A Photographer’s Dilemma: Selling Photos from Public Car Shows

Several Lotuses, and a certain Shinsen Miata.

A funny thing happened the other day…

I went to a recent car show, doing my usual thing taking photos of some of the excellent pieces of automotive machinery. There, I found this car that I absolutely fell in love with. I decided to take a few photos focusing on the car and its various details, with the goal of selling photos on the Corkscrew’d online store.

After I had finished taking the photos, I managed to run into the owner of the vehicle itself and gushed about how gorgeous his car was. After we finished talking, I offered my business card so he could see the photos of his car on my website. That’s when he asked me if I can make print-ready versions of the photos.

Of course, I said yes, as this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to plug the new online store for Corkscrew’d! I told him that if he wanted a print-ready photo, I could make the photos of his car a store item and I could give him a large discount since it’s his car. Otherwise, the free photos would have a watermark, but he could easily download those and share them among his friends. This way, I can advertise this blog to more people who might be interested in owning some of my other work!

I felt pretty confident that we could work something out. However, I could feel the mood shift as he clammed up and asked incredulously “Oh, really?” As it turns out, he was not OK with that at all. He started to let me know in no uncertain terms that what I was doing was “unethical” because, by his logic, I was “making a profit off of other people’s hard work in building these cars.” He went even far as to say to be careful because what I was doing was likely “illegal.”

I’m still a pretty new photographer, so I didn’t have the knowledge to disagree with the owner. However, I did question if a release form is necessary for public events, as I believed that when an event is in a public space, there’s an expectation that photos can be taken and that consent is not needed unless stated otherwise. He disagreed with this however and was adamant that I needed to provide a release form to publish and sell pictures of people’s cars on my website.

At the end of our awkward conversation, he let me know that he wasn’t comfortable with me posting pictures of his car in any shape or form. So I relented and told him that I wouldn’t publish the photos of his car on Corkscrew’d or any other social media accounts out of respect for his wishes. After that, we parted ways, and I continued focusing on other cars at the show.

Was he right?

I left that conversation-turned-scolding second guessing my current Corkscrew’d endeavor. Was I, in fact, breaking the law by offering pictures of other people’s cars for sale on my store? Was I wrong about what is allowable for photography in public spaces? I decided to ask several of my friends what they thought of my interaction and what I just learned, including my mentors; one of whom is an actual automotive journalist.

As it turns out, literally anyone else I’ve asked has said that this gentleman was being unreasonable by suggesting what I was doing was “unethical” and that when private property is presented in a public setting, there is a reasonable expectation that photographs could be taken of said property for various purposes. If they’re not comfortable with that, they can easily request anyone with a camera not to take pictures of their property, or display a sign that says “No Photos Allowed.” That, or they can simply not come to the event and avoid this issue altogether.

After conversing with my friends, I came to the conclusion that I was definitely within my rights as a photographer to publish and sell my photos from a public car show as long as I didn’t take any pictures of people without their consent. After doing some research, I learned there is a surprising lack of concrete answers when it comes using a release form for publishing photos of cars from public events. Again, this might deal with the reasonable expectation to be photographed during a public event. Where the waters get muddy however is what is allowed under this pretense.

Navigating a Legal Minefield

When it comes to photographing someone’s property at a public event, there are more than a few caveats. First, the type of event can limit what you could do with the photographs. If I’ve been invited to a private party on someone’s property and I was allowed to take photos, this does not give me the right to publish the photos unless I give the property owners a release form. When I attended the Annual Morgan Club Dinner in 2018, I photographed the event with the permission of the host with the understanding that I would only take pictures of the cars and some of the festivities to document the event. This meant that legally, I would not be able to sell the photos of the event but I could put the photos in my portfolio gallery with a watermark.

Public events, on the other hand, don’t have the same caveats, especially during events held at public venues like WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. At a race, it’s pretty much fair game to take pictures of the cars and post them online for sale, since it’s more likely that the drivers and their teams have already signed release forms in order to be photographed at the racetrack. Cars and Coffee events are slightly different because usually they are open to the general public and can be considered an informal gathering. Therefore, unless stated otherwise, there is no absolute need for a release form for just photographing the cars present.

In addition to the type of venue, the type of car and it’s uniqueness needs to be considered when publishing photographs for commercial use. If someone has a car present at a public event like a cars and coffee gathering, and it is a production car of which more than several were made (like a dozen Ford Focus RS’s all lined up), then you likely don’t need a release form, although you can provide one if you want to. However, if the car is very rare, or completely customized, it may be better to err on the side of caution and provide a release form as the car is very unique and easily recognizable. Imagine the difference between a pristine Mazda Miata M-Edition, and the Hot Wheels Twin Mill™. There are thousands of the M-Edition, but there is only one Twin Mill™.

Lastly, there’s Consent. Remember when I wrote, “when private property is presented in a public setting, there is a reasonable expectation that photographs could be taken of said property for various purposes”? Well, the general rule of thumb is: if you showcase your property in a public setting, then you consent to pictures being taken of your property unless stated otherwise. This means that unless you actually tell people that they cannot take photos or if you post a sign that says as much, then you automatically give your consent. This is especially important, since the owner of the car I conversed with told me he did not consent to me taking photos of his car for commercial purposes, and in a show of goodwill I agreed not to publish the photos in any form.

So, what should I do?

In the end, the relationship between property rights in a public setting and photographer’s rights are pretty nebulous and rely on many exceptions and tenuous definitions. In most testimonials I’ve read on different forums, some photographers don’t even bother with release forms as it becomes cumbersome to have to provide release forms for every single car, especially when a car show can have up to 1000+ cars present. It is indeed a general understanding that you can take photos of cars at events and publish them for commercial and non-commercial use as long as you are in a completely public setting, the car is not totally unique and/or instantly recognizable, and you have the general consent of the owner unless stated otherwise. When you find yourself questioning whether or not you can publish pictures of someone’s car though, just remember this adage: “When in doubt, just print the release out.” A little ink and paper now won’t hurt but can save a lot of pain later.

There’s one more thing to consider though: As a photographer, your photos are your property, and you have rights to your property. As long as you follow the rules and guidelines, then no one has a right to prevent you from showcasing and selling your work, and no one is entitled to royalties to your work unless stated otherwise in a release form.

So, I’ll come up with my own guidelines for myself and audit my store content to avoid issues like this in the future, as well as come up with my own release forms, just in case. Although I didn’t make a sale, I did learn something important that only serves to make me a better photographer.

[Opinion] Hypercars don’t excite me anymore

It’s been a while! I took a little hiatus while I was setting up the site’s new store, but now I’m back! The new print store will be up this week!

-W

The gorgeous Pininfarina Battista. Image © Autotimesnews.com

The Geneva International Auto Show is underway…

…And already there are some poster-ready sports cars and concept cars that could adorn the walls of teenagers who aren’t really into Fortnite. The most notable car for me is the Pininfarina Battista; a technical tour-de-force from one of Italy’s most well known car design studios, famous for penning the sultry bodies of Ferraris for decades. The Battista itself is a push forward towards the limits of electric drivetrain technology, with a motor in each wheel making a combined 1,874 horsepower and 2300 Newton meters of torque. And of course, its very good-looking.

So, why is it that I’m not very impressed with it?

Don’t get me wrong; I think the Battista is an absolutely gorgeous car, with plenty of references to one of my favorite concept cars of all time; the Maserati Pininfarina Birdcage 75th Anniversary Concept. It’s just that with all of the super sports cars and hypercars that have come out in the last couple of years, I might be a little jaded hearing about another sports car for the uber-rich. It just seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it?

The Pininfarina Battista and the Maserati Birdcage 7th Anniversary Concept car. Definitely a family resemblance.

On one hand, of course a car like the Battista is going to be ridiculously expensive; it’s essentially a concept car for the road. I should be glad that a car like this even exists as it represents the cutting edge of automotive technology. On the other however, I’ll likely never get to own or even drive something like this as fast as I want, because I live in a country with an average maximum speed limit of 55mph.

It could be a multitude of things that are making me feel this way about this car. Could it be that I’m now more cognizant of the current issues of our society, such as poverty and income inequality? When viewed through that particular lens, the Batista becomes another tool of which billionaires can use to flaunt their wealth to the lower classes. Maybe it’s the practicality of it, or lack thereof. I’m certainly someone that believes a car is meant to be driven and enjoyed, especially with a standard transmission and a short throw shifter. A car like this is likely going to take up space in a climate-controlled garage filled with other pieces of beautiful automotive engineering, only to be brought out for special events and gatherings; not that I don’t appreciate it. Certainly there will be people who would drive the Battista, but then we run into the first issue again.

Mostly, I think it’s my own preferences evolving as I get older. As I said before, I’m not interested in things that I have little to no chance even owning, let alone driving. Instead, I’ve noticed a trend toward interesting, quirky cars that don’t break the bank for owning and maintaining. In fact, I’m more impressed with cars that tick all the right boxes and still reside in the land of feasible ownership. A Lotus Esprit or an 90’s Acura NSX fall within this realm for me, and lord knows how much I’ve drooled over something like the Mazda Autozam AZ-1. Even new cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C interest me more than the Battista, because there’s a slight chance that I’ll be able to own or drive it.

I used Alfa Romeo’s Configurator to spec out a 4C. Base models go for around $66K

I suppose this is just the thoughts of someone shedding their teenage desires for owning an exotic car and settling with something more in my socio-economic standing. How many of us grew up with a Jaguar XJ220, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Diablo, or a Ferrari F50 taped to their bedroom walls, and are currently driving those around? I personally can’t answer that. But I can say that I could get a 90’s Lotus Esprit for around $25k and still feel like a million bucks.

The Pininfarina Battista is still a good-looking car though.

Big Changes are on the Horizon

The New Year is coming…

…And that means it’s time to reflect on the year and recognize ways to improve! This new year, I’m going to make big changes to the website and how I share my work. This past year, I’ve been using a four-prong approach to share my photography and try and get more exposure:

  1. Corkscrew’d: My blog was created as a way to showcase my best work as a portfolio, with an added bonus for being able to write a blog. Lately though, I’ve been using it more as a blog since things are pretty slow during the winter season.
  2. Flickr: My Flickr account serves as an online repository for most of my photos, and it makes it easy to share my photos on Instagram.
  3. Instagram: Instagram makes it very easy to share my photos, and currently, it’s the most effective way to bring more people to my blog.
  4. Visual Society: Visual Society is a great way for beginning photographers to post some of their work and then make a profit. One of their trademarks is giving independent photographers 90% of the profit from their own sales.

So far a few things have stuck, and others haven’t. So in the spirit of improving for the next year, I’m coming up with a new plan to share my work and get more exposure (and more sales)!

The New Deal

So a few things are guiding my new plan:

First off, Flickr is changing its business model from one terabyte of free storage, to only 1,000 photos for free accounts. This is because Smugmug acquired Flickr and is doing away with a lot of free services in order to bring more quality photographers to the platform. Frankly, it seems like another money-making scheme to me, but it’s hard to argue their logic. Secondly, Flickr isn’t as effective as Instagram for sharing my photography and bringing viewers to my portfolio. In fact, I only ever use Flickr to share my photos to Instagram anyway. Flickr also requires me to manage and carefully curate my photo selections into albums; something I already do with this website. It seems to me that Flickr is essentially redundant.

Next is my Visual Society Portfolio. As of today, I’ve only ever made a handful of sales for my Visual Society account, despite it making a profit of 90% of all my sales. However, the Plus plan only gives me three gigabytes of storage for my photos, so I have to constantly curate my collections and remove older ones. Since I’ve barely broken even on the website, it doesn’t make sense to me to continue using it.

Considering the above, my new plan is this:

  1. Remove my photos from Flickr and close the account: Sadly, I’m going to have to close my Flickr account. Adobe Lightroom’s integration with Flickr made it very easy to publish photos for sharing on other social media platforms, but with the new plan eliminating a lot of free features, it doesn’t make sense for me to continue using it, especially since my Instagram is doing the same thing and attracting more people to the blog.
  2. Cancel my Visual Society subscription: Visual Society unfortunately never fulfilled my needs, though it was simple to make a few sales with it. I just don’t see myself continuing with the service into the next year.
  3. Upgrade Corkscrew’d to a Business plan, then add a dedicated shop: With my Flickr and Visual Society accounts closed, I can upgrade Corkscrew’d to a full Business plan, which allows me to add an online store for downloading photos and ordering prints. In addition, I would have unlimited storage for photos, videos, and other media. Lastly, I’d be able to use specialized plugins for the blog, expanding its capabilities further.

All of the external circumstances are pointing toward me making Corkscrew’d a one-stop-shop for my own blogging, photography portfolio, and print shop, with my Instagram acting as my main social media account. Personally, I like this solution since I wouldn’t have to worry about managing multiple websites and making different versions of the same photo.

Going forward, I think this is the best way to start the new year and get serious about what I want to accomplish with this blog!

I better get to work then!