promotion and sharing of wedding photography
The future of wedding photography sharing? I think not!

Promotional Use and Sharing of Wedding Photos

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve had a handful of potential clients request for clarification regarding the scope of my promotional use and sharing of wedding photography due to concerns about privacy. Since this was something I left out of the frequently asked questions, I decided to write this article, which should explain why wedding photographers request for promotional rights, why images are shared, and my position on the matter. Below is a quote from the most recent inquiry:

With my talks with other photographers, everyone has maintained that they (the photographer) own the rights to the images, which I totally understand. But, where I may take issue is with the sharing of these images. [One of us works in a sensitive field], and it’s really important to us to keep [this] identity under wraps as much as possible. It’s totally ok with both of us if our photos are shared on your blog — maybe with [our names] changed — but we’d really like to keep them from popping up on other popular wedding blogs and magazines.
I’m not sure if you normally do that, but some other photographers we’ve talked to refuse to limit the sharing of our images. Would just like to get your opinion on that, and if you feel the same.

While this writer is specifically worried about the sharing of their wedding photos on third-party blogs and in printed publications, I believe the subtext across most concerns of this type is (i) knowing where images of your likeness exist, (ii) being able to control them, and (iii) limiting their association with your name. Unfortunately, some of these clash with the current practices of marketing and promotion in wedding photography, which emphasise sharing as much and as widely as possible.

Do wedding photographers require promotional use rights?

promotional use and sharing of wedding photography - Toronto wedding photographer
No photos, please!

Photographers use promotional clauses (sometimes referred to as model releases) in their wedding photography contracts to protect themselves against any misunderstandings and liability stemming from their use of images captured at your wedding. For example, my agreement grants me permission to use images for “advertising, display, website and Internet promotion, photographic contests, trade shows, public display, photography books, publications, store fronts, window displays, studio display, television advertising, magazine advertising, and any other purposes deemed appropriate”. Although the language may appear too broad to someone who isn’t familiar with the business of photography, you may be surprised to learn that most of the uses listed above, except the bits about advertising, require no explicit permission in the first place. If this weren’t the case, wedding photographers would only be permitted to share images of the couple, because no one else agreed to the terms (and the couple cannot agree on their behalf). Despite this, if you browse through the portfolios of almost any Toronto wedding photographer, myself included, you’ll find images of guests, relatives, and so on. What’s going on here? You can find out by checking out this great resource about photography and the law in Canada.

Why do wedding photographers include detailed promotional use clauses if most applications don’t require permission? Because it’s recommended practice that lays out client expectations in no uncertain terms and gives wedding photographers the right to advertise their services using images of their clients. Although I rarely buy ads now, I would continue to reserve those rights even if I abandoned advertising altogether. Similarly, a statement designating myself as the first and sole copyright holder remains in the agreement despite it being granted automatically thanks to amendments made to Canada’s Copyright Act. It gives me peace of mind, and that’s a great feeling.

Why wedding photographers share images

promotional use and sharing of wedding photographyThere’s a very good reason for why wedding photographers share their work online. Sharing promotes a photographer’s work beyond their immediate online presence—website and blog—allowing them to reach a wider audience. Photographers share content with wedding blogs, on social media, and beyond. When this technique is executed correctly, such a strategy gets backlinks from relevant sources using targeted keywords. It helps to maintain or improve their position in Google search results, which leads to more clicks and eyeballs, and, in turn, wins more business. Search engine optimisation is a very important strategy for marketing and promoting wedding photography. When a photographer achieves the coveted first position on the search results page, business is cozy.

Superficially, this may seem like photographers are double-dipping. You’re already paying a substantial price for their service and in exchange, they create more images for self-promotion. Is that fair? To answer that, think about your process for hiring a wedding photographer. You browse the websites of a dozen photographers and see hundreds of photos gathered from as many weddings. You meet with several of them and see a complete sampling from a few weddings. Something about the body of work of one photographer connects with your artistic sensibilities. Imagining yourself and your wedding in their photos is effortless. And then you make your final decision, all thanks to a legacy of clients that agreed to allow their wedding photographer to use their images for self-promotion.

My position on promotional use and sharing of wedding photography

promotional use and sharing of wedding photography
Street photography exemplifies that permission and model releases are not necessary when the final images are not being used for advertising, commercial purposes, or as endorsements. The photographer may sell prints of these photos.

My promotional use and sharing of wedding photography are generally limited to my website, blog, and social media, which includes Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, and less frequently on Pinterest. I had one guest post on a third-party blog at the end of December, which featured a short bio and some portfolio images. When posting to my blog, I generally prefer to provide readers with some background information, including the couple’s names. I don’t display wedding dates, and my image files are renamed and their metadata scrubbed before uploading.

Most couples do not make requests for exemptions or special treatment. They trust me to share their wedding moments responsibly. When a couple has a legitimate concern about their privacy, I will make every effort to comply with their wishes. However, the reasons must be very compelling because doing so limits my ability to promote my wedding photography business with fresh content and because tracking multiple requests can become a headache (although there’s a great method: watch this space for a future article). To this day, I have not encountered a request to limit all sharing across all mediums; my clients have a grasp on the competitive nature of wedding photography in Toronto and are reasonable with their requests. This usually amounts to approving a dozen or so images for online publication and removing personal information, such as names, locations, and so forth. This is never incorporated into the formal agreement.

Final remarks about promotional use and sharing of wedding photography

When everything is taken into consideration, client satisfaction is my paramount concern. Despite whatever rights I assert in our written agreement, it’s in my best interest to respect your wishes for online privacy. A great deal of my business is based on word-of-mouth recommendations from past clients and people I have worked with in other capacities; it would be short-sighted of me to break your trust for the potential of a small gain down the road.

It is beyond me why some wedding photographers categorically refuse to limit their promotional use of images from the private events they capture. It’s unscrupulous and creates a poor client experience.  We must be willing to find a balance between our interest exercise discretion when it comes to dealing with clients that have legitimate concerns for privacy

2 comments

  1. herzco says:

    Very thoughtful post. May I ask a question? You mention that “This usually amounts to approving a dozen or so images…”. Is it correct to understand from this that you present *specific images* you want to use, even though a general release has been signed?

    I’m curious because it would be a shame if you had a specific image you love, but client did not want used. (Sometimes even those who love documentary photography can be a bit short sighted when it comes to images of themselves)

    • Yep, your understanding is correct. I’ll honour reasonable requests for privacy and limited sharing as long as they’re made _prior_ to reserving my services. It would definitely be a shame if a request to share some of my favourite images was turned down. But it’s important to stay grounded in reality: 1) I’m reasonably compensated for my hard work, which is being done for the client making the request; and 2) I can’t foresee a single wedding making or breaking the presentation of my portfolio.

      If a client decides to surprise me with such a request after the wedding or after the images have been delivered, I’ll politely refuse.

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