Pricing and Negotiating Based on Usage Rights of Commercial Photography

It is important to negotiate the rights and rates for use of your commercial photographs. Negotiating applies to both commissioned and non-commissioned work. When you shoot photographs, it is only fair that you are compensated for your efforts by people who want to use the photographs that you took at your own expense.

As you think about negotiating the usage rights, there are some things you should keep in mind:

1. A commercial photographer is the legal owner of his/her works

You hold the copyright and can do anything with a photograph you have taken. It is important for the client to understand this he/she can come to a worthwhile agreement on using the photography work. Once the photographer and the client are clear on how business is done, the photographer can then issue licenses to the client to reproduce his work after a mutual agreement.

2. The terms of agreement of the license should be put in writing for future reference

This is very important to clearly indicate which rights are being offered. Documentation may seem a little obvious and sometimes disregarded but it becomes essential when misunderstandings arise. Regardless of whether you have standard terms and conditions, put the sale agreement in writing.

3. Go for a favorable rate

A favorable rate is one that covers all costs incurred and caters for professional income. Think of usage fees in terms of the amount of exposure the image is likely to get. A higher exposure definitely means a higher license fee.

A commercial photographer can determine usage by the following:

a) Time period: The length of time the image will be used.

b) Exclusivity: This is important to prevent resale of the images. You should however have the right to sell the image to another client before the period expires. Exclusivity can apply in three ways:
Exclusive where the image cannot be sold to another person during the period of purchase
Non exclusive where the image can be sold to any other person at any time
Exclusive to industry where the image cannot be sold to another person within the same industry

c) Quantity: The number of times the image will be used within the time period that has been specified. The rights can be limited, unlimited or completely sold out.

d) Geographic region: The area where the image is going to be used. It can be within Birmingham, within the state, nationally or internationally.

e) Market: This will give you a clue about how exposed the images will be. Editorials are cheap, trade is not expensive and advertising usually generates a lot of income.

A commercial photographer can opt to grant the client limited rights with immediate use. This may however be in return of almost all the markup they get for single use. Such a deal means both the photographer and the client gain something from the agreement. In some cases, clients may demand additional rights without the right compensation. In such a case, both the photographer and the client lose.

The best way for a commercial photographer to negotiate for both rates and rights is setting a particular fee for any limited license. This way, you can charge an extra fee for additional rights that a client may want. However, the rates should be flexible for the variety of extra rights that clients demand e.g. reuse of photographs for commercial purposes in an editorial magazine.

The trick to signing a good deal is to clearly understand how the photography market operates. The clients should know that they are renting and not buying the work unless otherwise stated.

See below two examples of how our images were used for advertising purposes:

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