How to Sell Clients on Licensing Assignment Photography

It is important that you learn to articulate your pricing structure in a clear and concise manner. If you sound unsure of yourself or unsure of the methods used to determine your fees, you will not build confidence in your client. This is why following the pricing steps outlined earlier is critical. You must know your actual costs and your unique worth or you will not be able to successfully sell your services.

Fair compensation for the rights granted is the goal of any assignment negotiation. As discussed, that price is dependent upon on a number of factors, from creative fees to production needs. The most contentious factor, however, is clearly the rights to use the photograph — the actual license.

Most, if not all, of your clients have heard of copyright. How much they know about copyright law and how they feel about it will vary dramatically. Some are strong supporters of artists’ rights. Others believe that copyright law has gone too far and feel the use of creative works should be more open and democratic. Still others will be focused on, and bothered by, the idea that you can re-license images originally created for them. Finally, another faction will simply be unfamiliar with the business of licensing photography altogether.


Key things to remember when talking to a client:
• Listen carefully; never assume you know or understand your client’s position.
• Explain your price with confidence.
• Being flexible is not a sign of weakness — it is smart business.
• Treat clients with respect and the respect is usually returned.
• There are times when an equitable agreement cannot be found and you need to move on.

You must listen and ask questions to determine where a particular client falls on this spectrum of possibilities. For example, you do not want to come out with your guns blazing about your rights without knowing where the client stands on the issue. She may be a strong artist advocate and you will offend her if you assume she knows nothing about copyright law, or worse yet, assume she will battle you on your rights. Equally as problematic is assuming the client knows the ins and outs of licensing photography when, in fact, he may truly be uneducated on the topic. Starting either of these conversations from a position of respect, asking questions and listening, will lead you to your appropriate next step. Photographers must simultaneously educate and sell in order to build a sustainable business.

When clients raise objections

Typical client comments when negotiating the terms of a photography assignment and some possible responses.

“Why isn’t your price simply time and materials?”
“What is your day rate?”

I do not charge on a day rate or hourly basis. Each project is unique, and time is only one factor I consider when determining my price for a specific assignment. Photography is a creative process and production time is rarely an indicator of value.

Tip: Remember that pricing based on time punishes you when you buy better equipment, or simply gain experience and work faster. Efficiency should demand a higher, not a lower, price.

“Why do you need to know how I am going to use the photographs?”

Photographs are intellectual property, and licensing their use is how I generate income. The fees for a specific project are based on the use of the photographs because the more the images are used, the greater value they have. Since they’re worth more, they cost more.

Tip: Use an extreme example to illustrate why usage affects the price. If you are pricing a job for a corporate brochure, compare it to a consumer ad campaign run in magazines and billboards worldwide. By giving an example of very large use, the client sees the wisdom of paying less when the use is smaller. You can also use the software example — a business has to license the use of software based on how many computers will be running it. Higher Use = Higher Price.

“You cost more per hour than my attorney.”

I do not charge by the hour, so dividing the total cost for this project by the hours estimated for me to be on site photographing does not give you a clear explanation of my fees. My fees are based on the creative and production needs of the job, the expenses, and the license terms we agree upon for use of the images. Factors other than time are frequently more influential in determining my price for a job.

“You mean I pay you and I don’t own it?”

Photographs are the intellectual property of the creator. Much like software or a book, you can purchase the use, but the creator still owns the material. I own the rights to my photographs, but I can write a license that will let you do whatever you need to do. My price will reflect the value of that license.

“I do not want to come back to you each time I need to use these pictures.”

I am more than happy to license a package of rights for these photographs, but you may be paying for uses you do not really need. I am service oriented and accessible if additional uses arise. My goal is, of course, to build a long-term business relationship, so tell me what your plans are and we can work out an equitable license.

Tip: If the client is concerned that you will gouge them on re-use fees, set up a pricing structure now for the future. Put it in your agreement and put their mind at ease.

Tip: It is becoming more common to license a broad package of rights to the commissioning client. Care must be taken to make sure you achieve fair compensation when multiple uses are negotiated. It is critical to maintain control of your images even if the commissioning client has broad usage. Without preserving the copyright to your work, you cannot use the images in your portfolio, on your web site or add them to your stock library.

“I do not want someone else using my images.”

I am happy to provide you a price for exclusive use of these images, but because this type of license prohibits me from generating any additional income, it will significantly increase the cost of the project. I suggest we compromise and extend you a limited exclusivity — say, six months. This gives you premiere use of the images, but it doesn’t restrict my ability to earn additional income forever.

Tip: Adding exclusivity to a license for a limited time period can be a powerful negotiating tool. You can give it without losing much and build a positive relationship.

Tip: Think about the project when negotiating terms and price. Do the images have resale value? If the answer is unequivocally no, do not lose the client over a non-issue.