Should you charge for photo usage?


Credit lines are great, but only if you get paid.

I was recently asked by a blossoming photographer whether he should charge someone to use his photo for the cover of an E-book.  Was a credit line enough?  Or is it OK to charge for photo usage?

I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that I share his question (and hello to his Mrs. who is a regular reader!) since he said he was frantically Googling an answer, I figured there might be some of you who may one day need this advice.  So here goes.

Yes, you charge for someone to use your image, especially if they will be making money off it.  A photo credit doesn’t pay the mortgage, and rarely does anyone try to look at the credit line and have the interest or ability to hire you.  Expand your portfolio?  Build credibility?  Eh, depends, but rarely.  Please note that a concept shoot is very different – I give photos for free to the model, and makeup artist, for their portfolio.  If they want to use it for an ad, I ask for a credit line, but if a venue were to ask, they have a marketing budget that can pay a bit for photo usage (also know they would and can hire a photographer for a campaign so you can request payment).

So how do you ask for payment for photo usage and how do you gauge what it is worth?

Example #1 – Charging even if you already got paid once

When I am hired by a magazine to shoot an assignment .  For easy math, let’s say I got paid $400 for that session.

Client I worked with then asks to see all the images and wants to have them/buy them.  I send a price list that says something like $150 per photo, $200 for 2 images, and $250 for 3 images – those numbers are made up for this post.  But if they want the entire session, it’ll be $600 – which is discounted from the $800 my sessions typically are.  I’ve had a client before snub at the thought of paying $150 for a single image, in which case I thought how strange, because no one can get a decent portrait session for $150.  Charge $50, $100, whatever just so you can at least have a nice date night.

Just because I got paid once doesn’t mean I should give the image for free to every one else who asks later.

So the client/publication says no and won’t pay.  OK, so they don’t get your image, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, you still wouldn’t have had dollars in your hand.

Example #2 – Your image will help sell the product

A very big online retailer wanted the images I took of models in a product they were going to sell on their online site. I took these images for free, it was a concept shoot.  I also know that on their website, they reshoot every product with a model, therefore they must pay for a model and photographer anyway.

I threw out a cost per image.  They said their budget was $X per image. I accepted.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but I still got something when they had originally assumed they would get them for free.

Stock photography also costs people money, and it’s not exclusive!  It also comes with a circulation limitation, online media, print, billboards, you name it, so stock photography isn’t cheap, so neither should you.

Example #3 – Providing an image with limited usage rights

If I have a magazine assignment at a resort, chances are the resort may want to use it for their marketing material.  There is probably a model in it.

You need to contact the agency the model is represented by and ask for their rate.  You must know the usage the resort wants – say online media only and for 1 year of usage.  Then you also need to determine your cost.  You may be out of budget, but what you can do, is offer 1, 3, 5 images or change usage time so you can still get what you are asking for – this way you are not losing money, instead you are providing more value.

Final tip

Don’t ever give copyrights of unlimited usage, otherwise known a a buy out UNLESS you are getting enough where you can happily walk away and feel like you won the lottery, as if this moment wouldn’t come again.

Whether you are a high end photographer, newbie, the fact remains if someone wants to use your image, your image is good enough.

It means it’s valuable to them, which also means, you should and can charge, it is your photo after all.

Diana Elizabeth has learned that credit lines while are appreciated and almost mandatory anyhow are nice, they do not pay for things and rarely elevate a business.  If you are going to shoot for free to expand your portfolio, that is fine.  However keep in mind there comes a point when you realize money is more valuable.

Trying to decide what to write to make myself sound interesting.

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