Photographer Licensing Agreements

Started 4 months ago | Discussions
Modern Exposure Studio New Member • Posts: 1
Photographer Licensing Agreements

Good morning everyone,

I started selling my work last September locally at art shows and online, and have been working with a few members of a local business. The business (a financial firm) has contacted me about doing all the photo work for their website to update the look. They want one photo from our immediate area for each season, and potentially family shots of each adviser in the office (7 families total.)

I’ve never done work for someone like this, and have some questions as it pertains to charging them and whether it’s a work for fire or not. I’ve looked into licensing agreements, and it appears to me, that in the state of Maryland this wouldn’t constitute a work for hire, and therefore I could retain the copyright to the images unless otherwise stated in the licensing agreement. I have my prices set for travel, research time, and editing time. I have absolutely zero idea how to even go about coming up with a price for the photos being used for 12 months.

What I’m thinking is to look at their site traffic and depending how high/low that is use that info to make a base price, and then lock it in as a 12 months contractual agreement where they get X numbers of images every 3 months to choose from. They choose 1 image, and that remains up until the next season, when X more photos are to be chosen from.

Am I approaching this correctly or is there a lot I’m missing, that I’m not thinking of?

Thank you all so much!

Jeremy Gibson

(unknown member) Contributing Member • Posts: 813
Re: Photographer Licensing Agreements

As an experienced sole-proprietor I think you'll find that the paperwork, time and trouble involved isn't worth the amount that you're likely to make for taking photos... I'd advise working for cash or free beer... if a business isn't likely to pay $20,000 or more per year I wouldn't even consider it.

Craig Gillette Forum Pro • Posts: 12,440
Re: Photographer Licensing Agreements

I would suggest looking to the Professional Forum, too,  The portrait/family shooting seems straight forward.  I recall from an older exhibit at Disney, a video covering a seasonal "year" in the wine country took well over a year to produce because if nothing else, it will take a year more or less to get all 4 seasons.  And depending on where you are, the ideal seasonal "moment" may be very fleeting so having some flexibility to actually get out and shoot when needed with weather changes, etc., could be important.

Michael Fryd
Michael Fryd Forum Pro • Posts: 15,683
Re: Photographer Licensing Agreements

Copyright is a Federal issue, not a state issue.   Unless you are an actual employee, it is unlikely that this would be a "Work Made for Hire" under US Copyright law.  Therefore, you will likely be the natural copyright owner.

As to what sort of license you want to grant to your client, that's a business and marketing issue.

One school of thought is that you should tightly control the use of your images.  When a client licenses an image, it should be for a specified use during a specified time period.  If the client needs additional usage, then they need a new license, probably for an additional cost.

Another school of thought is to charge a little more upfront, and grant the client unlimited rights.

The advantage of tightly controlled licensing, is that if an image turns out to be very valuable, and if the client is willing to pay you a lot of money for it, you have the opportunity to make more money.

A disadvantage of tightly controlled licensing is that you need to track usage, and police your clients when their usage exceeds the license.  You also run the risk if annoying your clients, which may encourage them to go elsewhere.

The other school of thought is to charge them a little more up front, and then not to worry about it.  If your pricing is correct, the little bit extra you make on every image balances out what you might have made on the occasional valuable image.  Furthermore, you save a lot of time and aggravation as you don't have to keep as many records, and police your clients.   Your clients are happier as they don't need to keep track of the individual licensing terms for each group of images.  Furthermore, they don't feel like you are taking advantage of them by charging a second time for additional use.

There are certainly photographers who feel very strongly that tightly controlled is th way to go, and photographers that do quite well selling unlimited rights.  It's a business and marketing decision on your part.

If you go with granting full rights, it's a simple matter of determining how much to charge for each shoot.


I have a client that manufactures swimsuits.  95% of their product line changes each year.  When I do the photos for their swimsuit catalog, I know that 95% of those images have no use to the client after a year, and the rest may be useful for another year or two.  I also know that they will use a handful of the images for advertising displays at trade shows.

I could spend a lot of time tracking how they use various images.  I could insist the client spend a lot of time making sure they properly license each image used for more than one year of catalog use.

Instead, I estimate what their overall usage will be, and I take that into account in my pricing.  That way, I don't have to care which images get used past a year, or at trade shows.  The client is much happier as they don't have to track any of this.  It's a win-win.  Happy clients are far less likely to jump ship and go to another photographer.

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