There are thousands of photos of this particular musician online, which is why I couldn't command as much as I would have liked for this image. The publisher who purchased a similar photograph had plenty of options.

In spite of the fact that we're in the midst of a global pandemic, I've managed to sell three photos recently without putting forth any effort. All were discovered from my uploads to Instagram or Flickr. Brands and companies are always looking for fresh content and will continue to seek out images that complement their messaging. This is why it's important to know your worth. Or, in this case, the worth of the images you create.

Would you ever work for free? If the answer is a resounding 'no', and it should be, then it doesn't make sense to allow those with financial means to display your images in exchange for 'credit'. After talking with other photographers who receive similar requests, and negotiating on my own behalf, I've arrived at figures that I believe are fair for an organization to pay if they want to amplify their message with your unique talents.

The first time someone requested to purchase a photo of mine, I was pleasantly surprised. It came in the form of a comment from a well-known hotel rewards program. What I can only assume was a social media manager for the hotel chain's official Instagram account reached out and asked for permission to repost a photo from my feed. After the initial afterglow wore off, I was a bit taken aback.

At minimum, you should charge $250 for your image if it's going to be printed. $500 is more of a fair price.

The rewards program in question is tied to an international chain of hotels that holds a current net worth exceeding $20 billion dollars. While I don't know the exact figure of their marketing budget, I imagine it has to be millions of dollars annually. As a photographer, I have invested tens of thousands of hours, over the years, into my craft. I expect to be compensated accordingly.

To give you a rough idea of my expenses, currently, as a professional drone photographer, I spend $2,000 a year, at the bare minimum, on a new drone and a few extra batteries. Insuring each drone costs at least $500 on an annual basis and I typically have three in my arsenal. I also invest in accessories including memory cards, additional propellers, and neutral density filters – which easily tack on several hundred more dollars each year. I should mention that these costs are on the lower end compared to most professional photographers.

Brands are more than willing to pay 'influencers' to promote their products and services. They shouldn't hesitate to compensate you for your work. Source: Mediakix

Brands don't have any qualms about paying influencers to promote their goods and services. So why should anyone expect photographers to give away their hard work and vision for free? It doesn't make much sense but some people, especially those starting out, are so enticed by the concept of gaining exposure or credibility that they enthusiastically say yes.

My friend Dino Kuznik, who has been approached by the likes of Tesla and an another major auto manufacturer, not only demands top dollar for his work, he also makes it a point to contact brands and insist they remove his photos if they've posted them without his permission. He also recommends that creatives use this licensing calculator to arrive at an appropriate fee, especially if providing a high-resolution file is required. If you don't negotiate properly, or have terms clearly laid out in a contract, you could lose out on compensation.

Brands don't have any qualms about paying influencers to promote their goods and services. So why should anyone expect photographers to give away their hard work for free?

'Imagine coming to Times Square and seeing your photo on a billboard screen and realizing a company has been using it for a big campaign. But you couldn't do anything about it [because you didn't bother with a written agreement]. Now, if there was a contract, you could probably get a considerable amount because of the breach of contract/damages/etc,' Kuznik explains. Typically, the client or company will provide the terms including a schedule detailing how, where, and when the image will be used. If the terms seem ambiguous, ask for clarification. Otherwise you may not have any legal recourse.

If a brand wishes to license your image, they should provide a contract explicitly stating how it intends to use it for promotional purposes. Unless you are directly hired for a campaign or are paid a hefty amount for an image, you should retain the rights to use your work in any manner and at any time gong forward.

It's wise, outside of calculating a fair price, to thoroughly research a brand before agreeing to an amount for the rights to use your image. Find out what type of advertising they're running, if any, and what the company is worth – if that information is available. So, what should you charge if someone approaches you to request a photo of yours for their own marketing or branding purposes? Well, that depends on a variety of factors.

Kuznik was approached by an auto manufacturer (unnamed due to a non-disclosure agreement), to create a 3x3 grid of curated photos for Instagram. Because it's a major automotive company, it compensates photographers on the higher end of the pay scale for their work. Kuznik had another engagement that prevented him from taking on the assignment but, had he made the trip, he would have been paid between $7,000 – $10,000.

Tesla offered photographer Dino Kuznik $400 per image for Instagram and Twitter use. He negotiated the use of one of their vehicles for a road trip instead.

Tesla offered him a rate of $400 per photo, strictly to be featured on its Instagram and Twitter accounts. Kuznik thought that was a bit low for a company of that magnitude. Instead, he negotiated a deal where he could borrow one of their cars for eight days. Between not needing to purchase gas or pay a car rental fee, it was worth his while to get free access to a Tesla for a road trip.

My last three sales have been for either strict Instagram use or for a small outdoor exhibition, the latter given that we're in the midst of a major pandemic. Here is what I charged:

  • I sold a photo I took of artist Jamie XX at a music festival several years back to a major publishing house in New Zealand. The photographer that sent me in her place never signs contracts, so the copyright remained in my name instead of the organizer's. I agreed to $100 for the following reasons: there are close to 7,000 other images of the artist on Flickr, the platform where my image was discovered, and the contract expressed the wish to use it one time only on the publisher's Instagram account.
  • A small, local construction company purchased a drone photo of one of their buildings for $200. They will only use it on their website. I had taken the photo for fun and had allowed a friend to repost it to their account, otherwise I would have charged $250–$300.
  • An international exhibition asked for permission to display a photo of mine and include it in a brochure that would be distributed to 1,000+ visitors. I gave the organizers the option of $250 for the display photo and brochure or $100 for rights to only display it from June 18th - 27th. The exhibition chose the latter since COVID has impacted its business.
Research a brand before agreeing to an amount for the rights to use your image. Find out what type of advertising they're running, if any, and what the company is worth.

Social media and photography platforms are wonderful tools for building your portfolio and generating leads. There are times where it makes sense to partner with certain accounts and share your content instead of selling it for profit. An example is an Instagram takeover I did for Awesome Mitten. Since I sell aerial photography prints of destinations around Michigan to people who live in the state, it made sense to promote some of my offerings to potential customers during the Holiday season. My efforts generated a dozen-plus sales.

There are times when it makes sense to use hashtags or share your images on relevant social accounts. This regional promotion made sense for my business.

It's important to keep in mind that this is passive income for me. I charge significantly more to perform on-site aerial photography and videography work for clients. I also sell my images to stock photo services and as art prints. Speaking of print, any publication should pay you $250, minimum, to print an image. Depending on circulation, you could get up to $1,500 per photo. The purpose of writing this article is to remind creatives that they shouldn't give away their work in exchange for credit when approached by a business, brand or individual.

On a final note, it's imperative to develop your own signature style. Make it a point to actively look for new subjects, lesser known locales, and unique perspectives. While I enjoyed capturing musical artists performing live when starting out with photography, a lot of my images looked similar to those of my peers. I quickly hit my creative apex and found a new passion with drone photography. Consistently honing your craft and experimenting with new techniques and technology will help you attract the attention of those who have the means to support your endeavors, and allow you to command top dollar for your work.