Gondolin Photography | Why Dog-Show Clubs Should Not Sign Exclusive Contracts with Dog Show Photographers.

Why Dog-Show Clubs Should Not Sign Exclusive Contracts with Dog Show Photographers.

July 27, 2012  •  3 Comments


The reason is very simple. There is NO up-side for the Club. And you expose the Club to legal issues.
Dog Clubs generally claim all the rights to photography at a show. It's important to recognize this is only a claim. The strength of the claim varies depending on the venue. If the show is a public event on public property, like a county park, that claim is very weak. If the show is held on private property, the claim is stronger, but only when the club enforces it by asking the property owner to eject the unwelcome photographer. On the other side, the Photographer has a very strong claim on any images they create. That claim is supported by copyright laws. Then there's the whole middle ground of a photographer using someone's image or likeness to generate revenue, and so on. Books have been written on this stuff. Suffice it to say, it can get messy and lawyers can get involved if someone gets cranky enough.
Dog Show Photographers will occasionally ask for an exclusive contract to photograph a show. The only purpose is to protect their revenue. They have expenses and their time is valuable, so they need to be confident they will generate enough income to cover those things. Fair enough.
But Dog-Show Clubs should be very careful what they offer. Granting an overly generous exclusive right to the photographer for all kinds of photography can lead to a lot of undesirable consequences.
Let's look at some kinds of Photography that can occur at a Dog Show:
  1. Judge and Ribbon Win shots. Everyone knows what these are. They are formal pictures and are the bread and butter of dog show photographers. This is where they make most of their money.
  2. Candids. Walk around shots: people chatting, dogs getting ready, kids playing, etc. Everyone at the show takes these. Dog Show Photographers who take these hope they can sell a few more pictures here, but these pictures have to have emotional impact to be attractive to buyers.
  3. Portraits. Something more than candids. These tend to be posed, but are not judge shots. Usually buyers ask photographers for these.
  4. In-the-ring or in-the-field action shots. My personal favorites. The dog is competing. Every shot is unique. Almost everyone is taking these kinds of pictures, using cell-phone cameras all the way up to pro digital SLRs. And they post them everywhere: Facebook, Flickr, and so on. As with candids, only well composed shots that appeal emotionally to the owner tend to sell.
When a club wants to engage a Show Photographer, they should offer the following:
  1. Exclusive on Judge and Ribbon shots.
  2. Official show status, which generally allows the photographer in the ring.
  3. Publication in the show catalog and club website, with contact information for customers.
A club might offer some extra goodies to entice the photographer:
  • A follow-up email to show participants to help promote the photographer's work.
  • Compensated Hotel Rooms to help cover photographer expenses.
  • A guaranteed daily fee, again to cover expenses and to help ensure the photographer does not operate at a loss.
These last three items are optional, and are examples of how a club can construct a deal with a photographer to help make sure the photographer has a successful business experience.
But that's where it should stop. Clubs should not offer an exclusive on the other types of photography. It will just lead to pain. As I said earlier, there is no up-side for the club, enforcement becomes difficult, and lawyers can get involved. Clubs should just avoid the problem; Don't grant exclusive rights beyond Judge and Ribbon Shots. Only promise things that are very specific and easy to deliver. 
Imagine a photographer with an exclusive contract covering all four of the types of photography I listed earlier. Now imagine that photographer demanding that someone attending the show - a club member or show participant - stop taking pictures. Or an enthusiast who is taking a lot of pictures at ringside (like me). Or a friend taking a nice formal picture of a dog they bred which happens to live on the opposite coast. Oh, you say, they wouldn't do that. Well, you're right, many times they won't, but some have done exactly that in the past, and some will do exactly that in the future. After all, the club has granted them that right through an exclusive contract. And if your club doesn't enforce the contract, you and your club can get sued. Heck, you might even get sued by someone who claims they have a right to take pictures of their dog but are getting harassed by the photographer. Or someone takes pictures and posts them later on Facebook and Flickr. Imagine the photographer sees this and gets angry. And sues. No matter what, you've got some unhappy attendees, an unhappy photographer, unwanted drama, and so on. It's a mess and it is totally avoidable.
Show Committees can avoid this disaster by refusing to grant an exclusive on photography types 2-4. Don't budge on this, even if the photographer pushes it. If you really want that photographer, find another way to guarantee their revenue, but make it easy on the club and lower your risk. You may still have to enforce the exclusive on the Judge and Ribbon Shots, and don't think this won't be work all by itself: Consider that there are people who come up and stand right behind the Show Photographer after he sets up the Judge and Ribbon shot and takes the exact same shot right behind his back. This really ticks them off, but it only takes a little work by the Club to enforce the exclusive contract here. If you enforce this, you will get a lot of respect from the Show Photographers.
For the other types of photography, encourage the Show Photographer to take pictures and offer them to the attendees via web sales. If the Show Photographer takes nice candids, portraits, and in-the-ring shots, they will sell. In my experience, such pictures are all unique and Show Photographers don't need an exclusive here. There is little or no revenue to protect: Customers will buy the picture if it speaks to them, irrespective of who took it.
The other reason a club should not grant an exclusive for all types of photography at the show is that sometimes the Photographer is unable to perform. It happens. It's usually one person. Life throws them curves. We all understand this. By signing an exclusive, a club has increased the risk that no memories of the show will be available to attendees.
Random thoughts:
  • The club can ask the Show Photographer for a digital copy of all Judge and Ribbon win shots for club archives.
  • There is a 50/50 chance the photographer will be out of business in 3 years. If they are creating a record of your show, find a way to preserve a copy for the club. Twenty years later, future members will be thrilled.
  • The club might explore term-based exclusive rights with the photographer. For example, exclusive rights to sell pictures for 6 months. I recommend avoiding this, though, since the club will still be put into the position of enforcement for all the reasons listed above.
  • A club might ask anyone photographing the show to pay a nominal fee for that privilege. The revenue from this fee might be used to guarantee the revenue of the Official Show Photographers. Or the Club might keep it to pay show expenses. As an example, Seattle Kennel Club does this. The fee is $100. But they also charge admission for attendees (it's a very expensive show), and they can put terms and conditions on anyone who is on the show grounds. Again, I don't recommend this as it puts the club in the position of enforcement; In my opinion, it's just not worth the hassle.


Hi there! Yes I have to agree shooting photos at a dog show can be a little stressful sometimes for the unofficial photographer. I have been shooting photos at shows now (not official or ever win photos) just ring candid shots for the most part. I have been asked once to not take pictures of anything other than the breed I was specifically there to shoot for family. I have also been marched up to and demanded that I immediately cease shooting shooting and leave the site. I was in the same boat as the other person as I was at a local community fairgrounds. I also had a GoPro shooting video at the corner which I left there while activity was going on in the ring as I didn't want to bother the people in the ring. The people at the show were very insistent, and as such I wound up bother people in the ring and made me all that much more angry. So after the ring time ended I was asked what happened by the exhibitors and told them and it was the first time any had heard of it happening. Of course as I am being yelled at by these folks I look across and someone is shooting photos/video on a tablet! I asked them if they were going to speak to them and they said yes and then I watched as they walked by that person with no questions. I simply packed it in and didn't make a fuss but I swore next time I had a pushy person like that I would simply ask to see the AKC rep and have them hold these folks in check.

Now I have my first show scheduled to actually shoot as a designated show photographer in a little over a month. I always try to look at the whole thing as unbiased as possible. So being in the show photographer position I can honestly say I don't mind if someone is at a ring taking action shots or even portrait shots. I am there for the win photos, those are my contracted job. As such, why should I get huffy about someone taking pictures that I am not contracted to take. I will probably wander as the show is a small show so I should have some time to do some candid and action shots. I will put them in with shots from the show and if there are some there that sell all the better.

I agree with Tanya as far as someone showing up at the site and taking shots and then running my shots/business down. If you want to so up and try and drum up business, ok. But don't run me down to make you look better. Thanks for posting this though...feels good to see that other people have had the same trials at some shows as I have had. Misery loves company right?! :-)

I am a photographer of dog shows. We pay a large outlay to attend shows for the clubs whom we have organised to attend. As "official" photographers i have no problem with owners, handlers, officials taking photos on their cameras, iphones etc. I can only cover a certain amount of showing in a day and dogs get missed, moments get missed and i am glad they can take their own images. The only problem i have is when another photography business turns up, (univited for their photography though they have their own dogs entered in the show) and takes photos then walks around telling people not to buy from us but buy from them and organising "portraits etc". THAT negates the reason we are there and the money we spend travelling and accomodating and THAT would be the only stipulation i would have if placed in a contract.
John Robson(non-registered)
Boy did you hit the nail on the head, I have been taking photos at dog shows for a number of years now, no problem at all, until last weekend that is.
Guy comes over asked if I had a dog in the ring, I said no just like taking photos, he told me to stop or he would have me removed from the show.
It was a city fairgrounds outdoor show and I just take candids of the dogs in the ring, I do not take win shots and I have never sold a photo to anybody.
I do post photos to facebook though.
Just a hobby for me and just in the process of finding out if he had the right to stop me or not, lots of people take photos at dog shows and the one I was at was no exception, really enjoyed your article thank you for posting, cheers John
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