Over the past year, I've received many different requests from start-up wedding businesses (cakes, flowers, planners, etc) asking to purchase some of my client images to be used on their websites as a representation of their product or branding. I'm OK with this as long as the vendor worked for the event I photographed and has obtained permission from the people in the photograph in the form of a model release or email agreement.
What I am NOT OK with is a business who was in no way related to the event, asking to use images of my clients and someone else's product as a representation of their own work. There are plenty of stock images out there available for these businesses to use, and yet they are contacting me to request images from client commissioned weddings. Not only is this unethical, but it represents the inquiring business as one which is trying to profit off of another person's work.
When presented with this question, I often remind the inquiring business that my model release only extends to my business, and that I would not share images of their work or their clients with another company. If the inquiring business would like me to produce images for their specific product or website, they would need to hire me as a commercial photographer which could include their own models to represent their product or brand. Commissioning photography of their own products and models solves the ethical dilemma and produces unique and original work for their website. It also ensures that the company has a valid product to offer clients and is willing to invest in professional imagery representing that product.
Hopefully you won't find yourself in this position, but if you do, I hope that you can remind the business of the right thing to do as well.
Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.