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If you have ever done any kind event photography, weddings in particular, you already know how important it is to hire a second photographer. You’re trying to adequately photograph hundreds of people, often in multiple locations in the same venue. You’re good, but you’ve yet to master the finer points of time travel and being in two places at once. Similarly, if you’re still looking for your way into professional event photography, you already know how important it is to be a second photographer. This is your chance to learn from someone who has already walked in your footsteps. It is the opportunity to hone your skills, connect with a mentor, establish relationships, and start building your portfolio.
But who owns the second photographer’s images?
Common sense would dictate that if I am contracted to shoot an event, all of the photos taken by me or anyone working for me fall under my copyright, and therefore belong to Guyer Photography. One of the main things I learned in 14 years of practicing law, however, is that contractual situations are rarely ever common, and are often devoid of sense.
“Whoa. Hold On. Did you just say, ‘contract?'”
Yes, but relax, we’ll come back to that in a minute.
For now, it’s important to know that copyright law makes two facts abundantly, and undeniably clear. First, an image is copyrighted from the moment the shutter clicks. I’m not going to get into copyright registration in this article, except to say that registration is not necessary for copyright protection to take effect. Compose, focus, click, done. Copyright protection. That’s it. Just like magic. It is the second fact, though, that creates a potential problem for photographers and their second photographers. Not only does the copyright spring to life at the very moment of capture, but the copyright actually belongs to the photographer who presses the button.
I’m going to go get myself a snack while you ponder the ramifications of that point.
Okay, so by now you’re thinking about your images showing up on your second photographer’s website and the value of those images deflating like a hot air balloon in a thunder storm. But, have you also considered that if the second photographer owns the image they may also be able to prevent you from sharing, blogging, posting, tweeting, advertising, marketing, printing, or doing anything with it other than passing it along to the client? There are so many ways that this copyright ownership technicality can take an otherwise great working relationship and turn it sideways if you aren’t careful. It’s a scary proposition, but it’s a minefield which can be easily avoided if you just take a few simple steps to protect yourself.
Most photographers who hire second photographers, do so on a job-by-job basis. They are there to do what you need them to do, when you need them to do it, but technically they are independent contractors, not employees. As such, having a contract in place is essential. A photography work for hire contract will cover everything from copyright and compensation, to confidentiality and liability.
This is going to be the most important paragraph in the entire contract. Here is where the photographer stakes their claim to the copyright of all images taken by their second photographer in the course of photographing the event. The language must be clear that the photographer retains all copyrights associated with the second photographer’s images. If your contract contains nothing else, make sure it contains this copyright protection. Without it, it’s your second photographer who owns the images outright, not you.
This is also where the photographer may choose to outline what rights, if any, the second photographerhas to those images. I may choose, for instance, to allow the second photographer to use his or her photos in a print portfolio but not on a website. Or, I might tell them they can have unrestricted use of the images, but not until six months after the wedding date. Another option might be to let them use the images on their website, as long as it bears a credit line that reads “Photographed for Guyer Photography.” You can come up with any set of conditions you feel to be reasonable, but you are also well within your rights to explicitly state that they cannot use the photos ever, for any reason. Obviously, this is an extreme example and I do not recommend it. A good second photographer works hard and should have something to show for it. They also have their own communities in which they share their experiences and opinions. If word gets out that you aren’t letting your second photographers use their images, good luck finding any who want to work with you down the road.
You are in business for a reason, and giving away your copyright is not that reason. As outlined below, there are other important elements to the contract, but getting the ownership question answered early and clearly is crucial to the survival of your business.
It is important to clearly state that the second photographer is not an employee, but an independent contractor. If they are an employee, you could be responsible for liability issues, as well as insurance and taxes. Any one of these could push you into a variety of financial pitfalls. Be clear, and spell it out. Leaving it open to interpretation will only lead to headaches down the road.
This is pretty basic. You have to make sure that the contract properly reflects whatever compensation you’ve negotiated with your second photographer. Be specific. If you are paying them a flat rate for the entire job, indicate that in the contract. If you are paying them hourly, make it clear what the rate is and how many hours you plan to cover, as well as an agreed-upon rate for overtime. Events rarely stick to a schedule and often run longer than expected. If you are contractually bound to pay for six hours, plan for what happens when the reception is still going strong at six and a half hours. You don’t want to be negotiating this while you’re waiting to get the shot of the bride and groom leaving. This is also the section of the contract where you need to cover expenses like parking, meals, travel, etc.
This is the perfect place to spell out what gear you expect your second photographers to have with them when they show up at the venue. Whenever I hire a new second photographer one of the first things I do is email them a complete list of my gear and ask them to send me a complete list of theirs. By detailing what is expected of them up front, I avoid unpleasant surprises on the day of the wedding.
Some photographers put delivery schedule in the contract, and some don’t. I put it in, not because I feel the need to tell you how much time you have to get your images to me after the event, but to make sure you understand that I will hide your car keys in the bushes if need be to ensure you go absolutely nowhere before clearing your memory cards onto my laptop. I realize this comes off a bit harsh, but there are practical reasons behind it. First, I was burned once and had to refund an entire wedding because the second photographer lost an important memory card. Second, unless the second photographer is going to be editing the images, there’s really no reason to wait.
As long as you’re getting everything else in writing, why not take a few lines to address what happens when your second photographer breaks your equipment, or gets broken himself. What unforeseen expenses are you willing to take on and which will you make certain he understands are his personal responsibility? If you don’t deal with it as a possibility in the contract, it will be too late to deal with it as a reality in the emergency room.
I was extremely lucky when I started out in this business. I found amazing photographers who were generous with their time, knowledge, and gear. I believe in giving back and paying it forward. If you work for me as an assistant or second photographer there is virtually nothing I won’t share with you. I’ll answer your questions, make suggestions, offer critique, and tell all my friends about you, to help get you more work. I’ll do all of that and more, right up until that moment when you break my confidence. My event is not the time or place for you to be handing out your freshly printed business cards. When you meet your friends for drinks after the job do not discuss my prices, my marketing materials, or even this contract. You’re looking for your place in this profession and I want to help. Look out for me and I’ll look out for you.
Ideally, you and your second photographer should be able to view this contract as a mere formality. If you can’t, you may not be right for each other. But if you can, the two of you could be on your way to a long, mutually beneficial relationship. Honest and open communication of expectations is an important two-way street. Nobody wants to train a new second photographer every time an event comes along. You want someone in your corner who has your back and knows how you want things done. As much as you may like and respect your second photographer, you both need to get on the same page and make sure that reasonable expectations are met, particularly and most importantly when it comes to ownership of the photos.
NOTE: The advice in this article and the accompanying sample contract is based on my experience as a professional photographer and does not constitute legal advice. While the principles discussed are widely applicable, every jurisdiction is different and you should consult a local attorney for specific legal advice. – JJG
Editors note: Please keep in mind this article is the writer’s opinion on how to handle this issue. I’m sure each photographer has a different approach to hiring second photographers. If you have any suggestions or comments please add them below and let’s have a discussion.
Addendum: this article was in no way meant to reference or disrespect the anniversary of Kennedy’s shooting. The editor has changed the title (the URL cannot be changed sorry). This was a case of bad timing and an editor who is Canadian, our apologies if you have been offended that was not our intention. The intention of this site is education, please consider that in the context of the article.