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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Perfect Solar Storm

Chasing The Aurora • The Full-Frame Advantage • The Silent Click • Please, Release Me

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips
Please, Release Me
What kind of permission, if any, does a photographer need to have to publish or otherwise sell a photograph of someone else’s property? I have a picture of a house that I took in Lewiston, Idaho. This particular house sits on a hill, and its surroundings as well as its distinctive features make it unique. Basically, if the individual who owns this house saw the image, there would be no mistaking that it’s his house. Would I need to have some sort of release from the owner of this house before posting it for sale on my website? This seems like a gray area because everyone can recognize the Eiffel Tower, but releases aren’t required for posting pictures of that on the Net.
B. Steinagel
Via the Internet

A First, thanks for inspiring the side trip we took to Paris while researching the answer to your question!

Actually, the issue of securing permission to market a photograph of recognizable private property doesn’t fall into a gray area at all. You must have a release from the owner of any private property you photograph before you use the image for any commercial purpose. If you want to use it for an editorial purpose, the rules are different. Say you photographed lightning striking the neighbor’s house and sold it to the local newspaper for a story about the big storm. That’s an editorial use. The problem is that when you take the photograph you can’t possibly know what all the potential uses are, or who might pirate the image and turn it into a commercial venture. So get the release and keep your options open.

Private property includes the farmer’s house, horse, barn, tractor, cows in the field and, most especially, daughters. If you take a picture of the cows and you can’t recognize their brands or their surroundings, you’ll probably get away with it. But it’s still his property, and if you’re going to be responsible, you should give the farmer the opportunity to approve your use.

For this reason, I always carry both model and property releases in my camera bag. When I’ve been particularly interested in photographing a stranger or his or her property, I just ask. It usually works, especially if I arrive with samples of my work and a promise to provide prints as compensation for the release. If you’ve already taken the photograph without advance permission and want to market it, go back to the owner in person with image in hand, or send one by mail with your request for a release.

Your last sentence raises two separate issues. First, the Eiffel Tower is owned by the city of Paris, and is therefore a public landmark. That typically means you can photograph it and market to your heart’s content. But there are some iconic landmarks that are privately owned. We’re reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, surely one of the most representative examples of an American historical treasure. It’s owned by a foundation that closely controls photographic access. For an eye-opening lesson, visit the website www.monticello.org and search “photography.” Unfortunately, professional photographers (that is, those who carry big lenses and tripods and presumably make money from their photography) are made increasingly unwelcome at zoos, botanical gardens, aquaria and other seemingly public places because, in fact, they’re privately or foundation-owned.

The American Society of Media Photographers offers a variety of publications on business standards for commercial photographers, all available through their website at www.asmp.org.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.georgelepp.com.


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