These notes are old, but still entirely valid. For updates see the Freelance Fees Guide.

NUJ guide to charging for digital imaging

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The seismic transformation from film to digital has left clients and photographers alike unsure how and what to charge for photographs taken and supplied digitally.

The issue was clear when film was the norm, and during the transition period of shooting film but delivering a digital scan. Clients would pay for film costs and processing, and would receive processed scans as an additional service, paying scanning fees either to the photographer or to a processing lab.

In the photographer's case these fees went towards the additional expenses incurred in digital production - simply put, the costs of the computer, monitor, calibration equipment, scanner and photo-processing software (Photoshop), investment in acquiring the necessary skills, and of course the additional labour time now spent after each job, scanning individual film images into "ready to use" RGB digital files.

Now, however, film, "wet" processing and the presentation of prints, transparencies or even scans from film has practically disappeared (at least in photography).

The "virtual" nature of digital images has left some clients thinking there are no longer any costs to pay beyond the photographer's initial commission fee.

Many photographers are in no doubt about the additional costs they still have to bear, but some charge for those costs in ways that confuse not only their clients but also themselves.

So what should photographers be charging for, and why?

Photographers no longer have to pay for film & processing supplies: so, some would argue, neither should their clients.

But photographers still have to supply their work - photographs. They do so in the form of processed digital image files [1], usually now digitally transmitted to clients but sometimes delivered on digital media (CD, DVD).

That is the service photographers now provide and must charge their clients for - their costs of capturing, processing, transmitting and presenting the images on digital media to clients.

This service requires the appropriate equipment, skills and labour time, and so fees must be levied to clients (in the same way as a film scanning fee) that goes towards the additional expenses incurred in digital production.

So perhaps the question would be better re-phrased as follows: What services do clients require, and what should they pay?

Some clients say they require nothing more than the files straight from the camera (sometimes the entire contents of the camera card) and claim they should pay no more than the commission fee itself, by asserting that these "digits" cost the photographer nothing, and should therefore not be charged to the client.

Firstly, this is not true.

In order to produce digital images, the photographer has to meet the huge capital cost of professional digital cameras, which cost 3-4 times more than film cameras, and require replacement in less than half the time of their film equivalents (The life span of professional digital cameras is currently about two years before replacement, whereas film cameras could last a decade or more).

Secondly, the frequent dismissal of these capital costs on the grounds that they save photographers money in film and lab bills is not true either.

Photographers used to pass these film/lab production charges directly on to the client in addition to the commission fee, so nothing is being saved by the photographer, who is now facing the extra costs of producing digital images, which now, as then, have to be met one way or another by the client.

Secondly, the supply of digital files "straight from the camera" is deeply unsatisfactory for photographers and clients, and the practice 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" - cannot be endorsed or encouraged by the NUJ and is considered unprofessional.

"Dump and Run" gives the client unedited digital files, including all the under- and over-exposed frames, the unsharp frames and all the "indecisive" moments. Moreover, digital files that are correctly exposed but otherwise uncorrected or processed in imaging software like Photoshop rarely match the quality of original prints or transparencies, or the scans photographers used to make from them.

It also provides no way of tracking image usage, due to the amount of files handed over and the risk of a lack of captions or photographer credit on each file. Widespread ignorance about the licensing of images [2] means that it constitutes a virtually "Royalty Free" handover of images from the photographer without appropriate payment.

(This should be distinguished from the legitimate professional need for unprocessed files on some occasions - for example a newspaper requiring a picture wired on a very tight deadline. However, the photographer should in these cases still provide an edit of their shoot - not the whole card. This should be captioned accordingly with copyright details. What usage us licensed should always be confirmed beforehand).

Photographers take pride in providing an edited selection of colour corrected, sharpened & captioned photographs - in short, working professionally - the way they always have, by presenting an edited, processed, captioned set of prints, transparencies and now... digital images.

So professionally prepared files are the best way of supplying photographs for both photographer and client - they are after all exactly what the client previously received in the form of prints, transparencies or scans from film.

And charging for the production of professional files is also the most appropriate way of meeting digital costs. They can either be charged for individually, or in bulk at an hourly rate if appropriate.

It should be remembered here that in addition to meeting the capital costs of digital cameras, and charging for extra labour time, the photographer has to meet the costs of running a "digital darkroom". These include the capital cost of computers that become obsolete almost as fast as the cameras, monitors and software.

In addition photographers charge for digital delivery, either by burning to CD/DVD or by digital transmission, and also digital archiving.

A guide

Here then is a guide to digital charges recommended by the NUJ, to create a transparent and open system that fairly rewards photographers for both their time and expertise, as well as one that informs buyers of photography what they should expect for their money.

Note: these charges are applicable only to editorial and PR photography for newspaper and magazines. Digital charges for medium to large format and studio work will be higher, especially where files are converted from RGB to CMYK, and proof prints are supplied.

The guide works through a typical digital photographer's workflow - from digital capture through to the presentation of processed files.

Work Charge
Digital or inkjet contact sheets [3] £20.00 per contact sheet
Processed digital image file* (or scan from film) £15.00 per file
Bulk processing of digital files £100.00 per hour for orders over 7 files (minimum fee one hour)
Burning files to CD £10.00 per CD
Burning files to DVD £20.00 per DVD
Digital transmission £20.00 for up to 10 images
Each further transmission after the first 10 £2.00 surcharge on each image
VAT is added at the standard rate where the photographer is VAT registered


1 A processed digital image file is a file that is cleaned, cropped and colour corrected for appropriate use in print or the Web, and captioned with IPTC information.

2 Photographers, particularly freelances, do not sell their images to clients - they "license" the use of the image for a specific purpose and time frame for an appropriate fee, and issue a simple licence agreement and Terms and Conditions in their delivery note. The licence, in conjunction with covering digital costs and the photographer's commission fee constitutes their "fee for the job", and can vary from job to job.

3 A contact sheet is in effect "the contents of the camera card", but is a preview for client choice and photographer processing - a legitimate and more transparent alternative to a "Dump and Run", as the client can choose how many files they need processing on an amount or cost basis, in consultation with the photographer)

  • This was lightly edited and de-anachronised on 17 September 2021

Rates, terms & getting paid

*News national papers
*Online - photos for web use etc
*Books - photos for use in books
* The Gong - "awards" for late payers
* Collect-o-Matic NUJ members get help claiming when they're really recalcitrant