In preparing for the Event Photography Workshop coming up in Big Sandy, Texas, later this month, I’ve been doing some research on general protocol for photographing people at events. Here are answers to four common questions:
1. What is standard protocol for photographing people?
From experience and research, I understand that any person in a public place is inclined to having their picture taken without their permission. When a photographer snaps a picture of another person, two fundamental rights come into play: the right of the photographer to free expression and the right of the subject to privacy. So when a person is in public, it is most common that they defer to the right of the photographer. However, you may need to define “privacy” because photographers do not have the right to intentionally intrude in an offensive way, like stalking, or being in-your-face. This is all part of discretion on the side of the photographer, something I call photography etiquette.
2. Is it necessary to obtain permission from attendees of an event?
As a courtesy, people should be aware that photography will be done and those who do not wish to be photographed are given the opportunity to opt-out from being photographed. This may be difficult to enforce, but all measures should be taken to make it happen if requested. A missionary family attending an ATI Conference last year requested that their son not show up in any pictures. To enforce this, all the photographers on the team were shown a picture of him (ironically) and told not to include him in any pictures. The photo editor was also instructed to delete any pictures that may have been taken accidentally. Finally, in the final slideshows we put together, a reviewer combed through to make sure he was not ever depicted.
3. When are signed releases necessary?
Releases become necessary when the publication of specific, recognizable individuals is involved outside the original context of the event. This is especially important to remember with minors, children under the age of 18. For example, when I want to take a picture I took of a child at an ATI Conference and publish it in a Child Evangelism Fellowship Calendar, I must obtain a release. In that situation, the usage is completely unrelated to the published product. On the other hand, as long as folks attending an ATI Conference know that there will be photographers around and they have the option for opting out, there is no need for signed agreements if ATI wants to use those images for displaying Conference activities on social media or advertising next year’s Conference in printed material. Each country has their own rules, but as a general rule outside of the United States, you do not need to obtain any type of release.
4. When a photographer is hired to take pictures at an event, who retains ownership or rights to the photos?
If a photographer is a paid employee of a company who has commissioned him to take the pictures, the company retains the rights to the photos. However, in every other situation the photographer is the owner of the pictures. When I shoot for Conferences (which I’ve never done as an employee), I like to grant ownership of my pictures to the organization for which I am shooting so they are free to use them for however they deem appropriate. Those granted rights are always for business use though, never for personal use, so technically they can’t use them for whatever they want. As a professional photographer, I am very particular about retaining my right to use my pictures for however I want, business or personal, keeping in mind the proper role of etiquette and releases.