Unused photos

I was wondering, when a professional photographer takes pictures of, let’s say, a sports illustrated swimsuit model what happens to the unpublished photos? I assume that there are a few photos that a poor quality and are probably thrown away, but there has to be a number of good quality photos. Are these thrown away, kept by the photographer, or what?

I think most fashion photographers print contact sheet (where the images produced are the size of the negatives), and these are then examined in order to make the final decision on which photos should be enlarged. Now, what happens to the enlarged photos if they are later rejected, I haven’t a clue.

People do not realize how many photos are taken during a single shoot. Multiply that by the number of shoots any model does in a year (could be 12, 50, 100, or one every day) and any way you do it, you come up with lots of pictures. Every one of them is evaluated, those that are truly worthless are discarded/destroyed. The remainder of these are filed in some fashion (on disk or in a wooden filing cabinet.) Each shoot yields 1 to 5 good pictures. The model usually gets to keep copies of these. Again this is a guestimate. I believe that of 100 of these 1-5 good pictures, a single spectacular image will emerge as worthy of a magazine’s consideration.

Now you are wondering about my credentials. I am not a photographer, but I work for one occasionally, between real jobs. The photgrapher that I work for is not a professional photographer in the sense of Stephen Waydya (sp) of Playboy, and he certainly does not have the budget of a Playboy or SI staff photographer. Still some of his works make the cut. I help with some of the filing too and that is where I get my numbers.

Still, his dark room is a huge mess with film everywhere.

Usually, the unused photos get filed away in the photographer’s filing cabinet in case somebody (another magazine, etc) wants to buy them later. Example: my photogaphy teacher does work for a well-known editorial magazine. He once did a series for the magazine on the people involved in a high-profile lawsuit (factory workers with work-caused lung problems, IIRC). A few months later, one of the major network TV news shows did a story on the same thing, but the workers’ lawyer wouldn’t allow the TV guys to photograph him, so they bought my teacher’s photos that the magazine didn’t use, and showed them as a slideshow in the TV show.

If the photographer’s on staff, and the publication has more rights than in the above scenario (mainly newspapers here; most magazines hire local freelancers who keep the rights to the photos, as described above), the publication files them away in case they do another story on that subject, and it’ll save then the expense of sending somebody out to shoot it again.

Since this is my line of work, I’ll chip in:

Gunslinger’s got the gyst of it. It also basically comes down to what kind of contract you sign with your client. Normally, if you are a staffer, the publication tends to retain rights to all your photographs including outtakes.

Freelancers for such wire services as the AP, AFP and Getty Images generally also sign away their rights for photographs taken while on assignment. This includes outtakes usually, but sometimes the photographer can get away with selling the outtakes.

As a private contractor, this is a terrible deal. The industry standard - so much as there is one - for freelancers is the following: The client is not paying for a photograph, but rather for the right to license a photograph. The standard license is one-time, one-publication only. Often, there is also an embargo clause which prohibits the photographer from selling the same photographs or photographs from the same shoot to a competing publication within a certain amount of time. If a magazine requires exclusivity on a particular shot, then that commands a higher premium, as I (as a photographer) am losing potential future sales from that photograph.

The photographer also should get all slides/negatives returned to him within a reasonable period of time after the publication of the photograph. S/he then files them away and can use them in any which way s/he pleases. As a photographer, I would say that about 25% of my business is based on resales and republication of work already done. This includes the publication of already published photographs, and publication of outtakes.


Along similar lines (or not), I’ve always wondered what those “Clean Flicks” places did with the spliced-out sections of videotape - you know, like the ones from Titanic?

I could think of couple of people that’d love to get their hands on some of these discards.

One man’s trash…

For the most part, they’re just archived by the client (who, generally, are the ‘legal’ owner of the film that they’ve paid for)… but it depends on what you’re shooting and a number of different factors…

…if you’re shooting fashion, you’re shooting chromes in either 35mm, 6cmx6cm, or 6cmx7cm and you usually just send 99% of the chromes to whomever contracted the job (the 1% that you toss are the obvious mistakes - an assistant included in the shot, the strobes failing to fire, etc.).

If you’re shooting tabletop or any other large format (4x5 or 8x10) you’re shooting chromes as well but the number of shots per image is greatly reduced (maybe you bracket 5 shots per image) and you cull the under or over exposed images before sending them to whomever contracted the job.

(And, to be honest, out of any job you might hold back a couple of shots to keep for your portfolio…).

Generally the terms of ownership, copyright, etc. are contractual based upon the terms set forth on an agency or corporate purchase order - you accept the purchase order and you accept the terms. Fees are usually based on usage (unless you’re struggling and will shot anything for a dollar). You usually don’t give up copyright, but if you do, that’s an extra charge (usually negotiated beforehand, either as a balloon fee or an outright purchase - although a company - say, Coca-Cola - might come back to you months after a shoot and negotiate a copyright buyout).

And those hundreds of shots that you sent with only one actually used? They’re usually archived - the Playboy photo archive is HUGE - although, as I understand it, more recently the chromes are digitized and dumped.

I use the word ‘chromes’ throughout because I can’t recall ever shooting negative film for color work… and the small amount of digital photography that I shot was just burned to a CD and sent to the client…


In this modern age, photographers use digital cameras, so it’s no longer a problem.
I do know a photographer (he has done pictures for Penthouse, not Playboy, and, no, I’m not in them. He mostly does sofas for DFS) and he does everything on a very expensive digital camera.

Sports Illustrated reported that their photographers took 12,000 pictures at the Super Bowl. They printed about a dozen. All were done on digital cameras, so some may have been saved to a giant hard disk or CD/DVD somewhere for future use.

Couple points…

Daftbugger is correct. Many photographers these days use digital camera. Almost all photojournalists do, and a good portion of the magazine industry is heading in that direction. That said, for high-quality magazine work, chromes are generally preferred. I still shoot chromes for all my magazine clients, but in most cases they’re not necessary. I could produce the same quality of work and digitally transmit images, but for some reason people like Business Week and Car and Driver still prefer chromes. Although it’s not my field, I’d be surprised if the fashion-magazines have really moved into the digital realm. I’m sure there are a few photographers who use digital cameras or digital backs, but for the most part, I still usually see Hassies or Mamiyas being used, with only the occassionaly 35 mil.

boo_boo I disagree with your statement that the client generally owns your film. Unless you’ve sign a (IMHO) bad contract, the film should be yours. Anything I send out includes paperwork which must be signed that 1) all film must be returned within 4 weeks after the publication of an image and 2) any film lost will be compensated at $1000 per frame (or less, depending on the amount of slides sent.) If you’re freelancing, you need that film to survive and make money for the future. That’s your retirement, your health insurance, your taxes, etc. You really can’t afford to lose that film, and unless you do a work-for-hire job (why?) you should always be the possessor of that film. The client is paying for your skill and the right to license your photographs, not for the photographs themselves and not for the film or costs incurred to do the job.

Most of the P.O.'s from ad agencies and corporations that I did work for stipulated that they owned the film (and were charged for it, believe me!) but not the copyright. The only companies that I ever actually sold copyright for unlimited use were Coca-Cola and Arby’s - but those were either stipulated in the P.O. or under separate contracts. And I always - always! - billed for film, Polaroids, etc (any consumable used on a shot or any prop that was non-returnable) and the art director would usually take the prop(s) back to the office (what became of them then, I don’t know. I did a lot a shooting for financial institutions and Mont Blanc pens were used so frequently that art directors wouldn’t want them and would just say 'keep ‘em’ so I amassed about 50 Mont Blanc pens that way - and still have at least a dozen around here somewhere).

I never freelanced or shot for spec, so I’m sure things are different in that arena. I shot strictly commercial and I’m assuming that guys like Ioss are under contract the same as I was - I doubt that he could publish his own swimsuit book or sell the shots to other magazines and he probably sells copyright to SI as well (I have built that in to quotes - $3000 + expenses=I own copyright, $7000 + expenses=client owns copyright - and billed accordingly).

It’s been almost 5 years since I did any commercial photography work, though, so things may have changed…


Ah, that all makes sense, of course. For the main SI question, I’m certain you’re 100% correct. I would really doubt Walter Ioss could keep copyright to that work… Isn’t he a staffer anyway? Or maybe he’s just a contract photographer.

And I’m sure the rules are much different in the advertising and corporate market, although I occassionally have to turn down corporate jobs in which the client pays an absurdly low amount for all rights to the photographs. It’s part of the struggle with the photography business. Clients are paying less money for more usage rights. …

Anyhow, the business aspects are beyond the scope of the OP, so I’ll just leave it at there.