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Are You Worth More Than Your Images?

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that many (though not all) of the professional photographers act as if the images they capture are their “babies” and therefore want to “protect and keep them safe” from harm/change, like Instagram filters or Costco printing.

This ownership mentality probably made sense in the days of film photography where your print was everything wrapped up in a singular, non-replicable bundle (just guessing here) and scarcity (one film negative and expensive printing processes) gave photography the aura that made it look like a new “art form.” (If it is, it’s the most populated art form in history with more cameras than people existing in the western world.)

However, I submit that, in this new era, you are best served by thinking of your CLIENT as your “baby” and the images just things you do to make them giggle and scream with joy. You’d never be more concerned with your kid’s toys than your kid, right?

I also know that part of the battle for those photographers is that idea that they “own” the capture image, rather than it being released to the paying client. Unlike every other artisan profession I know of, photographers are the only ones who assume they inherently own the work (not just the commercial rights) they’ve been hired to produce. For everyone else, this is called a “work for hire” and ownership, including copyright, intellectual property and even patent rights, belong the the client. Why is photography different?

I recently expressed as much on a Facebook group and was asked if I, as a business coach, would be okay with my students or clients taking my knowledge and presenting on their own.  Actually, I teach my coaching students both how to do it for themselves and also the principles, so they can teach others the fundamentals of Specialism. In fact, I have almost 20 coaches and mentors out in the world, many of whom teach others what I showed them and *I* collect nothing for it. (You can meet a few of them here:

Back to the point… which I’ll bet you thought was “ownership” didn’t you? It isn’t.  Its what you define as your key business value, and how you project that to the world.  If you train your clients to place he highest value on your products, then you don’t get to complain that they don’t value you enough for WHO you are. And, IMHO this is an old-fashioned and increasingly negative way to approach your relationship with your clients.

My advice is to stay focused on what’s truly valuable and important (the client’s experience) and build your business around that choice.

Here’s a question: How important is it to you, and/or your business model, to retain the ownership/control (except commercial rights) of the images you are paid to capture?  Tell me in the comments.


1 thought on “Are You Worth More Than Your Images?”

  1. I think in the art world there are artists and artisans. An artist makes something for him/herself (“for” to be taken in every sense), and an artisan makes something for someone else. Both are geniuses in their craft, but the one starts a project for his/her own pleasure, the other starts a project upon the request of another’s need. Either way, I think once either of them sells the product, it doesn’t belong to them. In fact when the artisan just starts the project, it doesn’t belong to them. So here we’re talking about artisans. Here’s the thing: only that artisan can make the product the way that artisan can make it — that artisan is sought after for their singular way of crafting their work, and THAT is what’s unsellable and owned entirely by the artisan, that’s what valuable and commoditable: their eyes, their mind and their hands, the way they make the client feel. It’s not J-Lo’s music videos that are insured for millions against damage, it’s her ass. When a client looks at a photo, piece of art, listens to a song, sees a performance, and salivates at the savoury explosion their soul just experienced at the hands of a product, that culprit product belongs to the client once bought/sold; but, what does inalienably belong to the artisan and what really grows a substantial 6-hour stiffy in the client’s pants is the phrase “there’s more where that came from.”

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