Knowing When To Ask For The Money Is Easy; Knowing How Much To Ask For Is Hard

An interesting discussion developed recently on the business thread at A new photographer took some pictures of a friend performing some magic tricks. The friend then signed with a distribution company which plans to publish a DVD of the magician’s tricks using one of the photographer’s images on the cover.

The photographer wanted to know whether he should demand a royalty or simply ask for a credit.

What was particularly interesting about the responses was the number of professional photographers who hummed, hawed and suggested that he speak to someone else. The only specific response was to demand a flat rate of $250-300 plus credit… and to make sure that these sorts of negotiations are completed before the agreement to use the image is given, not afterwards.

That second point is obvious. You’re always going to be in a weaker negotiating position after you’ve agreed to the use of a photo than before. But you’re also going to be in a weak negotiating position when you’re trying to help a friend, even when that help can bring rewards.

But what the responses really showed was the flexibility that photographers have in negotiating their image rights and royalties. Sell a used car, and Kelly Blue Book will give you a rough idea of what you can reasonably demand. Sell a photo, and you’ll also have to consider who’s buying it, what they’re using it for and what they can afford before you name a price and decide whether it’s a flat fee or a royalty.

The American Society of Media Photographers has a useful list of programs that help professional photographers to produce accurate estimates. For photopreneurs who see photography as a second income, those programs are certainly useful starting points in negotiations too, but it’s tempting to be flexible when your mortgage doesn’t depend on the results.

And that’s why other photographers found it so hard to answer what should have been a simple question. When it comes to asking how much to charge for the rights to one of your own photos, the only correct answer is “as much as possible.”

[tags] photography business, photo pricing, photo quotes, photo job estimates [/tags]

One comment for this post.

  1. calvillo Said:

    Flexability is the wrong word. Predicament works better for me. There's the value of the photo, that should be based on the experience/quality a specific photographer provides as well as how the photo will impact a business's sales. Surely a beauty shot of a product that's going to appear everywhere from magazine ads to transit stations to possible tv use is worth thousands of dollars.

    A photographer has to pay for equipment, insurance, business licenses, studio rental, marketing and all the other costs of doing business, as well as providing for his or her retirement. Consider the increased costs of digital gear, computers, software for the new OS, redesigned lenses that can handle 20+ megapixels of resolution w/o going soft in the corners, etc. and that this necessity of updating gear even to stay close to industry standards is new with digital photography. Previously, you could use your high end 4 x 5 or medium format camera & lenses for years, getting them repaired when needed. Studio rent goes up annually, as well as insurance and pretty much all your overhead costs.

    Photographers have to keep pace technologically in an environment where fees are sagging & competition is increasing. A lot of this increased competition with no idea of the value of their work. You can match their low bids or watch the jobs go elsewhere. Simultaneously, the Congress is undermining visual artists by passing the Orphaned Works bill. The current copyright law is a sieve. I recently was told that though I had a copyright pending and all the documentation to prove my case, I might not be able to find an attorney because the invoice amount wasn't big enough so that the attorney's cut would interest them. If I had estimated the job for that type of price, I wouldn't have gotten it.

    Professional photographers find themselves in a truly challenging situation. There's more of a demand for photography forever, but in an environment where photographs can literally be had for free or very close to that describing the situation as a predicament seems apt.

    Juan Calvillo

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