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Know your image licensing options

Image licensing can be a complicated process. There are many ways in which images can be licensed, so to understand licensing you must first be clear about the options available to you.

Licence i
The copyright holder (usually the photographer) has the right to control the use of his or her work. Companies choose to license images because it’s a cost-effective way for them to purchase an image. By finding an image on a photographer’s portfolio they are saving themselves the cost of producing a shoot from start to finish and any extras involved.

Licence options

To keep things simple you should understand that in photography there are two main ways of licensing images—royalty free or rights managed.
Royalty-free photography is cost effective for clients who are on a budget or for individuals who want a cheap option for design. The drawbacks are that the clients share the image with potentially many other companies who will have found it online and that your work is therefore not unique to a brand. As a fashion photographer this isn’t a particularly profitable way of marketing your work. Stock photographs and lifestyle photographs are easy to create and sell at a small price, but fashion photography is more expensive to create. For this reason fashion photographers tend to prefer rights-managed licences.
Rights-managed photographs are images that are exclusive to an individual or company; a company buys them safe in the knowledge that no one has used the images in the past or will use them in the future. Rights-managed licenses give the photographer much greater control over issues such as terms of use. The drawback for clients is that this is a more expensive option (sometimes just as expensive as commissioning a shoot) but most companies will pay for an image that is unique to them.
Companies can also choose to buy an image and the full copyright along with it. If a client asks for this, you have to consider that the buyout cost has to cover all possible uses of that image worldwide for it’s entire life. This is an expensive option, but it’s beneficial for large companies that are interested in the long-term advantage owning the full copyright gives.
Licence ii


Licensing fees range from country to country, so wherever you are based, you should research how copyright affects you and what rights you have as a photographer before considering the fee involved.
To quote a fee to a client you need to consider:

  • How the image will be used
  • How big the image will be used
  • How many copies of the image are going to be distributed
  • How many years the image will be used for
  • What changes they are making to the image, if any
  • The time and artistic skill involved in creating the image
  • The fees you will have to pay your model/creative team.

Once you’ve put a fee idea together, you should provide your client with a breakdown of the fee to help them understand how you arrived at that number. A written contract should always be put together (if the client doesn’t give you this) so that the terms are legally binding.

Top tip

If you’re having a hard time coming to a fee conclusion, try using one of various image-licence calculators that are available online. There is a free and accurate calculator available online from Feature Pics to help you.
The images in this article were shot for Papercut magazine.

  • Model: Elin at New York Models
  • Hair: Damian Monzillo @ BA Reps NY
  • Makeup: Deborah Altizio
  • Styling: Lauren Armes

If you’ve dreamed of working in the fashion photo industry or simply want to learn how to shoot edgy, fun fashion photos, Lara Jade’s Fashion Photography 101 is full of technical advice to improve your images, as well as practical, insider information on how to contact models, build your portfolio, and navigate the challenges involved in dealing with agencies.

Fashion 101| Lara Jade | Ilex InstantLara Jade Fashion Photography 101 by Lara Jade
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This PDF version retains the styling of the original print book.
RRP for print edition: £14.99