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Understanding Commercial Photography Rates

The pricing for commercial photography is different than portrait/event photography pricing.  In portrait photography, the client buys a printed image, but the photographer still owns all of the rights to the image.  Copyright law legally prevents the client from reproducing the image.

In commercial photography the client is leasing the use of the image for a specific media and for a specific amount of time.  For example, the client may be using the image for a one-time use in a local newspaper ad, for a year’s use on a web site, for using in multiple national monthly magazines for 2 months, or for a billboard at a high traffic intersection.  Due to all of the possible uses of the image, the pricing structure must be different.  However, legally the image is still the copyright property of the photographer and the client is basically purchasing a specific lease of that image and the lease pricing is adjusted according to the use.
Generally, commercial photography fees & costs are broken down in the following categories:

  • Production Fee (includes Session Fee, Digital Time and Pre & Post Production)
  • License Fee
  • Travel and Other Expenses
  • The Production Fee is also often referred to as the “photography fee” or “creative fee”. Simply stated, it is the cost to the client for photographic services. This fee includes the session fee, as well as additional hidden hours that are unique to commercial photography, including digital time, and pre & post production time.
  • Session Fee: Similar to the Portrait “Session Fee” this is the cost of the photo session.
  • Digital Time: Proofing, color correcting, retouching, digital filing & back-ups, sizing, file conversion & photo transmitting, are all included in “Digital Time”.
  • Pre & Post Production: Pre-production is very often the most important part of a great photo shoot and is often over looked. Time spent beforehand arranging and organizing everything will greatly help the shoot to run smoothly and quickly, saving you time and money in the long run. Post Production time is the time spent breaking down a set, and the follow-up to complete the job.
  • The License Fee is for the license to use the images created for you. Per U.S. copyright laws, each image is copyrighted to the photographer. Meaning, the creator of the image is also the owner of the image.  License Fees are very specific.  When purchasing a license fee for a magazine ad, the fee is usually based on a one-time use.  A billboard ad would be purchased for a specific billboard location and for a specific use of time.  A License Fee for a web site would also be purchased for use in a specific web site, a specific number of uses in that web site and for a specific length of time.

Generally, photos are licensed to the client as one-time, non-exclusive, North American rights. Other rights are licensed as needed by the client. Such rights are, or can be, quite involved with many combinations of rights granted.

The range is great because no two jobs are the same and the costs to photograph any particular job varies a great deal. In general, a small business owner who only has a single subject to be photographed and only needs the photo for a short amount of time in a local market will pay a relatively small fee. This is contrasted with a large multinational corporation which may need many subjects photographed and will use the photos for a long time, in a national ad campaign. The larger company will be expected to pay a proportionally higher fee.
Factors which affect the cost of the license fee include:

  • The size of the photo.
  • The kind of use (editorial, corporate/industrial, promotional/advertising).
  • The region the photo will be used (local, regional, national, international).
  • The number of times the photo is copied for distribution (circulation size, print run or number of pages the photo is used on a web site).
  • The length of time the photo is needed.
  • Exclusivity (Do you need to be the only one to use this photo in your magazine, company publication, advertising campaign?)
  • Location where the photo will be used (Inside page, cover page, home page, banner, package, poster, billboard, etc.).
  • How the photo is to be printed (Color or Black & White).
  • Expenses can include, but are not limited to the following:
  • Mileage and other travel costs
  • Digital imaging costs
  • Shipping costs
  • Printing costs
  • Photographic assistants
  • Purchasing or rental of props
  • Hiring models
  • Parking and tolls