So you’ve decided to hire a professional photographer and stop using your niece or nephew or that friend who owns a “nice” camera. You’ll need to understand a few things and I’m here to help. You may not like what I’m about to tell you but, Pro’s cost money, they earn all or part of their living by taking pictures. A professional has invested ten’s of thousands of dollars in equipment, and that’s just what they have in the bag today. It doesn’t take into account the other gear that has become obsolete or just worn out over the course of many years. A professional camera body today costs anywhere between about $3500 and $8000 with no lens, no lighting equipment, nothing else just the body. A single professional grade lens will run another $1200 on the very low end to another $2500-$8000 on the higher end depending on whether it’s a 35mm format or a medium format system. A middle-of-the road lighting setup will also run about $8-10,000. The very top level professionals working in commercial photography often spend in excess of $50000 on a single camera body, digital back and lens and perhaps another 30K or more on lighting. Just remember, a camera can’t take a picture until the photographer picks it up and makes the images. A camera is a tool – the photograph is made by the photographer.
If you own or run a mid-market or small business keep reading. If you’re an art director for a Fortune 500 brand you already know what I’m about to say to everyone else; my number is listed at the top of the page, let’s talk!
In the rest of this post I’m going to try and explain the concept of “VALUE” of an image and by value I don’t mean what you paid to have it created. I often encounter people who don’t understand the concept of the value of an image and the subsequent licensing for its use. An image shot for commercial purposes might be intended for use on a website, Point of Sale (POS) display or maybe even a billboard. The different ways in which an image will be used are negotiated with the photographer when you hire him or her to create images of you or for you. This is a rights-managed image. Usage can take on several forms. Billboards, the sides of city bus, or where it stops are often prime areas for advertising using photography. These types of uses are referred to as Out of Home (OOH), meaning people only see them when they are outside and generally away from their home. There is also a type of usage for print meaning magazines, newspapers, etc. Social media typically has its own call out for usage these days. Usage on your personal or business website is not the same usage as usage for advertising using those images on the web. There is a lot of good information online about usage and licensing photographs. At the end of this post I’ll provide some reference links for your continuing education.
All images are subject to copyright laws and unless the rights have been expressly granted to another entity, they remain the property of the photographer. I’ll say it again, the copyright of an image is owned by the photographer. In the U.S. this concept is actually rooted in our Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 and it’s the basis for our copyright and patent laws. There is a ton of information online about this and there is an entire government agency and a horde of attorney’s that specialize in copyright law so I’m not going to try and explain anything relating to the law.
Now that you understand you don’t own an image just because you hired a photographer to create it, bear with me for a minute while we explore the concept of “VALUE” using an analogy because this is very important! Let’s say you don’t own a vehicle but you need to drive from Dallas to New York and after you get to NY, you no longer need a vehicle. Are you going to go buy a new vehicle for a 2000 mile trip when you have no further need for it after the trip is complete? Probably not, instead you’re more likely to rent it for a few days and turn it back in at the rental agency. If you did decide to buy it would you expect to pay a lot more money? Of course you would, because the vehicle will still have value to you even after you finished the trip. The value you purchased might be transferred to a new owner or you could just park it and pay for a space to keep it in NY knowing that in a year or two you might need it again or you might not. The sensible option is to rent transportation for the 3 or 4 days it takes to complete the drive. You’ve just saved a ton of money and you got exactly what you needed, nothing more. But wait! We started off simply stating that we needed to drive from Dallas to NY. Well what you left out was that you needed to move your entire household and all your belongings. You only rented an economy car for $100 a day. Again, would you expect to pay more for a 22 foot truck capable of moving everything in one trip? Yes, because the truck has more value to you than the car does; you need the truck. The same is true when you want to use a photograph. If you’re going to use it on your website it has a certain value. How many visits does your website get in a year? Let’s say a million, so a million people will see the image. That’s Great! Now you say you want to use the image on billboards in every major U.S. city across the country because you’re selling Texas flags and everyone who sees the billboard is your potential customer. Now instead of a million people seeing your flags for sale there are hundreds of millions of people seeing the billboards. Would you say that image on the billboard has more value because of how it’s being used? Does the truck have more value than the car if you’re moving across country? Say, “Yes” even begrudgingly! Expect to pay for the value the thing provides.
When you hire a professional photographer for commercial purposes, you should expect to pay to use the image for your specified purpose for a specified period of time, just like you rented the car or the truck for the time it takes to drive from Dallas to NY. There are some great resources out there for an explanation of terms that you should hear if you’re talking to a professional. Terms like creative fees, exclusive license, non-exclusive license, commercial use, editorial use, and retail (like if you purchase a print to hang on the wall in your castle). If the photographer is not discussing usage and licensing with you then I suggest that you consider finding another photographer because you could easily learn a hard and expensive lesson on copyrights. Any use of a photograph not specifically granted in a license or contract is retained by the photographer. Just as you wouldn’t expect to go pick up your truck when you only rented the car, don’t expect to use the image on billboards when you only paid for use on a website.
Daniel Norton of Adorama talks about pricing – it’s not just me.
Professional Photographers Assocaition Contracts Guide
ASMP.org – Association of Media Photographers
NPPA.org National Press Photographers Association
This link provides good insights into how different usage is priced differently if you play around with the calculator a bit.
Getty Images Usage Calcuator