Selling the “Rights”


I’ve had a few of my images used in print by media houses before, most free of cost, but a few (which can be read as just more than a couple) I have actually been paid for, one was a nominal fee, once was a fair but cheap price and recently, a very fair and unexpected fee from a reputable regional magazine.  This article is just to share a little of what I have learnt along the way


In recent weeks, with the approaching Christmas Season, we’ve been asked by many of our members about “selling their photos” for use in items such as Corporate Calendars,  Greeting Cards, or even media publication.  So we thought that now would be a good time to clear up some of the confusion and shed some light.  It also makes a good follow up to Dwayne Hackett’s “Making Money From Your Photography”.   This is not meant just to answer the questions for this “Season” but for future reference as well.

Some of us take photographs and keep them to ourselves, for our own pleasure and to share among family and friends. Some of us tend to try and get our work out there, for others to see and admire.  If your work is out there, you may be asked at some point if you would permit your image to be used for one purpose or another, whether it is to beautify a web-page, be included in a new article, or even as the cover image of a magazine.

Many of us starting out would jump at the chance to have our work printed in a well-known newspaper or publication, and starting out, we would even let it be done for free, just to see it in print.  I think (and I know many who share my opinion) if someone thinks that your photograph is worth using, then it’s also worth some money in your pocket.

Clarification: You do NOT sell your photograph for use in a publication! You sell the RIGHTS for someone or a company to USE your photograph.  It is your photograph unless you sell all the rights to the photograph and relinquish ownership (which you wouldn’t do unless you absolutely HAVE to).

There is no set price for these things, globally you’ll find that many publications have standardised their fees for such things and that would give you an idea of how much they think it is worth.  And here we come to the question of the value of a photograph.  Magazines and newspapers have standard fees, this is because they are not looking for “art” but for images that reflect something of what the article is about, they are looking for journalistic photographs mostly, and as such they can standardise their fees.  If you consider your photography as an artistic expression, and you think that what you create is “art” then don’t go looking for big paydays from being printed in the media, unless of course you’re a member of the paparazzi and have a rare photo of Halle Berry nude on the beach. (This, of course, does not apply to world famous photo-journalists who, through their lens, carry us into the cultures of people far away, in as artistic a style as any fine-art photographer, they are in a class all by themselves).

When it comes to advertising and marketing companies that want to use your image for the production of material for their clients, then they want something more than the run of the mill photo, they want artistic eye-catching and meaningful photos, they are often looking for photos of specific types of subjects.  And they know the worth of your photo, because they WANT to use it, they NEED to impress their client, and your photo is just the ticket!

When licencing your image to be used by a media house, you need to be aware of a few things; find out what it is being used for, as in what type of print is it going to be, brochures, flyers, booklets, magazine, greeting cards, calendars, books, posters, billboards; all of this is important in your pricing.  When you sell the rights for your photo to be used, you want to know in advance how much mileage they are getting for it.  What you are selling is the “Right to Reproduce your image for a stated purpose”, most times what you sell are “one-time reproduction rights”, meaning that they have the right to use your photo ONCE, and if they would like to use it again, then they have to pay you to use your photo for a second time.

This would apply in most of the cases mentioned before, such as brochures, flyers, booklets, magazines, calendars, posters, billboards.  Things that usually have one iteration of their artwork and one print-run.  Greeting Cards and books, can be a different matter, for example, a book may be produced in various languages, making them different productions, you may need to consider this when selling the rights to use a photo in a book, a scenic photo of yours may be used on a Birthday greeting card, but if the publisher wants to change the words and use it for a Holiday card then that’s a different use, and should be paid for separately.

Many publishers want to purchase an image for multiple uses, that’s OK, as long as an agreement can be made between to copyright holder (you) and the publisher as to what uses and what is fair compensation.  Your invoice is the contract and should state unequivocally what the intended uses of the photograph are (as agreed upon by yourself and the client). You don’t want to sell the rights for an image to be used in a brochure and then see it splashed across a billboard, those are different uses and should be treated separately unless the original agreement was for both of those uses, it is YOUR photograph, and YOU have the right to say how it can be used.

As for pricing, I won’t put any specifics here; ask around, find out what other’s have sold the rights to their own for, ask the client if they had a budget in mind, but get paid for your hard work.  I’ve only touched on this subject and only about photos that you would already have in your possession, if you are going to be hired for contract work, that is a different subject for a different post.


The images used to illustrate this blog post contain my photography, while the photographs remain under the protection of my copyright, the Media in which they have appeared are also copyright protected under the individual companies to which they are attributed: ScotiaBank (Guyana) Ltd., The Sunday Times (Guyana Times) Newspaper, ClassiMag, and Caribbean Beat, in-flight magazine of Caribbean Airlines (an MEP publication)


Michael C. Lam is a Computer Graphic Artist by profession, and still sees himself as a PhotoHobbyist even after being featured alongside fellow photographer Nikhil Ramkarran at the National Art Gallery (Castellani House).  His photos can be seen at his website www.TheMichaelLamCollection.com, although he publishes more to his blog blog.TheMichaelLamCollection.com and he can be followed on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheMichaelLamCollection

2 thoughts on “Selling the “Rights”

  1. Thanks Mr. Lam…Really i appreciate all the knowledge I’ve gained since i joined this group, thanks to everyone for all that they’ve shared.
    Very useful!

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