“We’d like to use your wedding photos for our portfolio.”

“You consent to allowing our business to use your photos for advertising purposes.”

“If you choose to work with us, you are required to share your wedding gallery for our professional use.”

These are all quotes from wedding vendors to couples that I’ve seen. Whether they’re DMs on Instagram after their wedding has happened or clauses in contracts before services have even officially been agreed upon, these requests have made couples feel uneasy enough that they’ve touched base with me to ask, “...am I even allowed to do this?”

I wanted to take a moment to cover things from all sides—the client, the vendor, and the photographer—to outline how I think everyone can win when it comes to wedding photos. And how I, personally, feel like there is a right and wrong way to approach asking for them.

I'll start by making one thing clear:

I don’t think most people are trying to be malicious when they put a clause in their contract asking for the rights to use images. I don’t think vendors are trying to trick couples into sharing images knowing that what they’re asking of them isn’t technically something the couple can legally agree to. 99% of the time I think that folks are just trying their best to represent their business in a way that is professional and will help them attract more clients. (Though, there have been instances where I’ve gotten major manipulative red flag vibes from vendors. Those people do exist, and you should trust your gut—more on this later.)

That said, there are some things about contracts and copyright that can muddy the waters when it comes to these sorts of requests.

Let’s take a look at why vendors can’t require couples to share their wedding photos in their contract

The reason I usually get messages from clients when they see a clause in another vendor's contract is because they recognize that it goes against the contract they’ve signed with me. Most photographers will have a clause in their contract that explains that the rights of the images remain with the photographer—aka, the copyright. Now before I get too far into copyright, I want to take the time to share this little nugget: 


There is a reason that my contracts do not expire within, say, 24 hours. And that is to give you ample time to read through every single thing and ask any questions you may have. Because setting expectations is very important, and it’s hard to have a healthy relationship when you feel like you’ve been tricked into something you don’t agree with. The folks who have reached out to me in the past have thoroughly read through my contract as well as the other vendor's contracts, ensuring they are not agreeing to anything that 1. They are not comfortable with, and 2. Might put them in an uncomfortable position later.

Along those lines:


If you are a vendor, consult a lawyer to ensure what you’ve written is legal or invest in contracts that have been created by/with the aid of legal professionals. Just because someone signs your contract doesn’t mean that it is legal and will hold up in court, and just because someone sold you a contract doesn't mean what they put in it is legal.

Anywho, back to copyright.

Copyright is a VERY complicated thing, which means there are lots of misunderstandings around copyright law. I’m not a lawyer, nor have I ever played one on tv, so I can’t get into the weeds too much. But here’s my best attempt to break it down:

When someone creates an original work, they own the copyright to it. If you have ever written a poem, piece of music, or created an original piece of art, congratulations! You are a copyright owner. Along with copyright-owners, other people can be copyright-users, meaning that they can obtain, use, and enjoy the copyrighted product. But they are not entitled to use or distribute the copyrighted material inappropriately. For example, if you buy a book, you can’t sell the ideas you got from the book to a company to then turn into a movie. Just because you bought the book doesn’t mean you own the story inside the book. That story still belongs to the person who wrote it, even though you paid to enjoy the story.

How that translates to photography is that if your photographer has a clause in their contract that states they retain the copyright, the client isn’t able to then distribute the images to other companies for them to use how they please. The client does not have the right to agree to give something away that they do not legally have the rights to give to someone else, so asking them to do so is not something you can have in your contract as a vendor.

So how can we use this information moving forward?

If you’re the client

Read. Your. Contracts. Thoroughly. Before. Signing.

Now that that’s out of the way, another thing you should do is ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable having my images shared?”

This is something only you can answer—if the idea of your face being on the front of someone’s website, social media content, heck, even business cards or marketing materials, makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to agree to have your likeness shared.

Next, ask yourself if you feel like the request that’s being asked of you feels right. Is someone asking to use your likeness? Or are they demanding the full rights to all your wedding photos, no questions asked? If you feel like someone is asking you something unreasonable, you have two options: ask them to alter or remove the clause, or start looking for another vendor. At the end of the day, you are paying money for a service, and if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to work with them. This is true for literally anyone you hire, wedding photographers included. Personal opinion, but I find that people who are unable to adjust their expectations—unless they have a solid explanation as to why, legally or morally, they are required to have something in a contract—are probably not as interested in helping you as they are in helping themselves. Do not let someone bully you into making a decision that doesn’t feel right.

If you’re the wedding vendor…

Consider changing/updating your contract. Whether that’s adding a photo release or a clause to that asks for permission to use your client’s likeness instead of asking for permission to use their photos. Simply using the word “photos” can be a gray area, because you’re not indicating where you’re getting those photos from—are you asking them for permission to have access to and use their wedding gallery photos? Or are you referring to photos you took on your phone or personal camera? Be clear what you’re asking for to help avoid someone saying no when they’re actually completely open to their likeness being shared.

This also then opens the door to reach out to the photographer to ask for permission to use some of their images, since you already have the consent of the client. The first thing I do when a vendor reaches out asking for photos is ask the client if they’re comfortable with me sharing their images. Having that signed clause in your contract removes that hesitation a photographer may have trying to respect their client’s privacy knowing that they’re already comfortable having photos of themselves shared.

Be professional, be kind, be excited. Most photographers are thrilled to share their work with little to no strings attached and build relationships with folks who genuinely seem excited to share their work. If you come in hot with demands or threats, people are less likely to smile and share.

A personal example here: I once had a vendor comment on several of my public Instagram posts telling me to check my inbox, where they had  reached out on a message demanding I explain why I forced a client not to sign their contract and interfere with their business. When I explained that the client had expressed concerns with a clause in their contract that wasn’t legal because of copyright issues, they responded with a thumbs up emoji. Several months later they asked for the gallery. I didn’t respond with a thumbs down emoji, but I thought about it.

If a photographer agrees to share images with you, don’t hesitate to follow up if they forget—most of the time we’re so focused on getting our next gallery out, we lose ourselves in a deep, dark well of Photoshop. And a lot of the time photographers want to give themselves and their clients a chance to share photos before they start popping up in other places around the internet.

And for the love of everything good and holy, please do not add filters, graphics, or text over the images without any sort of written consent. That is one of the fastest ways to lose a gallery the next time around.

If you’re a photographer…

First things first: make sure you have a clause in your contract explaining image rights. This helps explain everything I've touched on above and easily gives you something to point to if need be.

Next, and most importantly, do what feels right. It is up to you whether or not you share photos (with your client’s consent—always be sure to ask if they haven't already agreed), how many you share, and the parameters around how they are shared. Has someone been kind, respectful, and considerate? Do you feel like their business aligns with your values? Would you enjoy building a working relationship with them? Sharing photos might be a great way to support someone else’s business as well as your own. Was the person who reached out aggressive, argumentative, or has publicly expressed personal/business values you don’t align with? You’re entitled to say “No thank you.” It isn’t worth building relationships with people who want but don't’ respect your work.

You also don’t have to give out your work for free, if you don’t want to. Occasionally I’ve had folks pay for images based on what they’re planning to use them for, giving them the rights to the images in ways I normally wouldn’t. Other times I’ve put watermarks on images, though I don’t do that any more. What’s important is to set expectations. Whether that be a signed contract or casual written agreement is up to you, setting expectations of how your work can and should be used is important. Let vendors know when they should expect images, only share what feels comfortable to you, and let them know if you have any hard and fast no-nos. (For example, no adding filters/altering the image in any way, must have credit of some kind on websites/social media, can’t be used for printed materials but ok for social, etc.)

And finally, give your fellow vendors credit when you can. Refer folks you've enjoyed working with to clients, share their posts/work on social media, and support them in any ways you can! Half the fun of working in the wedding industry is meeting new people who love doing the same things you do.