Working with a Second Photographer – Legal Ins and Outs

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The Importance of Being or Having a Second Photographer

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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.

Ownership of the Images

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.

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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.

Put it in Writing

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.

Copyright – Retain It, But Be Fair

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.

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The Relationship

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.

Compensation

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.

Gear

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.

Delivery Schedule

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.

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Liability

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.

Confidentiality and Non-Compete Clauses

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. 

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Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.

  • Ilya

    Really? A “second shooter” play on words on the day Kennedy was assassinated?

    I enjoy and subscribe to your column, but this is classless.

  • Considering that this post falls on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I find your choice of headline to be in incredibly poor taste. You obviously chose it to attract more hits on this particular day/week. You should be ashamed!

  • Cat

    Really Really…..get you mind back on photography.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    For those who feel that this headline was in some way a tasteless play on words to attract attention on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I can only assure you that nothing could be farther from the truth. First and foremost, I am now and always have been a great admirer of his and would never stoop to that level. I truly believe that what happened in Dallas on 11/22/63 forever changed the course of politics, not only in the United States, but around the world– and not for the better. Secondly, this article was written and submitted prior to the 22nd. Thirdly, what other term should I have used? The vernacular in our industry is “second shooter” (or third or fourth, etc.). Lastly, you are reading something into this and giving it significance that was never intended or even considered.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Libby— I’ve replied to this in the general comments section of the article.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Hello, Ilya– I’ve responded to this in the general comments section of the article.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    Editor’s note: Libby and Ilya – I have changed the title and reference you found offensive. Please keep in mind this site is owned and run by an Australian company, and a Canadian editor and as such I was unaware of the significance of the date. To further complicate matters, when I schedule posts the time I see is Australian time so it would have told me it was queued for the 23rd so I may have missed it anyway.

    I apologize if you were offended by the title, please know what Jeff has said is correct – this is a photography educational site, nothing more, nothing less. We provide articles to help photographers. In no way was what you have mentioned even considered. Please take these things into consideration, we appreciate you as a reader and hope you will continue to do so.

  • docrings

    @Jeff… most of us understood, without reading into it. Some assume the worst in most of what they read, unfortunately. You and Darlene have been VERY gracious in your response, and a testament to good character. Cheers!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Thanks!

  • Thinkeye

    Thanks for the great article!

    If I could make a suggestion: make it an editorial rule NEVER PUT the word SHOOTING INTO an article TITLE. Help the search engines to relate the posts to photography all the time.

    In the US, there are too many real weapons among people. They therefore associate the word shooting more often with ‘spitting lead’ than ‘capturing light’ contrary to other (english speaking) countries where the meaning is a bit different because this word is less used (and thought of) in its original sense.

    Not many people are aware of the words varying their meaning with location and time and it is virtually impossible to find proper formulations for complete texts. At least the titles could and should be chosen with special care.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt

    yes good point thanks

  • oldwolf

    Ilya: You really need to read up on common photgraphy terms. Second shooter is the common term used in this industry. Read Jeff’s reply in general comments.

  • oldwolf

    Jeff: Great article. The headline was more accurate when it was “second shooter”. People that actually read this as an educational article understood and did not take this out of context.

    Darlene: You’ve been more than gracious in your approach to this situation that certain people were reading more than they should into. This is a photography website. They needed to understand the common terms used in this industry.

    Ilya and Libby: Please read up on common terms used in this industry and understand that just because this website is in English it doesn’t mean that it’s published, hosted or edited in the U.S. The world does not revolve around the U.S. and this is coming from a U.S. citizen that has served in the military in a war zone.

  • I love the article and the tips! The second photographer contract is very useful, thank you so much!!
    Cheers,
    Calin
    http://www.bycalin.com

  • Casey Grimley

    I’m going to respectfully disagree to those complaining about the title. Being politically correct isn’t really necessary here. I have never met a photographer that doesn’t know what the term “shoot” means. In fact I know many people that use the tagline for their business as “I shoot people” or “I shoot people in the face”. It’s a play on words but I’ve never be offended by it.
    Also, when I do a search for this topic or other related topics I’d use the term ”shoot”, i.e. “how to second shoot” everything that shows up is photography related.
    I vote to change the title back to make it show in search. I wouldn’t have found this informative article if it hasn’t emailed to me

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Thanks, Casey!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Glad to have helped, Calin!

  • marius2die4

    I really like to read this article and the information are very good .Tkx!

  • Brittany

    Excellent article!! Thank you!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    You’re welcome, Brittany. Thanks for the feedback!

  • CuddlesPhotography

    Thanks for the great article. Its a huge help when being a second ‘shooter’ as well as a main photographer.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    I’m glad you found it useful. Thanks for being part of the conversation.

  • E Fett

    question 🙂 so when you hire a second shooter, you edit all of the photos, not them? i need to understand all of the ins and outs of this asap lol… thanks. if so, do you post said photos on your page/webite/blog? do you reference that the photos were taken by a different photographer? thank you!

    E

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Great questions, E. A lot of this is dictated by the relationship between you and your second shooter. My second shooters and I have a contractual relationship which basically creates a temporary employer/employee relationship. That means that I retain the copyright to the images they shoot, and can put them on website, blog, FB, Twitter, etc. If I’m using a second shooter’s images in a blog post I’ll usually mention them in the post and thank them for all their hard work on the shoot. Anything that appears in a client gallery, on the other hand, is not singled out as either mine or theirs– they are simply the collection of photos taken collectively by Guyer Photography. It’s nothing personal– I am not trying to deny anyone the credit they are due. But ultimately it’s all about the branding

    As far as editing goes, I do all of it, regardless of who released the shutter. This is simply a matter of personal taste and aesthetic, as well as uniformity. I try to hire second shooters who either share my aesthetic or can learn it, but ultimately the processing all has to be done by the same set of eyes.

    I hope this helps.

    –J.

  • Cate

    Hi Jeff. I know this article is about a year old, maybe more but I too found it very helpful! I had a couple questions though… It would make sense for the second photographer to meet you at the specified venue (especially if only needed for say 2 hours where you – the main photographer would stay longer) but have you ever ran into any issues where the second photographer didn’t show up or showed up late? What are your thoughts about adding a section about this in the contract? Thanks for your help!

  • John

    This is probably why you see so many husband and wife shooting teams.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Hi, Cate. Thankfully, I’ve never run into this. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great assistants and second shooters. I also tend to keep them with me for the whole day, which means I have them meet me at the studio first thing in the morning to help load all the gear. I can see, though, how this could be a concern when working with someone for the first time (because let’s face it…if this happens once you’re not working with them again). I suppose adding something about to the contract might be in order. On the other hand, if they don’t show they don’t get paid at the end of the night, right?

  • Aniie Dravid

    hire photographer Chapel Hill to lighten up your day

  • Mark Laing

    Great article!

  • Ronnie Lawson

    I don’t know if this has changed in US law, but in UK law (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), I believe a photographer retains copyright of those created by his employees in the course of that employment unless otherwise agreed, therefore a wedding photographer retains copyright to the second shooters photos unless previously agreed otherwise.

  • Tim

    Thanks for sharing, but I’ve often wondered what you do about permissions, for example, if you assign rights or permissions to your second photographer, for example in printed portfolios, then by word of mouth, your client sees or hears about photos of them being used by this “third party” (ie. your second photographer promoting their own work). Does your contract with your client include permissions for you to use images of them (or their property) for other purposes besides what they paid you for eg. for promoting your work to other potential clients, and including your second shooter promoting their work to potential clients?

  • Shauna Cleaver Jackson

    Even a couple of years later, this is an exceedingly helpful article and thread of questions. Thank you very much for the relevant article and your thorough responses!

  • Shauna Cleaver Jackson

    Two years down the road, and I found this article near the top of my search for information relevant to being and/or using a second shooter – and I say it that way b/c that phrase was part of my initial search. I understand why you changed the title and consider how you and Jeff Guyer addressed and handled the feedback have been utmost professional. Having said that, photographers – especially new ones – still resort to the vernacular of the term “second shooter” in a Google search or in conversation. I’m glad I could find this extremely helpful article using those terms, but I will also take as learning the use of other phrasing,too. 🙂

  • Thank you, some people just put extra meaning on everything that isn’t necessarily there.

  • Lindsey

    Where can I find copyright law for second photographers showing ownership without a contract?

  • Silverstream

    There is a big legal difference between an employee and a contractor under US law. 99.5% of the second shooters are going to be contractors legally in the US.

  • Chelsea

    Can the example contract you posted be used/adjusted for individual needs? Thanks!

  • S. Hafer

    Your an idiot. Ignorance. Truly…

  • S. Hafer

    Your an idiot. Ignorance. Truly… This is why the world is such a mess right now. Your opinion, not the meaning…

  • Hmmm…you might want to be sure you know the difference between “your” and “you’re” before you call someone an idiot. 😉 My offense came from the TIMING not the term used. If this had been posted a day later? No worries. Attention to detail is everything and not just in photography. Be well.

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