When the knot is tied and guests head home after a memorable celebration, there are typically two occasions newlywed couples look forward to most: their honeymoon (surprise!) and the day their photographer sends their wedding gallery.
For many, the wedding day goes by in a flash with little time to soak in every moment. So, when wedding photos arrive several weeks later, it’s the first opportunity for a couple to trade stories and relive their big day together.
But, when it comes to sharing wedding pictures, couples—and their vendors—must tread carefully to avoid stepping on the photographer’s toes or even breaching contracts.
“Under US law, a photographer maintains the copyright to any photograph they make unless the copyright has been specifically transferred via a contract,” explains Maureen Cotton of The Soulful Wedding. “As a result, almost no wedding photographers sell their copyright, although the couple has personal rights that allow them to make their prints, post on social media, etc.”
How far do personal rights extend? Can you legally share your wedding photos with friends and family? Are they allowed to post them on social media? How do you respond when your cake supplier reaches out to request professional wedding photos?
Copyrights can raise many questions for uninitiated couples, but you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Keep reading for a full rundown of post-wedding photos sharing: what’s allowed, what isn’t, and how to stay on the right side of the law.
Double-check your contract
If you skimmed your photographer’s contract many months ago, it’s time to pull it up and review the terms closely. It will detail who holds the copyright and who has permission to access and share the images publicly.
“You might think that it’s your wedding, you paid your photographer, and therefore, you have total control over your images, but this is not always the case,” explains Julianne Smith of The Garter Girl. “Some photographers maintain strict control of images, especially regarding sharing on social media.”
If you don’t understand the contract terms or have concerns about the agreement, “ask your photographer, and don’t be afraid to seek clarification on something or tell them that you’re uncomfortable with certain elements of the contract,” Smith adds.
While it’s always wise to read vendor contracts carefully before signing, you should still revisit them after the wedding to confirm all parties have adhered to the agreements.
Delegate vendor requests
Many wedding professionals rely on professional images to grow their portfolios and market their businesses. But, as a couple, it’s best to step back and let your vendors communicate directly with your photographer. Otherwise, you could inadvertently breach your contract — even if you have the best intentions.
“To distribute those images to other businesses without the photographer’s knowledge or consent is copyright infringement,” informs Jenna Porter of Jenna Noelle Creative.
But don’t worry. Your vendors can still acquire your wedding photos for their portfolio! Porter notes, “Most of the time, photographers are more than happy to share with vendors when they are being asked nicely and treated with respect.”
Kiernan Michelle of Kiernan Michelle Photography elaborates with a reminder that “even if you are OK with the vendor having your photos, your photographer may not be.” And if you’re not, “you are welcome to let your photographer know your comfort level with your images being shared with other vendors!”
The best way to approach vendor requests is with a conversation early in the process, as Rock Paper Coin’s Katie Mast suggests: “A couple can always request that the photographer is in charge of giving vendors photos which will relieve any confusion on the client’s end.”
Simply put, the only photo permissions you should care about are your own! Beyond your personal rights, refer vendors directly to the photographer and let them discuss the details.
Respect your photographer’s work
For couples, wedding photos are beautiful snapshots of their special day. But for the photographer behind the lens, it’s an art — and it’s their way of living. So trust that you’ve hired a professional for a reason, and respect their policies, procedures, and results.
First and foremost, “make sure you have a print release form from your photographer which outlines how you can personally share your images with family and friends, post them on social media, and how you can print them,” urges Peter Mitsaelides of Brooklake Country Club and Events.
Most photographers share photo galleries through a private portal, as it lets them retain control over their property and allows for direct purchases of prints. Instead of skirting this with friends and family, Frank Guertler of Bunn DJ Company – Richmond VA encourages couples to “provide family and friends with access to your gallery maintained by the photographer online.”
And it should go without saying, but please don’t add your favorite Instagram filter when sharing professional wedding photos! “Never alter the final product by cropping or adding filters, as it misrepresents the photographer’s brand,” stresses Betsy Scott of Hudson Valley Weddings at The Hill.
Respect your wedding photographer’s integrity as an artist and a business owner, and when in doubt, always consult with them before sharing their work.
Shout out your wedding vendors
When you share wedding photos, understand that it could serve as inspiration for engaged couples planning their big day! Help your vendors reach new audiences by tagging your team, especially your photographer.
“While the photographer owns the creative of the wedding photos, part of what you are paying for from them is the right of use for your personal use,” explains Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates, LLC. “However, it is always right to provide credit to the photographer where applicable (i.e., when posting to social media).”
Amber Anderson of Refine for Wedding Planners adds, “It’s always best practice to tag your vendors, even if not shown in that photo. So if you post a gallery, just list everyone. If you post one individual photo, tag which you can. Vendors are taught to tag each person at the wedding for each picture, but it’s harder to expect couples to do that.”
Something as simple as an extra tag on Instagram serves as free marketing for your wedding vendors, and it can make all the difference in their businesses!
Don’t take posting choices personally
Your wedding was stunning from start to finish — so why isn’t anyone posting it? If you can’t help but notice that your vendors seem to share plenty of wedding photos except yours, understand that it has nothing to do with you or your wedding.
“Wedding vendors often have a variety of reasons for sharing one wedding over another,” confirms Meredith Ryncarz of Meredith Ryncarz Photography. “Keep in mind that what they share has nothing to do with the couple themselves and everything to do with what season they are currently marketing to and if they can even share the images. Sometimes, while waiting for a wedding to be published in a magazine or blog, the vendors must wait until that publication has put the images out first.”
Naiyah Hodge of Pharris Photos chimes in to add, “Sometimes, a vendor may not showcase a wedding right away due to their scheduled content. You may see yourself in their feed later down the road.” Alternatively, “they may have a color scheme or aesthetic they are sticking to for their social media to be cohesive.”
Instead of worrying about when your vendors will highlight your wedding, enjoy looking at your photos and sharing them with your network — that’s what matters anyways!
Cathy O’Connell of COJ Events adds another note, suggesting couples set photo-sharing boundaries with loved ones. “Family and friends are trickier than your wedding vendors,” she asserts. “You may want your family and friends to see your photos, but you may not want them to share them with the entire extended family that was not invited to the wedding!”
From updating your profile picture to hanging a high-res portrait in your living room, your wedding photos are meant to be seen and celebrated. Just make sure to respect your photographer’s rules and give credit where it’s due!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.