02 Nov, 2011 | Posted by: st

Can I Photograph

Public Properties?

What’s The Deal?

Mary Jacobs asked: I have some questions on what I can and cannot try and do to sell my photos when it comes to photos of archaeological sites.

I'm wondering about selling photos of things like the pyramids, the Siq, or rock tombs at Petra, Jordan, or the Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete- all of which are located in archaeological parks for which you pay admission.

I know the legalities of artifacts found on-site or displayed in museums, and these are very strict -- the rights belonging to the director of the site or the museum, but was wondering if you knew anything about structures that stand in public view (although you have to pay to get into the park to photograph them). Thank you.

A: Remember these two words: eventual use.

The necessity for a property or model release is dictated by a photo's eventual use.

In the case of the pyramids, the Siq, Jordan biblical sites, or the Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete, whether you are inside or outside the site, or whether it's the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame or the rock Tombs at Petra, no model or property release is required if the pictures are used to "inform and educate" (editorial use).

Only if such a picture would be used for a commercial purpose -- advertising, promotion, endorsment, would the publisher ever ask for a release. This would apply to archaeological digs, as well.

The confusion over whether a public object can be photographed and published most usually comes from persons who arrive at the stock photography industry through the commercial door rather than through the editorial door.

Or it stems from well-meaning but erroneous advice written by newspaper and magazine columnists who are unaware of their or your First Amendment Rights.

Photographers who have worked for a newspaper most of their career, know that model or property releases are not needed if the photo is to be used "to inform or to educate."

In contrast, photographers who have worked in the commercial or advertising sector, e.g. corporate, advertising, or graphic art services, know that any photo used for endorsement or advertising purposes always requires a model or property release.


But you live in a different world -- your photography is “editorial.” You supply the book and magazine industry with photos that “inform and educate.” So when you are at a seminar and you ask the presenter, “If I sell my photos, do I need a model or property release?” He or she should respond, “It depends on the use. If it’s for commercial use (advertising, promotion, etc.), yes. If it’s for editorial use (book, magazine, PBS TV, etc.), no.

Here at PhotoSource International (www.photosource.com), our emphasis is on editorial photography, and most of our markets, such as magazines and book publishers, maintain an editorial focus.

About $70,000 a day is spent on editorial photography in this country. That's about 1/5 of what is spent daily on commercial stock photography. Although the monetary rewards in the editorial field are not as high up front as in the commercial field, other rewards abound.

One example: editorial stock photographers have the opportunity to specialize in a field they enjoy working in. This allows them to build a deep selection of images in that specialization, making them a valuable resource to several publishers who focus on that field of interest. (Book and magazine publishers specialize, too.) Although the per picture fee for editorial use is not as high as in commercial stock photography, most publishers buy in volume, and stay as long-term clients, which often makes up the difference over the long haul.

Again, regards model or product releases, if you are taking what you consider editorial photos, if releases are conveniently available for the asking while you are photographing in a particular instance, you should go ahead and get them, as that will allow those images to be available for a commercial use if the opportunity arises. Depending on the field you are in, you'll know when it's appropriate and beneficial to obtain a model or property release.

If you're in a public place (whether you pay admission or not) you can photograph freely. Only if you are trespassing would you run into the law.

In the USA, trespass restrictions in public places are not as rigorous as you might encounter in a foreign country. Even in these times of heightened suspicion, security guards and law enforcement officers are usually aware of citizens’ rights when it comes to photographing in public.

But if your area of specialty is in sensitive areas such as aviation, transportation or petroleum -- watch for signs of where you can photograph and where you can't.

But keep in mind this kind of thing: here at PhotoSource International we have heard reports of some instances of security guards accosting a photographer for photographing a "sensitive" site. Later it was pointed out the same photo was available on the company's website or on Google.

Note: a cell phone call to the company's president or Public Relations officer, while on the site, usually solves the problem and gets permission for you.

As an editorial stock photographer you are going to find much more enjoyment when you are photographing subject matter that you like to take. Learn more about how to sell those pictures at PhotoSource International and the PhotoSourceBANK, Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Rohn Engh is director of and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. E-mail: info[at]photosource[dot]com Fax: 1 715 248 3800; www.photosource.com



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