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The definitions of amateur and professional, in the context of photography, are not entirely categorical. A professional photographer is likely to take photographs to make money, through the display, sale or use of those photographs, while an amateur photographer may take photographs for pleasure and to record an event, emotion, place, as a person without a monetary motivation. However, much photography is preparatory to other activity, or forms a partial but significant part of a person's job role; for example, a scene of crime detective, a ship's photographer in the (Royal Navy), a reporter on a local paper or an estate agent, while an amateur may make considerable sums entering work for prize money or through occasional inclusion of their work in magazines or the archive of an agency. The term professional may also imply preparation, for example, by academic study, of the photographer in pursuit of photographic skills. There is no compulsory registration requirement for professional photographer status, so ambivalent or overlapping concepts apply here as they do in other areas of unregulated artistic activity, such as painting or writing.
A professional photographer may be an employee, for example of a newspaper, or may contract to cover a particular event such as a wedding or graduation, or to illustrate an advertisement. Others, including paparazzi and fine art photographers, are freelancers, first making a picture and then offering it for sale or display. Some workers, such as policemen, estate agents, journalists and scientists, make photographs as part of other work. Photographers who produce moving rather than still pictures are often called cinematographers, videographers or camera operators, depending on the commercial context.
Photographers are also categorized based on the subjects they photograph. Some photographers explore subjects typical of paintings such as landscape, still life, and portraiture. Other photographers specialize in subjects unique to photography, including street photography, documentary photography, fashion photography, wedding photography, war photography, photojournalism, aviation photography and commercial photography.
The exclusive right of photographers to copy and use their products is protected by copyright. Countless industries purchase photographs for use in publications and on products. The photographs seen on magazine covers, in television advertising, on greeting cards or calendars, on websites, or on products and packages, have generally been purchased for this use, either directly from the photographer or through an agency that represents the photographer. A photographer uses a contract to sell the "license" or use of his or her photograph with exact controls regarding how often the photograph will be used, in what territory it will be used (for example U.S. or U.K. or other), and exactly for which products. This is usually referred to as usage fee and is used to distinguish from production fees (payment for the actual creation of a photograph or photographs). An additional contract and royalty would apply for each additional use of the photograph.
The time duration of the contract may be for one year or other duration. The photographer usually charges a royalty as well as a one-time fee, depending on the terms of the contract. The contract may be for non-exclusive use of the photograph (meaning the photographer can sell the same photograph for more than one use during the same year) or for exclusive use of the photograph (i.e. only that company may use the photograph during the term). The contract can also stipulate that the photographer is entitled to audit the company for determination of royalty payments. Royalties vary depending on the industry buying the photograph and the use, for example, royalties for a photograph used on a poster or in television advertising may be higher than the royalty for use on a limited run of brochures. A royalty is also often based on the size the photo will be used in a magazine or book and cover photos usually command higher fees than photos used elsewhere in a book or magazine.
Photos taken by a photographer while working on assignment often belong to the company or publication unless stipulated otherwise by contract. Professional portrait and wedding photographers often stipulate by contract that they retain the copyright on wedding photos or portrait photos, so that only they can sell further prints of the photographs to the consumer, rather than the customer reproducing the photos by other means. If the customer wishes to be able to reproduce the photos themselves, they may discuss an alternative contract with the photographer in advance before the pictures are taken, in which a larger up front fee may be paid in exchange for reprint rights passing to the customer.
There are major companies who have maintained catalogues of stock photography and images for decades, such as Getty Images and others. Since the turn of the 21st century many online stock photography catalogues have appeared that invite photographers to sell their photos online easily and quickly, but often for very little money, without a royalty, and without control over the use of the photo, the market it will be used in, the products it will be used on, time duration, etc.
Commercial photographers may also promote their work to advertising and editorial art buyers via printed and online marketing vehicles.
Many people upload their photographs to social networking websites and other websites, in order to share them with a particular group or with the general public. Those interested in legal precision may explicitly release them to the public domain or under a free content license. Some sites, including Wikimedia Commons, are punctilious about licenses and only accept pictures with clear information about permitted use.