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Business Resources

Licensing Guide


Most photographers go into business for themselves because they are passionate about making pictures — not because they want to be in business. The irony is that photographers who do not learn and implement sound business practices will not be able to continue photographing professionally.


Images are the intellectual property of the creator, but for that property to generate income, photographers have to know their production costs, the value of their work, and the value of the usage their client is licensing.


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This guide provides an overview of the professional photography business and outlines a practical methodology for licensing images — the key to a successful and sustainable career as a photographer.


Categories of Photography Use: Commercial, Editorial, and Retail


The business of professional photography is broken into three main categories of use. Commercial refers to photography that is used to sell or promote a product, service, or idea. Editorial refers to photography used for educational or journalistic purposes. Retail refers to photography commissioned or purchased for personal use.


The difference between these categories is not in the type of photography, but in the use of the images. For example, suppose that a corporation hires a photographer to document a product launch event. For the corporation, the type of photography being commissioned is event coverage, and the use is commercial because the corporation will use the photographs to promote their new product. For a local newspaper covering the same product launch, the use would be editorial.


An example of retail photography would be a wedding, which is also event coverage — but now the work is categorized as retail because the end use is personal.


While some photographers concentrate in one of these three areas, it is not unusual for a photographer to work in multiple arenas, making it imperative to understand the business practices and pricing structures of each.


Commercial, editorial or retail, photographs are intellectual property. Unless you are an employee or have contractually transferred ownership, you become the owner of this property when you create the image. Licensing this property for specific uses is how your business generates gross income.


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ASMP thanks all of the contributors to this Licensing Guide, including

Principal author: Susan Carr.

How to Write a License author: Jeff Sedlik

Advisors: Judy Herrmann, Barry Schwartz, Victor Perlman, Peter Dyson.

Paperwork Share Contributors: Brian Beaugureau, Jim Cavanaugh, Dwight Cendrowski, Chris Crumley, Lynne Damianos, Jim Flynn, Shawn Henry, Kim Kauffman, Bruce Kluckhohn, Chip Mitchell, David Seide, Colleen Woolpert and others.