I photograph buildings. Can I make money from doing this? This is an interesting area of photography and an important question to anyone who takes photos of buildings.
Can you sell photos of buildings? Is it legal? In general terms you can sell photos of public buildings, public places and public spaces. There are significant exceptions to this which I will explain in this post. For private buildings you will need to gain the consent of the building owner before you sell a photo of their building.
Ok – that is the headline answer – let’s go into this in more detail. In this post I will cover both public and private buildings and tell you everything that you need to know. Well everyone that I know which should be plenty!
The information in this blog post will be UK specific, and in particular England specific (as devolved Government rules vary), but the principles and guidance will apply to most places.
First the legal disclaimer!
I am not a lawyer so this cannot be considered to be legal advice. You will realise this as you read this post though! This is general guidance written by me as an architectural photographer.
If you need legal advice then you need to get this specific to wherever you are on this big old globe of ours.
What is a public building?
A public building is generally considered to be a building where the public have general access and do not need to gain permission or pay to enter.
What is a public place?
A public place is generally considered to be a place where the public have general access and do not need to gain permission or pay to enter.
So that is most public buildings and spaces with some specific and notable exceptions.
What types of buildings/ spaces are excluded?
Things that you are probably not allowed to sell photos of include
- Police/ prison/ security installations
- Military/ defense/ communications installations
- Sensitive research installations
- Medical facilities
Makes sense. Photos of sensitive installations are not good in the hands of the wrong people. There should be signage at such places telling you that photography is not permitted, which precludes the sale of images nicely.
No photo – no selling of photos.
What about people in photos?
If there are people in a photo of a building in a public space this is fine. This is because anyone else could have seen the people and taken the same photo.
There are some exceptions to this of course, such as photographing one person in a photo very prominently.
And always be very careful with children in photos.
To be honest most of my photos don’t have any people in them. This is easier and is part of my style.
Specifics within a building
There may be parts of a building that are subject to copyright, such as graphics, details and logos.
I photograph lots of refurbished schools for architects. I do not have any people in my photos at all.
This takes away any management or consent issues completely.
And if an architect wants school children in a photo I will require a written consent form for the parent of every child in a photo, and of course the consent of the school.
If you have to pay to get in you can’t sell photos
This is not a bad rule of thumb. If you have to pay to get into a building you are probably not allowed to sell photos taken of it. This will probably be in the terms and conditions when you pay to enter a building that photography is not permitted for commercial uses, which of course includes selling images.
This is certainly the case on tickets to concerts, theatres, cinemas and sporting events. And also National Trust and English Heritage sites and buildings.
You get the idea.
If you have to pay you need permission to sell photos.
The Eiffel Tower at night!
Yes, the Eiffel Tower light display is copyrighted.
It is of course illegal, and immoral to sell any indecent image.
Who owns the copyright in an image?
The photographer owns the copyright of the image. But not necessarily the right to sell the image. Copyright of an image does not equate to the right to sell the image.
I specify on every quote that I am the copyright holder and also reserve the right to sell any photo taken for my own commercial use, and also for my own promotional use.
And if this is not acceptable to a client I might have to charge more in my quote for the potential loss of income.
This is a great document about copyright in the UK which you can read at this link.
What if I just want to put the photos on my social media feed or website?
This should not be a problem. To make sure it is not I make sure that I use such publishing in a positive way – who will ever complain about free, positive PR after all?
And if the photo is of a house then I may post a photo but completely de-personalise it so no one knows who it is where it is or who live these
A matter of privacy
If I were to sell a photo taken in someone’s house I would ensure that it was anonymous so no one knew where the house actually was.
This is out of sheer respect for a house owner who has been kind enough to pay me to photograph their building.
I have photographed a few houses of famous people. I am not able to tell you who they were, nor where they were, and I have been particularly careful with sharing of such images, including on my own website.
It is a shame as I would love to say who these people were but such is life!
For any photo that that has any kind of confidentiality attached to it you need to do one thing which is this – remove all the metadata, including keywords, title and caption and locational details.
Easily forgotten and potentially disastrous!
Use a little bit of common sense and you will be fine. If in doubt ask. Be nice. Most people are helpful and nice.
A property release is something that the building owner (or the person so empowered) signs which authorises the sale of images. You need to do this for any instance mentioned above – without this you can’t and shouldn’t try to sell photos.
What do I do?
- If I have taken a photo of a public building, monument or statue or structure then I am comfortable selling the image as I am the copyright holder.
- If I am asked to sell an image that I have been paid to take for a client I now have this included within my terms and conditions.
- And if it is an older picture from before when I did this then I will try to get the owners written permission.
- And whenever possible I do not have people in my photos unless it is a public space where having no people does not accurately reflect the space.
- And if there are people in such photos they will be taken with a wide-angle lens so the people are not prominent.
My architectural photography work and selling photos
I am an architectural photographer so this is particularly important to me. These are things that I sort in advance with my client before every commercial shoot.
- Copyright is mine unless agreed otherwise.
- Any client confidentiality issues
- My use of images for my own commercial purposes
- My use of images for my own promotional purposes
Or click start here on my home pageto get to the very beginning of everything.
Thank you very much for getting down to the end of this blog post – I do hope that you enjoyed the post and that you are much more aware now of what you can and cannot do in terms of selling photos of buildings.
Plain common sense, consideration and courtesy of peoples’ privacy will deal with many of these issues.
And a proper property release will sort the rest out.
Rick McEvoy Photography
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