Live and Learn – Photography Copyright Experience


Trust but but be willing to walk away.. my new motto.

After recently doing a TFP shoot (my first) for a local actress with great success, I fell in love with the whole idea. I got to work with a stranger, work on my technique, assist in directing (and getting pointers on directing), give her a good product and get to use the images to promote myself. The young lady was very very professional, courteous, fun to work with, and much more. We worked well.

Fast forward a couple weeks. Another almost TFP (pay me a couple bucks for time, let’s help each other). WOW what a difference.

As far away as she was, I could not do a full TFP, I had to charge something. We agreed on $30 for travel and a 30 minute shoot. She had rights to use my edited images (promised at least 15) and (of course) I retained ownership and had use for my portfolio. Later I found this was her handler, not her, but that is a different story.

“I need the shots now” was the initial demand. I could not accommodate, so I thought it was over. A couple days later she says, how about now? I said Wednesday after my work, she said she needed them by Tuesday night. Sob story, I fell for it. I took 2 hours off work, did the 40 minute drive and set up. About 10 minutes after setup she called, “I didn’t know it would be so far, I have been driving 15 minutes and the gps says its still 8 minutes away”. Should I walk? She arrives, in, shall I say questionable attire for a model shoot (for her purpose, this is to be for her site, humanitarian, to empower minorities… later discovered it was a net TV show using the empowerment theme to get photo ops and donations from business people… the real focus was on her and a couple minority actors).

She looked at the agreement, said, “I do not want you to use my images… I never agreed to that”. I said, yes you did… well, that must have been Sussan, you cannot use my images… then this shoot is done. Ok, you can use a couple, but you have to get my permission which ones to use… fair enough.

Start the shoot. She has obviously never posed in her life… well, not for the type of shoot she wanted this to be… a lot of directing. She had no concept of lighting. She told me many times to make sure I got pictures of her butt and flat stomach (for a humanitarian themed TV show and website)… hmmmm. I got some very good shots, but it was a lot of work.

25 minutes in, I say, I have to pick up my daughter, so lets start to wrap this up, maybe 10 minutes more. She says, “Wait, I have 4 more outfits to put on”… HUH!? Turbo shoot (only did 2 more). 55 minutes click to click, 2 wardrobe changes, I bolt, told her I could wait no longer. 20 minutes late picking up my daughter from school.

I am still in a charitable mood. I edit 44 images in a short time and send them to her. She immediately demands the RAW images. “Not for $30 you will.” Long story short, I had to get into it with her and her handler about copyright, ownership, etc. She accused me of wasting too much time on the shoot (55 minutes, ~200 images… 65 good enough to print with very minor adjustments, about another 75 that could use some work but recoverable, the rest were my bad and her bad modeling… hardly loafing on my part… that included the 2 wardrobe changes).

Perhaps it was my bad judgment, but at this time I felt they were ready to really walk on me (more so than already done). I laid out copyright law, they were allowed to use the images as provided, including watermark. Any publication without watermark OR without giving me credit was not authorized. They claimed they owned the images… despite the contract. Then was told, “All other photographers have given me the RAW files”… looking at her website and photos she had posted, all other photographers used Galaxy S3s… while not super high end by pro standards, my images blew everything she had posted away… even the apparent studio shoots. Without too much more detail… I won.

Lessons learned… never do it for free or close to free, always get something to make your time worth while. If for friends and family, at least get use rights and a very nice dinner… or charge them. If for a stranger, do not let them push you around or reduce your rights… this woman was a diva, placed in a figurehead role and coddled left and right… she expected to get her way and did not care who she trampled. Do not back down. How you do rights to use of the images is your own business… but unless they pay you an arm and a leg NEVER give up ownership of the images. In this case, perhaps I should have run for the hills (call me stupid for trusting)… I did learn a lot but know I will be much more wary next time. ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOMETHING IN WRITING!

End of rant.