Hey friends! I’m going to dive into a topic that not that many wedding photographers cover. That is, a wedding photographer’s non-usage fee, what it means and why it’s charged.

After careful consideration and a whole lot of trying different things out over the past couple of years, I’ve refined what currently works for me (my business, my personality type!) and in this article, I’m going to take you through it step-by-step.

So, as you can probably see from the title, the topic we’re talking about in this post is a non-usage fee. It has different names too, a privacy fee, an image restriction fee, a release restriction, a loss-of-opportunity fee but the idea is the same.

What is a non-usage fee?

Some clients do not want my images of them to be shown publicly. Of course, I respect and honor that. However, to have restrictions placed on my work, I choose to charge a fee to “offset the loss of marketing opportunities”. (Source: Do photographers need client permission?)

“This fee is intended to off-set the loss of marketing opportunities”.

As the proud creator and copyright holder of the images I make, it is paramount for me to be free to show the work I make. It’s the main way I am able to keep my business running. I do not offer opportunity to purchase copyright (which is incredibly costly – several thousand or tens of thousand, more info here) so this is a comfortable middle ground for everyone.

The opportunities that I derive from the images I create are so important to me at this stage of my business. I’ll explain a little more about what they are, in a bit!

wedding photography in vineyard of elliston Vineyards, Sunol

Using my wedding photographs is paramount in marketing my business | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

How did the non-usage fee come about?

There came a point early in my business where I was getting so many clients who didn’t want their photos online, it became impossible for me to show the work I was producing.

I was finally getting bookings and my tiny business was getting off the ground. However, I had nothing I could show to potential clients who were browsing for a wedding photographer on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Yelp, A Practical Wedding, etc!

To be creating great work but not be able to show it can be very problematic for business owners whose entire output is visual.

I always work with my clients to come to a solution that works for both parties. So please feel free to ask any questions, I would love to talk through your unique concerns.

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How I find clients at this point in my business

I still do not have a personal or referral network yet. Other wedding photographers may gain 100% of their clients through word of mouth – but that’s not me.

In fact, to date I’ve only obtained one client this way, maybe because I’ve only been in business since 2017.

I obtain new clients solely through marketing channels such as social media and organic Google search.

I obtain new clients solely through marketing channels such as social media and organic Google search.

The main form of marketing I do involves using the content I create as a photographer to promote my business on Instagram, Pinterest, review sites, wedding directories and most importantly through writing blog posts.

Blog posts featuring real weddings help build my website’s domain authority and create invaluable opportunities for me to reach thousands of prospective clients through organic search on Google over the duration of my time in business.

In content marketing, it’s known as evergreen content and is much more valuable than social media content. And as a photographer, the ‘content’ (the images of our work), is what we are selling! So it’s important to be compensated for the losses sustained from the lack of marketing opportunities.

Think of this: You saw my work because other couples didn’t prohibit my use of my own images containing their likeness. If all my couples chose not to allow me to show my work, you’d never have heard of me.

Understanding a photographer's non-usage fee

Showcasing joyful moments like this is the way I’m able to keep my business going! | Photo by Zoe Larkin Photography

Do all photographers charge this fee?

Not all photographers choose to charge this fee or anything like it, so it may be that we aren’t a match if you are not comfortable with your images appearing in my marketing. It’s totally understandable if you don’t want to pay extra and I never see this as merely another opportunity for an upsell.

And yes, I realize with some ambivalence that charging the fee may deter some clients. That’s A-OK with me. We may not be the best fit. A fee like this may actually mean you end up going with a different photographer that doesn’t charge any fee.

My clients normally love seeing themselves on my Instagram page!

How much is the non-usage fee?

It’s worked out on a percentage basis. As I shoot a wide variety of different types of weddings, it wouldn’t be fair to charge a City Hall couple the same as a Saturday wedding in peak wedding season.

The non-usage fee is 15% of the total amount due for photography coverage.

The non-usage fee is 15% of the total amount due for photography coverage.

From my contract, it reads:

CLIENT elects to forgo the Model Release, regarding images with CLIENT’s distinguishable likeness, and will be charged a loss of opportunity fee of 15% of the total amount due for photography coverage, to be paid prior to the wedding

As I mentioned earlier though, the fee is not just another upsell.

I actually steer clients away from paying it. Why? Because the value I derive through my marketing savvy is FAR greater than a mere 15% of the value!

To me, I would actually say that a wedding should be charged at 2 X if the couple wants me not to use the images. But, I realize that that would be a stretch too far for most! And ultimately, I want to serve as many couples as I can, and stay in business.

So I chose to keep the fee affordable, rather than it being a 2 X price jack that would essentially act as a deterrent rather than a comfortable compromise for both parties.

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I would rather you did NOT choose the release restriction but still used me as your photographer 😉 how? Read on…

wedding photography set up at Sunol's Elliston Vineyards | Understanding a wedding photographer's Non usage fee

Understanding your reasons behind desiring to keep your wedding images offline is paramount | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

Understanding the reasons to keep images offline…with workarounds!

I want to work with you to figure out how to AVOID paying the fee! Please, help me understand your reservations that are behind your desire to restrict the images, and I’ll guide you to a solution that suits us both.

Here are the most common reasons that I see, regarding couples’ desire to restrict their photographers’ images – with my workaround if I have one!

1.      I don’t want people to Google me and find my wedding pictures

No need to pay the fee. I don’t use last names in my blog posts, file names, alt text, metadata or anywhere I post images.

I could simply refer you by first initials (“S & T”) if you have unusual first names that could be Googled.

If you don’t want me to tag you on social media, that’s totally fine! I attach zero value to being able to tag people. The only real benefit it brings is that the first time clients will see an image from the wedding will be via Instagram (this is done before the sneak peek goes out). So if I can tag you, you’ll be the first to see those images. Find out more about the order of events from contact through delivery, below.

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A little disclaimer though: nowadays, algorithms reign supreme. Artificial intelligence might know who you are and show this to others, even if I do not input your name or tag you. I don’t know if we’re quite there yet, but probably soon.

If you do not want to be tagged on Instagram for example if you do not have/ do not use an account there, it’s recommended to purchase the sneak peek so you’re at least able to see the photos prior to final delivery which can be 6 weeks after your wedding.

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2.      I’m very selective about images of me displayed publicly

I do not deliver images that I would deem unflattering or inappropriate. However, both photography and self-image are subjective.

We all have our own foibles and insecurities, I know I do. So, please tell me yours during or before the shoot. I’ll do my best to minimize the appearance in-camera, rather than trying to fix it later.

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If you trust that your photographer won’t share photos of you with spinach in your teeth or sporting a double chin, then trust their eye and their judgment, and don’t pay the fee.

3.      We don’t mind being on your small blog, we don’t want to be on some well-known wedding blog.

That’s fine and doesn’t require the non-usage fee. Just let me know that you’d rather I didn’t submit your wedding to any wedding blogs. That’s totally cool.

I’m not as into submitting weddings to wedding sites anymore, as I have dozens of publications to my name already to be quite honest! They are listed on my homepage.

4.      I don’t want pics my guests to appear online

Your guests may be visible in photos that I choose to share. Especially when creating blog content that showcases your whole day, other people’s faces will show up in those photos that are showcased online.

Candid moments, guest reactions, dancing photos, showcasing the venue being used, ceremony shots as everyone watches you get married – these all involve guests being visible either in the background or front and center.

If you place restrictions around being able to use photos of your guests online, in whatever capacity, the non-usage fee would be advisable

5.      My career requires me to keep personal photos off the internet

I would suggest that the non-usage fee would be advisable unless you are satisfied with the workaround for #1.

6.      We’re having a secret wedding

I would suggest that the non-usage fee would be advisable. When I take photos at your wedding, it’s my practice and preference to use those images beginning immediately after the wedding (usually the same day for the Instagram sneak peek).

If you wouldn’t mind the photos used, but weeks or months after the wedding, then that would incur the fee. In some cases though, where it’s just a few days you’d need to let me know and we’d agree on this bespoke arrangement.

7.      Our marriage is unacceptable in the eyes of our family/ culture

I would suggest that the non-usage fee would be advisable. I assume there is a safety concern, so I wouldn’t take any risks in that case.

8.      We’re not permitting family & friends to post images, so it wouldn’t be fair if our photographer did.

This last reason is one I added because it’s what an actual couple came to me with. I don’t know how common this is, but thought I would add it here anyway.

On reflection, I should have said: please think of it from the professional’s point of view. There is a world of difference between friends and family posting photos for no particular reason, vs. a photographer whose livelihood depends on being able to showcase their work. 

I would suggest informing family and friends of this distinction: them sharing their snaps, and the professional being free to conduct their business the way that they need to in order to survive, unencumbered by surplus constraints. The non-usage fee would not be required if you can have this conversation with them.

Getting ready photos at Ellison Vineyards wedding photography | Can a wedding photographer charge you for restricting their images?

Sharing great moments like this enables future clients to find my business | Photos by Zoe Larkin Photography

A few notes about the way I work & how my business operates

I never sell your wedding images to third parties

  • I never sell your wedding images to third parties such as stock photo websites like iStock Photo, Shutterstock or Getty Images. Image use is by me or the team at Zoe Larkin Photography for the purposes of procuring new wedding photography clients.
  • Any release restrictions that you decide on are applicable to the couple as a unit and cannot be applied to just one party. You must agree together on purchasing it or not.
  • I usually share your images with your wedding vendors and grant them permission to use the images to promote their businesses. It’s important for me to contact them myself and foster those all-important vendor relationships, the currency of the wedding industry.
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Wondering what actually goes into being a wedding photographer? Read this detailed guide below to find out what we actually do – when they’re not out shooting a wedding!

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To conclude

The quote below sums how to look at the issue of photographers using their own work how they please. In the words of Jasmine Star once again:

“Yes, I’m a photographer, but I wear lots of hats in my business and one of my main responsibilities is staying in business. For me, leveraging my photos in a marketing capacity is vital to what I do. If I can’t use the photos, it’s in everyone’s best interest to refer a photographer who doesn’t mind private portfolio pieces.”

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On the other hand, if you now understand more fully why the fee is charged and you think it’s fair, great! The contract will be prepared with the fee added as a line item in addition to your photographer services.

Please make sure you have a decision on whether you’d like to apply the non-usage fee as soon as we’re ready to move into the contracting phase. There will be an area on your Photography Planning Document to make your final decision which is submitted when you’re ready to contract.

The contract also contains a payment schedule, so it’s necessary have this reflect the arrangement you’d like. It can’t be added on or after the wedding day, as any restrictions you place would kick in basically on the wedding day (that is when I commonly start sharing images/ Instagram footage), so the sooner the better as far as making this decision.

Thanks for reading! It’s a tough subject for sure, and never a fun one to talk about. I hope this helped understand the options for the non-usage fee in plain English.

Bay Area wedding photographer – Homepage | Bay Area Wedding photographer – Info, pricing, about & portfolio |

City Hall wedding photographer Info

If you found this article helpful, pin this graphic to your wedding planning Pinterest board!

A non-usage fee (otherwise known as an image restriction fee, a release restriction, a loss-of-opportunity fee) is when a photographer charges you for restricting their use of their work, and thus losing valuable marketing opportunities they would derived from using your wedding photos to market to other potential clients. It may mean a different photographer who doesn't mind private portfolio pieces may be a better fit. #weddingphotography #wedding #photographybusiness | Zoe Larkin Photography

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