Yikes! Someone wants to buy my picture! How should I price my photographs?
What price to put on your photography is important. For your own sake you should see to it that you get a fair price, even if you are not a professional photographer. And for the sake of all the professional photographers out there you should make sure that you are not under-pricing your pictures and killing their livelihood.
A friend, amateur photographer who makes great photos, said to me the other day: “I was just contacted by someone who wants to buy one of my photos. What should I do? What price should I charge?”
There is no easy and straight forward answer to that. I will give you a few pointers here on where to start looking. (By the way, I had a similar question a while back, from another friend that I also answered recently: Scattered tips on how to turn photography from a hobby to a professional business.)
First, let’s start with the only real, but relatively useless, answer:
The correct price depends on how much the picture is worth to the buyer. And how little you are willing to sell it for.
It is obvious that a very unique picture (e.g. the birth of a two-headed ice-bear, or a president leaving the home of his mistress) is worth more than something that is less unique (e.g. the hamburger that I will have for lunch today).
Do not sell your photos
An important thing to start with is that you normally do not sell your photographs. You license them. This means that there is no transfer of ownership. What goes on is that you let someone else (the “buyer”, or more correctly the person who licenses the photo) use your picture for a fee.
For simplicity I will use the word “buyer” to mean the person who acquires a license.
NB: I am not talking about selling prints here. That works differently.
Photo licensing models: RM and RF
There are basically two types of photo licensing:
“Royalty free” or RF
RF is not free at all, so it is a silly name. The price is usually set according to the file size (a bigger file means more expensive licensing).
The “buyer” (the one who acquires the license) can do more or less what he wants with the picture. Use it once or multiple times. Often, the only thing that he cannot do is license it to someone else. But he can use it multiple times and/or in multiple contexts. He buys an image and can use it on a web site or in print or in an advertisement. Or all of this. All for one single price.
This type of pricing is used by, for example, on micro-stock sites like iStockPhoto. But there are different price levels. Not all RF is micro-stock.
For RF it is extremely important to have “releases”, model release and/or property release. If you do not have the proper releases and sell RF then you are in danger of getting sued.
“Rights managed” or RM
With RM the “buyer” specifies what he wants to use the image for and the price is set according to this specific “use”. The buyer cannot use the picture for anything else than that specific use.
For example: A magazine licenses an image to use in up to a quarter page size for use once to illustrate an article in the magazine. The bigger the circulation the more expensive it is. A magazine with a circulation of 700 000 pays more than a magazine with only 5000 copies in print. The bigger the image is the more expensive: a quarter page is cheaper than a full page, that is cheaper than the front cover. Etc.
In recent years RM vs RF has become a bit less clear. Other forms of licensing has also popped up. But RF and RM is still a good place to start, to understand licensing.
Editorial vs commercial
For RM there is also a BIG difference between editorial use (=in magazines, books etc) and “commercial” use (=for advertising).
Commercial is MUCH more expensive.
Should I do RF or RM?
Personally I never do RF. I don’t like the idea that someone can do basically whatever they want with my image, that I give it to them and then I don’t know what happens.
Another reason for me to do RM is that I rarely if ever have releases. But it is not really an important reason – for me. My choice is based on other things. The release question is very important for RF. That I do not have “releases” is also something that is inherent in the type of photography I do.
But others reason differently. They like RF. I think they are wrong but logic and business models vary. They may be in other segments of the photo business.
RF tends to be more bland “neutral” type of pictures, photos that can be used to illustrate a wide variety of subjects. Studio type of shots. No real context or reality. RM tends to be more reportage oriented, illustrating real places, “real” people. Another way of saying it is that RF is often more “boring” pictures…
So how do I set the price then?
I would suggest that you ask how the image is going to be used and set the price accordingly. I.e. use RM pricing.
And then there is the question of what “accordingly” means.
In some countries there are more or less official “industry standard” pricing. For example in Sweden. There you can buy a “standard price list” from the photographers’ union or the photo buyers’ association (in a very orderly manner they are closely aligned).
In other countries that would be illegal (in the US I think that it would be considered collusion).
Let’s be practical:
The easiest thing to do is to check a stock agency’s online price calculator.
Try for example Alamy.
Do a search for an image, for example “chateau Lafite wine cellar” and click on an image (you will find a few of mine).
Then the photo details page opens and there you can click on “Custom Pricing”. It may be the case that you will first have to create a buyer’s account but anyone can do that and it is free.
Then you choose the “usage details” and you get a price. This is typical RM. For example editorial > Magazine Print > 1/2 page > up to 50,000 > inside > worldwide may give you, say, a price of €295.
And with that you have an idea of what you should ask for your image for a similar usage.
The important parameters for “editorial” are:
- size of the image (compared to the page size),
- print run (if in print),
- placement (inside / cover),
- type of publication (book / magazine/…).
For online use it works the same way but with different parameters.
For commercial it is a bit different but most price calculators can handle that too.
Many stock photo sites have similar online calculators that you can use to get an idea of what you should charge (although some are more difficult to access). It can be a good idea to check more than one.
My own site (this one) also has one like that. You can try it here: BKWine Photography sample galleries.
For the same use as in the Alamy example above mine gives € 285.89.
There are also a number of pricing tools that can be of help. There are applications that you can to get a price and there are sites, that are not stock agencies, that have calculators.
Here is an article about some of them: Photography licensing and pricing tools & information
And one more: More photo pricing tools: HindSight’s Photo Price Guide
Quick summary of how to price photos
So, in summary, I would suggest:
- Choose RM pricing
- Ask the buyer what the “usage” is (see what kind of questions you need to ask in the calculators)
- Check what some online calculators give and/or some other pricing tools.
- Adjust your price to what you think is “appropriate”…
Final – important – points
A few things to think of too:
- Make sure that you put down in writing what you agree. The price of course but also all the other terms and conditions.
- Also put down in writing something like “any other use than what is specified here is subject to separate written agreement”
- Try to insist that there should be a “credit line” referring to you and to your copyright.
- Try to get paid before you deliver the image (not always easy)… It depends on how much you trust the buyer… (Many publications pay “on publication”, so then you will have to deliver first and the cross your fingers.)
And, as I started out, it is always a question of how much the buyer is willing to pay, how much your specific image is unique.
Do not too easily accept too cheap a price. Sometimes it can be better to say no and walk away.
Questions or comments?
Additional tips and recommendations?
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