The traditional format of paying a wedding photographer $5,000 to shoot your wedding is, in my opinion, complete and total bullshit. The conversation goes something like this:

Bride: I would like you to photograph our wedding.

Photographer:  great, our rate for the day is $5,000, we show you some selected prints, you select what you like and we will send you about a dozen as part of the fee. If you want additional photographs they cost, depending on the size, about $30-$150 each.

Bride:  okay great, we get married on [insert date], we’ll see you there.

The problem with this conversation is the photographer owns the intellectual property and you have to pay them to get additional photographs of your wedding.  You, in this kind of arrangement, CANNOT use them in any format that you decide you want (print, books: think Shutterfly, internet, etc).  You first have to seek and probably pay the photographer you hired, for the right to use them.

The Photographer Should NEVER Own The IP In Your Wedding Pictures! ' Click To Tweet

It makes me want to puke every time I hear stories about a bride paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars, in addition to the day rate for the photographer, for additional prints that they want of their OWN FUCKING WEDDING.

How We Pay Photographers In Movies And TV

I have worked in Hollywood for over 35 years and when I hire a photographer, to do anything, I pay them a fee per hour plus equipment rental and ALL the work that they perform is a work-for-hire. Work-for-hire is a term of art that has a legal definition and in that definition I, the producer, own 100% of the intellectual property that they create while I’m paying them.

And that is where the problem I have with wedding photography lies. When you pay somebody to do something, design, art, create, photograph, write, act, direct – whatever.  When you pay them, you own ALL of the intellectual property and all rights that are created in the process of doing that work stay with the person who is paying for the work – bar none – period – FULL STOP! This is a principal tenant in every employment agreement, on every movie and with every employee that I have ever worked on for 100% of my career.

I have NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER allowed or seen a creator own any of the intellectual property that is created when I pay them. The exception to this rule is when I’m working in a guild environment like The Writers Guild of America, The Screen Actors Guild, or The Directors Guild of America  – when there is a creator who maintains certain derivative rights – that is the only exception to the rule.

These people maintain some rights because they are represented by a guild or union and are creating something from scratch out of thin air. A wedding photographer is doing nothing of the sort.  They show up, they take some pictures and they do their fucking job. By and large, that is not creating something out of thin air or from scratch.

So in my opinion wedding photographers are no exception and are exploiting a part of intellectual property law to benefit themselves, to line their pockets, where I don’t think they should be able to and where the unknowing bride and groom have no idea what intellectual property is.

My Wedding

When I hired the wedding photographer for my wedding, I paid him a fee for the day (the rate he quoted), flew and housed him in Italy for the wedding and at the end of the day I owned 100% of every single photograph he and his assistant took when they showed up to do their job. When finished and when we got home, he handed me a drive with all of the photographs and I owned all those pictures and the intellectual property to do with as I pleased.

I now have the ability to do whatever I wanted with the pictures.  I can make prints, I can hang them on the web, I can make as many books as I want for my family and friends and I can do whatever I want because I own that intellectual property in each picture.

When you pay a wedding photographer to shoot your wedding, you own the intellectual property that goes with the work. You should also get from that photographer at least a dozen or two dozen pictures of their selects.  The photographs they like with any tonal or color changes, they may add some kind of creative, they may give it a look and you own all of that additional work as well.

They are transferring any and all rights to the images and any derivative work to you in exchange of the fee you pay them (good and valuable consideration).

When You Hire A Photographer For Your Wedding

So the next time you or a friend are in the market to pay a wedding photographer, you should remember that they are a work-for-hire, you own the intellectual property and not them.  Make sure their agreement passes any and all rights to you if you are paying for the work on the day of the wedding.  Don’t get hosed and hire a good intellectual property lawyer.  Remember you own the rights!  You paid for them.  Ping me at the bottom of the site if you need a recommendation.

Finally, as a point of reference (in 2020) – some of the most famous photographers in the world that we hire to shoot pictures for movies and television make anywhere from $500 a day to $2,500 a day. So if you’re paying someone five grand you should own all the intellectual property to the works.  And this has been the standard range of rates for over 2 decades.  The higher the rate, the more famous and in-demand the photographer.

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