Someone wants to license your photography! Now what?

Photo Licensing_ Someone Wants To License Your Photography! Now What_.png

So, you have just gotten a very exciting email from somebody saying they want to use your photography for their next book project, album cover, or other creative project!

First of all, congratulations.

But, now the question is how do you approach coming up with a fair price and contract?

Well there are three ways that you can approach this situation.

#1. Work with an Agency

Obviously, this is easiest done when you are already represented by an agency.

In fact, if the image is already in your portfolio with that agency, you can simply refer the prospective client to the sales department at the agency and let them take care of the entire process.

In fact, if the prospect wants to license your work for a market that is covered by your contractual agreement with an agency, you may be legally bound to refer this prospect to the agency.

So read your contract closely!

If the image is not currently represented by an agency, you can always let them know that a prospect is interested in your image and they will usually happily import that new image into your represented portfolio and help you make the necessary contract, usage and pricing arrangements. 

Now, the upside of this is that you don't have to worry about all of the tedious contract negotiations, usage rights, and other assorted legal situations that come up when licensing your work is on the line.

However, on the flip side of things, you are also going to be paying your agency a portion or commission for having done this work on your behalf.

Personally I often find that it's well worth my while to be working with the agency that represents me to help me understand all of the various ways that my work can help me make money for myself.

They have a lot of experience in their market, and understand all of the ins and outs of usage that I may not fully understand yet.

So from my perspective paying them a commission fee – usually about 50% – is well worth it for the services an agency provides.

However not everyone will want to work with an agency, give them that commission fees, and that's totally okay!

So let's look at some other ways that you can license your work as well and how to arrive at a price and some usage fees.

#2. Draft Your Own Usage Terms, Pricing and Contract

So if you are not represented by an agency, or you don't want to license a particular image through them, how do you go about giving a prospect a fair price and fair usage terms?

First it is really important to understand different licensing models, and which is the best fit for your work:

Generally when we are talking about licensing your work there are two different Usage Models:

A one-time fee is paid to the artist by the client/image-buyer, but the artist is free to sell that image over and over to various buyers as many times as they want.

That fee is often based on the size of the image need, i.e. whether or is high resolution or low resolution.

The buyer has no exclusivity to the image, and the artist might not know what the image is being used for, when or for how long.

The client pays a licensing fee in order to be able to use the image.

That fee is based on usage, i.e. location, length of time the photo will be used, distribution.

The buyer can also choose to pay for exclusive rights to the image within one or several markets.

Right now I only allow my work to be licensed through a Rights Managed model. An image cannot be licensed with both.

Next, I recommend coming up with a pricing model that you can use again in the future to help price out similar project.

It will mean that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time an inquiry comes in, and you will look more professional in the process.

If you're feeling a little bit overwhelmed by the whole idea, don't worry! It's not as difficult as it sounds.

In fact I will give you a simple formula that you can use and modify:

Base Price + Usage + Exclusivity + Time = Price

To break this down simply, you Base Price is the minimum that you would like to make from the image license.

The Usage refers to how, how much, and where the image will be used.

Exclusivity means whether or not the prospective client will be able to be the only one using this image in their market.

Time refers to the duration of the agreement.

In order to determine what you plug into this equation, you will need to ask some questions about the potential client's project and needs.

Questions to Ask About Usage:

The first question that I would ask is how do they intend to use this image.

Often times a prospective client may not have the fullest scope of understanding of how they want to use an image.

So this is really an opportunity for us as artists to educate our clients by asking them the right questions!

For example I have often been approached by musicians who would like to use my work for their upcoming single or album cover.

A prospect might not understand that using my image on their album cover and using the image for digital distribution purposes are two very different things and both need to be considered when coming up with a price.

The second question that I would ask is how much do they expect the image to be distributed.

Here's an illustration of how that question might work: using the example of an album cover, I might ask the prospective client how many albums they intend on printing and distributing.

Usually, a musician should know a general answer to this question because they have been budgeting for the production of their album.

So, if I know that they are planning on creating a run of 1000 copies of their album and they're going to need the image rights for the album itself, and for digital media purposes, I will price my work accordingly!

The third question to ask is where will the image be distributed in terms of location.

What I mean by that is: will this image appear on albums or book covers in the United States, or will it only appear in France?

The United States is a very different and much larger market than France.

Therefore I will price my work differently if I know that the US market is going to be the main point of distribution.

Questions to Ask About Exclusivity:

When in your discovery phase with a prospective client it is really important to ask is about exclusivity.

What I mean by exclusivity is: can another prospective client use this image for the same purpose for the given time that the image is being licensed for?

To put it simply if I licensed an image to musician for their album cover for the next three years, am I not allowed to license this image to any other musician in the same location during that same time period?

If this is the case then the client is asking for an exclusive license.

Exclusivity always brings the price up.

Some prospective clients may even request that we not use that image for anything else during the period that the image is being licensed.

I would be really really careful about approaching the contract this way.

You may still want to make sure that you have the rights to print your work for galleries, produce products like mugs, notebooks, etc.

And, using our example of licensing for an album cover, you may still want to be able to license for the book cover market!

So always be very aware when you are working with an exclusive license and make sure that you are deliberately outlining what exclusivity means between you and your client. 

The last question that I would ask would be how long they would like to license the image for.

You could give a prospective client the opportunity to license your image for a year, three years, or even five years.

Often times I find that clients expect that a license last forever.

This is probably because they are more familiar with the Royalty Free model.

However if you're only licensing your work under the Rights Managed model, this is where it become really important for us to educate potential clients and teach them about the licensing models we employ!

Once you have worked out everything from above, delivered a price to your prospective client and had them agree to pay it, you will need to draft a contract that outlines your price and usage agreement!

Use Existing Pricing and Contract Resources

Okay so we've talked about all the things that can go into price.

You can always come up with a price on your own based on how you personally value your work, and using the formula I shared above.

However there is definitely a lot that goes into this, and it can be very overwhelming for a lot of artists.

Now do you see why I like working with an agency to help me deliberate through all of these various contract items?

For those of you that need a quick and dirty way of approaching pricing then I recommend you check out the Getty pricing calculator.

It's not a perfect tool, and it operates based on Getty's own business model which may not accurately reflect your personal business model.

However what it can do is it can walk you through some of the questions that we outlined above to help you come up with a baseline price when you are working with a client that wants to license your work.

What this will not do is generate a contract for you.

So you will still need to come up with a contract that outlines your price and terms if the prospective client is ready to proceed with licensing.

Now, I do want to state that I am not a lawyer and therefore I am not giving you any kind of legal advice in this blog!

In fact, if you have a attorney that works specifically in entertainment and licensing law, it might be really great to work with them on a template contract that you can use for licensing going forward.

There are some resources available and I will link to them here for you to start looking at what a baseline contract could look like.

However, if you want something that is absolutely tailored to your business and your pricing model then I highly recommend finding a lawyer that understands licensing law I can work with you on this.

There are also other wonderful resources out there in the Internet community.

People like Maria Brophy have downloads that you can utilize to help you with your pricing for licensing.

Her work is not specific to the photography market however she has a lot of experience in the licensing world and would be a great person to follow to understand more about how you can value yourself as an artist and build up a licensing income stream in your artistic business!


If you're looking for a group membership opportunity that helps you with all of these things, I want to invite you to join my 8 week course Uncovered: Selling Your Art for Book Covers.

Uncovered: Selling Your Art for Book Covers is a self-paced course that includes:

  • Taking Stock of Your Current Portfolio Video Training

  • Portfolio Audit Checklist

  • Learn About the Video Training

  • Thinking About Art for the Book Cover Medium Video Training

  • Usage Rights Video Training

  • Licensing Models Video Training

  • Making Multiple Sales with a Single Image Video Training

  • Weekly Creative Challenges designed to grow your portfolio

  • Access to the VIP Uncovered Support Group

  • Guaranteed Tech & Program Support

  • Lifetime Access to Updates & Program Additions

We both know your art deserves a life beyond the computer screen as well, so it's time to stop wasting time trying to figure out how to license your art.

Instead, let me lead the way. I've already put years of trial and error so that you don't have to!

I designed Uncovered: Selling Your Art for Book Covers to take the guess work out of licensing your art for book covers (and album covers too).

The lessons in the course are designed to take the mystique out of licensing and to guide you to create a portfolio that can sell itself!

If you're not ready for a full on mentorship, that's totally ok too.

I host a Facebook group of awesome artists who are on the same journey that you are.

I would love for you to join us, ask questions, share your journey and let us support you!

Join us here at Beneath the Surface on Facebook.


Congratulations on having someone inquire about using your image.

That is an incredibly exciting milestone in any artist's career.

But before you license your work, make sure that you are protecting yourself and you image by pricing correctly, defining the right usage terms and coming up with a contract that outlines all of this!

Happy licensing!