Almost every photographer has been in this situation — we get an inquiry for someone using an image and we have no idea where to begin. It could be a placement in a local newspaper, a website or a billboard. Even as a professional music photographer, there are times when I am at a loss for how to price an image licensing request.
Here's a quick tip for how to get a ballpark rate when you have zero idea of what to charge for an image license.
There are a few things I always do when trying to price an image licensing or bid on a commercial job. In no particular order:
1) Ask the Budget
When in doubt, you can always ask the budget from the individual requesting the quote or estimate. Since very often someone purchasing images is trying to spend as little as possible for any given project, you may not get a straight forward answer, but it won't hurt to ask.
You can say something like, “Are you working with a set budget for this need?” Or, if you're feeling bold, you can even just ask straight out, “What do you have budgeted for this use?” You won't always get a direct answer, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that every request like this is a conversation. If you get an answer stating that the budget for a double-page magazine spread is $100, I would invite you to view it like an opportunity to negotiate and educate your potential client.
2) Ask Your Peers
One of the first things I'll do if I receive an inquiry about an image request and I have no idea about the usage is to ask my fellow photographers. Ask your friends, your local peers, or even ask people in the greater community who you don't know. While the latter may sound scary, here's why you should do it.
Though it's easy to feel like it, pricing for photography isn't something specific to you — What you charge affects all photographers, and especially those who photograph the same niche or genre as you. Next time, it could be you estimating for that same client, so it's in your best interest to help your fellow photographers educate potential buyers on what is fair market rate for all.
No one should ever be looking to undercut their competitors, because if that's the only value you add to your clients, it's going to be short lived. I would urge you to share as openly as possibly about fair market rates in your respective photography communities as possible.
3) Look for similar estimates
Outside of your peers, there are resources available for finding relevant estimates, among them is Wonderful Machine. In their blog, Wonderful Machine has detailed a ton of useful estimates for all kinds of work, which can be an invaluable starting place for various estimates.
Here's an example of an estimate for a shoot for album artwork, but they have tons of other examples that are extremely helpful in estimating fees for various shoots. It seems like Wonderful Machine's blog archives may have shifted platforms and they are no longer easily searchable on their site, but a simple Google search for “Wonderful Machine Estimate” will still pull up many useful examples.
If the licensing request is relatively simple in how the image is used, one trick I like to use is to price out an image using GettyImages.com as a reference. Getty has a built-in pricing generator for royalty-free image licensing. It's very similar to the FotoQuote software (itself an extremely valuable reference), with the benefit of being free.
Choose any image, or an image that fits your genre of photography, and select the “Custom Rights” option for licensing. This will open a pop-up window that requires input from several drop-down menus, including use, usage specs (including size, circulation, and duration of license), and finally the market size for the use.
After plugging in all the criteria, you are given a quote. While Getty pricing may not be perfect or even close to the industry ideal, what this does get you is a reference from which you can base your own work. As mentioned, any request for a quote is an opportunity for a conversation, and I'd invite you to engage in finding out your potential clients exact needs, as this will always inform the price.
These are some of my go-to sources for estimating if ever I'm in a situation that is outside of my experience. In addition, be sure to consider not just the full fee, but common expenses and fees that you can charge for as a photographer. One thing I'm confident of is that we as photographers are all in this together. One should always try to gauge the market and what a fair rate is for any kind of photography.
While these approaches to pricing may not work for every job or situation, I hope they give you a tool kit from which to pull from for future inquiries.