are you losing money by giving away photography copyrights

Recently, I had a conversation with a boutique owner that made me re-evaluate photography copyright ownership. In a previous post, What you ought to know about photography copyrights , I talk about who owns the copyright for portrait photography, but does that change when shooting fashion?

Since that conversation, I’ve done more research and even reached out to a well-known fashion photographer for his input. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned for anyone entering into a relationship with another business.

Now, in the conversation with the boutique owner there was a bit of confusion. She believed that because the images were for her company that she automatically owned the copyright. Not so.

According to the National Press Photographers Association, the photographer always owns the copyright unless a formal agreement is made to transfer the copyrights such as employment or work-for-hire.


A freelance photographer who is asked to take photographs always retains the copyright unless a written contract assigns the copyright to another party. If you are not an employee of that business then you, the photographer, can grant them a license to print/publish the images for a specified period of time. After that time, they must request permission from you to use that image again. If, for whatever reason, that seems inconvenient for them you can always negotiate a price for them to buy the copyrights.

Let’s say that you really have no use for the images and want them to just go ahead and keep the copyrights. It’s completely up to you, but it’s important that both parties fully understand what permissions you have for use of those images.

Should you work for free

The owner of this quite lovely boutique offered to credit my work and advertise my services in her email newsletters and business cards. While the number of her newsletter subscribers was impressive, consider the open rate of those emails. How many people are actually opening and searching for your name? Now, think of consumer behavior. How many times have you subscribed to a newsletter and over time would discard it without ever opening it? While free advertising is awesome think of the next factor.

Overhead costs. Your equipment likely isn’t cheap. How much gas are you spending to and from the assignment? How much time are you spending at your computer editing the images? Any successful business owner knows that time is money. Experience shows that most of the time photo credits won’t pay your bills, but fair compensation shows value in your work.

What are your thoughts? Was this helpful? Leave your feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

In another post I’ll discuss when shooting for free can be good for everyone.

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