Industrial Photographer? Photographers Rights are Shot!

oil rig, aerial oil rig, landscape, lake turkana.

Oil Rig lost in the landscape near Lake Turkana

As a professional corporate photographer the most effective way of obtaining new clients is to constantly update my portfolio with stunning new images and video clips. These can then be sent out to my agent and potential clients by email for her to promote. This is easier said than done, for a number of reasons that many aspiring photographers may not realise.

aerial, clearing land, road through the desert,

Preparing a future camp in Mozambique

There is the job of choosing which new pictures you think will make someone want to hire you as oppose to someone else. It might not necessarily be the shot that took 4 hours to take against all odds, or the one that your client raves about.  I do a lot of industrial and oil and gas photography but never know what to show, so I usually end up narrowing it down and asking a couple of other visually minded pro’s their opinion.

For most industrial, landscape and lifestyle  I especially ask Melody, my agent http://www.melodygeorge.com whose judgement I trust.   However I digress, as this is not my point.

The main issue is copyright and the right to publish your own work. I work mostly for large international corporations and my contracts with them are often 30 pages long. Written into every single one of them are paragraphs about copyright, sometimes very artfully worded but inevitably denying the photographer the right to publish any pictures appertaining to the brief of the photo shoot.

oil and gas worker, worker on rig, safety harness on rig,

Man in safety harness high on a rig in Africa.

As far as the client is concerned, I am working for them, they pay me and all my expenses, so therefore the work is theirs. As a photographer I will argue that I made that picture the way it is, therefore, although they have all rights to use it as per the contract, the actual image belongs to me! I have had many long discussions over copyright with agents, other photographers and lawyers on both sides. It is a sticky issue that is becoming rapidly in favour of the client.

oil rigs, oil pipes, oil and gas photography,

Oil pipes

I understand their reasons, particularly in oil and gas photography, which is a controversial topic anyway. There is a big market in stock photography and some of it comes from assignments paid for by companies for their self-promotion and they do not want to see it misrepresented elsewhere. Publishing images of people without model releases is a dangerous way to go anyway. All main agencies such as Getty ask for all images to be rights free.

In view of the above, the best I have negotiated is to be allowed to use my images to promote myself. This means publishing them on my website, in blogs and sending out some recent images to prospective clients as copyrighted images. I hear you say, ‘that is not so bad’, except that I have to ask them first and I have had a lot of  ‘we would rather you didn’t show that!’

Personally, I have always protected my clients and never irresponsibly sold my images. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who saw one of my oil and gas images in my portfolio and asked me if her company could buy it for use in an external marketing campaign. Although it was tempting I had to refuse. I told her why and she congratulated me on my integrity. ‘You are exactly the sort of person we would like working for us’, she said. I’m still waiting!