For those just starting their online ecommerce or other small business, commercial photography licensing may sound strange. What are usage fees and why do you need to pay them? Can’t you just use a photo?


Unfortunately, no, you can’t just use a photo. That can come back to bite you and the fines can be hefty. It is better (and less expensive) to make sure you cover your bases from the start.


In this article I will be talking about commercial photography licensing. This term is interchangable with photography usage fees. You are basically paying for the rights to use an image to make money. It doesn’t matter if it is a website photo, product photo or print ad, although there are different types of licenses depending on your needs.


images that sell brands


What is a photography licensing / usage fee?


If you wanted to use a photo to promote your business, you need to start with the type of photo you want to use. If you went to a stock photography website, they may offer different types of licensing.


Royalty free photos are not free. You pay for the photo which includes the cost of usage. Royalty free means you don’t need to specify the use of the photo. You might use it on social media, or may use it on a paid ad.


Then we have the managed license photo. In this case, the places you can use the photo and the number of times it may be used are spelled out. If you intend to use it for more than the license allows you need to purchase an extended license. These fees are usually charged over and above the photo.


Why must you pay photo usage fees?


Do you get paid to work? If you own your own business, you may think: No! But most people do. Photographers, stylists, models, set designers, hair & makeup artists and photo crew staff are among those people.


Taking a photograph isn’t free. There is money and time tied up in eduation and years of practice to hone the skills of photography, lighting and editing. Camera equipment, lenses, lighting, props & studios can cost thousands of dollar. (EACH!) There is electric, insurance and other expenses involved with running a photography business.


So using a photo without licensing it is stealing – and as I mentioned earlier, it can carry heavy fines. Especially if you are using it to try and make money.


visual marketing assets


Are stock photo licenses cheaper?


You may pay less for a stock photo than from a commercial or small business photographer. But the fact is, that photo can turn up on anyone else’s site or ad too. You don’t have exclusive rights to the image, just the right to use it.


Stock photos are generic. They don’t represent your products, your brand or your message. When people see images you use in use by someone else, it lowers their perceived value of your business. So while a stock photo license may be cheaper, it can make your business look cheaper too.


Hiring a commercial photographer.


Isn’t hiring a photographer expensive? That will depend on the photographer you hire.


You could go a cheap route, hiring a student on a platform like Fiverr or Upwork. You could go mid-range and hire a local professional photographer who specializes in product & commercial photography. Or you could go high end and get the same teams that shoot for Rolex, Mercedes Benz and Porsche.


What hiring a commercial photographer does is create images to help you sell your products and brand. No longer are the images generic, they show you, your staff, your business and your products. They raise awareness of your company and help drive sales.



Do product photos fall under “work for hire”?


Image licensing and usage fees don’t go away when you hire a professional photographer. Even if you pay them to create the photos, it doesn’t mean you own it.


In the United States, the photographer is the legal owner and copyright holder of any work they create. It doesn’t matter if you were paying them at the time or not.


While you could contract to buy the copyright from the photographer, you may end up spending more than you have to. Let me explain …


Usage fees are like royalty fees.


If you use a music track in your business or in a commercial, you likely paid a royalty fee based on the estimated usage. Think of your commercial photography in the same way. You only want to pay for what you need.


Types of commercial photography licensing.


If you intend only to use the photograph online, from website to e-commerce store to online ad or social media, then that is the type of license you want.

If you want to use the photo for sale, as in printed on t-shirts or mugs or other items, that is the license you want.

Unrestricted licenses includes things you may never use the photo for. So why pay for that? Are you planning on using it on television? In a show? In a movie scene? Probably not, so why pay for something you don’t use?

If you do decide to use it for an extended purpose later on, you can always negotiate with the photographer for those rights.


Commercial photography is an investment.


Never look at commercial photography as an expense. It can set the mood for your business. It represents you online and in advertising. Your investment in high quality commercial photography will bring you dividends for years to come.


If you would like to discuss how commercial photography can benefit your business …


Or if you’d like to find out more about commercial photography licensing / usage fees …


Reach out below:


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