photographs and ownership of the property right in the images themselves that there is an issue here.

I mean, with any professional work, the professional spends years and considerable amounts of money on their training and experience to do what they are capable of. A plumber does not require you to pay royalties every time you flush the toilet. If you have a building constructed, the contractor does not require you to pay rent to him for use of the building he constructed.

If it were that photographers were doing these jobs at a loss and were using charges for additional photos to make up for it, that would be one thing, but it's simply that they have been able to get away with it, nothing more, nothing less.

Paul Robinson, 12th Jun, 12:35pm

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