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  • Lila-Marie

What is commercial licensing?

When booking a photographer to shoot your product you may think the upfront cost covers you for the lifetime of your images. After all the images were produced for your brand, with you in mind. Doesn’t that mean you can do what you want with them?

Unfortunately, it isn't as straightforward as many people may think. If you haven't come across the term commercial licensing before you are not alone. 50% of my customers have not heard the term before. In fact when reading up on it many still aren't sure what it is. Let's be real, it's confusing as hell.

So let's take the confusion out of what your photoshoot fee covers and what is extra.

What the hell is commercial licensing?

A commercial photography usage license is an agreement between the intellectual property owner and another party that wants to use the images for commercial/ advertising/ marketing purposes.

Huh?! OK, ok let's break it down to something a little more digestible!

When you pay a photographer to produce images for you, you are paying for their time. Their ability to capture your product in the way you want. However, you do not own the images they create. As the person who captured them, it's their creative work. The photographer owns the full copyright of those images. If you would like to use these images for advertising you then need to pay them for that usage. Think of it as a rental agreement, you are leasing their work. The bigger the advertisement the bigger the payment to the photographer.

What is the point of a photoshoot if I have to pay more on top?

The initial fee is to ensure you have custom images for your brand, otherwise, you would have to rely on stock images. You're paying to have custom content to use on your website and social media. That aligns with your branding and shows your product in the best light. Advertising you will make money off, is where a fee is added.

This fee may be a part of your initial quote or added at a later date. If you only want the images to be used for your website and social media then three months later want to use them on an online advertisement you can reach out to the photographer at the time and pay for that one-off image. Not all images need to be commercially licensed. If you are getting a range of images done for your business you may need 20 images for branding but only need licensing for two.

A note; the scale and timing of the image usage will change the fee. Generally, photos are licensed for a limited time as advertising campaigns generally last no more than a month. If you want to extend the time you will have to pay the same fee again.

Why don’t I just buy the copyright from the photographer?

The simplest answer is; it's generally not worth it. Buying the copyrights of someone will cost a large proportion more than paying for commercial rights. Some photographers may also refuse because they have no control over how you utilise their work going forward. Lastly, most images are only used for a couple of years, generally, it isn't worth buying out the copyright for such a limited time.

What can I do if I can't afford to license an image?

As a business, the costs can mount up quickly and some brands just aren't in a position to pay for custom content as well as licensing to advertise. They need to make money before they can spend it! With that in mind, the alternative would be to buy stock images. Stock images allow you to pay just for commercial rights. They won't be custom to you but they can be an option to get you through until sales enable you to spend money on images. Remember, there is no added fee to photoshoots for your website/socials. It may be worth booking a shoot for custom content and then using stock images for advertising if need be.

What are the prices for commercial licensing?

Fees do differ depending on the length of time, and amount of people seeing the photographer's work. The more people that will see an image, the more the fee. As a general guide the percentage added to your photoshoot fee are:

  • Social media / website 0%

  • Print, magazine, brochures 25%

  • In-store posters 75% to 200% (depending on the number of stores)

  • Outdoor/ billboard: 75% to 200%

  • Digital/ online advertising 75% to 200%

  • TV: 75% to 200%

These are rented monthly.

When booking your next photoshoot, consider where you want your images to be, having this conversation with your photographer at your initial meeting can help set cost expectations with you to ensure you aren’t caught off guard by other fees down the line. This also ensures you aren’t liable for using an image unlawfully without knowing it.

Lila Marvell.

Lila Marvell is a Photographer based in Sydney. Specializing in creating unique images for brands across Australia.


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