Dear Wedding Vendors: Photographers Don’t Owe You Images

In a recent episode of the podcast we host, The Secret Life of Weddings, we chatted about a major hot topic among wedding photographers these days. We got a little heated and felt it was important enough to write out our thoughts as well.

There is something happening that’s making wedding photographers very angry. Most photographers are afraid to say anything because we never want to be seen as difficult or egotistical, but it has become such an issue that private Facebook groups of photographers are exploding with frustrations. We’ve all had enough. It’s with tired hearts and 10 years of giving away our work for free that we say this to you:

Dear wedding planners, florists, venues, DJs, limo companies, make-up artists, hair stylists, dress shops, decor designers, cake artists, officiants, musicians, etc. Here is the hard truth: wedding photographers do not owe you images. Just stop #WeddingVendorEntitlement.

This hashtag was inspired by an on-going issue and we as members of the wedding photography community have decided finally speak out.

The sense of entitlement that has been expressed across the wedding scene is, in a word, appalling. The attitude of wedding vendors has spiraled out of control and images are too often demanded instead of respectfully requested. Is money offered for the photographer’s time spent preparing and sending these images? No. Is a photo credit offered or given? Maybe. Will that photo credit feed our families? Absolutely not. What are the odds we will receive a new wedding client referral from said vendor? In spite of the best intentions, extremely low.

Therefore we are standing up to join the ranks of the frustrated wedding photographers in hopes that this is not only seen but heard… and heard LOUD!

Long gone are the days of “please”, “thank you,” and any respect or any kind gesture to obtain images for use, whether it be a florist, DJ, venue, planner, etc. Instead of “When you have time, may I please use some of your images in my portfolio? I will be sure to link back to your website and provide photo credit,” we hear, “So how do I get these photos?” Even rarer is an offer of payment to use our work for their own company’s advertising.

A personal anecdote for you from our lives: A popular Toronto wedding venue once approached Lisa asking for a photograph to print in a full page Wedluxe advertisement. She was young but knew at the very least she should receive printed credit on the image and some money, and if the company wanted to remove the credit entirely, she should be paid more. This venue makes hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in revenue and was easily paying thousands of dollars for this upcoming print ad that repeats monthly in Wedluxe.

Lisa quoted usage of her image (dependent on the client’s sign-off first) at $250 with print credit and $500 without the credit. The venue said they had been “burned” by a photographer in the past and therefore were hesitant to offer any sort of credit or payment. She never heard from them again and they are still running the same print ad as years ago. That about summarizes the amount of respect photographers get, even from very financially massive businesses.

“We don’t pay for image usage, that’s not how this works.”

Often these vendors even assume they can pay thousands of dollars for print ads and simply “get the high-resolution file” they “need” and don’t expect to pay us for our intellectual property, OR get the sign off from the client who paid them for their work in the first place! Our mutual client may not even be cool with us sending you these photos they paid for of their private event to promote YOUR business. Photographers cover this privately with the client in our contracts, but that photo release doesn’t extend to other vendors.

If it takes so much time then ask for payment, you say? Guess what? We have.

Way too often photographers have heard the reply “We don’t pay for image usage, that’s not how this works.” This is now what we are faced with when we “mistakenly” think we should be financially compensated for our work. Too often photographers spend the time to give other wedding professionals free images and receive nothing in return. No new client referrals. No money. Shockingly, no written credit (if we’re lucky maybe we can get a tag on Instagram that nobody will see unless they tap the photo!) It’s just awful and we are sick of it.

If you’re a wedding vendor reading this: be honest with yourself. Have you treated a photographer with respect and kindness throughout the whole pre-during-post wedding process? Or did you only come up to me at the end of the reception, after not saying a word to me all day, and ask me for free promotional content for your business?

Wedding photographers have been left wondering when courtesy for fellow vendors went completely out the window. When did sharing our work go from a kind favor between wedding vendor friends (or “friendors” as we often call each other) in exchange for promised photo credits (despite a 99% chance of no new business for us) to instead becoming a default expectation? Taking advantage of photographers’ work has become a wedding industry standard and it’s not okay.

Business gurus often say “If you don’t value yourself and your work, how can you expect others to?” Yet when we DO value ourselves and say we are uncomfortable with the expectation of free images (of our clients’ likenesses no less), we are met with confused faces and snarky remarks about how the industry does not run this way and about how this photographer and that photographer “always sends us photos.”

It’s time to recognize that the industry has changed for the worse. There is no longer kindness and courtesy — there is only the expectation of free photography for your business. That arrangement is simply unfair to hardworking photographers. We — along with our work — become devalued by the sharing of images with fellow vendors without any compensation for our time or talent.

If you’re a vendor who is guilty of only befriending the photographer when it’s time to “get images”, perhaps we can be seen as a valuable part of the industry instead of your personal portfolio builder. Photographers are there for the client. We are there to build OUR portfolios. We are not there to build your brand and get you more business and therefore money in your pocket.

So, let’s put it this way:

Would you be willing to work 25+ hours per year for free? No? Because this is what you’re asking us to do every time you ask how you can “get the images” for your own advertising. You are literally making money off our work. Not only that, it actually takes a lot more time than you probably realize to edit and make galleries for vendors so they can have free images for their portfolio, advertising, and social media posts. Yet we are regularly expected to do this for about 3-6 separate vendors, every single wedding, every year, no questions asked. It takes so much time to select photos, edit, re-size, watermark and publish these galleries for every vendor, not to mention throwing in free commercial usage.

We get it – you didn’t mean to be rude, right? You just figured since the work is already done, why can’t you just have copies of the images, right? Well, it’s not that simple, as outlined above. It’s also simply not fair.

So instead, how can we actively work to change the industry’s attitude toward images for portfolio usage? It comes down to The Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. It’s kindergarten, people. If you begin to treat photographers as people and friends and not simply free content machines, you might be pleasantly surprised at what we will gladly share with the sweetheart friendors in our lives. We won’t just do that — we will also be happy to cross-tag you in OUR social media posts because guess what? Photographers are almost always booked long before florists, dress shops, officiants, videographers, DJs, wedding planners, and more.

If your photographer has a follower who sees your business mentioned, there’s an even higher chance you’ll get business from that. So there’s simply more value in being kind, offering compensation to photographers when reaching out, and maintaining a valuable friendship with us. It’s so much better than ignoring us all day and then cornering us and your first words in my tired face after a full wedding day are basically “so how can I get something from you for free?’

…and to those vendors who are not the majority, we thank you.

We love those vendors who befriend us in a real way and help us to produce the best work we can on the wedding day. You were the one to respectfully ask if it would be possible to please have a quote on licensing the use of our images for your portfolio after they were delivered to the client. We love you. And ironically many photographers will probably end up sharing their images with fellow small business owners in exchange for credit. This isn’t wrong, but it’s a personal business decision of the photographer, and not industry standard, because to be honest, that’s complete bulls**t.

Want to help be an active participant in ending #WeddingVendorEntitlement?

Step 1. Offer to pay to use our images. It immediately shows the photographer that you respect our work and our time.

Step 2. Ensure our mutual client is comfortable with your intended usage. Some people may not want their images made public. This can often be the case with sensitive professions such as law enforcement.

Step 3. Never ask our mutual client for the files. Going around the photographer to obtain photographs to use is wrong — and illegal! We own the copyright to our images, not the client. You are not allowed to use our images without our express permission.

If a photographer decides to share their images with you, here are some thoughtful ways to say thank you:

  • A heartfelt note of thanks. Do you know how often we have prepared and delivered free images, as requested, to vendors and they never even reply?
  • Send a thank you card with a gift card or drop off a bottle of wine. Show your appreciation in some way.
  • Offer compensation when you ask for our photographs. You could offer money or even an offer of a floral arrangement from a decor company, or help with a future event from a wedding planner. There are so many ways to trade a skill. What would you like to trade us for our expertise, time and finished photographs?
  • Actively send us referrals and add us to your preferred vendors list! This is huge! It’s an easy way to show photographers you appreciate and respect us and hope to repay us with actual new business. Unless you’re a venue or a wedding planner, unfortunately having us on a referral list isn’t super effective in actually generating new business for wedding photographers because we are usually booked very early in the wedding planning process, but we appreciate the effort! It shows us respect and that you want to have an on-going vendor friendship with us.
  • Hire the photographer for your own personal upcoming event / family portrait / baby portraits.

To photographers: if you are actively receiving new business from a vendor, then great. Keep doing what works for you. This blog post is for those of us longtime photographers who aren’t having this result. This post is also for any new wedding photographers who are looking to break into the industry. This is your reminder to value your work and above all, value your time.

Time is priceless so be careful who you work for and what you’re actually getting in exchange for that time and effort. Receiving Instagram tags isn’t worth time you could be building your portfolio or spending time with your family.

Don’t forget: photo credits don’t pay the bills.

About the author: Lisa Mark and Rebecca Lozer are wedding photographers with over 20 years of combined experience serving in and around Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors. Mark and Lozer are also the hosts of the podcast The Secret Life of Weddings. You can connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.