Commercial Photography Licensing and Usage Fees
Ask ten different commercial photographers how much to charge for a specific usage fee and you’ll get ten different answers.
For photographers who are new to the commercial photography industry, or work in a parallel industry (wedding, family/portrait or pet photography for example), being asked how much an image license costs by a potential commercial client can be met with confusion and frustration. This often results in many green photographers simply pulling a price out of the air, or worse, just deciding to charge 3-4x their single image retail file price to come up with their commercial photography usage fees. (<– Please never do this.)
Some photographers also believe that your usage fees should be based solely on how many pixels wide/long the image file is, which is so far outside the widely accepted rights-managed standard practice of calculating usage fees that it’s a head-scratcher.
Usage fees should always be calculated based on the value to the company using the image(s), which is based on the specific use, and the company type and size. This is how it has been done for decades, and will continue to be done.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, because the wheel has already been made.
Pricing usage fees is actually quite simple, if you have the right tools. If you don’t have the right tools, you’ll find yourself wanting to take the easy/lazy way out and just multiply your retail/private client per-file rate by 4x, or increase the price based on how many pixels the image has on it’s longest side. (Again, please don’t do this.)
If you do have the right tools, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and headaches, appear more professional to art buyers, and also leave a lot of (welcome) room for negotiations and ongoing passive revenue every year in the form of licensing renewals. (<– Who doesn’t want that?) For example, I earned over $43k in 2019 in licensing renewals, and they are also what kept my photography business afloat during the entire pandemic.
If you are here trying to figure out “how much should I charge for this?”, and need information on how to professionally, and accurately price a commercial usage/stock photo license that’s based on fair market value, value to the client and other non-arbitrary methods that won’t undercut your colleagues or degrade the industry, this article will help. A lot.
When calculating usage fees, use all resources available to you, along with common sense. The more tools you can pull from, the more accurate your fees will be.
1) fotoQuote stock pricing software by Cradoc fotoSoftware
fotoQuote is the industry standard for commercial photographers for pricing usage/stock licenses. It has been in existence and used heavily for over 20 years.
The software has pricing for over 360 categories of stock photos and over 70 assignment types giving you over 10,000 pricing options, all based on actual pricing culled from over 10,000 working commercial photographers. I’ve been using fotoQuote since 2008, and I can’t even count how much revenue the software has helped me make in licensing fees. In some cases, tens of thousands of dollars in licensing fees for a single job.
I’ve been singing fotoQuote’s praises for so many years, and have referred the software to so many photographers that recently I decided to see if they had an affiliate program, and yep, they do! (The fotoQuote links here are affiliate links.) You’ll even find my review/testimonial on their website.
One of the things I love about fotoQuote is the ability to set the default percentage for the range of fees manually. So if I want to have all of my low-end prices at just 50% of the baseline I can do that. I can also increase the high-end prices to 200% (or whatever), or adjust the baseline as well. So the low-end fees might be for a small/local company, and the high-end fees for a huge international client. The software is very flexible.
The software is so valuable that it can easily pay for itself multiple times over from the first usage license sold. If you are doing commercial photography regularly or even occasionally, you need fotoQuote in order to calculate industry-standard licenses and be competitive with (and not unknowingly) undercut your colleagues.
My favorite usage fee ever was a $1,750 fee for a single small web-sized file (that I had created years prior) that ran in a small digital ad for five days. I never would have charged that much for that usage had I not had fotoQuote, and I was surprised when I got no pushback from the client (yes, I actually priced too low there, lol). Gotta love those easy and healthy licensing fees!
Needless to say, you should start with fotoQuote.
2) BlinkBid’s bid consultant usage pricing tool. BlinkBid is not only a fantastic tool for creating professional, organized estimates and bids, but it also has a built-in usage pricing tool (‘bid consultant’) that can be referenced for insight on pricing suggestions for specific use. The categories of use are narrower than those in fotoQuote, and the rates can be quite high, especially for large quantities of images, but used along with fotoQuote can help you see the range of prices a usage license might fall into. The suggested prices are especially helpful because they take the experience level of the photographer into account. (Yes I know I mentioned above not to use that as the only factor for calculating fees, but it can still be a factor.)
This tool has been sunsetted in the online version of BlinkBid, but still exists in the old standalone software program.
3) The Image Crafters Community Pricing, Fees, Revenue & Money Forum
We have our own online Community for commercial photographers and others in the industry, and the Community includes over 100 forums on a wide variety of different topics, including one on pricing.
When you post your questions about usage fees in the forum, you’ll get thoughtful, detailed replies from peers with extensive industry experience.
Not yet a member of the Community? Learn more about it and join here.
Getty Images, one of the largest and oldest stock agencies that has arguably the best quality (and most expensive) stock photos around, has a free tool anyone can use to price a rights-managed licensing fee.
One huge caveat though: because the pricing calculator considers that the use could be for any size or kind of company (from small regional retail store to mammoth international retail household name), the prices are usually very high. If you are relying solely on this tool to calculate usage licenses, you will want to adjust those rates down, oftentimes way down.
5) Past approved quotes/licenses
If you have sold any commercial use licenses in the past, you can refer to those past licenses to see what you charged for similar use to other clients. Of course, this is most helpful if you have sold a lot of licenses to a lot of clients, but over time this can become a valuable pricing tool in your toolkit.
Just make sure that if you started your commercial photography career dramatically low-balling on pricing that you aren’t now using that low pricing as your modern-day standard! (In other words, learn how to price right, from the very beginning. Reading this article is a great first step.)
6) Input from reps & consultants
Who better to help you calculate usage fees than those who do it for their photographers every single day.
Reps and consultants can be worth their weight in gold when they help you calculate usage fees that not only pay for the consulting time, but also bring you substantially more revenue on top of that.
Consultants are industry pros who can help on a wide variety of different topics, and some reps will do hourly consulting on the side.
Check out our list of the consultants we recommend here.
If you are interested in getting input from a rep, research those in your area, and reach out to a few to see if they provide ‘hourly consulting services’.
7) Recommendations from colleagues
For usage that has you really stumped, don’t hesitate to reach out to the commercial photography colleagues you know and ask that they would charge for the use.
One word of warning though, there are so many variables in commercial photography pricing, with one of those variables being who the client is. Because you are unlikely to share that information with your colleague they can only make their best guess on pricing based on the information you do decide to give them, which may be pretty limited, because either you prefer not to share the information, you don’t have the information (your client didn’t tell you), or you can’t legally share the information (you signed an NDA). So YMMV.
As with referencing past licenses, never rely solely on answers to your question “how much should I charge for this?” as the final answer for what the price should be. Simply use the answers you get from your colleagues and our Community Forums to inform your decisions along with the other pricing tools you have at your disposal.
8) BUR usage calculator (from the Association of Photographers)
In the UK and other countries, pricing is a bit different, and the UK-based Association of Photographers has developed a base usage rate process and calculator that they recommend for their association members.
There’s a bit of a learning curve at first, but once you get the hang of it, creating usage fees will be quick and straightforward.
8) NUJ Freelance Fees Guide (for British photographers)
The UK-based National Union of Journalists also has lists of recommended prices for everything from web use to stock reports to press releases. The use is heavy on the photojournalistic side, but can be helpful and informative for UK-based commercial photographers as well.
Do you also need to know how to calculate your commercial photography fees? Take a look at our article How to Calculate Commercial Photography Fees for more info on just that.