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The Newbie Chronicles: Legal Advice for Photographers

What is your biggest fear as a new or even veteran photographer? Dealing with unhappy clients? Camera malfunction at a wedding with no back-ups? How about getting sued by a client and losing everything because you didn’t have a contract that protected you? This week I interviewed the photography industry’s legal guru, Rachel Brenke, and got her take on some must-know facts when it comes to protecting yourself and your art as a photographer. PLUS, I found out what kind of coffee she likes.

Q: Rachel, you have several degrees, been successful in multiple professions, you're a cancer survivor, AND you're about to have your fourth baby! How do you keep balance in your life as a working mom?    

I schedule everything - and I mean everything.  Date night, trash day, appointments, everything. It's the only way I can remember what needs to get done! 

Q: If you could spend five minutes with every new photographer, what advice would you give them?    

Get solid in technical proficiency before even thinking of going into business.  Handling business is a lot of work and having technical proficiency under your belt will help to avoid issues and the feeling of being overwhelmed.   Running a business ends up being 10% skill and 90% business - so the next step would be to master business techniques, but trying to master photography techniques + business at the same time = way too much to handle!  Taking the elephant one bite at a time will help ease you in, learn from mistakes, and set yourself up for a higher probability of success than just jumping right in.

Q: What superhero power do you wish you could have?    

Never having to sleep!!!!!!! Oh man, if I could multiple my hours in the day so I could sleep more that would be amazing!

Q: You could use your law degree to do lots of other things. What is it that drew you to the photography industry?    

I have had my own photography business + love helping others set up their businesses so it just felt natural to combine the law with photography.  I absolutely love working with creative industry professionals - it's a completely different game than most of my lawyer friends - who work with more "main stream" type situations (criminal, family, etc.)  Business transactional work can be super boring but having the creative industry flair thrown into the mix it really does produce a fun and interesting legal service to be a part of! I do some non-creative industry legal work and it's just not as fun!

Q: If we went out for coffee what would you order? Would you split a chocolate cupcake with me?  

Sorry no splitting of cupcake - I love to eat. Too much. Gotta get your own ;-)  For drink it would probably be a white chocolate mocha! 

Q: What do you think is the most common misconception that potential clients might have in regards to copyrights? How do you think photographers can best address those misconceptions?

While technology is great to help drive businesses and reach out to clients, technology also is a double edged sword in that it allows for photographs to be at the fingertips of clients.  Many clients don't understand intellectual property and copyright laws as we know them - so it is our responsibility to educate them. It's hard to get them to understand that while their face is in the photograph they do not own the photograph.  I always try to equate it to a situation like when you're a tenant and rent from a homeowner.  It may look like you’re the owner while living there, but you have no ownership rights in the property - but you do have the right to use it, and other restrictions placed on you by your lease. Photographers need to make it a habit to explain this so there is no misunderstanding - and the reality is - most clients who purchase digital files just want to be able to share them and print - I just tell them exactly this: "While I still own the photographs you’re purchasing a license to print all you want - for whomever you want. Aunt Sally wants a sweatshirt with your smiling mug on it? Go for it!  You have the personal print release at your fingertips to do that, my retaining of ownership doesn't change that at all!"

Q: What contracts do you think every photographer needs? What potential problems might arise from just grabbing free contracts from a Google search?

-Portrait agreement

-Model Release

-Print Release

Those contracts are BASELINE what is needed - but really the importance is what is written in them. Often times people are sharing contracts or drafting their own with no legal knowledge and I just want to cry. Not because I want someone to hire my services, but because if it takes lawyers multiple years + a bar to learn the law there is a reason - there's lots of contractual theories that are not known by a non-lawyer and you may inadvertently be drafting against yourself, or a document that will ultimately not hold up in court.  Always seek out counsel of an attorney or trade association that provides legal services.  One of the biggest reasons I combined photography and law was that even lawyers who have the legal foundation may still be absent from understanding what goes into the creative industry, so it is always best to find those who specialize in this type of law - higher probability of successful implementation of contracts + higher rate of return on your investment! 

Q: Will there be a baby Brenke #5?   

Highly doubtful, we are blessed with these four but I'm feeling the fact we're out numbered!!

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Shannan Painter is a newbie photographer who has spent the last 5 years working with the left side of her brain helping small businesses organize their accounting and taxes. She decided to take the big step and pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer in 2013 after adding a third boy to her house that was already full of super heroes, trucks, and sports equipment. She and her husband, who is a local TV meteorologist, play pick-up games of basketball in their free time and like to take road trips to Lake Minnetonka with all 3 boys, and their dog Growler.  Visit her on Facebook!

 

 

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