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Inner City Gemsboks

Posted by Greg Blue on Monday, December 14th, 2015

This has always been one of my favourite images! The idea came together while shooting at the Museum of Natural History in New York. When I saw these Gemsboks, I thought they didn’t look like prey animals at all. The looked like they could whoop your ass if provoked. So I gave them an appropriately rough neighbourhood. However, I also gave myself some potential legal problems if the image used in the wrong way.

The Museum of Natural History in New York clearly states in its policies that you may bring a camera into the Museum as long as you do not use either a flash or a tripod. However, it also clearly states that you may not use any photos taken in the Museum for commercial purposes. If you break those rules, then you will effectively be guilty of trespassing.

As much as I love this shot, those rules left me very limited in what I can do with this image. I could never sell it for commercial purposes, such as stock photography, and I would not feel comfortable selling it for fine art purposes. I’m not really too worried about that as the image is a bit weird and would therefore have limited resale possibilities anyway. The stock agency that I work with has never put out a call for “At Risk” Inner City Gemsboks.

If I wanted to sell the image commercially, I would first need to seek out the written permission from the Museum. It’s hard to say if they would have any real issue with that, but it is very likely they require a usage fee be paid to them before granting permission. That would be completely fair as the Museum does not exist to act as a prop house for my photography business.

So how is it that I can show the image here? Because this is not considered commercial use. I was allowed to enter the Museum with my camera and take pictures. There is nothing in those rules that state I cannot place the Gemsboks in a new environment – so I also had every right to make the composite image. On this website, I am simply showing an image that I took legally, and explaining how I made that image to members of the website.

It is extremely important that new photographers understand the laws that drive our business within the country you live in. Most new photographers can find the whole issue of contracts and releases confusing. They tend to think these are issues that only pertain to people, such as with Model Releases. But they apply to things a well – for me to be able to use this image commercially, I would need to negotiate with the Museum to obtain a “Property Release.” This is similar to a Model Release, except that it applies to things that are owned and may be protected by their owners. Property releases are most often required when shooting objects that cannot be viewed from public property (as in the Gemsboks).

Typically objects, such as buildings, that can be viewed from public property do not need a property release, but that is not always the case. Also Building may well have company logos and brands on them that are protected by copyright and trademark. It can confusing as to what you are allowed to use once shot, and how you can use it. There are two preventative measures you can take to keep yourself out of hot water:

  1. Go to school and get an education in photography. This is one of the most important aspects of an actual photography program in a real school – they will teach the business aspects of photography, including the legal issues.
  2. Ask permission! Whenever you are in doubt about your legal ground, seek written permission from the individual you are shooting, or who owns the object you are shooting. 9 times out of 10, they will be very helpful and will be open to your needs as long as they know what you will be doing with the shot. And as long as they know you will be respectful of their concerns and issues.

You can view the full tutorial on how this image was produced here.


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Inner City Gemsboks
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Inner City Gemsboks
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This has always been one of my favourite images! The idea came together while shooting at the Museum of Natural History in New York. When I saw these Gemsboks...
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