Ask An Agent / Copyright / Plan B for Photography Students

Following the success of Lisa’s ‘Ask an Agent’ column for the British Journal of Photography, it will now appear as a new monthly feature on our own blog.

It's been great receiving all the questions from photographers over the last couple of years, and do keep them coming, but we wanted to give others a chance to have their questions answered too. We get asked a lot of questions by people from all areas of the industry so thought it might be helpful to share some of the answers.

So, whether you’re a creative director or a student, a project manager or a photographer, a marketing director or an assistant, a designer or an art buyer, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to and Lisa will answer as many as she can each month.

Questions can be on anything to do with the commercial photography business such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff- anything!

This month Lisa explains why photographers don't want to give away their copyright, and comes up with some suggestions for a photography student who doesnt want to be a photographer.

'I want to buy the copyright to some images I am commissioning but the photographer says I can’t, he wants to retain the copyright. Doesn’t seem right to me as I am paying for the whole shoot!'


Nathan Elliott, small business owner, Bristol.

This one comes up time and time again and the photographer is right to insist on retaining the copyright.

Copyright is part of a group of rights known as intellectual property rights (IP) – intellectual as it’s a product of the human mind, and property referring to something that can be owned. To own the copyright means you own the right to copy or authorise others to copy the image- and lets face it, it’s unlikely that you want to do this.

When a shoot is commissioned a photographer should grant a temporary usage licence for his images. The more commercial exposure an image gets the higher the fee. This still allows the client to use the images for whatever they want, at an agreed price, whilst allowing the photographer to have control of where the images are used.

Clients are usually motivated to ask for ownership of copyright either because they would like to use the images freely for their marketing or because they want exclusive use to prevent the images being used by others.

If this is really what you want then an ‘ All media, in Perpetuity, Worldwide, Exclusive’  usage licence will serve exactly the same purpose. I’m suspecting that this might not be what  you want either and it's advisable to be realistic about usage so as to not pay over the odds- e.g are you really going to want to use the images on billboards around the world?

So just to recap on why photographers don’t like to assign copyright.


• Copyright protects the moral rights of the creator. If copyright is assigned, control is relinquished of where and how their photography is used. This in turn creates exposure to liability.

• Copyright protects the economic rights of the creator. If copyright is assigned the assignee can resell your image to third parties and benefit financially.

• There isn’t any point. A usage licence granting ‘ All media, in Perpetuity, Worldwide, Exclusive’ rights fulfils the same needs of the buyer (unless they do intend to sell the image on to other companies) whilst allowing the photographer to retain copyright and full control of where the work is reproduced.

I’ve just finished the  2nd year of my photography degree, but I’m not sure I actually want to be a photographer. What other opportunities are there in the industry?


Sarah Reynolds. Blackpool.

Lots of photography graduates don’t actually end up becoming photographers. There’s no shame in this, professional photography is an incredibly competitive career and there are many other attractive options the other side of the camera.

Having said this, do stick to your studies. It’s an ideal time to work out your ‘Plan B’ whilst learning useful relevant stuff and meeting like minded people, not to mention the fact that it won’t look very good on your CV if you drop out.

Here’s some alternative career suggestions.

• Photographers Agent

• Producer

• Casting Director/Model Booker

• Stylist

• Location Scout or location library work.

• Retoucher

• Art Director

• Picture Editor on a magazine or newspaper

• Picture researcher in a photo library

• Creative services in an advertising or design agency.

• Gallery assistant

• Studio assistant

• Photography teacher/lecturer

• Photography writer

• Event/workshop organiser

Do your research and try and get as much work experience as you can. That way, when you start applying for jobs this time next year you’ll stand a much better chance of getting an interview.

You can find listings of companies in the industry handbooks and online. Some companies run internship programmes. Send or email them your CV accompanied by a covering letter detailing what you are doing now, why you want to get experience with them and how you can help them. Be polite and persistent but don’t be a pest: you want to give the impression that you are genuinely only interested in them and not that you are sending out a bulk mail in the hope that someone will reply (even if that is what you are doing). Look on the website of the company or person you are approaching and mention something specific to them in your covering letter. For example, if you want to get some experience with a stills producer and you see a project for T-Mobile on their website, you could say: ‘I saw the T-Mobile production on your blog and would love to help out on something like that. I don’t mind running around and fetching coffee all day in return for the opportunity to see what it’s like on set.

Go for it, there’s no time like the present!

Please Note:

We reserve the right not to enter into ongoing correspondence.

We reserve the right not to answer all questions.

Please state whether you would like to remain anonymous.

This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA takes no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.