Professional Photographer Wants $$ License Fee


From original questioner:

I contacted a photographer to shoot a job. 3 areas, kitchen, family room, and home office with a Murphy bed. I've used him before, but now he wants a $200 license fee, and I made the mistake to mention a contractor was going to split the cost of photography, so he added another $200 license fee for him. I just can't get my head around that! Do any of you pay a license fee, and if so why?

From contributor Pa

Do you expect this person to work for free?

From contributor Bi

The license fee was on top of his price for the photography. His price was almost $1k, and out of that $400 was for the license.

From contributor Le

Find a different photographer.

From contributor Pa

So what? Is his work worth it? Is there someone else who is just as good but cheaper? A thousand dollars a day for a good professional who provides their own equipment and edits the photographs afterwards doesn't sound out of line to me, but what do I know? These photos are going to be what your potential customers see, and might be worth investing in. Or not, that's your call.

From contributor Je

That would be tantamount for any of us to say it's $1000 to build you a cabinet, but $100 extra for each member of the family that uses the cabinet.

A photographer know you're hiring him to use the photos you pay him to take. No need to charge extra for that.

From contributor Le

Also depends on what buying the license is doing for you.

If you buy the license that should give you free rein to do anything you want with the pictures, make more copies, distribute them in any manor and quantity. He gives you the negatives. He should not retain a copy if you so wish.

It should also take his name off the picture, you are buying the picture and you now own it, he forfeits his copyright of that picture(s) by you purchasing the license. You are free to go anywhere and obtain copies of it.

If he retains the license then you are obligated to purchase (those particular) pictures from him, you will not be able to make copies of them yourself or have someone else make copies. You will need to ask permission anytime you wish to use them as marketing material and may need to pay another fee.

This is similar to what a wedding photographer would do. Usually they would never give up the license though so anytime you want copies they get to charge you again.

From contributor Al

Its quite common to license use for all commercial uses including advertising, publication etc. Its considered intellectual property.

If you built 1 cabinet for a customer for a one of a kind piece and they made a copy of your shop drawings and sold the drawings on the internet for $100 each to 1,000 people you would be out $100,000.

From contributor Ro

As a professional architectural photographer (although no longer full-time) I can tell you that the fee I charge includes licensing very specific rights to the photos. I'm puzzled that this photographer would charge an extra fee for licensing (if that fee is indeed for licensing the rights). Mentioning the shared usage to the photographer is NOT a mistake. Common practice is to add an upcharge of 25-30% if the rights are being shared. If he had seen that other contractor using the photos without permission, you both would have been in copyright violation, (if he had licensed the rights to just yourself, and he had spelled out that those rights were non-transferrable). Look at it this way: you both would be using the photos for commercial purposes, correct? If you designed and blueprinted a house for me as a builder for a fee, would you mind if I handed those prints to a buddy who wants to use the same prints to build a spec house? I doubt it. You may not charge full price, but you SHOULD charge the second person for the using the photos. I always make sure to spell out the usage rights in my invoice. This photographer should be doing the same. That way there are no surprises.

From contributor ak

This is an area that is not well understood, by those who do not regularly contract with commercial photographers.

As a cabinetmaker, and photographer, I can tell you that this is standard practice in the commercial photography world unless agreed otherwise in the terms your contract with the photographer. Like it or not, it is how most photographers are accustomed to working.

Typically you pay for the photographers time for the shoot, and then you license his or her, work as you need it. The costs associated with licensing, are based on the use, medium, and number of times the work will be published.

A photograph my be worth a certain amount, commercially if it is printed in a small local publication, that may be seen by a few hundred people. But what happens, when it gets printed on the front cover of a book, or featured in a major national publication. What happens when multiple people wish to use it. Again this adds value.

A photograph used in a national advertising campaign with a budget in the millions, suddenly becomes far more valuable, than the above examples.

The photographer is simply looking out for his or her interest in the intellectual property, he, or she produced. The same way authors, musicians, composers, receive royalties.

Furthermore often included in these licensing costs, are time/labor to edit, resize, and scale a photograph for the required application.

To avoid sticker shock, when hiring a photographer. Ask him or her in advance, to provide a quote for any licensing fees, and make it clear how you plan to use them. You may also ask, if the photographer would be willing to sell the works outright.

Making a living as a photographer is not easy. Few are willing to pay professional rates, and instead hire amateurs off craigslist, or "uncle bob" who will do a shoot, on the cheap. (Sound familiar? Same thing we have to deal with as cabinetmakers)

Those that are willing to pay expect professional, results, and up to date equipment. A digital medium format camera system can easily cost as much as CNC router. A lighting kit can cost tens of thousands alone. A typical DSLR kit of a wedding photographer can easily cost in excess of $15,000-20,000. Add to that computers, software, insurance, training, and the fact that much of this equipment becomes obsolete every 10 years. You begin to understand how a simple 1/2 day photo shoot can cost so much. When a photographer is not working on a contract job, they have to be out on the street, marketing, and looking for work. Again, same stuff we deal with in the woodworking industry.

Finally. As a cabinetmaker. If I were asked to design a piece of furniture, and develop plans. I would ask similar terms as a photographer. If a client wanted to build, one reproduction, I would charge less, than if they wanted to mass produce that design, or print those plans in a national publication, I would ask for more.

From contributor ak

To add to my post. Without knowing what terms, were agreed to in the contract with this photographer, I can only assume the photographer being a professional would have communicated, in the original agreement, or quote the terms he or she is accustomed to working regarding licensing.

In addition, a professional photographer should, ask what the works will be used for prior to a shoot. Based on the information, you provide as a client, they will quote licensing costs in advance. However, they cannot quote licensing costs, for uses that are not clearly described to them.

Overall it sounds as if the problem here, in this thread, may be communication.

From contributor La

The price of everything is negotiable. If you feel his price is too high for what you want go elsewhere. There is a big difference between what a true professional photographer can provide and someone lacking the experience & equipment can provide. Carefully spell out what you want so both can agree. There is a value to being confident.

From contributor de

what I don't get is why a photographer would retain rights to a photo of your work- he didn't create the work- he was hired to take pictures of it, for which you pay him.
I think it's different if the photographer takes photos on his own- of his own subject matter- and then tries to sell those photos.
Does a cabinet maker retain the rights to a generic kitchen cabinet, for instance?- Or is he paid for his craftmanship and then move on?

From contributor J

I don't think I have ever once sold any cabinets to a photographer. I never could find one that was willing to pay my day rate.

It might also have something to do with my special contract provisions for photographers.

My bid has always been predicated on what you intend to use the cabinets for. If you are going to store clothing in the drawers that is one fee. If you think you might want to store bedding in them then that's a fee on top of the clothing fee.

If you or your realtor use my kitchens as a marketing tool to help sell your home then we are going to need to work out that deal depending on sell price and market volatility.

I think this is the fairest way for everybody involved. They're not just buying my cabinets they are also buying my experience and often my input on design tweaks. I only have a finite number of ideas and as I get older and older each kitchen I think about reduces my inventory of future kitchens so the pricing also has to reflect scarcity and efficacy.

As I get older and older I get stupider & stupider therefore if you purchase my ideas today you are getting me at my peak, so also need to pay a premium for that.

From contributor J

I forgot to mention that each time I produce a new kitchen my experience level increases as well as does my installed base of satisfied customers. As my fame spreads and spreads the customer gets enhanced bragging rights for having been shrewd enough to hire me before the price increased. So there will of course be a small premium need to added for that.

If the client is in the software industry we can no longer make a direct sale. In these special cases, (particularly if you work for Adobe Software), we license you the cabinets instead of outright purchase. For this fee you are in the platinum program and can extra phone support for the first 90 days.

From contributor Je

I think many of these photographers are sitting on a mighty high pedestal and think they are gods. You are hired to take photos. The intellectual property is the subject matter of the photo itself, not your reproduction of it. Why don't we as cabinet makers not only charge our customers to make their products, but then every time they use or even look at our product?? Because every single one of our customers would tell us to take a hike, and purchase from the hobbyist down the street with a cordless drill set and table saw from Home Depot. Yes just like everybody has a digital camera, everybody has access to tools. No need to get cute in trying to make up for lost revenue and increased competition.

From contributor Do

This reminds me of the software post in the CAD forum. I have several pieces of expensive software that we have purchased over the years, and the developers of 3 of those pieces of software have all reached out to their users basically asking for money for "future development". This after I have already bought their software. Software developers did not get any money from future users before they decided to develop their software, they developed it on spec with the idea that they would be able to sell it and make a profit. If your business model has failed or is slowly becoming obsolete, that is not our fault. It is not our job to fund the development of future software projects that may or may not materialize. If you develop something that I find valuable, I may choose to buy it. That is the risk/reward of the industry you chose. The fact that Pattern Systems is no longer around is simply the free market system at work.

If a photographer travels to Afghanistan, or the top of Mt. Everest, or waits weeks for the perfect sunrise, and the result is a photo that everyone wants, then by all means charge a fee for everytime someone wants that photo. But if I hire you by the hour to take a photo for me, then the cost of your time and the cost of your equipment should be covered in the hourly rate you decide to charge me. You are no more valuable to me than a carpenter with his own tools whom I hire to perform a specific task. If you don't make enough money in that manner, then you should have chosen a different profession.


From contributor Ch

Why not ask the guy to provide a price for the shooting and with you owning the negatives (a term from the early 90's, btw). That way it's yours. If he says no or his price sounds like an auction item at Sothbey's, find someone else. Remember, you are paying him for his labor, why the F should he benefit from your good fortune and risk (remember, he got paid), if your work gets published in a design article in the NYT magazine. So you make a nice table & buffet and it shows up in Architectural Digest, do you get a royalty ? Methinks not. If this guy want's a royalty, tell him to write a hit song.

From contributor JW

The first things you ever want to buy as a woodworker are:

1) Sliding table saw
2) Scissor lift work bench
3) Camera

The camera is the hardest to learn but the one that will make you the most money.

There is no reason to bitch about what photographers charge. They may have a standard day rate of $1000 but they never give up their day job selling shirts at the Bon Marche for minimum wage.

At last count in the Seattle section of HOUZZ there were 79 professional photographers offering their services.
I doubt very much there are 79 projects being photographed in Seattle each day. In theory you should be able to negotiate with these people but they are artists. Artists are the only tribe with harder heads than woodworkers.

From contributor Ma

It is good to know about these common practices used by photographers. I would hire someone to take pictures and his total compensation, whatever I agreed to pay would HAVE to be the end of it. I would have to have exclusive and unfettered use of the work. Period. That fee would have to pay for his experience and equipment investment, just like every other business does. Hello??? Furthermore, the agreement would preclude him/her from using the pictures for commercial purposes other than for use in his /her portfolios. Artistic license to photograph MY artistic work? Are you kidding? I would tell him/her the same thing a prospective client would tell me if I asked for similar terms. In so many ways; go ...... There, I got of my chest. You all have I great weekend, I am going (4 x) rock crawling.

From contributor cb

Heres my 2 cents....Figure out how take your own pictures..... Years ago I was paying a friend who shot for a few antique dealers and a jewelry store. No he wasn't "professional" but he held his own with a camera. It was a hassel. After a few pieces were shot I realized I could have bought my own camera. So I did. Then I bought photoshopelements7 and kind of figured that out... I can now take a decent photo most of the time and resize/adjust as needed. As far as the license fee? It is what it is. Find someone else.

From contributor Ji

Make sure you tell him all the uses you might have for the photos. Web, business cards, brochures, print ads, emails. Licenses will cost a lot more later if you have to add on.

No one likes to spend money, but this isn't as bad as it sounds. Lighting and photographing a room full of cabinets is tricky and takes a lot of experience and skill. I was quoted $1000 a day by professionals over ten years ago. If he's good, it's worth it.

The kind way to think about the licensing fee is that it's set up to get more money when more money is being spent. Big budget, like a national ad campaign? Pay me big. Small budget, like a photo for your showroom? Pay me small. After all, small jobs are less demanding, less competitive, more bread-and-butter. Tiny job, like pictures to show your mom and wife? Meh, just pay my daily rate.

Photographers have it tougher than us in that their work also depends on their expertise, but is intangible. We can knock our fist on a solid walnut table top and go on about how durable it is. They can only point to a picture and say they took it well.

From contributor Se

I am laughing at this whole conversation. Having owned a print shop for close to 40 years and dealt with photographers throughout that time, I can tell you this "licensing" is a load of crap picked up from the software industry. You don't own the software you buy, just a license to use it. Photographers rarely work on a daily basis, and a little price gouging whenever they do work is the norm.

Make sure any contract includes total ownership of all negatives, data, and prints, or find another photographer...and there are tons of starving ones willing to comply. You are furnishing the subject matter, paying for his time and material. Why should you pay him more money because you decide to use a photo from an ad in a brochure?

I once had a customer who needed some bare bones product shots. At the time I was printing a nationally distributed photographers newsletter. The flunky at the newsletter office quoted my customer $1K a day plus expenses. When that got back to me I called the photographer and asked him just who the hell did he think he was kidding. I knew he made about $300 a week working at the news letter. Never sent him another lead.

This is exactly who wedding photos cost so much....the idiots only work one or two Saturday afternoons a month and someone has to pay the rent. Has nothing to do with costs, experience or talent....just the lifestyle they think they are entitled to.

From contributor Ji

Great story, Sea!

I hope you are cool when people say your shop isn't worth $70 an hour because they know for sure you don't take home that much.

From contributor Le

I'll bet Sea works more than a couple of Saturdays a month.

From contributor Gr

As a professional photographer and ex owner of a cabinet shop I find this offensive. Woodworkers are alway complaining about garage work shops undercutting them, yet when another professional wants to make money, you say find someone with a camera and have them take the pictures for less. Lets respect the trades. Not just the one you are apart of. Sea you are better than that. Go back in time and read some of your older post.

From contributor Am


I am going to disagree with you wholeheartedly. The reason I invested in the same equipment you have and learned everything you know about lighting was because when I tried to hire it done you guys couldn't make it happen.

For some reason you guys think every job is art and every job is about your name in the community. The project I hired you to photograph was my work, not yours.

You can have your head up your ass all you want about intellectual property but the last thing I am going to do is negotiate rights to a photograph from you later. If I get Subzero to use the image of my kitchen in a national campaign I am the hero, not you. You're the hired help.

If you want to test this theory sometime, tell me whether or not you would be willing to negotiate usage of furniture I build for you. If I build you a china hutch and you later on decide to use it as a media cabinet are you willing to send me more money? If you use an image of the kitchen I build for you front and center when you put your house up for sale are you going to cut me in on the equity gain?

I am happy to give you $300 for the day. Maybe even $500. Anything is going to be better than what you earn selling shirts at the Bon Marche during your day job.

From contributor Le

Well it would be really nice if everytime someone opened a door on my cabinet or put something new into a drawer I could get an extra charge out of them.

From contributor gr

Well unfortunately you made it very personal. You stated 'you' tpo many times. Sir I don't sell tee shirts and my day job is photography. I own and operate one of the best studios in my area and I have a master's in fine art in photography. When you hire someone like me you will not be disappointed. Remember I also owned a cabinet shop so I think directing your comments and experiences at me were not warranted and very unprofessional. Instead of trying to hire an amateur photographer hire someone that specializes in interior photography. Now as for your disagreeing with me that's fine. I only charge a license fee to people purchasing my work. If you contract me to shoot the work is yours. My point was made by your post. You hired cheap and got cheap. Same thing as a shop owner losing out to some hack with a sears table saw. Respect the trades. Btw my camera (not lenses) cost as much as my SCMI 350.

From contributor Am


I apologize for making this sound personal. For what it is worth I also shoot with "L" glass.

The world has changed for photographers. Digital cameras and post processing software have lowered the barriers to quality photography. Forums like this one have also increased the skill set and marketability of wannabe photographers.

In much the same way China rearranged the cabinet industry so too have advances in camera technology changed the photog industry. Social media has brought a lot of customers to the marketplace but it has also created a lot photography studios.

Three months ago the "Pro" section of my local HOUZZ featured 70 professional photographers available for hire. Today's Houzz showcases portfolios for 87 photographers. I would guess we will be able to pick from 100 next spring. That number will be 101 when I retire as a cabinetmaker.

I am not saying this to disparage the skills of good photographers. I know just how much work it takes to master lighting and the algorithms of good photography. What I am saying is that the goalposts are changing and if professional photographers want to remain relevant they need to change too. They (not "you") can keep their head in the sand all they want and continue to lament how nobody respects them but a better tactic would be to study the concept of "price elasticity of demand".

A smart photographer might also look ahead and commence the learning curve for video. DSLR video will make DSLR go the way of Kodak.

From contributor Bi

I am the originator of this post, and the point was not to say anything negative about photographers, or how much money they should make. I just have trouble with the concept of licensing. The responses have been all over the map, I was surprised. But I still feel the same way, I will use photographers who don't do the license thing. I'm happy to pay a fair rate. I live and die by $$/hour, and I can quickly figure out how much per hour the photographer will be making. Again, I just can't get my head around the concept of licensing of photography, especially at the level we operate on.

From contributor La

This reminds me a lot of software.
But in this case you do have an alternative(s.) If there was no prior agreement, in writing, I doubt you are constrained by his "licencing" stipulation. However, if he only sold you the right to use for a specific purpose and did not actually sell you the photos, that's another thing.

Your post may help others decide which photographer to use in the future. Establish whether you bought the photo or merely the use for a specific purpose.

In a sense, I'm not a professional woodworker, farm owner, apartment operator, photographer ... since I don't derive all my income from any of them. Over the years I've sold a fair # of photos, mostly done on commission. I've also hired professional photographers. Licencing has never come up. Behind the times, AGAIN!

As someone else said, this is a matter of communications. Has nothing to do with how much a photographer charges, what he spent on equipment or any of the other things brought up.

As for DIY photography, fine, if what you are capable of is what you want. For less than $2-3K you can get a decent kit, not pro level, but good DIY level. (Canon Rebel & kit lens, wide angle lens, 3 strobes, filters, reflectors, PS Elements, etc.) Unfortunately you can't get the knowledge to use it in that kit. But for a few 100 hours and 500+ images you can, some times, learn to get good DIY photos.
(PS: I've got a Nikon D300, 4 lenses, 3 strobes, umbrella, reflectors, Elements, etc. I can manage to get good DIY photos, given enough time.) For me it's a matter of fun, a challenge, not $.

From contributor Gr

D300 is a great camera. You can do professional work with any camera. I never had a D300 but definitely know it is capable of producing great results. As for licensing im doing a shoot this weekend for the YWCA. Im paid for the shoot and they can do what ever they want with the photos. I now they will be used for a national campaign but its a non profit org and I could care less how they use the photos. In my contract I put that I can also use them for my portfolio but not for resale. If I have a fine art print and Im selling it to a corporation, I may charge a licensing fee or I may not. It depends on what it is. The issue is that fine art photography is intellectual property. Commercial photography is services for sale. I may charge a little or a lot but it is their property after the shoot.