How long to keep a customers negs?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by raucousimages, Aug 8, 2006.

  1. raucousimages

    raucousimages Member

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    Over two years ago I did a portrait of a young girl. After developing the negs and making a proof sheet I left a message followed by another call. At that time the number had been disconnected. I was never paid. The entire cost was to be about $40.00 and to be paid at pickup. My outlay was one roll of 120 and one proof sheet. I had no model release and no reason to keep the negs for personal use. A few months ago the negs were shredded when I cleaned out some of my files. Today the mother called me and wanted the photo. They were in the middle of moving when I shot the portrait and forgot about it. She was a bit upset but understanding about the situation.

    How long should we keep negs, proofs, photos Etc. for customers? Does the situation mater (unpaid portrait VS. paid wedding lets say)? What do you do.
     
  2. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    I keep my negs for 1 year from the event, then I offer to sell the negatives to the customer and if they don't want them, they are destroyed, this is all spelled out in the paper work that I provide my customers when booking an event, my contract also states right up front that it is a model release as well and as such, I reserved the right to use images from the event in an appropriate manner. But again, even in the studio/lab I worked in, we kept them 1 year and followed the same protocol, it has worked very well for me and I have never had any problems.

    Dave
     
  3. Lopaka

    Lopaka Member

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    My experience has been that the large, high-volume studios (like those that did senior graduation portraits) usually had a specific retention policy, most often 7 years. Small operations could vary from 3 years to forever. A friend acquired a studio in a small town that had been in business for generations and upon reviewing the basement full of old negs, discovered some photos of historical interest to the town. Also, on the shelf under a few layers of dust, was a wedding album about 7-8 years old never picked up by the customer. It seems they got divorced before the album was finished, then got back together and wanted the album - came in and paid the balance.

    I would say it depends on how much space you can afford to give to storage - and no less than 3 years.

    Bob
     
  4. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Once you go to digital, that won't be much of a concern. It will be looked after automatically. (sorry)

    I think we owe people the access to these photographs/negs since we are sort of the keepers of the family archives. Personally, I've never thrown away any negatives in 30 years. When I sold my studio, the negatives went with them. As for the last 20 years, I still have them.

    To me it's simply a matter of communication with people how long you will keep them and that's your decision. At that time I would guess you should contact them and give/sell them to them.

    As for people that have moved etc. it's not my fault. We're not the National Archives. As long as you do your due diligence.


    Michael
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 8, 2006
  5. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I'm FULLY on board with Blansky. Besides - what does it cost YOU to keep them safe? Somewhere around.... oh, maybe nothing...?

    Isn't it just your ego that would make you want to destroy them? Besides... why throw away potential money if the client should come calling?
     
  6. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Hey Sparky,

    How many sets of negs do you have stored? I am just wondering, some of us that do this for a living, have a tendancy to accumilate a massive amount of negatives, my last dump of negatives was over 500 sets of 36 exposure negs, quite a pile to say the least...

    As long as you spell it out up front before the job commences, there is no problems at all, my clients understand fully my policies and if they want them, they contact me before the expiration of their contract, of course, I stay in contact with them over the year, just in case of babies, or new grads and such to see if I can get follow up work..but once a year is expired, they either go to the client or they go in the trash, there is no ego at all involved in it, it is just a job...no better, no worse than the last one or the next one!

    Dave
     
  7. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    well, if they never even paid in the first place - tough!
     
  8. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Tim,

    Not often do we agree, but I agree with this one!, No money, no obligations..

    LOL

    :D

    Dave
     
  9. eddym

    eddym Member

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    If they are wedding photos, keep 'em until the divorce is final. :wink:

    Seriously, I'm solidly in Blansky's camp as well. I have kept almost all my negs for the last 28 years. Yes, I even kept the ones that got divorced... Ya never know.

    In my dance photography business, I have sold prints from negs that are 20 years old. They are indeed an important archive for the history of ballet in Puerto Rico.
     
  10. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I keep 'em all. I don't let the clients have the negs. I need to control how my stuff gets printed/presented. But we're talking maybe 20 negs (4x5) per job, tops. Still - I have a single bookshelf where I keep all of them. That can store a LOT of jobs! Besides - I get reprints pretty frequently - so that makes for extra revenue. Ka-ching ka-ching!
     
  11. GraemeMitchell

    GraemeMitchell Member

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    Agree, keep them. They shouldn't take up that much room. Or if that becomes a problem maybe your lab will archive for you (assuming that if you're doing that kind of volume then you're using a lab for processing and printing...maybe not though).

    It still beats the pants of digital. Visit a pro who shoots digi in volume and archiving/back-up is both an IT work-out and a big use of space (either servers, swappable drives, or lots of media). They'll envy your film storage problems.
     
  12. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    I'm sure this will stir up a lot of hate mail, but personally, I don't think any of you should keep any of the negatives, period. The idea that you should be the keepers of someones personal archives is well... ludicrous. The fact that you maintain them for future profit is... more realistic.

    I worked as a commercial photographer in NY and Boston for about 20 years. I can't remember one instance where the company I shot for would have agreed for me to keep any of the chromes. I had rights to them. I could use the images for promotional use whenever I chose. But I didn't own them. I got paid for my work. That included my skills plus expenses and materials. My contracts and my model releases gave me full access to the work. The client, on the other hand could do whatever they wanted with the work. In any channel, as long as it was presented in a way that associated the image with the business. If I was shooting without a client (building my portfolio of work) then I had exclusive copyright ownership.

    It is my opinion that this retail trend where people are repeatedly charged for access to their images is ethically wrong. I'm sure all of you would vehemently disagree, but I don't consider most wedding or standard portrait work stock photo material. How you feel you have a right to treat them as such is beyond me.

    In my ignorance, I will acknowledge that I don't do and have never done any wedding, or retail work. Most of my career had been in the commercial/corporate/fashion field.
    I am sure I will hear a multitude of defenses justifying this ownership issue. But I think not one of them will be based on ethics.
    The fact that you would consider someones personal archives have reached a point in time where you have the authority to destroy them indicates that the only value you place on them is monetary. And the only beneficiary associated to that value is you. I would think that if its worth nothing to you, you could make an attempt to ship the material to the client.
     
  13. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Actually Don,

    You have very valid points, in the fashion or commercial arena, what you describe it very common, I don't retain any of the negs or chromes I have shot for this type of work, it is always spelled out in the contract who owns the shots and price set accourdingly, now when I shot for a studio it was always between the studio and the client, I had no ownership rights at all the studio is the one that negotiated that.

    The wedding field has always been different in this respect, going back decades, if they wanted to purchase the negs that was negotiated if they wanted enlargements or reprints they went through the photographer or the studio to purchase them.

    But as and independant photographer, I don't have to worry about a studio been involved or having any say on me keeping the negs.

    Dave
     
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  15. raucousimages

    raucousimages Member

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    Thanks for the input.

    Along with keeping negs for future income is the problem of what the customer will do with them. If I shoot great images on properly exposed negs only to have the customer take them to a discount photolab for scans and prints my reputation is in the hands of some high school kid at wallmart. Just because I shoot your portrait dosen't mean discount or free photos for life.

    We have a lot of new digital wedding photographers we call "Hundred Dollar Wonders". For $100.00 to $300.00 they will shoot your wedding and put it all on disc. They are running into a few problems #1 Someone looses/damages the disc and they want another. If you dont have it the young bride calls daddys lawyer or if you do they don't want to pay a fair price. #2 you shoot great images to have your reputation killed by their lousey printing.

    They are dropping like flys only to be replaced by another crop of idiots with a Rebel XT, Photography for Dummies and a laptop. No kidding I know one girl who tried it with nothing more than that, not an off camera flash or even a reflector. She thought a killer idea would be to shoot the wedding on your card and give it to full of RAW files the same night. The second time she tried that they called her cell before she made it home telling her they card was missing and wanting another copy.

    On the other side my old boss has almost 50 years of negs in a secure storage facility all in filing cabinets. He makes enough on reprints to pay for the facility but thats about it.

    I have only done three heavy clean out's of my negs in 30 years and one was due to leakage from a bottle of Poly-toner in a move. It was just bad timing that I shreaded her negs to soon. The reason her negs went into the shread pile along with several years of junk and test negs was she was a minor I had no way of contacting and no name (only her mothers name) or model release. I just had a funny feeling about it so out they went.
     
  16. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    Dave:
    What I'm questioning is the "difference". It seems to me that ownership is far to heavily swung toward the photographer in the case of retail. I question what a photographer has rights to own in any paid for service situation. The commercial world is more equitable to both parties (in my mind anyway). I'm not saying a photographer should not be compensated for services rendered. I am a photographer as well. Its just that I take exception to any perspective that refers to the current retail condition as the photographer being the keeper of a (current or former) customers family archives for no other purpose than to attempt to continually profit from that customer. Destroying the negatives when they can no longer profit from them, hardly falls under the realm of "Keeper of the archives". If you can't profit from them and you have no use for them (and you were paid for the shoot), I feel they should be handed over to the customer.

    I understand that customers can purchase the negatives outright, but again I find the terms associated with this process to be heavily skewed toward the photographer. I have to believe that the percentage of purchase is considerably lower than the percentage of customers who can't really consider purchasing based on the fees charged. Again, I see this as a "photo warehouse" approach with images that cannot (generally) be classified as such and a client base that cannot be classified as a photo warehouse type client.

    I recognize that this process has been going on for years. I don't think it makes it right.
     
  17. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Don,

    In all reality the photographer owns the copyright on any image he takes, unless he has transfered that right through employment or agreement with the parties involved in the job, myself personally am not a keeper of the archive, I am a working photographer and as such, don't feel the obligation to warehouse negatives after a certain period of time, the negatives and prints are my product, I normally try to work with my customer so they purchase the negatives at the time the contract is signed, when I do that, I release the copyright to the customer on the pictures, myself personally don't care what happens to them, once I have released the copyright, and I don't accept any responsibility because the customer chooses to have their reprints done at a Walmart type lab, if they want quality, they have me do them, if they just want pictures they have any ole' lab do them, for myself personally I have no attachment to any of my jobs once the completion of the contract is done, and please don't get me wrong, I work very hard to ensure my client is satisfied with their purchase in all of my various business's.

    I guess it just comes down to different perspectives, right or wrong, I don't know that there is a correct answer.. What I have posted for my particular situation, may or may not work for others, it has just been the process I have followed for many years now.

    Dave
     
  18. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    Thanks for the reply.

    I would agree with you that the situation has gotten considerably worse with the introduction of digital imaging. In my opinion, the quality of a lot (but not all) of professional work has gotten considerably worse with the introduction of digital technology. Still, there are people left (This forum an example) who care about quality and professionalism. Its too bad many customers don't seem recognize the difference.

    I acknowledge your point concerning how the images are used and the reflection on your reputation. I think we all have that concern regardless of the type of photographic business we are in or the channels that we use to produce our images.

    But that is what a contract is for. I suppose if I found one of my old Kodak disc camera images being distorted and used for some MTV commercial, I would be contacting my legal council. In reality though, there is limited policing possible these days. Any print you provide can be scanned, photocopied and manipulated, etc. Most of the time by some pimple faced high school kid who simply doesn't care about your rights as a photographer.

    I think it admirable that you generally do not discard the images.
    But I feel the protection you provide them infringes on the customers ethical rights to image ownership and use.
     
  19. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    For plenty more than "a few years now" (and probably longer than anyone here has been practicing commercial photography) a photographer has owned and controls the rights to the images they produce (with certain exceptions). The purpose of that is to give the photographer a limited monopoly (limited by time and certain exceptions) over their work.

    Unless the photographer is foolish enough to sign them away it is normal practice in most areas of commercial photography for the photographer to maintain and control those rights licensing and re-licensing the usage to the original (or different) clients.

    Now, some images have more value than others and some areas of photography have slightly different practices (though it doesn't change the underlying concept) - e.g. there is fairly limited re-licensing possible with most family portraits, but much more potential for, say, the Space Shuttle.

    Many of these rights (they are copy-rights) were hard won by photographers 50/70 etc years ago. They aren't some "new", unethical approach to business - it's the way the business works and has done for many, many years. The client who expects to control the rights to the photographer's images are the ones taking advantage. Anyone who is happy to give away control of their images for a (usually too small) one time fee is probably throwing money away.
     
  20. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    The limits of copyright are controlled by contractual agreement between the photographer and the client. I'm not sure where you have done your commercial work, but I worked with fortune 500 companies for years and the contracts I signed with them gave them quite a bit of control over the use of the images I made for them. I don't have many of those original chromes in my files, but I doubt I would have been doing any work commercially if I went into negotiations dictating complete ownership of the images.

    There is no question that a photographer should have rights and compensation. But in my opinion, if you are getting paid to document an event for a retail customer, you should be compensated (which I'm sure you are) and negotiate rights for image use. Holding the images for no other purpose than to elicit additional revenue from retail customers and then destroying the images when you can't get any, in my opinion, exceeds the bounds of ethiucal behavior.
    In theory, the use of the images are limited if there are no model releases. I as a consumer I would not agree to such a contract where the photographer retains all rights to the images that contain my likeness without being significantly compensated. The idea that I would actually pay someone to give him such carte blanc is beyond my comprehension. In reality, the only worth (not including limited promotional purposes) the images have to the photographer are additional print purchases by the cunstomer. This is very limited worth for such a restrictive contract.
     
  21. haris

    haris Guest

    This is my opinion too. Negative is yours, it is yours work, you are author of it. You should sell prints, but negatives should allways be with you. I never sell negatives. That is I am not professional photographer, but when I am asked for payed job, I allways tell my rule is negatives stays with me. If someone insists to have negatives I either quit the job or I charge extremely high price for selling negatives, so no one is ready to pay it :smile:
     
  22. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The practice of wedding photographers keeping the negatives also reflects two other realities.

    One of them, which has been touched upon here before, is that the photographer's best advertisement is often prints from his/her negatives. Accordingly, ownership of the negatives allows control of who does the photofinishing, as well as cropping, etc.

    The other reality is that traditionally a lot of wedding work was priced so that the photography and initial proofs and (possibly) basic album were at a somewhat lower (and usually fixed) price, while more profit was built into the price for extra reprints or enlargements.

    Both of these realities may no longer be realistic in the general market, allthough they may still be applicable in the very small subset of the market that still appreciates quality. :rolleyes:

    In my case, I still have stored almost all my negatives (stretching back almost 30 years). If some of my earliest wedding customers asked for them now, I'd probably just give them to them.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 9, 2006
  23. tim atherton

    tim atherton Inactive

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    a good few Fortune 500 hundred companies (mainly mining - diamond, zinc, nickel, gold - as well as plenty that aren't fortune 500) as well as Fortune itself and plenty of other publications from Forbes to the NY Times to the Sunday Times and a number of architectural firms.

    I still have most of those transparencies (and negs and hi-res scans) right here in my filing cabinets. The only ones I don't have are where the client bought out the rights completely - and those were very worth my while.
     
  24. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    Congratulations on your success. Although I, as a customer (and many of the people I have worked with over the years) would avoid using your services.
    And rightly so, I might add
     
  25. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    I would agree on two points here:

    1. The original model is no longer realistic in the general market.
    2. There is probably only a small subset (of customers) that can appreciate quality.

    Nice to here that you would consider giving the negatives back to customers. Too bad you're probably not the guy who shot my parents wedding (1955). I'd love to have those negatives.
     
  26. Petzi

    Petzi Member

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    Quite a pile but not one that you couldn't store on some shelf?