Monday, October 25, 2010


I need to share a story with you guys about a negative experience I've had recently with doing photography. I'm really bummed about this whole situation, and really grappled with whether or not to blog about it. But I feel like there's a chance some of you could learn from my story, and hopefully not end up in the same situation.This is an extremely emotionally charged situation for me, but I'm going to  do my best to write about it as objectively as possible. It's long. Here goes:

Last year, I was asked if I would donate a family photo session as part of an auction for the church that I attend and the school. I happily did so. The family that won was I family that we knew well, and I would have definitely considered close acquaintances, if not friends. I have done photo shoots for several of the family's friends, and I was excited to do the shoot.

We set up a date, and I went out to do the shoot. It was a GREAT shoot involving the family's horses, and I thought it turned out really beautiful and unique. Typically, I had people sign a model release form any time I was taking pictures of minors, as was the case in this situation. I forgot to bring a copy, so I said that I'd email her a copy, along with a sneak peek of the pictures. She asked if I could post the sneak peek to Facebook, which is not something that I typically do without the release, but I didn't think much of it...these were friends.

As it happened, Lizzy went to bed early that night, and Justin was watching Avatar...again. I ended up finishing editing the photos that night. I posted the sneak peek to Facebook, and immediately got great feedback, including from the mom herself. The next day, the mom came to pick up the CD of photos, and said that she had forgotten the release at home. I told her that it was no biggie, and that she could just leave it with my mother-in-law at school the next day. The following week, I checked in with her about the release again, and she said that she had forgotten. I genuinely didn't think much of it.

On Thursday night, the mom posted a Facebook update that basically said, "Having a friend edit some family pictures. So excited to see them tomorrow!"

I responded that I hoped she liked how they turned out, and didn't think much of it. I updated my own status to something about being speechless that evening. It had been a looonnngggg, emotional week.

A few minutes later, she responded back to her status, "There were a few with the camera bag in the background. And some other things I guess you didn't see."

Then, she responded to my status {about being speechless}, "Hmmm...I think this is about me. I will inbox you later."

Honestly, I was a little shocked. I really didn't think that she was talking about the photos that I had done for her at all.  I had only heard from her that she loved the photos that I had done. I didn't really know what to say, so I responded, " Gotcha. I would have been happy to fix them for you had I known. And just so you know, my status wasn't about you--I actually didn't even realize that they were my photos that you were talking about until you replied :) "

It was my intent to reply with as much civility as possible, even though inside I was pretty hurt. First of all, I wish that she would have spoken with me if she was unhappy. If there truly was a camera bag in the background, I would have fixed it no questions asked {though, I have looked through the photos again, and I only see ONE photo that may have my camera bag in the background. It just as easily may be their cat. It's in the bokeh, and really difficult to tell}. Second of all, I suspect that the person doing the editing is also a photographer, and I just cannot get over how unethical editing someone else's photos without their permission is. Every photographer has such a distinct and unique style, that it just isn't something you should do EVER.

After this, I really felt like giving a CD or DVD of images to a client wouldn't be possible anymore. I was bummed, because I don't WANT to deal with ordering prints. And if I were the one hiring a photog, I would want a CD of images! The next day, I conferred with Leah, who gave me the great suggestion of adding a disclaimer into the release that specifies that the person may print the photos, but not alter or edit in any way. I decided that this was a good learning experience for me, and a great reason for me to update my release form.

Later on Friday, I sent another message to that mom explaining that I still needed a model release for her children. I explained that if they weren't comfortable signing the release, that was totally fine, but just to please let me know, as I can't have photos of minors up on my Facebook page without a signed release. For the record, I didn't even send the new release with the no-editing provision. Just the old release that they had received originally. I saw that the mom was on Facebook through the night, but didn't respond to my message.

On Sunday, I left a comment that said, "Hi! I know Facebook has been a little screwy lately with notifications, so I just wanted to make sure that you got my message. Please let me know what you'd like to do." Again, the mom was on Facebook throughout the night and this morning, and I have received no response. I took down the photos, and sent her a final message that I had seen she had been on Facebook several times and had not responded to or acknowledged my messages or comments, so I was assuming that she was uncomfortable signing a release, and had removed the family photos from my Facebook page. I noted that I would be happy to put them back up if I had a signed release in hand. 

Guys, I'm just disappointed about this whole situation. I'm disappointed that I wasn't given the opportunity to fix something if she really was unhappy. I'm disappointed that we can't seem to have a civil conversation about it.

So learn from me:

-Have everyone sign a release before the session, even if they're good friends. 
-Do not post any pictures to Facebook or your blog without a signed release, even if they've given you verbal permission to do so.
-Explicitly lay out your expectations as part of the contract/release. If you're giving them printing rights, state that. If you do not want them to have editing rights, state that. I also added that the photos could not be used for advertisement or contests without my permission.


  1. I'm sure there will be some people to learn from you! Stinks to learn "the hard way" sometimes! Sounds like you went out of your way to do the right thing...good job!

  2. Have you ever heard of Smugmug? allows you to upload and secure your photos. For a small fee you can run your photo business with the right protection for your photos. You can set it so families need passwords to view their own photos. You can do a right-click protect so they can't just copy your photos and not order. You can set prices on the prints, which Smugmug prints and ships - totally out of your hands. Families can make the order from their own home and not bug you about how many of what size, blah, blah. I say skip the CD unless they want to pay a hefty fee...chances are they want it for their own tinkering. Then just accept that it will happen but you've got the cash for your work. And some level of ownership over any publication of the photos, edited or not.

    Long and rambling but it's something I'm passionate about. Cheers!

  3. Mer, I'm so sorry that this has just continued! You've handled this as professionally as you can and it truly is just a huge bummer. :( Everyone has their learning situations, trust me I've had mine, so it sounds like you're taking what you can from this!

  4. You sound like a true professional and seem to have handled the situation very well. I am sorry this happened especially with friends.

  5. I'm so sorry you're bummed, it sounds like you've done the best you can. The only recommendation I would have would be to take the conversation off FB and turn to phone calls or email. The lines are so fine when it comes to FB professional vs personal lives. I'm sure the photos were great, I'm serious about wanting to have you take some next summer when we're in OR for a wedding.

  6. While I'm glad you are taking something away from the situation, I hate that it happened. And I think it's really rude and sketchy on the client's part. Sorry, lady! :(

  7. Sounds like a real screwy lady, I'm so sorry you had to deal with this! I think your points are excellent ones, and I like the idea that the commenter posted about smugmug too!

  8. This sounds totally sucky! Sorry you're going through it but at least you learned from it!

  9. Hi. I came across your blog from Katie at Loves of Life - I just wanted to say that I thought you did an awesome job writing this post. I really think you tried to handle the situation in the best way that you could... - I would have been so frustrated/hurt if someone took my photos to another photographer to be edited. That's really just plain rude. :( I also think you gave some really great advice in the post. Thank you for sharing. I'm sorry you had such a sucky experience :(

  10. As to the person in question, fuck 'em. Waste no time on those without common social skills, some bridges are worth burning, etc.

    I'm curious about photography rights. Do you lose rights to editing, alteration, etc. if you don't explicitly retain them? I know with original writing, what's yours is legally yours and protected unless you specifically renounce rights (i.e., by signing a contract with a publisher or releasing your work "open source," as it were). Bearing that in mind, is seems to me not only hugely unethical but also illegal to alter another photographer's work--and surprising that a professional photographer would even consider something like that.

    I would strongly suggest not offering digital copies in the future. Lame, but not only does it build in artificial scarcity that works in your favor economically, it's the only way you can even partly control the replication of your work. Once something's publicly available in digital format, it's out of your hands entirely, and while avenues exist for legal redress, they are extremely long, frustrating and expensive.

    Our society's approach to intellectual property is drastically changed, and those of use who want to make money through it need to adapt our own approach.

    Anyway, I think you handled this situation particularly well, and your adversary did not. Sorry it sucked.

  11. WOW. That is truly unfortunate. Then again, I'm rarely surprised by people these days, even acquaintances or friends. What is the world coming to? I would be just as disappointed as you are in her behavior. And for the record, I think you handled it perfectly.

  12. That's so tacky. She's way out of line, in my opinion. And, it seems, that she knows she's doing something wrong. Why else would she read so much into your status?

    And who's this other photographer? They should know better!


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