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What Are Photography Permissions?

Let us begin by recognizing that there are major differences between photographers. I'll clarify the profession by likening photographers to fruit. The types, colors, shapes, sizes, and benefits vary. With this analogy we can more easily see that the banana has different qualities than a kiwi.

That being said, each photographer not only uses differing methods to take photos, they have different editing styles, communication habits, and contractual terms.


Reviewing your contract is a top priority.

At age 18, I learned that hard way that you never sign something that you haven't completely read. Fortunately, after a consultation with a family friend who was also a practicing attorney, he discovered my John Hancock didn't matter because the contract was missing one very important offer. A contract needs three things to be legally binding: an offer, acceptance, and consideration. If those three elements can be proven, even if they're written on a flimsy restaurant napkin, the terms are more likely enforceable in a court of law.

For a photography contract it might look something like this:

  • Offer: A photographer outlines proposed services and session terms.

  • Acceptance: The client agrees to the offer by signing the contract.

  • Consideration: The client agrees to pay a percentage (0-100%) of session services for the items outlined in the offer.

This is also an excellent time to review things like:

  • how much you'll owe your photographer and if there are deposit or payment deadlines;

  • the date and time in which you're hiring the photographer;

  • how many photographs are included in your session;

  • how long the photographer is required to store your images;

  • restrictions on how you are able to share, print, and reproduce your images.


Let's linger on image permissions for just a moment.


Per copyright laws, the person who pushed the camera shutter button that captured your image owns the copyright to that image. In your contract you are often given permission to print those images for personal use in your home, produce them in a photo book that you create, or digitally share them with friends and family.

You may possess the images that feature you, but you do not own the rights to use them beyond the terms outlined in your contract without explicit permission from your photographer.

If you think that you may have alternative uses for the photographs down the road, ask your photographer up front if there are special permissions you can obtain in your contract.

Realize that these special permissions you seek may come at an additional cost. For example, if you wanted to buy permissions to reproduce a headshot in a publication, you can often pay a flat fee (versus royalties) to your photographer so that you own the rights for the use of that photograph as it pertains to your publication printing and promotion.


You should absolutely ask up front if you can use the image(s) to promote another business, generate revenue of any kind, or be featured in additional mediums where citing the photographer is necessary.

Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Album artwork (podcasts, singles, records, movies)

  • Book covers

  • Networking/industry event promotions

  • Company promotions for fundraising, an event that generates revenue, or membership recruitment.

Digital v. Print

Say you need a headshot for an upcoming speaking engagement for your profession. You just had family photos taken and you think cropping your head from an image would fulfill the request easily enough.

It doesn't matter if an image is published digitally or in print, your first step should be to contact the photographer and ask their permission to use the photograph in this way. If they approve, see if they can help you get a higher resolution version to use as the headshot (versus just cropping it), and ask them to approve or write their image attribution.

Tip: don't assume they'll approve this request! They should technically charge you for an alternative use. If they grant permission, express gratitude. If they don't grant permission, see if they'd be willing to take a headshot you can use going forward for purposes such as these.


It's Never Too Late To Right A Wrong

If You Made An Honest Mistake

If you've inappropriately used an image and you now realize that you shouldn't have, take action and contact your photographer. They will have so much respect for your honesty and will likely work with you to remedy the mistake. That is, if they don't find the misuse on their own first.

If You Decide To Push Your Luck

Photographers have been battling copyright abuse for a long time. There are tools that help them scour the internet (and other sources) for misuse of their photos. Should they find one of their precious works has been used outside of the terms of their contract, their wrath can be endless.

  • If you're lucky, you'll get a polite, but direct message asking you to remove the photograph immediately. Often, there is mention of a fine for breaking your contractual terms which must be paid immediately or....

  • You will receive a cease and desist order from your photographer/their attorney with instructions for paying a fine for misuse of the image.

Often your contract states what will happen should you not respond to these communications. Most often I've seen that the client (you) pays for the photographer's legal fees to take you to court AND the damages owed to them.


Thanks for taking time to understand image permissions! If you made it this far, you are absolutely the kind of client I would love to have in my rolodex.

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