I am an amateur photographer and every now and then, I get an email along these lines:

Hi there, I really like your photo of X [LINK] and would like to use it in my/our magazine/brochure/website. Unfortunately I don't have a budget to pay you for the use of the image. Would you still be ok if I used this photo?

I always like when people want to use my photos, but I don't allow commercial use without permission. I license them under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.
If it's clearly a commercial project they want to use the photo for, I feel like I should be paid.

I never quite know what's a good way to respond.

  1. Do you explain why you think you should be compensated or do you just say that they can purchase it for a certain amount of money?
  2. What's a good price to ask (I guess that's really hard to answer, but a minimum price for example, would be really handy to know)?
  3. Do you publicly list your prices somewhere, so people can find out themselves without asking you?
  4. Is it realistic at all to think people are willing to pay for photos?

I would like to sell my photo and I don't want to turn someone down right away with completely unrealistic prices and the like. However, if they are not willing to compensate me at all, I am ok with them not using my photo.

  • possible duplicate of How do I know what to charge for licensing an image?
    – dpollitt
    Mar 18, 2012 at 1:21
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    Only you will know your market. Test out the waters. You don't need to explain why you should be compensated, but reply with a fair offer of what you think they are asking. Only you can know what the time it took you to capture the image, edit, produce, it's scarcity, etc is. Give a fair offer of what you would like to make off the licencing, but make sure you aren't giving them free reign to do what they want with it. I wouldn't publicly list any prices. Take a look at the business tag here on the site. It has quite a bit of valuable information that you may be interested in.
    – dpollitt
    Mar 18, 2012 at 1:21

7 Answers 7


You absolutely should be paid. And not only that, you absolutely have the right to protect your work. There are dangers associated with offering "free use" of your work, as once you do, you can never really tell how far your work may be distributed "for free". The company you license it to may turn around and license another company to create some design with it. Once its out "in the corporate wild", you could lose control of it entirely.

As for "not having a budget", doubtful. I worked for a company that did a lot of graphic design for a couple years. I hated the company as they practiced ethically and morally borderline and often out right wrong practices on an all too frequent basis. One of their tactics was to search for photography online and when they found something they liked, they would send out a sob-story email like the one you got. They leeched more work off of more desperate and unaware photographers than I could count. Whenever they couldn't get something for free, they would either offer money, or find something not free and pay for it. They certainly had a budget for such things, and a large one at that.

Your work is you. It's your style. It's an expression of you. It should require compensation for use. Don't let the snide, underhanded tactics of a greedy corporation leave you without control of your art or the compensation you deserve. Ask for reasonable compensation, and make sure you supply a proper commercial use license to limit how far they can "internally distribute" you work, so you don't lose control over who actually has what rights to it.

So, to your specific points:

  1. Simply ask that they pay for its use, and be clear, in writing with a proper license, about what "use" means. Don't give them freedom to use it as they please. Make sure they use it only for the specific case they need it for right now. Make them pay you again for additional use for different purposes. Alternatively, ask for a LOT of money for the right to use it as they please for as long as they please (Perpetual, limitless.)

  2. "How much" is pretty subjective. Its something you could determine based on the company and their intended usage. You could simply put together a standard price list for your work and various usage scenarios. Factor in your effort, how much value you would give the photo yourself, and how much use the company expects to get. If they only expect to use it in one specific case for one specific thing that may have a limited timeframe of existence, you might ask for a lower price. If they expect perpetual usage rights without limitation, and/or the right to license its use to someone else who may use it in work done for the company, you should ask for much more. Perpetual usage is the holy grail of usage rights...it really shouldn't come cheap. How "cheap" or "expensive" depends on how you think your work compares to top notch professional work. You'd probably need to do some research to figure out where your work might fit on a "pricing scale". If you have never sold anything before and think you might have a hard time selling it at what you would consider a fair price, consider lowering your prices a bit until you have an established reputation.

  3. Entirely up to you. Depends on how you want to sell your work, either on a case-by-case basis, or as a key part of your professional work as a photographer. If the purpose of your photography is to provide high quality stock photos for fixed prices for specific terms of usage, you probably want to create a web site that has examples of your work and your price list. One thing to note...NOT having a price list is often beneficial, as you can negotiate price on a sale by sale basis. Some companies may be willing to pay more, some are going to be rather stingy. If you are just starting out, you might find a lot of value in keeping your prices fluid and learn what the sweet spot is that sells the most work at the highest possible price. Once you have established an average, you'll be better equipped to produce a readily available price list.

  4. Absolutely. The amount you might get for photography today is subjective, and less than it was a number of years ago, which was itself significantly less than a number of years before that (before the age of ubiquitous, cheap digital stock and oppressive bullies like Getty Images and co.) A few years from now you may find that its harder to get as good a price as you might want today. Sadly, the state of affairs with for-pay photography is there are too many cheap photographers who just want a microsecond of fame and recognition, and are all too willing to give their work up for free. That has put some severe downward pressure on prices for photographic work. You can probably reverse that trend for your own work if you establish yourself as someone who produces very high quality photography worthy of the price. However yes...it is realistic to think that people and companies will pay for photography these days.

  • Thank you. That's some really great advice. As far as pricing goes, your answer helps, but I still don't have a clue what to charge. I take photos mostly for myself. I put effort into shooting, editing and uploading them. I do this for me and also so that others can find them more easily. If someone finds them and wants to use them, I am happy, but I don't actively try to sell my photos. When then someone asks to print a photo in their magazine, I would like to grant them permission for just that use-case and charge them appropriately. I don't even know if $50 is too high or to low. Or $500. Mar 19, 2012 at 7:28
  • I don't necessarily expect an precise answer what to charge for photos. I just struggle to even find out what is roughly appropriate. Mar 19, 2012 at 7:38
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    For use in a magazine, $500 sounds extremely cheap to me. You might have to do some research, figure out what kind of magazine it is, and what photographers regularly charge for such usage. If you really want to make a sale, I'd undercut the average price for such usage by a fair bit, but not too much. Say 60% or 70% of average cost. You might find you could make a lot more than $500 and still be relatively "cheap".
    – jrista
    Mar 19, 2012 at 15:15

As somebody who is interested in photography as a hobby -- not a profession, and therefore not worried about making income from it -- I first consider who is asking. I've had a few requests from groups I am happy to support: mostly local parks and local wildlife preserves. I know they have a small budget but as I frequent them (often for free) and get lots of enjoyment out of visiting, I'm happy to make a contribution.

Beyond that, they have to pay. The final price should be enough to make you happy. If you feel ripped off -- no matter their use -- it's not worth it.

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    Of course, local parks and wildlife preserves, etc. are not commercial. At least around where I live. Mar 18, 2012 at 3:44
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    Even if they really are "commercial" in the sense that Ducks Unlimited or the Audubon Society can be seen as "commercial" there is a work-around: they pay you, but you donate the proceeds back. It's important because it emphasizes (1) the rule that for profit use requires payment and (2) that you are supporting them by choice. Mar 18, 2012 at 20:19
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    I also have had groups/non-profits asking me. And I was happy to support them, too. And then they even compensated me without me asking for it. Mar 19, 2012 at 6:59

For commercial use, you have to pay. Period. Maybe not much.

If it's for commercial use, the "too poor to pay" line is fiction.


I have a different take on this since I don't derive a living from photography. I do it for fun, personal enjoyment, having the pictures, the challenge, having other people like pictures I show them, etc.

What I insist on is being properly credited. I get satisfaction out of knowing other people liked a picture from me enough to publish it, and the ability to show others "See, I took that". Therefore my aim is furthered by people using my pictures as much as possible, so I see charging for that only as hindering that aim.

I say right up front that any of my pictures can be used for non-commercial purposes, just that a credit and copyright must be associated with each copy of a picture. I explicity mention a school report as being non-commercial use I even encourage. I've had at least one of my pictures used in a PhD thesis that I know of. I state publicly that commercial use requires explicit permission and likely a fee, but that is mostly so I can so "no" in case it's a use I really don't like or don't want to give the impression I am supporting. So far I haven't said no, and it's unlikely something really obnoxious will come along so that I will.

The few times I have been approached for commercial use, I have also gotten the same sob story about no budget, etc. I didn't really believe it, but I also didn't care. I tell them I want a proper credit by every copy of the picture and if appropriate, one copy of whatever publication the picture is going into. So far nobody has objected to that.

Some of my pictures have ended up in unlikely places. One was a newspaper in Los Vegas that used a picture of a turkey vulture as a lead-in about corporate greed. And yes, they did give me proper credit and sent me a copy of the paper according to our deal. I got more of a kick out of that than any reasonable fee would have provided.

I understand and to some extent sympathize with what jrista is saying. I am one of the people he is complaining about that is cheapening photographs everywhere by letting mine be used for free. I have gotten hate mail telling me the same thing. Back when the internet was younger and the supply of online photographs much more limited, a professional photographer in Florida got upset at me and was quite rude about it. Until then I wasn't sure how to deal with commercial requests, but that solidified my decision to not charge. I still have no idea what a fair and customary price is anyway.

While I totally support anyone's right to charge money for their work, others equally have the right not to. I guess I am charging for my work, just that the compensation isn't money but something with more value to me in these cases.

I am curious what real professionals would charge, but it seems impossible to get a straight answer. I notice that none of the other answers gave any dollar amount. Answers like "what you think it's worth" and "only you know your market" are useless in demystifying this for someone like me. I have no idea what it's worth to someone else, and no, I don't know the market.

I have noticed that requests to use my pictures have fallen off sharply in recent years. I suspect that is because of the enourmous volume of alternatives out there. I guess that means pros have to compete on quality, the kind you can only achieve with some expertise and lots more time than the amateur with a day job has. If you don't, then it is only worth what the amateur is willing to give it away for.

  • Great answer. I would get kick out of being published, too - especially in a fairly popular publication. However, it doesn't feel right to me, to give away my photos for free to a company that a) must have a budget and b) is making money off of their website/magazine. Mar 19, 2012 at 7:09
  • I'm with you here. In particular, as somebody just starting out, having my work used in a "real" context would help build a reputation and portfolio, so has a real benefit aside from the tangible monetary one. So it would seem that a deal to look for in such cases is, as you mention, a copy of the media that the photo is to be used in. Mar 20, 2012 at 20:50

Since you say up front that you think you should be paid, that's what you should tell them. a polite "no, thank you, I don't give away my images". I wouldn't bother trying to explain or getting into a discussion with them -- they already know (and I'm sure they've heard from other photographers who've already told them about this). Save yourself the time and energy and just be polite and professional and move on.


I. Technically, you are not required to explain why you think you should be paid. You indicated in the license that you should be paid and that's enough. The intend of the request is for them to freely make use of your work whilst commercially trying to profit from it. It's an odd way of doing business in the first place, they should do the explaining, not you.

And if you question how to justify the price for something that really is a hobby for you: your hobby has costs. Travel costs. Gear costs. The time you put into it. It adds up and by asking money for it you can continue doing the hobby.

II. I think that entirely depends on their usage. For example, it if concerns a low budget wildlife magazine, I'd ask for a symbolic, small, one-time amount along with a credit. If it concerns a highly commercial sales organization, I'd charge more. In some cases you may even grant them the photo for free, because the free publicity you get is sufficient payment in itself. Do what feels right.

III. Your choice, but as hobbyist, I'd say no. I would make the price tailor-made for maximum flexibility.

IV. Yes, but its a tough market. Many organizations will use photos without asking permission. Many will chose cheap stock photos. Some will hire a pro, and some will find a great match from a talented hobbyist who charges a fair price :)

Generally though, I think the trend is depressing, in the sense that good photo gear and post processing software have become affordable for millions of amateurs, that either by luck or practice can produce good enough photos. Only when you are exceptional you can make a living from it.


In addition to the answers given, there is another angle to this. If they dupe you into giving them something for free that they could have paid for, even if you're happy to do that, you are taking work away from a photographer trying to make a living, who does need to be paid.

  • I don't put much stock in this answer. Is this pro who needs to be paid out hustling to get the gig? Is he marketing as hard? Pro photographers are primarily businessmen, and the heart of any business is sales. Skill with the camera is secondary. Mar 20, 2012 at 15:25
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    While I'm not out to deliberately take work from others, I also don't see how this is my problem. Nobody has a inherent right to a gig, they have to earn it. If a pro can't outproduce and outperform a guy like me with a day job doing something else, they don't belong there. Maybe the world has too many photographers, or at least too many professional photographers. We each make our own tradeoff with what we are willing to do for what return. It's not my business what others' expectation of return is, and why is someone else's monatary reward supposed to trump my less tangible reward? Mar 20, 2012 at 23:05
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    The world marketplace is always changing. Commercial photography is changing rapidly since taking your own pictures is getting ever more accessible and cheaper to the masses. There will continue to be a place for professional photographers, but that place will continue to shift, just like it does in any other profession. The right way to deal with that is to keep up and evolve with market demand, not to cling to the old way and then yell and scream at the world to try to get it to change back. Don't be the last ice salesman, change to selling refrigerators instead. Mar 20, 2012 at 23:13

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