Home »
Helpful Photography Definitions and Terms

Helpful Photography Definitions and Terms

These helpful photography definitions and terms are meant to provide insight into the differences between RAW and JPEG files, color corrected files and retouched files, image licenses vs. copyright buyouts, copyright ownership, copyright infringement and related damages, and non-disclosure agreements. I put together this simple guide to help both clients and photographers. Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and nothing written here should be considered legal advice. If you need clarification on any of these definitions, please use Google to perform further research or consult your own attorney.

What is a RAW file?

A RAW file is a digital negative. Canon cameras produce .CR2 files, Nikon cameras produce .NEF files and other types of cameras produce different file extensions. RAW files require special software to view (such as Photo Mechanic or Lightroom), and they cannot be used to print or for social media. Professional photographers generally shoot in RAW format so they can adjust things like white balance, contrast and exposure before they convert the file to JPEG, which is a printable format that can also be used for social media or email.

What is a JPEG file?

Once corrections and adjustments have been made to a RAW file, that file is converted to JPEG so it can be used. A JPEG can be printed, posted to social media or emailed.

What is a color-corrected file?

A color-corrected file has been adjusted in correction software (usually Adobe Lightroom) for white balance, contrast, color and exposure. This work is done per-image on the RAW files before converting to JPEG format.

What is a retouched file?

Retouched files are usually created for albums and for print. These files have often undergone extensive additional work in Photoshop, using a vast array of plugins, filters and software tools. There is no magic button for retouching, and work on skin, color and various image elements can be very time consuming. Retouching a single file can take anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours. In some cases, a file might take many days to perfect.

What is copyright?

Copyright provides exclusive legal ownership and reproduction rights to the creator of an original work, whether that work be a photograph, a book, a painting or simply written text on a web site. In photography, the creator of an image owns the copyright for that image.

Is all work copyrighted?

Yes. Absent a prearranged legal agreement to the contrary, the copyright for any work is owned by its creator. Registering works with the United State Copyright Office may enable you to seek statutory damages in a copyright infringement case, but a legal copyright filing is not required for a work to be copyrighted. Simply, if you created a work, you own the copyright for that work.

What is shared copyright?

While shared copyright generally refers to joint authorship or creation of a work, a shared copyright may also mean that two parties have the right to print or publish a work. The originator of a work may provide shared copyright to someone who has paid them to create a work.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement relates to the theft or misuse of a work without appropriate permission from or payment to that work’s creator.

What are the penalties for copyright infringement?

The damages awarded in copyright infringement cases may be based upon a variety of factors. If a work’s creator registers their work(s) with the U.S. Copyright Office, they may be able to seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. To seek statutory damages, a work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the infringement or within three months of discovering the infringement. Without registration, the owner of a work may have to prove actual loss or damages. Example: If a web site stole four of a photographer’s images and used them for one year, and the photographer normally charged $1,000 per image for one-year commercial web site usage license, the photographer might be able to recover $4,000 (or the rate the company would have paid had they gone through proper permission and licensing).

What is a usage license?

A usage license grants someone rights to specific usage of a copyrighted work. In photography, granting a usage license might relate to giving a client the right to reproduce a work for a certain purpose. Usage licenses may be limited or unlimited. A limited-usage license might cover the use of an image on a company’s web site for two years. The license would not extend to any other use. An unlimited-usage license might allow a paying client to use an image for any purpose.

What is a personal use license?

Most wedding photographers grant personal usage licenses to their clients. This means that the clients can make copies of the images for their friends, post images to social media and make as many prints as they might like. Personal-use licenses would exclude commercial usage, meaning that a client could not sell the photographer’s work to a commercial enterprise (or for commercial gain) without appropriate permissions from and compensation to the photographer.

What is a commercial use license?

A commercial use license would relate to an image’s use by a commercial entity. This might include advertisements, product branding, web sites, or even promotional campaigns on Facebook or Instagram. If an image is to be used for commercial gain or even to promote a product, the creator of that work would need to grant a commercial-use license and be compensated accordingly.

What is a copyright buyout?

A copyright buyout means that the creator of a work transfers copyright to another party, thus relinquishing all rights and ownership. Prices for copyright buyouts are usually negotiated with the creator of a work, and those prices are based on a variety of factors.

What is a non-disclosure agreement or NDA?

A non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) is an agreement wherein a photographer has agreed not to share or publish images from a specific shoot. A modified NDA may allow for parts of a shoot to be shown. A full NDA would prohibit any images from being shown. Example: A wedding photography client may request a full NDA, but may agree to a modified NDA that allows décor images to be shown, but not photos of clients or guests. The cost for NDA agreements is usually negotiated between client and photographer.