As a photographer, you have probably spent hours and hours learning the full capabilities of your camera and perfecting your shot. However, there is more to working as a photographer than just capturing beautiful photos. It is also important to understand your responsibilities and rights.
Some of these legal responsibilities and rights include copyright and certain permissions.
Image copyright is not anyone’s idea of a fun conversation starter, but as a photographer, it’s a need-to-know to ensure that your work is protected. So, let’s start with the basics. What is image copyright? When a person creates an image – or another type of intellectual property – the copyright of that work is assigned to the creator. In other words, if you created the work, then you own the image’s copyright. Photographers have the right to control how their images are used. It is up to you, as a photographer, to take the correct steps to protect your photos against unauthorized use.
Here are some easy copyright tips:
- Inform clients and include copyright statements in your contracts and release forms.
- Use watermarks on your images.
- Turn off the right-click functionality on your website.
- Register your photos with the U.S. Copyright office.
As a photographer, you have the right to photograph just about anything and anyone, if you are on public land. Public land is any land that is collectively owned by U.S. citizens or managed by government agencies. The only areas that are off limits are military installations, TSA security checkpoints, and power generation facilities for security purposes. It is also important to note that if you are planning to use a tripod, make sure to do your research. Certain areas have the right to restrict your use of your tripod. This is not to limit your ability to take photos, but rather to ensure that you are not creating a safety hazard.
Private property refers to the ownership of property by private parties – essentially, anyone or anything other than the government. All businesses and public buildings are considered private property because they are owned by an individual. In most cases, private property comes with restrictions on photography. It is your responsibility to read and understand the policies of the facility you’re entering or to ask for consent before photographing.
We take pictures of people all the time. But do you ever ask yourself if you need permission to take that picture? If you are photographing people and do not plan to use it commercially, you do not need a model release form. If you are planning on using your photos for advertising or business-related reasons—which includes anything that would be considered promotional, you must have a signed photography model release form. This requirement is to protect an individual’s right to publicity.
To better guide you, here are some questions to ask yourself. If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you need a release form:
- Are these photos for commercial use?
- Am I planning on using these photos for advertisement?
- Can I identify the subject as a unique person or thing?
- Am I taking pictures of minors?
- Am I shooting on private property?
Best Practices for Working with an Agency
If you are working with a marketing agency, taking photos on their behalf either for the agency or for their use in support of their clients, here are some best practices to follow.
- Come up with a realistic budget for you and the agency you are working with. Be as specific as possible.
- Ask the agency to provide a rough shot list so that you understand the goal of the shoot.
- After you have taken pictures, be sure to include notes for captions if your photos are going to be used for publication.
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