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Should Photographers Charge Extra for Client Privacy?

Photographers in the modern marketplace all seem to live and die by social media. We are all sharing out content on various platforms, and that is probably the main marketing tool for many of us. In the past few weeks, I have seen the exact same question in at least four different places, so I decided perhaps it would be beneficial to share an opinion piece on the topic. Before I go on, let me just state that this is my personal opinion, and there may be other writers in the Photographers Cooperative that have a different opinion. (I don't think there are - but I don't want to assume that I'm speaking for everyone that writes for the site.)

So in a nutshell, I am very strongly opposed to charging extra to refrain from using photos that you have taken for a client. Here are the reasons why:

1. Privacy is a basic right.

While I will go into some other thoughts on finer points and details, the core of the issue is that anybody should be able to lead a private existence. Some folks resist the "put everything out there for the world to see" mentality, and that's absolutely their right. At the very core of the issue, for my own decision, that's really all I need to reach my conclusion.

2. The desire for Privacy is often for a specific reason.

Folks seek privacy for a number of reasons. In one of the instances where I was discussing this recently, the husband of the client was an ambassador. They didn't just want privacy, they NEEDED it. They had an absolutely vital reason that they didn't want photos of their children circulating for people to find. In other instances there could be a celebrity involved, or perhaps there is a really horrible ex-spouse or ex-lover that is not well, and sharing out photos of a new relationship could be very damaging to a personal situation. You can easily think up a dozen more circumstances where the client would prefer to just keep things on the down-low. I'll circle back to reason #1, and say that there doesn't need to be a good specific reason, but it just stands to reason that since there are very good reasons to desire privacy, a professional photographer should be willing to provide that.

3. It's good business.

A friend of mine was once shooting a big event in Philly. He captured a number of photos of a celebrity couple that were not actually known to be a couple. The photos made it obvious, but he made the extremely wise decision not to sell those images. He did give the photos to the couple, and surprise of all surprises, they adored them, AND they told all of their celebrity friends about the discreet photographer with amazing integrity. He is now an outrageously successful celebrity photographer. Nothing beats word-of-mouth advertising, and when you have celebrities referring you because you are discreet, professional and "a cool guy," well... you just can't buy marketing like that.

4. Building a portfolio other ways...

My guess would be that new photographers trying to build their portfolio might be the ones that are more inclined to feel some sense of entitlement to use photos to broaden their portfolio. If you are still building your portfolio at the beginning of your career, it would be worth doing some free shoots, or some styled shoots to build that portfolio. Nothing quite replaces longevity for building a diverse portfolio, but strong-arming clients to use photos is just not a decent way to build that gallery of images.

5. Think of the impression you are giving.

Put yourself in the clients' shoes. You are ready to pay good money for a photographer, you express your desire for privacy, and that photographer becomes upset or insistent about using photos for their own promotional purposes. My take on that as a customer would be that you aren't willing to prioritize my needs. I'm hiring someone to provide a service, and their service being offered is conditional on me being "used" by them for advertising. It comes off as very uncaring. It can also come off as pretty 'amateurish.' If I put myself in the shoes of the client, I would think: "Hmmm... they are so desperate for images to share, they must not get asked to shoot much." Even if in fact you don't get to shoot much, you probably don't want to portray that in your policies and procedures.

6. What if I get the best photo of my life?

I have to admit, that would be really frustrating! You have agreed to be confidential with your work, and then you do get the most incredible image that you feel would help elevate your brand and your marketing. My advice here would be to possibly reach out to the client, and have a very gentle discussion about the possibility of hanging a physical copy of it in your studio, or showing it as a hard copy sample when meeting with future potential clients. There is ALWAYS a benefit to having something physically in hand when you meet with a potential client. And if that thing that you are holding in your hand happens to be even better than every other piece of work they have seen of yours? That's very likely to close the deal! But even here - if the client doesn't even want the physical print shown to anyone, I say you really want to respect that. Sometimes you just take the hit in order to be a wonderful human being.

7. Shooting for exposure?

You don't have to look very far in the photography community to find people livid at the idea of being asked to shoot something purely for the exposure. The general response is: "I am a professional, and you can't pay the mortgage with exposure!" While that is a discussion for another time, I would point out that in some ways, expecting to have the exposure from the shoot be a part of the compensation actually undermines that argument. If you are considering some of the value of the shoot to be the images that you will share on social media, you ARE shooting in part for exposure. I would argue that it's more important to price yourself correctly so that you feel completely compensated for your time and efforts based on your fee. 98% of the time clients will have no problem with you sharing out images from a session. But in the few instances where they prefer that you don't, if you have charged apporpriately, you wont walk away feeling "short-changed."

What do you think? I'd love to hear some thoughts on the topic! Join us over in our Facebook group! There's a wonderful community of photographers there, always willing to help with questions of all sorts.


Mark is a professional photographer working in the eastern United States. He is based in suburban Philadelphia, but shoots regularly in New York and eastern North Carolina, as well. Specializing in wedding & portrait photography, he is particularly obsessed with capturing special events, important moments and emotions.

In October, 2018, he will be presenting a series of classes at Cardinal Camera in Lansdale, PA and in November, 2018, he will be presenting a hands-on gear show through the Pennsylvania Center for Photography. Details about both of these opportunities will be available here when they are available.

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