Working Smarter

The New Rules of Event Photography

Now that most attendees have the ability to snap and share photos instantly, the rules to event photography are changing. Here's what you need to know to protect attendees’ privacy, aggregate crowdsourced content, and secure the rights to your multimedia.

Now that most attendees have the ability to snap and share photos instantly, the rules to event photography are changing. here’s what you need to know to protect attendees’ privacy, aggregate crowdsourced content, and secure the rights to your multimedia.

Depending on their age, industry, and feelings toward technology, attendees come to events with varied expectations. Some assume that they’ll be constantly photographed and have their image instantly shared online, while others might be less comfortable with that. “It’s always better as a risk-minimization technique,” said Washington, D.C.-based attorney Joy Butler, author of The Permission Seeker’s Guide Through the Legal Jungle: Clearing Copyrights, Trademarks, and Other Rights for Entertainment and Media Productions, “to have consent instead of not having consent.”

There are two ways to obtain consent to photograph attendees, Butler said: “express,” which can be written or verbal, and “implied,” for more informal gatherings. Jessica La-Rotta, founder of New York City-based Elite Styles Events, advises obtaining consent from attendees with signage on site or during electronic or in-person registration. “Educate the registration people,” La-Rotta said, “and work with the photographer to make sure everyone is on the same page prior to the images [being taken].”


While digital technology has changed the rules around event photography, that’s not an entirely bad thing. For example, you can give attendees more control by encouraging active social-media sharing — including creating a custom hashtag for conference photos. Hashtags are also a great way to help attendees and organizers keep track of all images from the event. “Everyone always has a different point of view,” La-Rotta said. “We can take a picture of the same thing, but we can capture different angles and have totally different images.”

Likewise, multimedia-aggregating platforms like Storify and WESAWIT— which help organizers harness crowdsourced content and display attendee photos and videos — make it easier to stay on top of the images taken at your events. WESAWIT gathers photos from social media using geolocation and time stamps to group them around a specific event within the platform, according to WESAWIT CEO Thibault Mathieu. All content then goes through an approval process, to prevent any unwanted material from getting through. “[Organizers] can delete any picture they want,” Mathieu said, “or choose to display the photos and videos as they come in real time.”

There’s even an algorithm in place to filter out lower-quality photographs. Images are then posted to your organization’s Facebook wall or website, or displayed in real time on a wall or stage at your event. And you can track engagement to see who is taking the most photos and who your most enthusiastic and social-media-savvy attendees are. “It’s very interesting,” Mathieu said, “for any event organizer who wants to know their audience better.”


But even if every attendee has agreed to be photographed and you’ve worked out all the copyright details with your photographer, that doesn’t mean that your multimedia can’t be misused or stolen. Due to the ease of access permitted by the Internet and digital technology — allowing people to copy and transfer images with a click or swipe — accidental copyright infringement happens all the time, according to Tom Galvani, a registered U.S. patent attorney based in Phoenix. “One thing organizations can do,” Galvani said, “is disable the right-click in the image, so that somebody can’t copy it so easily.”

Aside from accidental misuse, you also need to be on guard for intentional infringement. In 2009, one American family got quite a surprise when they discovered their family portrait was being used for a storefront advertisement in the Czech Republic. “The company blew [the image] up huge,” said Galvani, who did not work directly on the case, “and they were able to do that because the family had posted a high-quality image.” If the situation allows, Galvani advises using a lower-resolution photo “that doesn’t lend itself to being copied or blown up.” Other ways to protect your images include placing a copyright notice or watermark on each photo.

Some organizations — mainly in the corporate world — use digital-rights-management (DRM) technology, which renders photos unshareable by disabling any downloading and saving capabilities. AT&T and AOL, for example, both use DRM software that allows them to control copying, viewing, printing, and altering of their copyrighted works. “Where we are right now is, we have laws that can legally restrict people from doing certain things,” said Gretchen McCord, founder of Digital Information Law, a consulting and training firm for digital legal issues, “but from a practical perspective, the technology has made it really, really difficult to prevent those actions from happening.” She suggests limiting the risk of copyright infringement by making media files available only to certain people (sharing them with Facebook friends or Instagram followers, for example, or having a press website with restricted access), or providing notice — via a splash screen on your event’s website — that the material can only be used for a particular situation.

However, event photography will always involve some degree of risk. “Once you make something available online,” McCord said, “there’s usually not a surefire way to prevent people from being able to take it and repurpose it. It’s part of the risk that you run by making something available.”

If you discover that another group or person is reproducing your copyrighted material, you can turn to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), enacted in 1998 to respond to all of the changes to copyright law brought on by the Internet. By sending a DMCA takedown notice, you can tell an entity that it needs to remove the copyrighted material immediately or face a fine. A lot of websites, such as Facebook and Google, also provide their own automated copyright-infringement forms that users can submit directly to them. “Everybody’s got such different expectations and assumptions of what they can and can’t do,” McCord said. “That’s what’s going to make it tricky for a good while to come.”

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.