FAQs on our Commercial Photography Pricing, Licensing & Production Process

The commercial photography pricing is significantly different than that of portrait pricing. It can easily get complex, so investing a few minutes in understanding the global aspects of this business can be very beneficial.

We have written this guide in a FAQ format in plain language to assist our clients (and potential clients) in understanding the unique processes and differences in the nature of the business and pricing models specifically applicable to commercial photography.

Table Of Contents

Part I: General Commercial Photography Pricing Process Information

How is commercial photography pricing different from consumer photography pricing?

One of the simplest reasons for this difference is the “use” of the image. Let’s compare:

Consumer Photography Pricing

In a consumer portrait project, the client:

  1. Pays a session fee, and:
  2. Buys the printed photos.
    • If more prints are desired, the client goes back to the photographer (Copyright laws prevent the client from reproducing the photos).

Commercial Photography Pricing

In commercial photography, the client:

  1. Pays for the special needs and time taken to capture the a more complex photo, and:
  2. Buys a license based on the final usage of each photo to sell their product or service.
    • Therefore, the image will likely be printed multiple times for various advertising and marketing uses, which calls for a different pricing structure. Since the copyright still belongs to the photographer, the client needs to purchase specific rights the photos, according to how they plan to use them.

How is the commercial photography pricing structure broken down?

ILLUMINATION’s standard rate structure encompasses five main categories:

  1. Coverage Fees
  2. Pre-Production and Post-Production Fees
  3. Supplemental Service Provider Fees
  4. Expenses
  5. Licensing and Usage Fees

Coverage fees help us cover the costs of doing business for salary, time spent on the specific needs of the project, overhead, equipment, training and profit. A Coverage fee may also be called a “production fee,” “session fee,” “photography fee” or “creative fee.” Simply stated, it is the cost to the client for us to execute the photographic services to effectively capture your project. The Coverage fee is calculated by the information you provide about your project. To fairly and accurately provide you with an estimate for your project, we have provided a list of questions to help us research a fair price.

A typical commercial photography pricing project generally requires additional “hidden hours” that are unique to the needs of these more complex projects. These hours often reside in digital time, pre-production post-production time.

Digital time includes all digital transmission and handling services necessary to preview and select images (either onsite or in early post-production), including: file conversion, backups, basic color correction, proofing, etc. This service may be significantly reduced in both price and time by having assistant(s) onsite during the shoot.

Pre-production is often overlooked, but can be one of the most critical part of a great photoshoot. It includes the time necessary for effective planning, meeting, travel and coordination with third parties prior to the scheduled shoot date(s). Also includes set-up, asset acquisition and supervisory time. Time spent before the shoot 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 includes advanced retouching, Photoshopping or other editing needs, as well as all necessary practices and services provided to tear down sets, clean up sites, return / pack up items, and provide necessary follow-up to complete the project.

Depending on the needs of the project, ILLUMINATION often engages and enlists a variety of service partners or vendor partners to complete the outlined objectives. The necessary supplemental service providers will be assessed during the planning process. They may include: makeup artists, hair stylists, location scouts, set builders, designers, talent and talent agencies, as well as other consultants or specialists.

The Expenses are the incremental costs associated with a particular job such as travel costs, props, purchasing or rental of special equipment, rental fees, talent fees, film and digital processing, related production charges and delivery charges. Each project is unique and will have specific expenses associated with it.

Part II: Copyrights, Usage & Licensing Considerations

Who owns the copyright to the photos taken during a photoshoot?

Many people who do not understand the nature of this business think that by hiring the photographer to execute a photoshoot, the client then owns the photos. However, this is NOT the case. Per U.S. copyright laws, each image’s copyrights belong to the photographer. Meaning, the “Originator” (creator) of the image is also the owner of all copyrights the image. This doesn’t change unless the client requests and pays for a “Full Rights Buyout” or if there is a “Work Done For Hire” agreement in place prior to the shoot.

One should understand that the word “Copyrights” is an umbrella term covering multiple, specific rights. All or a portion of these individual rights are automatically and immediately owned by the Originator of the work (with or without USPTO filing) may be licensed, sold, or otherwise transferred to another party.

We do offer Full Rights Buyouts (upon specific client request, for certain images), but rarely perform under a Work Done For Hire arrangement (depending on client intentions and budget).  In almost every project, we offer only what is called “Rights Managed” licensing. Therefore, we customize a usage price based on your specific need, and this “license fee” grants the client the “rights” to use the images we create for them.

What is photo licensing?

Photo licensing is probably the most misunderstood area of commercial photography services and the area where most photographers and clients make the biggest mistakes. Clients are often unable to accurately define their comprehensive needs at the beginning of the project, which makes delivering an appropriate license difficult, resulting in some clients requesting to buy the copyrights to the images. ILLUMINATION has a proven process involving a comprehensive questionnaire to assist our clients in understanding what all foreseeable needs will be.

Pay attention to your license. Images are licensed for specific uses, and that information is included on the contract or invoice. It is up to the client to manage the usage of the image internally. Rights not specifically granted are reserved to the photographer. Possession of Digital files, photographic prints, or proofs in any medium does not give the client (or any other party) the right to reproduce, copy or use them in any manner.

When photography is licensed, it is important to manage the files appropriately within your organization to avoid accidental infringement of rights. To prohibit unintentional unauthorized use by the client, electronic files should be destroyed after the period of the license has expired. Exception: If a client intends to enter into any re-licensing / extension agreement that is confirmed and paid before the original license expires, there may be no need to destroy the files as mentioned.

How does commercial photography licensing work?

Licensing photo usage from ILLUMINATION is simple. In many cases, photos are licensed to the client (under the Rights Managed model) for a one-time, non-exclusive, rights to use the image anywhere in North America. Other rights are licensed as needed by the client. Such rights are, or can be, quite involved with many combinations of rights granted.

Our licensing fees allow the client to only pay for their needed usage. No two clients have the same needs for the use of an image. Many people also make the mistake of wasting money on buying unlimited usage of an image or buying a copyright when they have limited usage needs.

Buying the copyright could greatly increase your costs without changing the value that the image has to you. Realistic usage needs should be weighed against budget considerations. Why should you pay more for something you might not need? Future licensing can be purchased as needed. We have found the fairest model for licensing to be one that charges the license granted according to the client’s usage needs, rather than a general license usage. Please contact us to discuss your license needs associated with your particular project.

How will I know what my photo license fees will cost?

All foreseeable licensing fees will be covered in the initial Estimate. ILLUMINATION has a “Terms and Conditions And Licensing Fees” document, which outlines the standard pricing for licenses not covered in the Estimate or any other formal document.

What if my intended use of a photo changes?

Simply follow the pricing outlined in the Terms and Conditions And Licensing Fees document, and notify us of the new use. We will confirm that the amount and usage terms are correct and will issue both an invoice and new license.

If you need assistance at any time, we’d be happy to help you calculate the accurate total for any new, extended or amended license.

Why is there such a range in licensing prices?

The range is great because no two jobs are the same and the cost 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 that may need many subjects or concepts photographed and will use the photos for a long time, in a national advertising campaign. The larger company greater use will be expected to pay a proportionally higher fee for our service. In either case, the quality of our photography and service will be consistent.

How are photography license fees determined?

Parameters that affect the cost of the license fee generally include:

  • The size of the photo when it is used.
  • 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 hits on a website).
  • The length of time the photo is needed.
  • Exclusivity (is it critical for your business to not allow any other party to use the photo?).
  • Location where the photo will be used (an advertisement in a publication, a cover of a magazine, home page on a website, a banner ad, on product packaging, a billboard, etc.).

How will I know that the licensing will meet my budget?

We often craft creative solutions to work for tight budgets. We would be glad to advise you as to how to get the maximum number of images, service and value of results for your money.

After discussing your project with you, we will research and provide you with a formal Estimate. It must be 100% finished with all variables understood, and then signed and returned before any work is undertaken. Estimates are based on information received and are therefore subject to change if the job changes at any stage.

Part III: Greater Understanding:

Understanding the competitive marketplace of commercial photography:

The global market of photography is changing every month. With the cost of high megapixel cameras becoming lower and lower, more amateurs are entering the market than ever before. We’ve also experienced many technological advancements in the past few years, so an amateur photographer may purchase a web template, and appear to be very established. Many of the new wave of photographers start out as “creative hobbyists” (and not business professionals set out to build a longstanding business), neglecting a full understanding of pricing, which often leads to undercharging. Undercharging hurts the entire market, as there often becomes a large pricing gap between those established in the industry and the new photographers. While this is most prevalent in the portraiture and wedding photography markets, many new photographers are also taking on commercial projects. We are often consulted on to how to price and charge for commercial photography services by less experienced up-comers.

As in any free market, fees will vary greatly among photographers. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of shopping price instead of looking for value. ILLUMINATION seeks to provide our clients with more than just images, we seek to provide extreme value in our photographs.

Among established commercial photographers, there are five main pricing models: Day rate, Creative fee, Production plus usage, Single image rate, and License only fee. We have studied these varying pricing models and found that a hybrid pricing model merging the best parts of the different models into a modified “Production plus usage” model is the most fair to our clients.

Why should you hire ILLUMINATION as your commercial photographer?

When you hire ILLUMINATION, you are purchasing our photographic style, creativity, experience, equipment, assets, connections and highly regarded quality of service.

We’re established, we know the business, and we have a stellar collection of allies in a broad range of specialties. We have assisted clients all over the world in achieving their business objectives through our unique approach and meticulous process.

We are committed to working with you and your team to accomplish your project and create the images that will professionally represent you and your company. We look forward to hearing from you. Please contact us with any of your questions.

Note: We wrote this information to conveniently inform our clients of our principles, process and pricing considerations relative to this type of service. This model works for our business, but please note that some of the information, practices and pricing may be different among other professionals. The intent of this content is purely general and informative. It is neither to reflect comprehensive industry standards nor to provide complete information on our services and terms. Other terms and conditions will apply to a variety of projects. No part of this information should not be taken as legal advice. As always, please consult with your attorney regarding legal matters.

All Contents are Copyright 2010-2020 – ILLUMINATION, LLC – All Rights Reserved.

Note to fellow photographers: We are expected to know and follow copyright laws, perhaps with more consciousness than many other professions. Therefore, please respect the copyright of the information contained herein, and DO NOT use in whole or in part. Also, please note that superficial modification of the content, such as “close paraphrasing” (or other minor rewording measures), does not sufficiently avoid plagiarism and copyright violations. We’ve had multiple infringements on this content and actively protect our rights regularly.