Photo License – What on Earth is That!?!

Photographers who have spent most of their career shooting weddings and portraits often get overwhelmed with the whole “licensing” side of the commercial industry. What exactly is a photo license? It seems really complicated and intimidating…and maybe even unnecessary…

So, we thought we’d try to break it down for you.

This is what you need to know…

First, as an artist, you own the copyright to your photographs.

copyright: the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (such as a literary, musical, or artistic work)

That means in order for someone else to use your photos – you need to “license” them the rights to do so.

This photo was licensed by Melissa Welsh to a retail client for non-exclusive, internal poster use, for all of their stores for 10 years. She was compensated $2000 for that use and then ended up re-licensing it to them for their newsletter for an additional $400. Yipee!

Image License: “a legal agreement granting permission to exercise a specified right or rights to a work, often encompassed in an invoice, or the act of granting same”  as defined by PLUS

Make sense?

Next thing is you need to have a licensing agreement. This can be placed in one of two locations. Either your contract up front…or in the case of stock, wedding and portrait use…you may use what’s called a delivery memo/image release form after the photos are created. (This gets signed before the photos are delivered)

What should be included in the image release? All kinds of info!

  • Names of Parties (Licensor, Licensee:)
  • Media: Type of media that your photograph can be reproduced (Ex. Prints, Personal Electronic Device, Web)
  • Format: How you are delivering the photograph(s) (Ex. print, cd of jpgs, electronic download)
  • Size: What size can they print or share online? (4×6 print, 600px length on-line)
  • Quantity: How many photographs you are licensing Duration: How long are you letting your clients use them? (Ex. In perpetuity)
  • Exclusivity: Can you also license the image to additional buyers? (Ex. Yes = Non-exclusive, No = Exclusive (Note – If the terms are exclusive, and make sure to charge appropriately!)
  • License Start Date: When can they start using the photographs for personal use?
  • Media Constraints: Are there limitations to where they can publish the photos? (Ex. Only at the following URLs:, )
  • Requirements: Do they need to mention your company/name when publishing the photographs? (Ex. Credit line requirement and link to website)
  • Conditions: Any conditions you might set.(Ex. Image licensing granted only on receipt of payment in ull.)
  • Image Information: Quantity & description of images (file names) (Ex. 142 image files. Sally-Jeff-wedding-001.jpg through Sally-Jeff-wedding-142.jpg)
  • Additional Info: Transaction date

Here are some license suggestions for the general categories of photo use:

Personal  (portraits/weddings) – Unlimited, Non-exclusive

Branding/Corporate – 3 year non-exclusive

Advertising – One time, non-exclusive

Editorial – One time,  non-exclusive

Now it’s important to note that the image license and the fee you’re charging are connected. If you have a client that wants aaaaaaaaaaaaall the rights in perpetuity (forever and ever!)…then you deserve to be compensated more. However, if your client only needs the photo for this months facebook promotion…then you can just license them those rights and cut them a deal on the price. Does that make sense?

Other pro tip. Make sure to discuss the details of how your client wants to use the image before you prepare a quote for the job. (Read up more on pricing a commercial job here). A conversation after the job about image use is often a recipe for an unhappy customer!Finally…a bonus for you – if you want a copy of a image release form example – you can get one here!

Anything we forgot to address? Have specific questions about a photo license? Please ask us in the comments below!




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