Topical Series: A Ballroom Gripe – Photography and Video At Ballroom Competitions

Maybe I’m just in a snarky mood, but I thought I’d vent a little steam and do one of my much neglected Topical Series posts to effectively kill two birds with one stone, as they say.

What prompted this is me wanting to share some video and photos of my most recent ballroom competition here on the blog and being afraid to because it could get me sued.  As much artistic material is these days, the video and photos I paid for at the competition done by the professionals have disclaimers and warnings all over them saying I can’t reproduce them without express permission of the artist.  And, after reading a recent blog post making its rounds on Facebook, apparently it is entirely possible to be prosecuted for using such materials, even if my site is not commercial in any way, and I make no money from it.

What this means for you is, no pictures, at least from this event.  And, yes, technically, I have options.  I can ask for permission to post what I bought, though I suspect it would involve paying more money for the rights to the image.  Personally, I think this is kind of weird – you know?  Like who wants a picture of me but me?  What is that print going to do but sit in the photographer’s archives?  They are certainly not going to get rich off of this image they took of me.  And if I paid for the print, well, shouldn’t I be able to use it?  I do understand that this is that person’s living and that they own the rights to the photo but here’s the infuriating part – you are not technically allowed to take pictures at competitions.  This means you are only supposed to get them from the professionals at the venue.  But then you can’t use the photographs publicly.  It’s a catch-22 if I ever heard of one.

So then the other option is to have friends smuggle cameras into the competition and sneakily snap as many photos and take as much video as they can.  That way I own the dang rights to the material and can share it as I see fit.  But this brings up two dilemmas – one, you’re not supposed to do it, and two, you have to have a friend who is willing to do it and able to be present.  This generally will also involve added expense because they must get a ticket to enter the dance session and as many competitions occur on Thursdays and Fridays (at least when I dance in Pro-Am) this could be difficult to schedule if the friend has a job.  And again, this kind of defeats the purpose of having a professional photographer there.  By being restrictive about what I can do with the prints I purchase, they undermine themselves because I then search for ways to get around using them entirely.

The other dilemma is that the quality of the photos and video taken subversively is likely to be inferior to that which could be obtained by the professionals, especially since the person taking them can’t be overt about what they are doing to get the best angle and lighting and all that.

I think one solution would be to offer a deal at the time of purchase of video or photos to also obtain the rights to use the images.  Perhaps it would cost slightly more, but then the material could be shared, with proper citation and credit, which I think would be a win/win situation.  I’d get to use the images and the artist would get advertising (however limited it may be) for their product.

I have no problem paying for some nice photos and video from a competition, and I can recognize the value of having someone experienced taking quality shots, but I’d sure like to be able to share the material. I’d also like the option to take some amateur recordings for my own personal use too. But, yeah, I’m not going to change the ballroom world. It’s going to be how it is. I accept that. But I’m curious to hear what your take is on this particular ballroom dilemma. What do you think about photography and video at competitions? What have you experienced? I know at least one reader is a professional photographer so I’m sure she has a much more informed perspective than mine! Hopefully she will share her opinion.

In any case, the next comp is in town so my husband should be able to come and sneak a few images for me, at least this time!

12 thoughts on “Topical Series: A Ballroom Gripe – Photography and Video At Ballroom Competitions

  1. Paragon2Pieces says:

    At Emerald, I did not receive a document restricting my right to use or display my video footage, but I think this was probably some sort of happy accident. Use restrictions seem to be in line with ballroom culture, generally. What is more surprising to me is that a digital rights license isn’t offered for an extra fee as you suggest.

    Regarding the Facebook post you reference, was it specific to ballroom? I get that there are various reasons that it’s in a photographer’s best interest to retain rights to their photo and receive proper attribution for the work. What I don’t get is how a photographer would quanitfy damages for a pro-am dancer’s digital distribution of photos or videos. I think there is a much better argument for damages if the footage is of pro dancers. But I’m rambling… what I’m getting at is that I’d like to know about the FB post is whether the photographer was aiming to be compensated for damages or simply receive an injunction.

    Practically, I would think that it might work to share the images and video through a password protected post or channel. If you were in control of and reasonably limited distribution to family and friends, would that meet the requirements of the use restriction?

    This is thought-provoking! The next time I’m at a comp I’m going to keep my eye out for the terms that accompany the video so that I can take a closer look 🙂

  2. Stef – At Arthur Murray comps, we are allowed to take pictures but not video. The studio personnel take pictures and post them on our studio Facebook page. They also print them and post them on a board so we can take the ones we want home. I agree with you that if I pay for a video from a comp, that vid ought to belong to me.

  3. bgballroom says:

    I have been to many comps where you may not video if there is a professional there, but none where still photos are not allowed. I don’t often buy the photos because they are often $20 – $40 per photo for the high def version and rights to publish. That is just too much for me! I do link to the photographer’s page from my blog or message boards, which is fine as long as they leave their images up. At least I think it is fine – I have not been told otherwise. It seems to me that they extra traffic to their site is probably okay with them although, as you say, I don’t think they are going to get rich selling photos of me!

    We really love the little comps where there are no restrictions and where, if we are really lucky, our friends who only dance Latin are happy to video those of us who only dance Standard and vice versa. At the Northwest Regionals this year they left the stand where the videographers usually are posted open so that the friends and family could use it. That was really nice.

    Some comps also have a kiddie exemption so parents can video their little kids, which is very nice.

    I would love to see how it would work allowing both the pros and the amateurs to video. Nowadays everyone has video at the tips of their fingers, but it is still nice (if you can afford it) to have a professional video. My biggest complaint is that we asked to have our finals video-d at a comp but all the cameras were already taken! Yes, we could have ordered them earlier, but that still would have left someone out in the cold. So the argument that it was simply a personal choice to have video or not was erased. A bit like the Seinfeld “no soup for you!” situation.

    I could go on and on. P2P has a good point. Have I signed a release saying these people are allowed to use and sell my image? I don’t think so. How can video taken on my iphone possibly be construed as competitive with a professional video? Wait – I can answer that one. I have seen the pro video sold to the dance in “low def” that would have looked significantly better taken on an iphone.

    Okay – fuming a bit myself now. time for a cup of herbal tea and head back into the sewing room! You have certainly done your job of being topical and thought provoking today, Steph;-)

    • loveablestef says:

      Hey bgballroom! Thanks for the comment, the thought-provoking comments, and also for a quasi-solution.

      I took your suggestion of finding photos on the photographer’s website and posting a link to it (think win/win) on the Facebook page for the blog. I don’t know if I can put the actual photos in the actual blog, but, for those of my amazing, fabulous readers who also choose to like the FB page, they can see them there.

      Anyways, thanks for bringing up a solution I hadn’t considered. And I’m super glad my “gripe” caught some traction. I guess I’m not the only one who thinks/feels these things about “how things are” in the ballroom world.

      And hey, I just wanted you to know that I do actually read your blog every time you post! I just am bad about commenting, so I doubly appreciate your participation here. I’m sure you’ll get some perspective on your current project with some time away from it, and I also enjoyed the super-marco camera shot. See, I’m not kidding. Really, I read it! 🙂 Can’t wait to see the final product…you are such a talented seamstress. XOXO, Stef

  4. Aurora says:

    Okay, since Stef practically challenged me to say something… (Oh, who am I kidding–I was going to speak up anyway! ;))

    Here’s what people don’t realize about professional photographers/videographers, etc. (I use the term photogs only, here–but I mean both.)

    When we’re charging for our work, we’re charging for:

    1) the cost to purchase a concession (ie, an event might be charging the photographer for the right to have their business there!)
    2) the cost to network/woo/negotiate your way into a contract at a concession (ie, it took Photographer A a LOT of work, to win the right to that concession–and every hour they spent on it, was time they weren’t selling photos!)
    3) the photographer’s TRAINING (this is CRUCIAL, folks–as Stefanie pointed out, the amateur’s results are often inferior, or at best, unreliable) – it took years of training, tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, and having to clean up after tons of mistakes–for the photographer to be professional enough and good enough to be able to RELIABLY take photos at the concession–and just as a lawyer needs to make up for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of law school debt, the photographer’s got to make up that deficit, as well!
    4) travel, hotel, food, car expenses, equipment rentals, perishable and non-perishable equipment–doubles of everything, because you need backup, in case something breaks–etc
    5) being able to “gamble” on the results of an event (ie, will they make enough to pay for the concession? Will they be able to cover their time away from their normal business? The expenses to get there? Maybe–maybe not!) – anytime you “gamble” you need to pad your expenses, because you need to make your money back assuming only a minimum number of buyers steup up
    6) probably at least one assistant, who is making at least $10 an hour, even if you get no business at all

    Also–a concession is bad for business in that, say, I might do a single portrait session, in my own studio, with a “it doesn’t really pay me, but I need to charge something to show I’m a professional, and to scare away the people with tiny budgets” session fee of, say, $150 for an hour’s sitting. A successful high end photographer might expect to make an average sale of $2000-3000 from that one hour sitting. (Of course, that’s gross–you still have to factor in your time booking, consulting, selling, editing–as well as the lab costs–but we’ll keep it easy, and not worry about that.)

    Since probably 60% of your time is spent NOT taking photos–but doing other things relating to business and generating business, although doing three sessions a week sounds like good money–it’s really not much more than a reasonable professional wage…but it DOES leave you with a ton of time to put back into your business, with a pre-qualified buyer (meaning, less of a gamble, financially.) Someone who’s seen your work, knows your average client spends 2-3K and gladly ponies up the session fee is pretty pre-qualified. All the photog has to do is take amazing pictures, and they’re pretty much guaranteed a high return, for a short amount of time with the client. Plus, the odds are REALLY good that you’ll get referrals from the client (there’s no better advertising than someone with 3K of disposable income for photos bragging to all their friends about their amazing experience, and showing off their fabulous photos!), AND you’ll probably see them again in a year or so.

    Doing a concession, you don’t have pre-qualified clients…so maybe they’ll buy, maybe they won’t. One way you help make sure they’ll buy, is by making sure your contract doesn’t allow other people to take pictures.

    You won’t get repeat business. You’re not offering the client a unique, unforgettable, spa-like experience, where they get hair and makeup and you make them feel like a model. Nope. You’re just someone they didn’t notice, clicking away, offering them “overpriced” photos of the event. You probably don’t even know their name. It would never occur to you to go spend 2K in a portrait session with them. You’re not going to refer to them to anyone. It’s a one shot deal. And they have to WORK for it.

    They have to take tons of pictures, and hope that people will be willing to buy them–but it’s all on spec, and it’s an full day or more of working–which means there’s that much less time that they get to spend that week on growing their business…which means they’re NOT going to be that “high end” boutique in town, doing 2 or 3 sessions a week, and having staff on hand–because they don’t have enough time to do the work to make it happen–even if they have the talent.

    In other words, an event photographer is kind of stuck on a hamster wheel of endless work, and not making much to show for it.

    They’re kind of like waiters, working for tips…or people working in retail for their whole life–this is NOT a way to get rich, or to have a wildly fulfilling career…it’s a way to get by.

    Now as to why they won’t allow you to use their work elsewhere…it’s mostly a lack of education. Photographers have lost HUGE amounts of money because even the best clients, don’t realize that printing copies of their proofs for everyone on a home printer results in lower sales for the photographer, and diminishes the value of their work. People can have a copy of a photo on their iPhone, and not bother buying a print. They can send it to all their friends, and not buy the two copies of the photo they might have bought in previous years.

    In other words, photographers really ARE losing sales because people don’t have the same need to buy as many photos as they once did. And photogs who aren’t educated, don’t realize that the solution is NOT to hold on tighter and tighter (as they see their livelihood being siphoned away!), but to find new, and better things to offer their clients, to tempt them to spend more money.

    They don’t realize that a simple solution is to charge a little more, and offer the right to post on Facebook automatically, as long as their logo is showing. (And you don’t modify the photo in anyway! Nothing is more frustrating than to have someone add a heavy gaussian blur to your photos–while keeping your logo on them, so that people think YOU did that!!!)

    They’re frightened, and rather than thinking of new ways to sell, they’re sitting in a corner, scared to death, hoping that holding on tightly will somehow fix things.

    (Did you know that even WITH the average sales of high end photographers, that the average income for a professional photographer is $20,000 a year? And unlike someone else making that–they’ve got thousands of dollars of gear to keep renewing!)

    So what can you do?

    You can try to educate. First, ask the photographer if they allow posting on FB, with their logo on the image(s). Ask if they can purchase the right to use websized copies of the images. Make it clear you’re not going to print them up–respect the photographer’s business, and buy any prints you want, from them directly. If you don’t, the quality of photography will go down at these events, as only the lowest end photogs will still be able to afford to do them.

    If the photographer isn’t receptive at the event, try contacting them afterwards–explain that you don’t want to do anything you’re not supposed to do, and that you wanted to know if you could post a shot on FB, with their logo on it, and credit given to them in the form of a link to their FB page and their website.

    If they’re still not receptive (remember, answering an email to you takes time away from their business–and you’re not offering to spend more money!), then contact the organizers, and suggest that this is something that be offered in the future–try to get them to write it into their contracts with photogs.

    If THEY’RE not receptive, get lots of people together, and sign a petition, saying you’ll all agree to pay (x dollars more) for FB rights only…and try sending THAT to the organizers.

    It’s a pain–I agree. But on the other hand, it’s also harder and harder for even good photographers to earn a living–and when people try to get around the legitimate ways they have of doing so, it does, ultimately, hurt their sales, and forces them out of business. If you can’t live without the FB rights–take a stand. Explain to the organizers and the photogs that you’re boycotting their work, because you want the FB rights. (Or whatever rights you want.) Get other people to join in.

    (BTW–many higher end photographers DO understand this–and offer FB rights as a gift. I don’t sell digital print rights to anyone but actors–because I want full control over the product other people see–but I offer people the right to print up their online proofs for personal use…and post them on FB, as long as they leave my logo and link back to me, and don’t alter the image in any way. I even tell them that my lab is affiliated with Mpix, and I’m calibrated to their printers, so the best color fidelity can be gotten on proofs if printed there, at up to 4×6. But you know what? They STILL take business away from me, without realizing it! They’ll proudly show me the Christmas cards they printed up from the proofs…without stopping to think that I sell Christmas cards. They’ll tell me how they got a groupon for a 16×20 canvas–and they blew up a proof and cropped the logo off, really well! The trick is to realize that the loss will be there…and build it into your prices. And educate your clients as much as possible. ;))

    Hope that helps…a little, anyway! 🙂

    • loveablestef says:

      Thanks Aurora for your comments and insights! I especially appreciate your suggestions for solutions. I mean, really, it’s best to find win/win solutions if possible, you know? And it’s awesome to hear from someone who actually knows what’s up!

      • Aurora says:

        Absolutely right, Stefanie! 🙂 It IS a pain in the behind to have to work so hard to get what you want from the photogs/videographers…but if enough people keep at this, the changes will happen–and everyone will be happier, in the long run. The digital revolution has happened so quickly that there is plenty of misinformation, misunderstandings, and hurtful or pointless behavior out there from both consumers and artists…and the ultimate solution is education…and learning to do business in new ways.

        Change is never easy! :/

  5. Aurora says:

    Oh…and the above post is full of generalizations and “dumbing down” of things like expenses. There will be exceptions to my statements about event photographers, and the expenses will vary–I just wanted to give a general overview, and provide some insight into why they charge what they charge…why they might not offer the rights people want…why you are taking business away from them, when you try to get around seemingly unfair rules, and most of all, how you might try to change what you don’t like. 🙂

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  7. As a photographer may I add that if they provided a quality product they wouldn’t have this problem. But they don’t so I say, you’ve paid too much to be involved in the event to have your image held hostage. Have your friends take photos until they are told to not do so.

    Video is harder. Not sure what to tell you on that one but I think that the policies are in place for the pro stuff anyway.

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