We're looking at booking a professional photographer for our wedding, but I am a little unhappy with assigning complete control of photos from our own wedding to a photographer.

The contract she offered allows her to retain copyright, and only grants us a license to print as-is. That is, if we want to turn a photo sepia, or black and white, or crop it, etc, we must obtain her written permission first.

Her reasoning, which I understand but still dislike, is that any modifications we make could reflect badly on her as a professional.

This makes me feel quite unconformable, especially because I am the type of person who would likely make use of these photos over coming years and for the rest of our lives.

So my questions are:

  • Is it reasonable to ask for copyright, or at least a non-exclusive license to the photos if we are paying for the service? (We are not asking a lower price, and her price is about the same as most other photographers here in Australia)

  • Is there some sort of licensing agreement that protects her from being hurt by any non-professional modifications we make, but also recognises her as the original photographer?

  • If we were to offer to pay more for her services, in return for copyright or a non-exclusive license, how much more than the asking price of $1500 would you expect?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe a clause in the contract saying that if you or anyone else edits the photo in any way then the copyright infomation includes a statement that says it was edited by someone other than the original photographer. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 7:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, most top level wedding photographers here in the U.S. have the same, if not even more stringent, conditions. Many charge quite a bit more to provide the digital originals, if they will even agree to providing the full resolution digital files at any price. Most will provide web sized digital files for use on social networking sites. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 13, 2013 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I recommend decided exactly what it is you want to do with the photographs now and asking the photographer for a price. You are being quoted a price based on that contract and should expect to pay more if you want to change the contract. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also be worried about the other side: Does contract allow her to modify your pictures in an arbitrary way and publish them without your permission? \$\endgroup\$
    – feklee
    Sep 9, 2013 at 6:34

7 Answers 7


My personal opinion on this is that, while I understand the photographer's position, your wedding album is not her portfolio, even if you want something hideous it's your right as the one paying for the job - I wouldn't agree to her terms.

I believe, that for a full price job the service provider can't put his/her own interest above the client's.

You can work out something about how credit is given (or not given) and you can offer to pay extra or you can both agree that you'll be better served by someone else.

I'm a small business owner myself (but not a professional photographer) and I know that there's a delicate balance between what is good for the service provider and what is good for the customer - and if I do something that's good for me but bad for the customer I will lose that customer.

By the way - for my wedding (that was shot on film) I've got the negatives + high res digital copies + the right to do whatever I want with the images without giving credit. this was all negotiated with the photographer in advance and we both were happy with the deal (I didn't take advantage of him, this was all agreed upon and payed for). That photographer didn't get "credit" but he got at least one more wedding job based on my recommendation

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I personally agree with you and offer a package where I shoot like this. My experience is that I'm in a small minority of photographers and probably an even smaller minority when looking at quality photographers. But then again, I started doing wedding photography specifically because I didn't like this about the existing model. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    May 13, 2013 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AJHenderson - I've looked your answer (and upvoted) and I'm glad to see I'm not alone in this opinion \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    May 13, 2013 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have articulated a point that I previously didn't consider. The concept of a somebody paying to photograph a wedding so that the photographer can produce their own photo's for their own portfolio seems a bit weird. I realise that no two trades are the same, but we have a friend who is a wedding dress maker and she tends to be very clear when she is just doing what the client wants (and pays for), despite how it reflects on her image as an artist, and when she is using her creative flair and hoping to use the resulting work in her portfolio to further her image and reputation. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 21:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that if a photographer wants to maintain control over the images out of concern for her own marketing/image/portfolio, then it should be accompanied by a substantial reduction in her fee, since in simple terms it means she's not doing the job primarily for the client and the clients' interests and wants, but for her own self-promotional purposes. Charge big bucks = do what the client wants and screw worrying about your professional image - at least in my book. Of course, either way a determined client can Photoshop the photos into an abomination anyway. \$\endgroup\$ May 14, 2013 at 6:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've accepted this as the right answer, because it is for me. I understand that I asked this question on a forum of primarily photographers, but I'm happy with the discussion it's encouraged. As it happens, I wont be going with this photographer or others who ask for copyright. Next week we are going to meet with another photographer, who actually thinks it's weird that most want to retain copyright of wedding photographs. We're happy with their portfolio, like their style, the price is right, and they are on the same wavelength. So if they're a nice person, we'll go with them. \$\endgroup\$ May 15, 2013 at 10:51

The photographer is not asking for the copyright; she's informing you that she holds it. There are a few backwards jurisdictions (and until last year, Canada was one of them) where the copyright would naturally belong to the commissioner of photographic work and a clause in a contract was the only way for a photographer to retain copyright, but in most of the world, "work for hire" (or similar provisions in law) will not kick in unless there is something substantially resembling an employer/employee relationship, and the creator of the work holds copyright absent a contract stating otherwise.

A license granting reproduction rights is extraordinary as it is¹; a license to create derivative works (modifying the image) is almost unheard of in the industry. At least among actual professionals (as opposed to weekend warriors who don't depend on photography for their income). A photographer's "look" is part of their brand and marketing, and only those who don't care about their brand and signature look (which sets expectations for future clients) would permit modification without review. (Not to mention that if you were to, say, want a toned black-and-white version of a particular photo, the photographer would probably have some very definite opinions of how it would best be done.)

You aren't hiring a "camera operator" or someone who is merely performing a service, you're hiring an artist whose job it is to creatively (and, one would hope, beautifully) tell a story in pictures. And how that story is told and presented reflects upon her artistically and will affect how she is perceived by potential clients. You are purchasing finished work, not labour. All it takes is a small handful of insipid or overwrought images to destroy her brand and her professional future. And any photographer who would let you monkey with that either doesn't care enough to be bothered (and probably has a steady income from elsewhere) or is an idiot who will soon be out of business.

¹ When granted, it's normally in the spirit of conservation — the ability to replace the work — rather than "cheap prints for family and friends".

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 for calling some democratic countries' legislation "backward", actually even worse: You called the jurisdiction backwards, i.e. the country not even the legislation in that country. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    May 13, 2013 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nir - Again, the customer is paying for a finished work. We aren't snapshooters, and the part we're playing was previously played by painters. If you can't understand your contribution as anything other than "ready, aim, fire", then you probably want to avoid being a professional photographer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    May 13, 2013 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not saying wedding photographers are snapshooters or that the contribution is "ready, aim, fire" (proof: for my wedding I selected the photographer who took pictures I liked not the cheapest), what I'm saying that 1. the business model shooting a wedding for what is a significant sum of money for the customer then making money off prints is bad (you are a photographer not a printer, you should be insulted your work is priced by the piece of paper) ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    May 13, 2013 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ ... and 2. It's my wedding and I want to be able to do whatever I want with the photos - that are good because the photographer is an artist and did a good job - but it's my wedding and my memories I want them to belong to me (and for my wedding I negotiated those terms with the photographer, I didn't take advantage of him, everything was agreed on in advance and fully payed for and we both were happy with the deal we made, he even got additional work because of my recommendation without me having to "give credit" every time I use the image) \$\endgroup\$
    – Nir
    May 13, 2013 at 13:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Of course we are paying for the artistic component, otherwise we'd just get a family member to take some happy snaps for free. It's even better that there will be a particular style with the finished photo's, that came from the photographer. I just have serious doubts that in 50 years, the original photographer is going to be interested in negotiating the changes required when my grand children want to produce a wedding anniversary album. Who knows what techniques or technologies will be required in 50 years, or even 5 years? This is why it's an important topic for me. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 20:49

There was actually a really good discussion on this in chat last week. Personally, I do event photography as a side business and view customer choice as paramount, but I do also understand the quality concern. For my top level package, I still maintain copyright but also grant a non-exclusive complete license to the work since I view my work at the most expensive level as that of a contractor.

That said, it may be very hard to find other photographers who are both willing to allow this model and of high quality. I personally got in to doing photography on the side because I didn't like the existing model and have a bit of an ethical problem with the idea of controlling the work that someone pays me a fair market rate for my time and equipment and while I'm in favor of packaging more limited rights in exchange for a discount, I still think that there should be a price point to be able to have the right to treat the images as something you purchased, at least with declaration being made about derivitive works.

I'm in the minority with this view from what I can gather, because it does make it really hard to preserve image and offers a lot of risk to a full time photographer taking on the model, which Stan presents a pretty strong argument on. So you might be able to find someone, but be careful when looking for it to make sure the quality doesn't suffer.

Also, you might suggest something like a CC license which would make it easy to tailor a license to allow you to make modifications while also protecting the photographer's copyright and interests. Perhaps with an added clause about declaring modifications since I'm not sure if CC has a version with such a clause.

As far as what would be a reasonable additional cost, it's really impossible to tell. Skill levels, equipment quality, and services provided very widely from one photographer to another and it really depends on what part of the business they are focusing on for their profits. Some focus on making the money from packages, others from touch up, others from actual prints, others from their hourly base rate. All of these factors contribute to what the "cost" (in terms of cuts to expected services) to the photographer is.

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    \$\begingroup\$ All CC licenses which allow modification both require that the modified versions be described as such, and forbid implying endorsement by the original creator. Whether this is strong enough for a given artist will, of course, vary. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 13, 2013 at 14:38

I will answer your questions as you proposed them:

Is it reasonable to ask for copyright, or at least a non-exclusive license to the photos if we are paying for the service? (We are not asking a lower price, and her price is about the same as most other photographers here in Australia)

It is reasonable to ask for whatever you want, but to expect to pay for that additional service as well. I would expect to pay a very significant amount more for what you are asking for, in the 25-100% or more range.

Is there some sort of licensing agreement that protects her from being hurt by any non-professional modifications we make, but also recognizes her as the original photographer?

It isn't about licensing, it is about the photographers name and brand being displayed to potential clients alongside work that was not wholly created by them.

If we were to offer to pay more for her services, in return for copyright or a non-exclusive license, how much more than the asking price of $1500 would you expect?

This of course depends. If you get some bottom barrel college/university student or craigslist photographer, they may not know any better, and thus provide the product you desire for no additional fee. On the other hand, an internationally known photographer with a brand to match, almost certainly would never even consider your proposal for anything less than tens of thousands of dollars, and even that would be a stretch.

The real issue:

More than anything else, this seems like a trust issue to me. You are afraid of trusting a professional photographer to produce desirable results for you. If you do not trust the photographer you are looking to hire, I would advise to continue looking for one until you find one that you do trust. Take a look at my answer to What questions should I ask when looking to hire a photographer? for more information on finding a suitable photographer.


Disclaimer: Yes it's perfectly fine to ask for such terms at an agreed price in a legally binding contract. It's up to the photographer to agree to relinquish said rights and allow additional usage terms.

However, consider the following scenarios in light of the non-agreeable photographers (I am one):

  1. Would you commission a studio to engineer, mix and master your music, only to go and add your own EQing, compression and other filters to your own taste then release the music to find that the producer absolutely hates what you've done to it?

  2. Would you commission a graphic artist to produce a poster, only to go and add your own elements, change colours and rearrange things before using it?

  3. Would you commission a painter to paint your portrait, only to go and paint over some bits because you think it could be better?

Would these artists producing work for you enjoy that you've gone and changed their work after the fact?

I highly doubt it.

Would they have worked with you to produce a better result for both parties? Hmm, it's probably more than likely, but they would still be in control of the quality factor. I know, I'm a photographer and a graphic designer. Client input can be a great thing.

Did you hire them for the right reasons, is what I'm asking in the end.

As a photographer myself, I wouldn't hire someone to shoot my portrait or wedding unless they produced the style of work I wanted in its entirety. And then I wouldn't edit them out of respect to their craft.

That's me though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ and would you agree to pay them through the nose for every single additional print made years after? And per view for pictures put up on your facebook profile? Which is what wedding photographers seem to think is normal these days? \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Sep 9, 2013 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't mention that issue. I was talking solely about modifying the images. That's another topic altogether. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 10, 2013 at 1:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't commission an artist if I didn't expect to agree with their artistic judgments. On the other hand, if I were to hire a wedding photographer and discovered after the fact that (exaggerated example) he thought pictures should be chroma-shifted so the bridesmaids' dresses would appear lavender even though they were actually pink, having the wedding photographed by someone more reasonable wouldn't be possible. If I was expecting a photographer to do something like that I wouldn't hire him, but I might still want an "out" if the photographer proves unreasonable. \$\endgroup\$
    – supercat
    Nov 21, 2014 at 21:01

My two cents: trust the professional.

She knows what she's doing, and she knows what happens when people touch the pictures (the horror, the horror!).

If you'd like to have creative control about the pictures, ask a family member or friend that likes photography to take pictures too. Then you can play with these ;)


I don't know where you live but I live in VA. I am a photographer. Im not trying to be rude but you do know that in most states (if not all of them) the photographer OWNS COPY RIGHT REGUARDLESS because the law states that the client has no rights to the photos unless the photographer gives WRITTEN DOCUMENTED CONSENT to said client?? You need to do some research lol. Stan has the correct idea. You can ask for it all you want but the answer is up to the photographer (or any photographer you will meet most likely) that you would have to pay twice as much for the copy right. I start out $250 for a simple baby photo shoot. If a parent wants a print package, $50 package of 12 photos. If they want an album, $100. If they want rights to reprint, $150. If they want full copy right, $200 for full copy right of EDITS ONLY (covers from 20-35 shots). Prices vary but you should expect to pay a lot more if you want copy right.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No need to be rude. The questions were perfectly valid. You say you don't know where he lives, yet he states he lives in Australia. So maybe pay a bit more attention to the question and a little less rudeness in your answer next time lol? \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Sep 8, 2013 at 7:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ sorry kid. You get hired, you're under contract. That contract should NEVER restrict the rights of the customer, any intellectual property becomes his/hers. You should be happy to be granted a limited license to use the pictures for your portfolio, if that much, and grant a significant discount for that privilege. What you're doing is not customer service, it's customer extortion. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    Sep 9, 2013 at 11:39

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