File Under: Creating and Maintaining Your Persona

Photographs are a large part of a musician's life: album art, headshots, live events, band photos and more. Photos can last a long time and are also useful for PR campaigns, merchandise, and marketing, so the last thing that you want to do is to try to use one on your next T-shirt or album cover only to find out that you don't own the rights or can’t adapt or retouch them.

If you’re working with a photographer (professional or otherwise) be aware of these three items:

1. Hire the photographer as a "work for hire".

Even if you’re paying a photographer to come out and take pictures -- whether it’s a professional or a friend -- by law the resulting photos are owned by the photographer, not you. Unless you want to pay royalties each time you use the photos, make sure the photographer signs a "work for hire" agreement. In general, a “work for hire” agreement states how the work being created by the photographer will be completely owned (copyright, access, etc.) by the person paying for the service and the photographer gives up all rights to the work by assigning them to you. A pro photographer will sometimes charge you more money for this option (they’d like to charge you for each copy and use you’d like to use the photos for), but it's usually worth it if you are planning on doing a lot with the photos later. Keep in mind it’s customary to credit the photographer for the photo -- and you should grant that if asked -- but the copyrights should still be assigned to you.

Note that this is true even if you’re having a friend take photos for you and there’s no payment exchanging hands. You will still want to get a “work for hire” agreement in place so there’s no confusion or arguments in the future as to what you can and can’t do with photographs.

2. Get the original RAW files when done.

Photographers might give you JPEG or cropped versions of the files, but you will want all the uncropped, uncorrected RAW files resulting from the photo session. These files may be large in size (JPEGs are reduced quality which don’t necessarily make them the best to adapt, change, and re-work). Most importantly, even if the photographer agrees to the “work for hire”, if you don't get the RAW files, the photographer will still be in possession of something that you might need from them in the future.

3. Retouch the best photos.

While many musicians know how to do basic color correction, cropping, and adjustment, professional photo retouchers are generally worth the money for your most important photos. Beyond the above basics, they remove blemishes, normalize the photo, and make the small adjustments that polish a good picture into a great one. Retouchers are usually specialists, and there's a solid argument that you should use a different person to retouch a photo than you do to shoot them. In many ways they are the "mastering engineers" of photo finishing. Similar to a mastered track, the difference between a retouched photo and one that hasn't been can be dramatic. Because of this, you will typically want to get as many shots as possible, get the RAW files, and then select the very best ones -- since you own the photos thanks to your “work for hire” agreement -- to send off to the retoucher. Typically, a retoucher charges by the photo, but once done, you can use those final retouched photos as often as you like.

These basic points of working with a photographer can save you money and time, and leave you with a better result. The time to bring up points like “work for hire” and obtaining the RAW files is at the beginning of the relationship, so you can negotiate the rates up front, rather than after the shoot when the photographer has the photos you need. If you do this, and get the retouching work done, your persona, PR, and even videos (which often use still images), will be much higher quality and help you you to stand out.


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Photo credit: naixn