I get asked this question on a regular basis, so I thought it was time to put up my answer for all to see, to save me typing it each time. This type of information is hard to find as most photographers shy away from revealing anything about current market prices for images. I don’t agree with keeping such information so secret. After all, if a buyer wants an image from a photographer they are not taking business from us. In most cases we won’t have an image which fills the brief. I take the same approach to this as I do to location information and techniques, I like to share information and be helpful, not put up the barriers and protect my own little kingdom. I think the world is a much nicer place when people help each other. In fact, if the market price was better known then companies who buy images would be less able to pull the wool over photographers eyes about the value of their images. The information I do keep confidential relates more to contracts, licensing agreements and so on. But helping keen photographers get a fair price for an image is something I am happy to do.
The first thing to say in answer to this question is that there is no answer. Sorry. There is no ‘price’ that is fixed for images, there are just too many variables and in the end you will have to weigh all of the variables up and quote a figure. Ideally you want to gets price which is fair to you and is set at a level where the potential customer places the order with you feeling they have got a fair deal too. What you are trying to avoid is being paid a pittance for an image from which the buyer profits hugely at your expense or, conversely, quoting a price which is higher than the buyer is prepared to pay and so you end up with nothing. So, beware. In the vast majority of cases, your image is not worth as much as you think it is. Sorry, but thats a fact. If you lose the sale you end up with nothing. We have to have in mind that usually a buyer can get a similar image from someone else. Few images are unique and most image buyers have an idea of what is ideal for their purpose but won’t pay over the odds for that image if another which is almost right is available at a fairer price. They don’t want to have to shop around because time is money for these people, they have found yours and it fits the bill, but if you want too much for it they will move on to someone else.
It is also vital to say these people work to very tight deadlines and won’t wait three days for you to answer an email or send them a file. they expect you to respond and quote within hours in most cases and to be able to ftp a file to them without hassle in the format they need. When it arrives they expect it to be free of dust spots with no chromatic aberration or over sharpening/saturation. Their standards are very high. If you can’t deliver the image as they need it it is better to say so straight away. Also, don’t expect payment before you send the file, it almost never works that way. In fact, be prepared to wait several months for payment (welcome to the world of the pro-photographer!). Rarely will you get paid in less than three months and it could be longer. You also have to be prepared to trust the buyer. Our whole industry has to work on trust and you may get let down. We have to send our precious full resolution files off to companies we have never heard of and there is little chance of us ever being completely sure how they are being used. You may have been told the images was going in to a company newsletter when in fact it is off to China and being printed onto a 100,000 T-Shirts or posters for sale. Happily, though, the vast majority of buyers are honest and only use the image as described and pay in full. You probably won’t get a contract for a single image sale. The only evidence you have of the transaction is the email correspondence. You may get a purchase order, but this is rare. However, in reality, what are you going to do if you don’t get paid. Take legal action? I doubt it. We can’t afford to and often the firm you have sold the image to is on the other side of the world. It is just impractical. We have to work on trust and it usually works out well.
So, what about price then? Firstly, you will get approached from time to time to give images for free. They will tell you that they ‘don’t have a budget’ for buying images for ‘this project’. They will tell you they will give you a credit to your website. They will tell you it will lead to ‘great exposure’ for your images. They will tell you they have other projects coming up and will be in touch to buy images for real money soon. They are lying. I only give my images for free to genuine charities. Other wise I ask them if they are getting paid? If they are getting paid, so should I. The ‘credit link’ to your website is valueless. They have no incentive to remember to do it. If they do put a link in, it will be feint and tiny. No one will notice it. (Ask yourself, how often have you noticed and followed a link beside an image in the press? And if you have, how often have you bought an image from that persons site? Exactly). They will not come back with paid work. You have shown you give images away so they may come back for another freebie but in most cases you will never hear from them again. I urge you, never give your images away for free.
The next type of approach comes often as a result of seeing an image of yours on Flickr. Companies have learned they can trawl Flickr and find great images made by keen photographers who will accept a lower rate than a pro who depends on image sales to pay his mortgage. Thats fair enough in a commercial world. It is very flattering to be approached by someone offering real money for one of your images. The fact they are approaching via a site like Flickr means they are probably after a bargain. For most uses, and by this I mean firms who want to use your shot on their website or in a newsletter, a newspaper or magazine or a smaller firm wanting to use an image of yours for an advert or on packaging or perhaps a hotel wanting to make a print of an image local to them, you will rarely get an order if you quote more than £40 or £50 (that’s GB Pounds) in my experience. Some buyers will walk away if you quote that high. They are looking for a bargain. Bigger companies and publishers might pay more (and I have made £650 for one image from a London marketing firm, but that was a rare deal). try asking them what their budget for the image is. Don’t be afraid to say you are an amateur and have no idea what to charge but make it clear you want them to feel they have got a good deal but at the same time want a fair price yourself. Most image buyers will give you a hint. If the image is to go on a book cover or on product packaging you can ask for more but in all these negotiations I urge you not to be greedy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The image sat on your hard drive is making no money and in my mind it is better to walk away with £50 than hold out for £200 and not get a reply to your email. If you really wan tho get the market price and the image is on Flickr then make sure you have Getty licensing switched on on your Flickr account. then you can forward them to Getty who will price the image for you based on the customers usage and they will handle the transaction, but you will just get 20% of the sale fee.
Sometimes firms will offer you a price. If it is fair, take it. It will never sound high enough to you and, indeed, they are after a bargain but if you try and negotiate up they are more likely not to even reply to your email. There is a strong chance they will just move on to the next photographer on their list. They don’t have the time or inclination to mess about. If the offer is obviously derisory then ask for what you think is fair (and again, by fair, I mean fair to them as well as you). They may not reply, but like the guys who want free images, it is better not to be taken for a mug. Just remember, offers over £100 for an image use is rare. Once buyers get to that level they will often prefer to deal with stock companies who have the files in high resolution and give a professional service with no hassle. the direct approaches based on your Flickr stream usually come from firms looking for lower value images and you need to accept a lower fee accordingly.
This is the same philosophy I have about stock photography. Many older pro’s knew a time when they could earn six figure sums from stock photography but have seen this plummet with the advent of micro-stock and other internet based stock sites. They complain vociferously that stock is no way to earn a living. However, if we adapt to the market and realise we can make thousands more images now for selling via stock that those guys working in film could never have done, stock is still a viable way to make a complete or partial living for photographers. The market is now a world wide one too. Access to buyers is so much easier and buyers are buying many more images than they used to, they are just paying a lot less for them. Those images on your hard drive aren’t making any money so I feel it is far better to be making small amounts from them that add up than nothing at all. I get emails from photographers complaining that selling via the Getty/Flickr deal only gives them 20% of the sale price – Getty taking 80% – but I feel that if Getty wasn’t selling those images for me I would be getting 0%. I can’t get in front of the image buyers that Getty can. Those images just wouldn’t sell. As a guide I think you can expect to make £1 per image per month that you have with a site like Getty. get 100 images with them and you could make £100 a month. get 1000 images with ten and you could make £1000 a month. Simple. 20% doesn’t sound so bad when you are getting £12,000 a year from images which are just filling your hard drive, does it? The very difficult part is shooting 1000 images that are so good Getty want them and buyers buy them 🙂
There will be photographers who feel you can ask for more than the figures I have mentioned. There will be some who think the figures are too high. As I said at the outset, there is no right answer to this question. Just remember, your image is probably not unique, these guys want a bargain and the image is usually not worth as much as you would like to think it is and there will always be someone who will do it cheaper. These buyers are not big on negotiation, you often have one email to pitch the price right. Don’t be greedy but be fair to them and you. respond very quickly and don’t give the buyer any hassle.
I hope you get the order because it is a nice feeling to get paid for doing what we love and knowing someone liked our image enough to hand over hard cash.
Wise words, Doug. Good to have some sound advice from someone at ‘the sharp end’.
Really useful information so many thanks. I think you are absolutely right not to pitch your fees too high. I’m interested in selling my prints mounted but that is a whole different ball game. I have sold a few to friends and colleagues but otherwise I guess it is selling from a website, using a gallery or craft fair etc. I feel a lot of people are not used to buying photographic art and that it has less value in their eyes than a painting.