Business + Marketing

Photography Business and Copyright Trends

February 8, 2021

By Rangefinder + WPPI Staff


To say 2020 was a rough year seems a vast understatement. But not to worry! As we journey deeper into 2021, Rangefinder + WPPI are laser-focused on helping you rebuild and reset your business with monthly educational content that encompasses critical skills for the continued evolution of your photography business. 

We recently surveyed more than 300 photographers, both in the U.S. and around the globe, and here’s what we found. The current state of the economy is a big concern to 56.8% of those we surveyed while loss of revenue continues to be a problem for 24% of respondents. The continuing COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions are still weighing heavily on 17.5% of those surveyed.

In comparison, 68.9% of respondents feel that, overall, their businesses are still in good financial health, which is always nice to hear, especially when certain photo sectors, like wedding and event photography, have been crippled in the last year. That’s why many photographers in those segments are pivoting their brands and broadening the types of photography they cover…or even embarking on non-photo related jobs as well.

While 26.8% of those surveyed currently specialize in portraiture—including beauty, boudoir, people and pets—17.5% work primarily in wedding photography and 17.5% are commercial, corporate and editorial shooters. Over 36% of those surveyed have been in business for 30 years or more, with 21.1% in business for 10-19 years. Just about 62% of those asked run their own studio or photo business without any other employees; about 34% employ two to five employees. More than 50% work from home, 58.7% have a solid business plan in place and 69.6% have their savings goals directed towards retirement.

What about economic fluctuations? More than half of those surveyed were able to use the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help handle revenue loss while others hustled a side gig, like real-estate photography or visual content creation for local businesses. Others told us they simply branched out to shoot more engagements, elopements and micro or non-traditional weddings. Many respondents were happy to report that “morphing into whatever it took to survive” worked well, with one photographer reporting that “we had the best year ever.”


About 25% of all surveyed respondents reported not losing any business or clients, while 22% told us that their business decreased by 51-75%. Another 22% lost from 26-50% of business, while 21% lost between 75-100% of business in the past year. 

As bleak as that might sound, almost 80% of photographers surveyed are optimistic about the future of their businesses. Even better, as photographers try to stay positive and look to the future, 53% of respondents do expect their revenue to be up in 2021, while 35% think it will remain flat. More than half of those surveyed said they did not offer new product offerings or services to their client photo packages. But 15% plan to continue offering printed products into 2021 and beyond, 15% are offering commercial product photography, and 11% are or intend to offer video services for this year.

When it comes to being business savvy and sorting out your finances, the process can be dizzying, especially if you try to do it yourself. More than 50% of survey respondents prefer to use the following financial software programs: 

intuit quickbooks logo

Quickbooks is a very popular small-business accounting software that businesses use to manage income and expenses, and keep track of the financial health of their business. You can use it for invoicing customers, paying bills, generating reports and preparing taxes. Survey respondents pointed out its ease of use, integration with CPA software, that it’s inexpensive and was built by accountants. logo

ShootQ organizes your entire business within a single platform. Whether you’re a veteran or just starting out, ShootQ gets your business running smoothly to save you time and help you grow your studio. Survey respondents like that ShootQ is “easy to use and simple to customize.”

honeybook logo

HoneyBook can help you manage projects, book clients, send invoices and get paid. Respondents liked its ease of use as well as the fact that it is “well-designed and extremely functional with great UX.”

Out of the respondents surveyed, a whopping 72.2% did not register their photography or videography with the Copyright Office before having it published or making commercial use of it. Conversely, 10% registered just a quarter of their work, and just 7% registered all of their work. Fortunately, more than 50% of our respondents have not had their copyright infringed upon, but for the 40.6% who did, they either did nothing about it or just sent a letter to the infringer.

Most issues regarding copyright infringement for those surveyed seem to be centered on social media usage (a concern for 50%), while 18.9% had copyright problems with their images because of their websites.

If you do think your work has been infringed upon and you want to file a lawsuit, you do need to have your images registered with the Copyright Office before you can pursue statutory damages.

Want a quick primer on copyrights? Check out these recent articles on

  1. Fair Use or Copyright Infringement? Analysis of the LeBron James Social Media Lawsuit

2. Is it Legal to Take Photos on Private Property?

3. 6 Copyright Infringement Cases Photographers Should Know About

In simple terms, copyright refers to the legal right of the owner of intellectual property. The original creators of photos or other products, and anyone they give authorization to, are the only ones with the exclusive right to reproduce the work. But it can, and does get more complicated, as witnessed in a couple of cases we reported on earlier this year:

Here are some of the basics of copyright registration that you definitely want to get familiar with fast:

  • The process takes 6-8 months.
  • You can register a single photo or do a group registration (for up to 750 photos). Group registration must all be by the same author, and all either published or unpublished.
  • You can register at any time, but to preserve the protection of collecting attorney’s fees and statutory damages for infringements, you have to register either before the infringement occurs or within three months of publication.
  • If you register within three months, you are covered back to the actual date of publication.
  • If you don’t register within three months, you are only covered after your actual registration date.

The good news is, most photographers we surveyed do have written contracts with their clients, with 35.5% including the following restrictions: that the photographer owns the copyright, that the client may use the image only for personal purposes and never for commercial usage, and that the image must always include the proper photo credit.

While the pandemic affects wedding, portrait and other types of photographers in different ways, there is still common ground on what you can include in your contracts to help cover yourselves, as outlined by our legal analyst.

1. Legal Take: Wedding Cancellations During the Pandemic

2. Photo Copyright and Contracts: Free Webinar and Checklists

First, there are basic provisions that your contracts should include:
client information (name, email, phone number, address) and the photographer’s business information. Then you want to have the scope of the job outlined as well, like what the contract is for (a wedding, engagement or portrait session, for instance) and your timeline:

  • Start and end dates of contract
  • Date, time, and location of event
  • Hours on the day(s) of the shoot
  • Any other time dedicated to client (consultation, meetings, etc.)
  • Editing (turnaround time)


Out of those surveyed, 50.3% said they have an extremely limited usage rights provision in their contracts, while 55% include liabilities. Seventy-two percent surveyed include indemnification clauses, while 62% include damage clauses and 48.4% include force majeures.

  1. Force majeure clause
    • The inability to perform a job due to things beyond the photographer’s control (i.e. injury, illness, acts of God, digital files getting lost).
  2. Indemnification
    • Parties won’t hold each other legally liable for anything outside of the contract, and each party handles their own liability.
  3. Non-solicit clauses
    • Protects client, stating photographer will not solicit their clients or try to hire away their employees during the shoot.
  4. Non-disclosure agreement/confidentiality agreement
    • Photographer and client both agree to keep the details of the project and contract confidential.
  5. Photographer’s failure to comply
    • The recourse a client has if a photographer is unable to fulfill their end of the bargain (i.e. you fall ill the day of the shoot)—reschedule, provide a full refund, find another photographer of similar expertise, etc.
  6. Damages
    • What happens if the client damages your materials?
    • What happens if you damage client materials?
    • The offending party is responsible for replacement.

Photographers pay taxes like anybody else, but because of the nature of the job, they may have questions that a typical employee doesn’t. For instance, what happens if you photographed events in ten different states last year? Do you have to pay income tax in all of those states? And what if your year was terrible and you made almost no money—do you still have to pay taxes?

This is just one of several reasons why it’s helpful to hire a CPA or professional tax adviser. According to our survey, 68.4% of respondents make use of professional tax advisers, while 20.2% do their own tax research online, and 56.7% pay their taxes yearly while 36% pay them quarterly. A whopping 60.9% do not prepare a financial forecast or budget, mostly because they think their businesses are too small to have a business plan, they just don’t have the time or they are procrastinating or are afraid to get started.

The areas of taxation that are of concern to most of 31.6% of respondents are self-employment tax, which tax deductions to take (24.3%)—including gear, space, travel, office supplies, etc.—and tax forms and bookkeeping (also 24.3%).

To stay on top of managing cash flow, 36.4% use mobile payment solutions while 28.8% rely on accounting software. Twelve percent of respondents try cutting costs while 10% use a business line of credit.

Setting up an LLC is on the minds of only 6.1% of respondents while thinking about depreciation options (straight-line, double-declining balance and sum-of-the-years’ digits) is only of concern to 5.7% of survey respondents.

For more on tax info to know, check out these articles and resources:

  1. Government Funding and Tax Deductions for Photographers in 2021
  2. 10 Important Tax Hacks For Photographers
  3. Should You Turn Your Business Into an LLC?


In sum, the majority of photographers we surveyed are hopeful for the future and are looking forward to resetting their business brands for sustained success and longevity.

What do these photographers see as the most promising opportunities for their businesses in 2021? The majority said they look forward to COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and everyone being able to get the vaccine, events returning, an increase in print and product sales, increased marketing plans, and shooting more video, corporate assignments and events.

What topics will continue to help grow and sustain photo businesses over time? Online marketing is a big “want to learn” area for 32.8% of respondents, while 26.8% want to develop new income streams. Twenty percent want to learn more about contracts and how to write a solid business plan. Here’s to a great 2021 and beyond!

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