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Advice - Photography / Negotiating rates and rights

Negotiating rates and rights is the key to making practical use of the figures in this guide. They should help with pricing a single use of a photograph, whether commissioned or stock. Increasingly, though, clients need to clear a wider range of rights for both the immediate future and the longer term. Sometimes they will want to license a package of several photos.

Three important points need bearing in mind:

  1. Successful negotiation is not possible unless both photographers and their clients clearly understand what is actually being bought and sold. Some clients labour under the misconception that they are buying a photographer's time. Others believe they are buying a photograph in the same way they would buy a kilo of carrots - gaining outright ownership. In fact, as the authors of their work, photographers own the copyright in the images they produce, and issue licences to clients to reproduce them as mutually agreed. See Copyright.
  2. It is best to put the terms of these licences in writing, for the benefit of both sides. This makes clear exactly what rights are licensed by a photographer who accepts a commission or supplies stock. This may seem obvious, but having it in writing becomes vital if there is any dispute or misunderstanding. See Contracts and paperwork
  3. Photographers (and their clients) have to recognise that there is a base rate below which they will lose money if they accept the work. The day rates specified in this guide are intended to provide for a professional income. See Day/base rates

It's also worth taking a look at the general advice for all freelances on "negotiating rates and rights", linked below.

Most rates quoted in this guide are recommended minima. Higher rates could and should be negotiated for specialist expertise and knowledge, and also for exclusivity.

Most rates quoted are for one use only or immediate use (commissioned photographs).

Increasingly, clients require more extensive licences. For instance, they often want reproduction simultaneously on the web and in print. Photographs shot for editorial use may also be required for PR distribution. Clients may want to pay for repeated use of commissioned work at the outset.

In such cases it makes sense for both photographers and their clients to come to an agreed figure at the time of commissioning, or of the photographer delivering a stock image.

A good example of the kind of win/win deal was negotiated with Business Week some years ago. Under this, photographers granted important but limited rights in addition to immediate use, in return for a mark up of approximately 100 per cent of the fee they would expect for single use.

A good example of the kind of lose/lose endgame resulting from a client seeking considerable extra rights without adequate compensation is the Scotsman case (see the link below). The company succeeded in imposing its terms but only at the cost of losing many of its best photographers, and paying around £100,000 by way of compensation and costs in an out-of-court settlement for unlawful use of copyright material.

Remember that the job includes processing

Clients tend not to see the high investment and running costs necessary for digital production. Photographers face investment in cameras which seem to be ever more expensive but have shorter working lives; computer equipment; and software capable of working to the highest colour management standards but requiring equally rapid replacement.

And it takes time to produce colour-corrected press-ready digital files.

Avoid the practice that some picture desks promote, of handing over the entire contents of a camera card for the commission fee - commonly referred to in justly unflattering terms as a "Dump and Run". This is a false saving for them, as they wade through the inevitable dud frames.

The costs of doing it properly are listed under "Production Charges and Expenses" (see the link below).

Better contracts may be available

Large companies that have self-contained legal departments can be the hardest to negotiate with. They may issue commissioning editors with set schedules of rates and will have set contracts in which they try to get a licence allowing the widest possible use of the work for that price.

They are, however, more likely also to have pre-packaged "fall-back" contracts. We know of several companies that have at least one separate contract intended for writers who have literary agents, for example - and these offer much better terms. Editors may be under instructions not to reveal that these exist... but they do.

Even those companies that insist they have immovable standard rates are likely also to have another set of rates for special contributors.

Cover it all, in writing

Photographers should in principle always start from an initial fee for a very specific limited licence and insist on getting payment for every additional right sought.

They should then be prepared to be flexible when granting a range of extra rights - for an appreciable mark-up. In the case of the Business Week negotiation, photographers granted the rights to publish on the web, in foreign editions and in joint ventures, and most of the proceeds from reprints - the commercial reuse for advertising purposes of editorial in the magazine. They retained syndication rights.

While being flexible, photographers should also apply a clear limit to the rights licensed.

In many cases - particularly for commercial or public relations work - it makes sense to apply a time limit - for example unlimited use in specified media and territories, but only for a period of one year, after which the license can be renegotiated.

Striking the right deal depends on experience, but also on a clear understanding of the market, or rather the various different markets in which editorial and PR photography is required.

Only connect...

The best way for photographers to get a wider range of opinions, beyond the scope of this guide, is by joining in the various discussion forums available. See the link to Networks, below.

Search fees

When a client wants pictures dug out of the depths of a photo library, for example, the photographer needs to charge for the time spent finding them.

* More...
More advice and links...
* The Scotsman case from the Freelance
* Networks email lists for photographers
* pic4press guidelines from Periodical Publishers' Association
* Sometimes 'the man' blinks negotiating success from the Freelance
* Uploaded 07/12/2222: if you have a printout, check the current version at
* Rates for the Job good, bad and ugly
* Join the NUJ to get individual advice & representation

Text © Mike Holderness & previous contributors; Moral rights asserted. The collection (database right) © National Union of Journalists. Comments to please. You may find the glossary helpful.

The National Union of Journalists must not, can not and would not wish to dictate rates or terms of engagement to members or to editors. The information presented here is for guidance and as an aid to equitable negotiation only.

Suggestions apply to contracts governed by UK law only. In any event, nothing here should be construed as legal advice.