Why Image Licensing is Important to Your Photography Business

Image licensing is the foundation to sound business practices in photography. While licensing your work can cultivate confidence and bring in additional income, remember that your work also needs protection. This post will help you understand what image licensing is, why you need it, and what to consider when crafting your approach to licensing.

What is a Photography License?

A photography license is a contractual agreement between a photographer and the client which grants specific rights to use the image for a predetermined amount of time. The client can then use the photo in any way they want, as long as it falls within the agreement.

Photographers can use image licensing as a way to make money. You make money by selling the permission to use your work. It sounds simple, but there is a little more to it, including the types of licensing terms you can have and how to decide on pricing, but these are the basic principles.

Rights Managed or Royalty Free Licensing

It’s important to understand the distinction between Rights Managed and Royalty Free licensing terms. Rights Managed means that the rate is given on a case by case basis, dependent on usage and other factors, and it will often be a more expensive option, but with a higher quality of work guaranteed.

Royalty Free means that the client is asking for the rights to use the photos however they please, without paying the creator on a by usage basis. This means the client has unlimited use of the image. So which is better? Well, neither—it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with, what makes the most sense with that particular client, and how you can both meet your needs.

What to Expect When Image Licensing With an Agency

Many photographers work with an agency for image licensing. The agency will often offer the client pricing tiers to choose from, and usually the more years the client chooses to license the image for, the cheaper the rate will break down to.

Typically, agencies who represent a photographer’s image archive are representing images of celebrities and models. Photographers do not make considerable income by just photographing celebrities. They actually rely on their images being syndicated to bring in the majority of the capital for those shots.

When it comes to who gets paid what, a photographer can expect to make about 60% of what the image is being licensed to the client for, while the agency takes 40%. Obviously, there is variability to this from case to case.

Crafting Your Approach to Licensing

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to licensing, but there are questions you can be asking, and scenarios you can be considering, when looking to expand the licensing terms in your own business and quote your clients:

  • How many eyes will be on the image?

  • Where is the image being distributed/circulated?

  • What size does the image need to be?

  • How long will they need the image for?

  • What is the image supporting or being used for?

  • Where will the image be used, geographically?

Even when working with smaller businesses, it is crucial to define licensing terms in your contracts, and the bigger the brand, the more specific you should be. Imagine you have a client, who some day will be the next big thing in their industry. Right now, they are just a small business. They have no idea what the future holds, and you have no idea how they will grow. But, someday, they will be the next Nike.

When they are the next big thing, there is a chance they may still be using your photos. Wouldn’t you want and shouldn’t you get additional profits from this massive, global brand, who is using your photos, for free? The answer is yes. The bigger the brand and the larger the audience, the more valuable your work is.

Learn Image Licensing for Long-Term Success

Image licensing is an important part of best practices in your photography business. If you want to make money from licensing your images, make sure you are well-versed on the topic and you show up prepared. It’s amazing to share your work as a creative and get paid for doing what you love, but don’t forget to protect yourself along the way.

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