Copyright or copywrong?

A word about business, today on About contracts and rights, specifically. Copyright. I am not a lawyer, but as a photographer, I feel that “copyright” is an important concept.

For most shoots, the photographer retains the copyright of the images. Hire a wedding shooter, for instance, or a commercial photographer, and the small print will invariably say that this shooter “owns” the images.


Having copyright means the photographer determines what can be done with the work.

If there is no specific agreement to restrict the photographer’s copyright, that copyright rests with the photographer. In some jurisdictions you may need to “do” something to register copyright; in many (like Canada, as I understand it) that is less necessary.

The photographer having copyright enables cheaper pricing in two ways:

  • The photographer can potentially re-use the images;
  • If the agreement prohibits commercial use by the client or allows use only in a specified geographic area, or for a limited time, then the price can be lower).

This is the case in any commercial shoot (even when you have portraits made at a commercial studio, or, as said, by a wedding photographer).

If, however, the client can determine the use of the photos, that then gives that client de facto copyright over the photos. In that case, no way exists to lower the price by limiting commercial use, say. Another problem is that in that case, the photographer might not be able to show the pictures as part of his or her portfolio. Or even show them to the processing lab for printing. Or even fix them up in Photoshop. Or make a “photographer selection” of good or bad images! So this opens several potential issues, and a detailed contract would have to be drawn up restricting and granting the photographer’s specific rights. Unforeseen situations would make this a rather complex process.

So the complexity goes up and the cost rises. This is why normally, a shoot where the client owns the copyright (and it does happen, of course – as in the case of a “shooter for money”) necessitates the following:

  • Client does the post work;
  • Detailed agreement as to photographer rights;
  • Significantly higher price – normally at least double, often more.

So instead of doing this, it is often easier to put some restriction in an agreement. For instance, in a boudoir shoot it is usual for the photos not to be shared. The copyright still rests with the photographer, but he or she can agree to not share the pictures except under some agreed circumstances (e.g. after permission in writing, or in only certain ways).

Of course this is not legal advice – to get that, go see a lawyer. But it is advice to the effect that you need to think about who owns your images’ copyright, and you need to be explicit about this. Rights exists under the law-  they are someone’s – and you might as well be explicitly clear about this. Hiding the issue of who owns what right never solves anything; rather, it sets you up for problems later.

And that is why, as a photographer, you need a written agreement.



OK, so – no, don’t ever say that to a subject. The command “smile” is like saying “look weird”, “look unnatural”, “assume a pose”. And not only to young children.

Instead, tell stories, say something funny, get the subject to relax. This picture of me was taken by a student a day or two ago:

Michael Willems - smiling

And I never smile. But, mention certain subjects and I smile naturally, not because I am told to smile – that never works.

This is one reason portraits can take time to make. Getting a subject to relax cannot be done in a hurry.

How did we light this?

  1. Expose for the background. Ensure the background light does work as “fill light” for the subject.
  2. Use an umbrella-mounted speedlight (shooting through the umbrella if you can), connected via pocketwizards.
  3. Position the umbrella somewhere 45 degrees above the subject, and for a male, 45 degrees to the side if you like.
  4. Set the flash power according to the exposure you worked out for the background. Use a light meter to verify that.

Bob’s your uncle: Practice that technique and you will do much better when shooting portraits. And remember, never say “smiiile”.

A quick flash tip

One of the things you may wish to do this festive season is use off-camera TTL flash.

I.e. holding the camera in your right hand and the flash elsewhere – for instance in your left hand (or your other fight hand if you have two – well spotted, Mike).

In any case: away from the camera – this is key to good pictures.

All brands of camera allow this, and if you have a Nikon, or a Canon 7D or 60D, you do not even need additional hardware: just your flash and your camera, with its popup.

The popup (or on other camera, the on-camera flash) now sends commands to the other flash. So you can light a subject – like the student in Thursday’s Flash class – from one side, in this case with a flash in an umbrella on our right side, with a reflector on our left:

Off-camera flash using TTL

Much better than straight flash!

You can even use several flashes, divided into groups. In the next shot, we have an additional flash on our left, rather than a reflector. That flash has a red gel (one of the Honl Photo gels) on it, to see clearly which light is doing what work:

Off-camera flashes, using TTL

But what you must remember is this:

Disable the on-camera flash.

That is, the pop-up or 580EX/SB900 on your camera still sends its commands to the other flashes, but when the actual photo is beingtaken, it does not flash.

If you forget to disable it, it will fire. And then you get this unfortunate effect:

On-and Off-camera flashes, using TTL

Deer in the headlights. Harshness. Shadows. Brrr: baaad.

So your tip: use off-camera flash, and disable the main flash from firing actual flashes. The camera menu (or the flash on your camera) has functions for this.

If you want to learn this and many other techniques before the holiday, take the advanced flash course in Mono (see next week. Else, take a course with me or at Henry’s early in the year. It is worth learning flash!

See me…. hear meheeee….

OK, sorry for the “Tommy” reference above. I am inviting people to see me and hear me, though perhaps not necessarily to touch or feel me.

As most of you know, I teach. Everything from one-on-one classes to small groups (like the recent events in Phoenix and Las Vegas, where I was joined by David Honl), to mega-shows like the upcoming Henry’s Photographic and Digital Imaging Show.

Sometimes in a store, like at the special event at Henry’s last Saturday:

Michael Willems Teaching

Michael Willems Teaching, Mississauga, 11 November 2010

And sometimes outdoors:

Hands-on photography training, Mono, Ont, 2010

Hands-on photography training, Mono, Ont, 2010

And sometimes to large crowds:

Michael addresses a large crowd

Michael addresses a large crowd

Depending on the nature of the event, audiences range from one to 500. And regardless, in all cases, hearing photography explained by a live person who knows how to explain (and in smaller classes, also practicing hands-on), is much better than reading the manual (do not start me on camera manuals). You would be surprised at how much you can learn in how little time.

So I thought I would outline a few of my coming teaching events, for those of you interested.

Apart from the regular courses, these include:

  • The all-day “Advanced Lighting” course in Mono, Ontario, which I teach with colleague Joseph Marranca: two dates, 3 October and 20 November, and both have availability (these are limited to ten students each).
  • Canada’s big photography event: The Henry’s Photographic and Digital Imaging Show, Mississauga, 15-17 October. I shall be speaking pretty much all day, every day. Don’t miss this show!
  • Henry’s Creative Urban Photography walks in Oakville on 23 and 31 October.
  • Great news: Dave is coming to Toronto! I am teaching a workshop with David Honl on Saturday, 19 March 2011. (Details soon, and let me know if you are interested in pre-booking: seating will be limited).

There is more, but that is a start. Come see how much you can learn in a few hours. I promise you will be delighted – and inspired.

MUA? What MUA?

Why do photographers need a make-up artist (a “MUA”) at a shoot? What does a make-up artist do? I thought that might be worth a few words today.

First of all, a make-up artist does make-up. D’oh.

Make-up is important for everyone – ask a TV producer: who ever appears under the cameras without make-up? Almost no-one. Richard Nixon lost an election because of his unkempt appearance.

Right, Michael. But surely young models, who are not Richard Nixon, do not need make-up? Right?

Sure they do. Even Angelina Jolie (or fill in your dream person).

Let me illustrate that.

Below, Angelina’s skin photographed close-up with a modern DSLR and a 100mm lens:

A wall. Photo Michael Willems

Not Angelina. Photo Michael Willems

Okay, maybe that is not Angelina’s skin, but you get the idea. No-one is perfect – people are people. Young and old, male and female: we all have pores, freckles, blemishes. Young models are, well, young, so they also have acne. The dream angels you see in Vogue have been photoshopped. They’re called “dream” for a reason.

So that is one reason you need a MUA: to fix flaws. So that the photographer does not have to spend hours in Photoshop or Lightroom “fixing” them.

And then the MUA does hair. Straighten, brush, whatever it needs: the MUA knows, and keeps a look out during a shoot.

Once all that is done, a very important function is to match the mood with the look. A good MUA knows how to do this. And to match the make-up and hair with the outfit: this too is very important. The MUA talks to the creative director and the photographer, and helps create the perfect look.

A further reason is to help with things in general. A shoot is always hectic and an extra pair of hands is great. And an extra pair of eyes. Runny eye shadow? Non-glossy lipstick? Hair in the way? The MUA keeps a close lookout for these things.

I would say that the final reason is one of the most important: a good MUA makes the model (male or female, young or old) feel good about themselves, and confident in their abilities. Feel great, feel beautiful, feel like a million dollars – and that translates to looking great.

To illustrate all that, here’s one more shot from Sunday’s workshop:

Evanna Mills, photo by Michael Willems

Evanna Mills (photo Michael Willems, Make-up Liz Valente)

Side note: I have been asked why we use young women as models in the workshops. Do we just like photographing young women?

Sure we do. But you would be surprised how little the photographer actually cares about the type of things he shoots. That is, you can have the same amount of fun shooting women or men, young or old; shooting jewelery or forests, shooting products or buildings. Old men are just as great as young women, creatively speaking. But models, most of whom are young women, are a good choice for several reasons.

One: they get paid to be there and they are very patient. Two: they have infinite energy. Posing all day takes it out of you. And three: they know how to pose for the camera. Finally, most importantly, they are not afraid. A good model is unselfconscious and will not worry for each shot how they look.

And the MUA reinforces that confidence.

Interesting viewpoints

It is interesting how little law enforcement officers actually know about the law.

I was in Toronto today to shoot a law firm event. I also took a few street shots, and these show that it appears that Toronto Police, of which right now there are about five million in the streets in gaggles of ten or so, are mistakenly under the impression that:

  1. I took pictures of them from the back but not the front (false, as the pictures below show).
  2. This is somehow not allowed (false).
  3. They should have editorial control over what I photograph (false).
  4. They are allowed to see my camera’s pictures (false).
  5. It is only OK for “legitimate” photographers to take photos of things, what with terrorism and so on (false).
  6. Taking photos for “illegitimate” purposes is illegal (um, a truism, but not a useful one).
  7. Terrorists use cameras just like mine (false).
  8. Taking a picture for a legitimate purpose is OK, but taking a picture if you are a protester is not OK (false).
  9. You need a release to take a photo of a police officer or anyone else (false).
  10. If I take a picture of a cop I need to show ID, tell them who I am, tell them why I am taking those pictures (false), tell them who I work for (four or five times), and give them a business card (false).

I took this snap of some police officers today:

Toronto officers about to interrogate a photographer

Toronto officers about to interrogate a photographer

So these officers did not see me take that picture, but they saw me take the next one:

Toronto officers about to interrogate a photographer

Toronto G20 police officers

Next they interrogated me “because I only took a picture from them from the back but not the front”.

Since these officers have my business card, I assume CSIS (Canada’s secret service) also does, now. So, CSIS and Toronto police, please note: I have spent time in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, East Germany, and many other such places. They are different from Canada because:

  • Unlike in Canada, Big brother is always watching. Police everywhere.
  • Unlike in Canada, in those countries authorities can do (mean, restrict) pretty much what they want, whatever the “law” says. Impromptu interrogations are common: “it’s not allowed unless you prove why it should be”. Law, schmaw.
  • We here, on the other hand, have the rule of law. Law, not whatever a cop thinks.

Alas, Toronto today felt just like those countries. The officers were courteous, but they were wrong – very wrong.  I am a fervent capitalist, CSIS and Toronto Police, but you have just made me into a G20 protestor. Get lost, G20, if my civil liberties need to be trampled upon because of a visit by a bunch of stupid foreign bigwigs, and Mr Harper’s need to spend $1m to impress them with horses, fake lakes, and four-wheel bikes.

G20 police presence

G20 police presence

And no, officers, I am afraid that you are wrong in all the above points. I do not need a release to take a picture, you cannot see my pictures unless I have done something wrong, photography is not only allowed for “legitimate” photographers, and I am allowed to photograph security fences and cops. Whose salary, incidentally, my taxes pay.

Of course I cooperated, not wishing to be arrested just before an event I was shooting.  And alas, I shall not have time to go back downtown while the G20 is on. I wish I could, because our civil liberties, including the right to take photographs without permission, really should be defended, and restrictions should be questioned. Apparently, it’s needed.

The UK is notorious for restricting news and photography freedoms. It has the stricted libel laws, where the accused has to prove he is not libeling. It has an “official secrets act”. It has a culture of “it’s forbidden unless it is allowed”.

In that background, this is interesting. There is a lot of unrest in the UK as terrorism laws are being used to stop ordinary people from taking any photos.

Policing and Crime Minister David Hanson MP said, in a statement today:

“I recently met with Austin Mitchell MP, members of the Parliamentary All Party Photography Group and representatives of the photographic press and the Royal Photographic Society to discuss the issue of counter terrorism powers and offences in relation to photography.

“I welcomed the opportunity to reassure all those concerned with this issue that we have no intention of Section 44 or Section 58A being used to stop ordinary people taking photos or to curtail legitimate journalistic activity.

“Guidance has been provided to all police forces advising that these powers and offences should not be used to stop innocent member of the public, tourists or responsible journalists from taking photographs.

“These powers and offences are intended to help protect the public and those on the front line of our counter terrorism operations from terrorist attack. For the 58A offence to be committed, the information is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

“I have committed to writing to Austin Mitchell MP to reinforce this message and to follow-up on the representations made to me at today’s meeting.”

This is interesting not for what it does to reassure, but for how it fails to. What is “legitimate” journalistic activity? What are “responsible” journalists? How do I become one? By never photographing anything critical of the government, one assumes?

This sounds like a press release from the Soviet Union: they used the same waffle language. The UK, I fear, is not about to become easier for photographers.


This photo of Annie Leibovitz, the world’s prime celebrity photographer, hosted here, makes me curious:

Leibovitz Lawsuit

I note the following.

  • She shoots Canon. A 1Ds Mark III, I think.
  • But for some reason, has taped over the “Canon” logo on her camera. Why?
  • She uses the same 24-70 f/2.8L lens that I use (and really, really like)
  • But.. no lens hood. Annie.. why not?
  • She shoots with the same Pocketwizards I use.

I do hope she keeps the right to her photos… I suppose we will know tomorrow. As many of you know, she is in financial trouble and has to come up with $24m yesterday, or lose all her photos and her homes.