After the session, who owns the rights of the photographs?

One of the concerns that a family may have when planning a photo session is related to the photo usage rights.

”Who owns these rights? Can the photographer, use the photos from our session to promote her work? Or is it the other way around? Do we, by paying for the session, get to own those rights?”

This post is intended to explain all about author and image rights (which is much simpler than it seems) and to explain how I work so that the rights of the families I photograph are respected.

The importance of author and image rights in family photography

Sharing and using photos from family sessions for a portfolio is an important issue for both the families I photograph and myself. It became even more important after I focused my work on documentary family photography, as the resulting photos are more intimate and private.

Now, with the advent of artificial intelligence and the unknown future we face, I feel that this is an issue that photographers and families should openly discuss.

What are authors and image rights?

These are two different things.

The author rights always belong to the author of the work, who retains the rights to reproduce, distribute and commercialize that work. However, there are restrictions on this right, which is where image rights come in.

In order for me, as the photographer and author of the photos, to use them to promote my work, the family must grant me image rights.

Your family, your photos.

I want to emphasize that I never use images from sessions to promote my work if that is the family’s decision. I always leave the families totally free to make that decision. After all, they have every right to do so.

In a documentary session, where I enter your homes and photograph your real life, this issue is especially important. The family I am photographing must trust me to open the doors of their home, their life, and their private moments. If the family does not want their photos to be shared, it is essential that they feel that this right will be respected.

How is this addressed when you hire a session?

In addition to discussing this issue in advance, a written agreement is made.

We sign a document with the terms and conditions of the session, in which one of the points of that document defines whether and how image rights are granted:

  • The family may choose not to grant image rights at all;
  • They may not allow the publication of images online, but allow me to share them privately with potential clients;
  • They may not allow the online publication of only some photos (which are defined later, through email exchange, if necessary);
  • Or they may grant image rights and the conditions under which they are granted are defined (for what purpose, where).

Regarding reproduction rights, the family may reproduce and share the images, as long as their use is personal. The family is not allowed to alter the images (apply filters and make extra edits) or to commercialize them.

All of this is clearly described in the document, and there is always the possibility of changing your mind later.

Why all this?

Because I want families who hire me to know exactly where, how, and for what purpose their images are being used.

Because when it’s my family and me on the other side of the camera, I want to feel that same trust (and I always have).

And because I feel that this can be an obstacle for those who would like to schedule a documentary session but end up not doing it.

If this is your case, always address this issue before moving forward with a photo session to avoid any issues or misunderstandings. And remember that by hiring a photo session, you are not automatically granting your image rights.

Let’s Photograph?

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