Lifting The Veil: Copyright vs. Printing Release

Lifting The Veil: Copyright vs. Printing Release

Navigating the wedding industrial complex can be tricky. That’s why our new series, Lifting the Veil, aims to set the record straight on some common beliefs held by engaged couples. We want you to be an informed consumer and a savvy wedding planner, so without further ado, let the myth busting begin…


One of our most frequently asked questions is, “Do I get the copyright to my photos?” Before I answer that, let’s take a moment to look at what a copyright is.

While the term literally means “the right to copy,” the practical definition is significantly more far-reaching. As an artist – whether you’re a painter or a sculptor or a writer or a photographer – you own the copyright to your work as soon as you create it. In the case of a wedding photographer, that means the moment the shutter goes “click.” A copyright protects you from other aspiring artists stealing your work and claiming it as their own. A copyright is what makes your work yours. I’ve yet to meet a colleague who is willing to relinquish the copyright to his or her own photographs. This would prevent the photographer from using his photos on his website and blog, printing the images for promotion/display, submitting work to publications, and everything else that’s necessary to run a wedding photography business. The release of copyright is a complete surrender of all rights to one’s own work.

What folks generally mean to ask for when hiring a wedding photographer is not the copyright to the photos, but a personal use/printing release.

J. LaPlante Photo | Boulder Wedding Photographers | Personal Use Printing Release

A personal use/printing release will allow you to do just about anything with your wedding photos short of starting your own wedding photography business.

Here’s what you can and cannot do with a personal use/printing release:

Can do:
~ Make prints in any size or quantity (for personal use only)
~ Make photo albums
~ Share with family and friends
~ Post to social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)

Can’t do:
~ Alter/edit the photos
~ Sell the photos for profit

For 99.9% of brides and grooms, a personal use/printing release more than suffices for all their wedding photo needs.

I should note here, though, that every photographer’s release will be a little bit different. The info listed above simply outlines what one can and cannot do with our release. Just be sure to ask your photographer ahead of time what his or her release entails specifically.

A couple other quick notes: even though it’s not legally required, it’s just plain good manners to credit your photographer when posting on Facebook and other social media sites, especially if you’re using un-watermarked images. This means a simple byline (e.g. “photo by J. La Plante”) and possibly a website link.

J. LaPlante Photo | Detroit Wedding Photographers | Fox Theatre Wedding | Bride And Groom Portrait

Also, if you want to submit your photos for publication in a print magazine or online wedding blog, you’ll have to ask your photographer’s permission first. He or she will almost certainly say yes (the more exposure the better!) and will probably even be willing to handle the submission for you (to make sure the images are prepared/sized correctly), but your photographer absolutely must be informed ahead of time.

I also want to be clear that not all wedding photographers provide their clients with personal use/printing releases. Some photographers prefer to have complete control over their work, from the time of capture to the finished product. In other words, they’re not too keen on having the art they’ve worked their entire lives to perfect being printed on tissue-thin paper at the local CVS. In these cases, you’ll need to purchase prints and albums directly from your photographer. These products will be of a much higher quality, but will be priced accordingly.

One other thing to keep in mind is that printing through your photographer saves you time and worry. Most photographers’ websites are set up so that you can order prints directly from an online gallery and, with a few clicks, have them delivered directly to your door.

J. LaPlante Photo | Aspen Wedding Photographers | Aspen Meadows Resort Wedding | Fall Wedding Shoot

We here at J. La Plante Photo give our brides and grooms the choice: print on your own or print directly through us. It’s your call.  We offer a variety of high-quality printed products including leather-bound albums, archival-quality metal prints and, of course, the more standard glossy photo prints. But we’re also more than happy to direct you to a number of DIY stores and websites.

J. LaPlante Photo | Colorado Wedding Photographers | Wedding Photo Albums

So when hiring your wedding photographer, be sure to ask whether or not you’ll receive a personal use/printing release. This will not only help you to plan your wedding budget more effectively, it will also be cool to watch your photographer’s eyes light up in happiness and admiration because you didn’t ask about copyright!

About the author
Jesse La Plante and Moira Kennedy are husband and wife wedding photographers who have been shooting weddings in Colorado since 2008. Located just outside of Boulder in Lafayette, they specialize in vibrant wedding photography for couples getting married in Colorado's most breathtaking venues. The duo works primarily in Denver, Boulder and the Rocky Mountains, but travels all over the country - and abroad - to shoot weddings. Get in touch today to find out if they're available for your wedding!

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