One of the most common questions I get from aspiring photographers is “How much should I charge for my pictures?” The question usually comes up after they have been approached by a photo editor, art director or other photo buyer. Although there are no set rules when it comes to pricing photography, here are some tips, suggestions and resources that will help you arrive at a fair price for your images:
Photographers have all the rights to the images they take (unless they agree in writing otherwise), and this includes the right to license their images, print them, display them, etc. Photographers can also sell all their rights outright, but in most situations when you are approached by a publication, all they want is a license to use the image for a particular purpose.
Although a photographer’s copyright attaches the moment they take the picture, U.S. federal copyright laws offer many more benefits (including the right to sue) if the photographer registers their images. I strongly recommend that photographers register their images. For more information about photographers’ rights, and for registration information, click here.
The price of a license will depend on a number of factors such as the publication’s circulation, the placement within the publication (cover, inside), the size of the image, how wide a reach the publication has (a particular state, U.S., North America, Worldwide?), how long the license is for (a month, year?), and whether the use is exclusive (that is, you would not be able to license the same image to another publication during the duration of the exclusive license).
Most editorial publications (magazines, books, and newspapers) have a predetermined, take-it-or-leave-it price list for what they will pay for a license. If you have a very unique image (a clear, sharp picture of Bigfoot smiling at the camera; or a picture of Brangelina and their baby, for example), you should be able to negotiate a higher fee, but this is the exception.
Many consider fotoQuote from Cradoc to be the best price calculator, but it costs money and is probably not worth it unless you get a lot of pricing requests (most of my clients have a menu of set fees, so I do not have a need for fotoQuote).
Do not offer a quote off the cuff, especially if first contacted over the phone. Ask the photo buyer about how the image(s) will be used, then tell them you will get back to them with a quote. Call the potential photo buyer back after you have finished your research and determined what a fair fee would be.
When in doubt it is best to price too high than too low. You do not want to leave money on the table, and you certainly do not want to become known as “the cheap photographer.”
Always put your understanding (the terms of the license) in writing. A confirmation email acknowledged by the buyer is fine. If there is a misunderstanding about the use of the image later, the email will clear things up. It is also the professional thing to do.
On a related topic, I strongly suggest not giving your images away for free, unless you have a strong personal interest in the entity making the request (your church, a local charity or your favorite Little League team, for example). At some point in your career you will be told that the “exposure” you get from publishing images for free will be worth it. However well-intentioned, this is highly unlikely. The best way to get paid is, well, to get paid.
Now get out and shoot something.