February 9, 2016 - 6 minutes read

Most commercial photography is licensed, not sold, for specific use over a designated period of time. The photographer retains the copyright to all images s/he creates unless the copyright is transferred to the buyer by specific written agreement or the work qualifies as a “work for hire”.

Licensing photography rather than selling photography has a number of advantages for both the photographer and the client. For the client, costs are often lower to license specific rights than to purchase all rights. For example, if you only plan to use a photograph in a brochure or annual report, why pay for the right to use it on billboards in Sri Lanka, magazine advertising in Spain or an on-line mathematics text book?

For the photographer, the advantage is being able to license the same image for several uses to different clients over a period of time, increasing the amount of income, which can be generated from a single photograph.


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What if you want to make sure that your competitor doesn’t use the same photograph in their brochure or advertisement? It is very easy to write specific terms into the license agreement, which preclude competing uses. For example, a license can be “industry exclusive” so that an image of a bridge licensed to Company A who builds bridges,  can not be licensed to any other company that builds bridges, yet it could be used in a travel poster about the location of the bridge.


Photographers are usually open to negotiating the usage rights you need for a fee that is appropriate and within your budget. The most common licensing arrangement is one time, non-exclusive use. For example, if a photograph is licensed for use in an annual report or brochure the terms would read, “One-time non-exclusive usage by [client] in [title of annual report or brochure], limited to a print run of [number] as [cover or inside], used no larger than [page, spread, or wraparound] in [colour or B/W]. Subject photograph is of [description] and is copyrighted by [photographer]. All rights are reserved except those noted.

Pricing Photography

While many photographers and buyers of photography will talk about a “day rate,” it can be a misleading term. Shopping for the lowest “day rate” probably won’t bring you the best value in photography. The experience, the equipment and capabilities that a photographer has available to properly execute your assignment represent value which may more than compensate for differences in price. Day rates don’t include expenses nor do they reflect the rights being licensed.

“Fees for assignment photography work usually include four components: creative fee, time, usage, and expenses.”

Some photographers lump the creative fee, time and usage charges together. Each photographer will consider such factors as the job description (including what the photographs should communicate and a layout if it exists), deadline, usage and materials requirements (i.e. master digital files for magazine print, electronic use, billboard, etc.), the complexity of the shoot and their own overhead when estimating what an assignment will cost. The more accurately you can describe your needs, the better the photographer can estimate the cost.

“Stock photography licensing fees are based on the usage of the image.”

The more extensive media exposure a photograph receives, the higher the fee will be for producing it. High-value uses, like national or regional magazine advertisements, command the highest price. Small reproductions accompanying magazine articles (editorial use) bring the lowest price. Catalogues, brochures, and sell sheets fall somewhere in the middle of the price spectrum. There are several variables that enter the formula, including the number of copies and the length of time the image will be used.

Things to Remember When Licensing Photography:

  • Rights not specifically granted are reserved to the photographer.
  • Licensing agreements are specific to the end user. Design firms and advertising agencies license images as agents for their clients, but these rights may not be assigned to other parties. Only the photographer, the owner of the copyright, can license use of an image. Precise usage language should appear on the estimate, purchase order, delivery memo, and invoice.
  • Possession of transparencies, photographs, negatives, or digital files does not give one the right to reproduce or copy them.

Based on an article by Mark Turner and the professional business practices in photography recommended by the American Society of Media Photographers. If you have any questions about the information presented here, or if we can help you solve your next creative problem with photography, call Brett Gilmour Photography at 1-403-540-5530.

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