covid-19: see advice in the Freelance

The rôles of "picture researcher" and "picture editor" have become very fluid - except in newspapers. Generally, the picture editor is responsible for the photographic content of a publication (under the editor-in-chief and in liaison with the art director), while picture researchers find a selection of suitable images within a budget and on time (either working on-line or with hardcopy images or with both).

Picture researchers' responsibilities can also include any or all of the following:

  • researching picture collections;
  • liaising with editorial departments;
  • reading text and suggesting ideas for images or presenting suitable images for the editorial team to consider;
  • clearing rights - /obtaining permission to reproduce the chosen images;
  • commissioning photographers;
  • negotiating fees for stock and commissioned pictures;
  • styling photo shoots;
  • creating credit lists; and
  • returning images, both used and unused.

Negotiations and contracts

Rates vary according to the sector. Newspaper day rates appear low compared to others, but most of that work is usually straightforward. By contrast, picture researchers working in book publishing may live with a picture list for a schedule stretching over several months, but be paid only in hours.

Follow the general advice for commissions and contracts and be very clear about who is doing what in order to establish the time and fee. Freelance researchers must be informed about everyone else who will be handling the images borrowed under their signature. The researcher needs to know who is responsible for work that affects theirs. If there is uncertainty about whose responsibility any part of the job is, it is likely to be the researcher's.

Most importantly, researchers must:

  • be absolutely certain who is responsible for returns; and
  • ensure that their contract contains clear clauses recognising that the job may take longer than forecast if changes are made to the picture list.

Researchers should check arrangements for expenses and keep their own records if the client has agreed to pay these. They must also check who is responsible for paying agencies and photographers - including fees for overdue returns.

More advice and links...
* On negotiating for picture editing and research
* Uploaded 15/08/2222: 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.