When we create something — let’s say a photograph — we own the copyright, which is our exclusive right as the author to own that work. We control who else can use our work and in what manner. For example, I could allow someone to print my photograph or adapt it in a piece of art. Rather than establishing verbal agreements, I can distribute my work with a license that sets the guidelines for use. The things that are copyrighted are sometimes referred to as “intellectual property.”

Licenses are granted by an authority to allow a usage; in my case, the use and distribution of resources by the copyright owner (i.e. me). I may decide to offer my photograph for free or charge a price; either way, I can include a license to limit usage, and I maintain the copyright. Just because someone pays money doesn’t mean they have full control or rights to what they’re buying. Licenses can dictate the number or uses, the bounds of use and even the length of time until the license expires.

Licensing is generally priced based on the reach of the image.  The work required to create the photo stays constant so the creative fee stays the same regardless of client.  But the licensing fee fluctuates depending on use.  An image being used by a local clothing designer just starting out will be seen much less then an advertisement created for Dior so the price difference is created through the licensing. 

Of course, this is only a basic explanation of licensing and copyright which is a very complicated portion of Commercial Advertising.  So please consult with a lawyer if your needs are extremely complex and you are having trouble understanding it all.  


An easy to understand analogy is to look at the music industry.   When you purchase a new album by an artist you are being granted a very limited license of use.  You do not own the music and it is not yours to distribute freely to whomever or to use in advertisements, videos, background music in your store, etc.  By purchasing that album you are purchasing the license to listen to that music in a personal situation and it is not to be used in any commercial sense.

If you wanted to use a particular song for a video, you would contact the copyright holder (in this case, either the artist or the label) and purchase a limited license for only that song that can only be used in the video you specify.  If you wanted to use it in another video you would have to negotiate an additional license.

If you wanted to purchase unlimited use to the entire album this would be a separate license agreement and significantly more costly. 

Through this example you can begin to understand the importance of licensing for both the artist and the end user.  Licensing insures that the artist gets paid fairly for every use of their intellectual property and also protects the end user by allowing them to purchase its use for exactly what they need.  If you wanted to use a 15 second clip of a song for your instagram video you would not want to purchase rights to the entire album, you would be overpaying for many things that you do not need.   Many people new to creative property and licensing may think it is just a way for the artist to make more money after the work is finished but it is in fact saving the end user money in the long run.  


Detail 3

“Why isn’t your price simply time and materials?” 

 Each project is unique, and time is only one factor I consider when determining my price for a specific assignment. Photography is a creative process and production time is rarely an indicator of value.


“Why do you need to know how I am going to use the photographs?”

Photographs are intellectual property, and licensing their use is how I generate income. The fees for a specific project are based on the use of the photographs because the more the images are used, the greater value they have. Since they’re worth more, they cost more.

“I do not want someone else using my images.”

I am happy to provide you a price for exclusive use of these images, but because this type of license prohibits me from generating any additional income, it will significantly increase the cost of the project. I suggest we compromise and extend you a limited exclusivity — say, six months. This gives you premiere use of the images, but it doesn’t restrict my ability to earn additional income forever.  Obviously every image does not have a use beyond its original intended.  But this still protects me in the future if it were ever to be included in an exhibition of my work or through a biography or teaching.





Detail 4

“You cost more per hour than my attorney.”

I do not charge by the hour, so dividing the total cost for this project by the hours estimated for me to be on site photographing does not give you a clear explanation of my fees. My fees are based on the creative and production needs of the job, the expenses, and the license terms we agree upon for use of the images. Factors other than time are frequently more influential in determining my price for a job.


“You mean I pay you and I don’t own it?”

Photographs are the intellectual property of the creator. Much like software or a book, you can purchase the use, but the creator still owns the material. I own the rights to my photographs, but I can write a license that will let you do whatever you need to do. My price will reflect the value of that license.


“I do not want to come back to you each time I need to use these pictures.”

I am more than happy to license a package of rights for these photographs, but you may be paying for uses you do not really need. I am service oriented and accessible if additional uses arise. My goal is, of course, to build a long-term business relationship, so tell me what your plans are and we can work out an equitable license.


Much of the information on this page is copied or influenced from the American Society of Media Photographers and is considered industry standard.