I have recently had a request from a TV production company to use a photo they have seen on Flickr that they wish to use as a background for some interviews. They have offered me $1 for the photo to be used worldwide in a TV show and I have rejected that asked for them to pay more for the right to use this photo and that they have undervalued my time and effort. They responded with a $50 offer and said "we don't have the budget to pay for a photo".

Am I right to keep insisting for what I think this photo is worth? Does anyone have any advice for me on how to come to a suitable agreement with them (as I am new to all of this)?

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    The big question is what do you want? You're free to give the photo away for any low price they can afford, and you're free to say "If you can't afford this picture, then surely there are many cheaper ones available elsewhere".
    – Peteris
    Nov 20 '14 at 20:52
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    I think you already know the answer. Nobody's going to say: You're obliged to accept their second offer; refusing to let a buyer determine the selling price is highly improper.
    – Caleb
    Nov 20 '14 at 21:51
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    Awhile back I saw a Stock Photo Price Calculator. I have no idea how out of date the values are and also note that it is primarily focused on print media. However, it can give you an idea of the range for prices that other people have charged for different sized distributions. As a comparison, an editorial use in a magazine for spot usage with a distribution of 10k or less has an average of about $250. Larger size or distribution and the price goes up.
    – user13451
    Nov 22 '14 at 22:12
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    You send them a license with the price you want clearly shown. They can either sign it and pay the fee you ask, or simply not use your photo.
    – DA01
    Nov 23 '14 at 2:50
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    A worldwide TV show with no budget?
    – Fer
    Nov 25 '14 at 20:55

12 Answers 12


Absolutely disagree with TFuto, so wanted to chime in as well. The photo is not just your work, but more importantly your product. They are the buyer and you're the seller/supplier. You're standing in a world where everybody can make photos, so the supply of photos is incredible great and on top of that there is (nearly) no cost 'per copy sold'. Point in case, the competition is pretty harsh. So the question becomes, how unique is your photo? Do you believe they can find somebody else who would offer them a photo they can use for a lower price? If so, take the $50, otherwise you can always try to make a counter bid. (And my advice would be to take it, check photodune.net for typical rates at which photos go nowadays (it's a lot less than it used to be)).

Just, don't ever ever do anything like

If they immediately come with an unfair response, I increase the price e.g. 10% or more. I insist being paid and my product being properly priced.

A counter bid is a counter bid, you're part of an economy and discussing prices is a part of that. It's not about honor or self-worth, it's just business. That might sound harsh, but honestly, you're better of being fair and polite in business than having an inflated dose of self respect.

Btw, just an afterthought, putting up your sellable work on a site like the aforementioned photodune (or more expensive site if that fits your... alignment) might both spare you paperwork and get you a nice extra income if you're doing this as an amateur.

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    I don't agree with the "it's just business" argument, but to play along, part of business is pricing your product at a level you feel best targets the demographic you are after. McDonalds targets a specific demographic with their prices. The French Restaurant on the river is after a different demographic. Part of branding and marketing is actually maintaining a price structure that you feel best targets the kind of customers you are after. (I agree, though, that one should be fair and polite...but only up to a point. It is business afer all and a lot of business is anything but polite)
    – DA01
    Nov 23 '14 at 2:55
  • @DA01: Well, the it's just business was mostly meant to contrast TFuto's answer in the sense that you shouldn't make it personal. Somebody offering you only a symbolic $1 dollar or any poor bid doesn't mean they don't appreciate your work, I mean, they did choose you out of millions of photographers to contact first after all. And concerning "fair and polite", a lot of businesses is quite polite, we tend to focus on the bad stuff, but most business is a win-win situation, that's one of the beauties of a free market :) . Nov 23 '14 at 3:08
  • Plus when being fair and polite most people will treat you that way. WHen you demand 10% more quite a number might still pay you, but that's the last time the will be dealing with you. Does that matter? Up to you, still, I enjoy having happy and thankful clients (even if they will never work with me again). Nov 23 '14 at 3:10
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    I don't entirely disagree, but from experience, I can say that the client you charge $10 to often treats you a lot poorer than the client you charge $100 to. Part of this, of course, is purposefully weeding out the clients that are only shopping based on price from the ones searching on quality. Both are valid markets, of course, but it's hard to straddle them both at the same time.
    – DA01
    Nov 23 '14 at 3:17
  • @DA01: I agree, but I think the reason is just that clients paying $100 are the ones that work in a very different business setting as well. And from the statistics I have seen the high end market is kinda dying out slowly either way~ but we shall see~ :) Nov 23 '14 at 3:22

You have all the rights to your photos, and you do whatever you please to do with it, including suing the hell out of them if they use it against your will.

Never EVER go into an argument about the value of your photo. You set the price, and that's it. Either they accept it or not. Do not react to any further comments from them. Especially, if that is a TV company. (There is no "poor TV company".)

If they don't have budget to use your photo, that's their own business. You are not an investor in their business, and especially it is not your job or problem to correct their faulty budget.

(You see, the game they are playing is: we create things of poor quality, so we want you to consider yourself a person creating products of poor quality, so that we could buy your product. Inherently, you have to agree that your product is not valuable. Never EVER go in that direction.)

I usually do this: if someone approaches me, I give a price. If they immediately come with an unfair response, I increase the price e.g. 10% or more. I insist being paid and my product being properly priced.

You may lose one or two of these guys as potential buyers, but you will earn some self-respect, and get customers who will value your products.

  • "I give a price. If they immediately come with an unfair response, I increase the price e.g. 10% or more." Do you mean that your price goes up compared to your original offer, if the customer tries to lowball your offer enough that you consider their counteroffer "unfair"?
    – user
    Nov 24 '14 at 9:41
  • Yes, that is the general approach, and it works.
    – TFuto
    Nov 24 '14 at 13:51
  • 'There is no "poor TV company".' Sorry but that's not true at all. Most TV production companies are small and operate on fairly thin margins. They have heavy capital and talent expenses and everyone wants their products for free (just like they want the OPs for nearly free). Jan 26 '17 at 4:27

Don't sell a license for less than you think it is worth, but also carefully consider what it is worth. If they are asking for a single use license for one live airing for background usage, $50 might not be too far out of line for a stock photo usage. If they aren't asking for re-print rights or even something they will be using as a major portion of the presentation, then it may really not have all that much value to them.

Consider the value of any advertising you can get out of it as well. Both if you can get a photo credit in the credits of the program as well as your ability to point to that as use of your work do have value that should be considered when you are evaluating the overall value of the offer.

The fact likely is that the cost of licensing a background image for a single program is probably a very minor concern for such a production, particularly depending on how large the expected viewership is for the airing. There are lots of costs involved in producing and distributing such a show, so they may very well not have that large of a budget for a single image.

So overall, my recommendation is, don't sell a license to your image for less than you think the terms of the license are worth, but make sure you consider a) how limited the license can be made to reduce the value and b) what the value of non-monetary gains you would get are. Be sure to look at the overall picture of the situation from a business perspective and decided if it makes sense to you to make the deal.


They are being predatory. You don't have to license anything to them. I would turn that down, and I would tell them to have fun finding usable photography from someone willing to work that cheap, and to come talk to me again when they wanted to pay pro rates. It's not worth your time to waste time on this stuff.

That said, a couple of other notes.

You don't mention what rights they're licensing. $50 might not be a bad price in some situations, depending on usage and your expectations. But on a TV show, unless it's something like public access, I'd expect them to have a better budget than that.

You should, even if you don't sell photos, have some idea of what you think they're worth and what you would ask if they asked for a number. Maybe they will (likely they won't), but it's never a bad idea to figure out where your "yes" point is and whether you're willing to go below that in certain circumstances (for instance, I donate images to certain organizations I support for free because it's easier and a better use of both side's time and money than negotiating a price and then donating the cash back). Even if you're not in business, you should think it through enough that if/when someone does come to license an image, you know what your expectations are. And if you don't want to do that, then simply decline all offers and not stress about it. That's okay, too.

Make sure you understand the rights they're asking before agreeing to anything. It's possible to find out you've lost all use of that image if they're playing you for a sucker, and that happens more often than you might realize, especially with predatory photo "contests" that suck up all rights in the fine print.


Disclaimer: I have NO professional experience at all.

The best response is the response that you feel most comfortable with, and the response that most fits your purpose as a photographer.

If you are an amateur who has other sources of income you may simply decide that you will sell it for the maximum that the company is willing to buy it for (or maybe less) and have the knowledge that someone has appreciated your work.

If you are a professional, you might decide that you have a minimum licensing fee and stick to that strictly (as the price of goods in a supermarket is completely fixed).

In the end it is entirely up to you to determine the price, whether that is influenced by the maximum budget of the person you are selling to or not is up to you, as the price of goods and services of any other commercial entity is up to them, as the link in this comment points out.

Eventually you will find the right price to sell your photographs for.


Sell the photo for what you think it is worth and not a dollar less.

I certainly wouldn't sell a photo for $1*, maybe not even $50*... it'd cost more in paperwork than the sale gains. (* - well it would be GB Pounds in my case).

You could always ask them to exchange the usage rights of the photo for (insert number of) seconds commercial slot. When they complain that would be well below market rate, you can tell them that you "don't have the budget to pay for a commercial" and see how they respond to that.

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    Only problem is that for $50 it's pretty easy to get a photo about mostly anything. And regarding paperwork: dropping a photo on a site like photodune isn't that much work. Of course it means some money goes to them, but it's done in no time. Nov 21 '14 at 14:15
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    Indeed it is easy to get photos for $50, although if the OP values his photography as being worth more than $50, he shouldn't feel any need to undersell himself. Yes, you can fairly easily upload a photo to whichever stock site(s) you choose, but there's still time involved, plus further time recording the sale, accounting, tax implications, etc associated with the sale. If you're not careful, you can easily end up "working" for less than minimum wage.
    – John
    Nov 21 '14 at 15:56
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    One dollar is a typical "minimum legal offer" in the US, and it is often used as a legal instrument. For example, a large corporation donated a hospital to the church in my town - the official transaction was that the church bought the hospital for one dollar. It's just to make it legal, but they are basically asking for a donation.
    – Jasmine
    Nov 21 '14 at 17:45
  • @Jasmine Sort of like how a company you develop a patent for will often have a clause that they own it, but they go ahead and require you to sign a document to sell it to them for $1.
    – Michael
    Nov 22 '14 at 2:18

Regardless of the request, the TV station was so disingenuous with you, I'd almost simply recommend walking away. That is, at first they only offered the minimum legal amount for a transaction ($1) then they increased their offer to $50, that they clearly had when they first spoke to you. Now they are crying poverty.

I'd just say "No, thank you" OR ....

On second thought ....

If you are comfortable with negotiation, you might respond with requesting $75 AND 10% of the gross revenues for commercials sold for that evening's news programs broadcast and distribution. That is, TV news programs exist to and are designed to sell TV commercials; your product (photo) will help them generate interest in their product (broadcast) to sell commercial time.

The TV station is not a charity. I'm sure the person that you are negotiating with is not a volunteer at the station, but gets paid by the station. I believe your time is worth at least as much that employee.

Hopefully, this will give you a fuller understanding of the situation. Let us know how it works out.


Depending upon how the television company came across your photo, they may have no idea whether you are a professional who expects to receive good money for your work, an amateur who lucked into a really nice photo and would be delighted just to see his work on television, or something in-between. Further, while it's possible that your photo was uniquely suitable for their intended usage, it's also possible that they might have a stock library with a pre-paid license that contains a photo which they could use, but that an employee of the station happened to see your photo and thought it was better.

If the television company had a library photo they could use, but a better photo was available from someone who would be happy just to see it on television (possibly with "Photo courtesy of XXX YYY" in the corner), use of the better photo would represent a win-win both for the company and for the photographer. I would think that seeking to license the photo for $1 may come across less well than seeking to license in exchange for an on-screen photo credit and then, if the offer is accepted, arrange for a $1 payment "because legal insists upon it". Even people who would be happy to volunteer something for free may be insulted by what's seen as a low-ball purchase offer, so delaying the notion of payment until the offer is accepted would seem like a good idea.

With regard to budget, it's possible that the station's "budget" for the photo was already spent on a pre-paid stock image license; the maximum amount that can be spent on an alternate image may depend more upon the corporate environment than upon the value of the photo in question. Many corporations allow lower-level employees the authority to make small purchases at their own discretion, but require higher-level approval for larger purchases. If higher management would balk at the idea of paying anything for a photo to fill a spot where it could use a photo that's already paid for, the maximum payment the company could offer would be limited to the lower-level employee's discretionary spending authority.

In short, I wouldn't interpret the $1 or $50 offers as insults, nor an effort at the company to "cheap out" on background artwork, but would more likely represent a situation where the company had a licensed library of background art available, but would prefer when possible to give other photographers who would like to have their work shown on television a chance to achieve that. Based on what you've written, I see no reason you should feel insulted by the offer. Instead, you should recognize that when a potential buyer to values something far less than a potential seller, that doesn't doesn't imply that the buyer or seller is "wrong"; it merely means that buyer and seller are not a good match for each other. It's entirely possible that the buyer might find someone else who would supply something even more suitable to the buyer's needs at a lower price, and that the seller might a buyer who would be happy to pay even more than the seller had been asking.

Note also that while the market for professionally-taken pictures might be slightly diluted when a amateurs who luck into the perfect combination of lighting and composition give his work away for practically nothing, there may not be any realistic way for amateurs who luck into such pictures to receive for them anything near what they could receive on the professional-photography market. People who are looking for pictures that would be worth $5,000 are apt to spend more of their time looking at pictures in that price range than at pictures which could be had for almost nothing. If improvements in image searching tools make it easier for unusually-good pictures by amateurs to get noticed by people willing to spend real money, then the market could be diluted by amateurs who were still willing to give away pictures for free, but the improved level of notice would make it easier for amateurs to demand more money.

PS--if you don't want to receive purchase or licensing offers below a certain amount, you could include such a statement on your on-line pictures. If you watermark your pictures with a notice: "Licensing offers below $250 will not be considered", then people who might have sought to license them for less than that can avoid wasting their time and yours.


See my response about a similar topic of how to charge for a photo. "I was asked to design a calendar using my photos, what do I charge for the "art fee" for 12 photos, should my name and copyright be included?"

I know some very popular professional storm chasers/weather photographers, and then let the news use there photos for free, as long as they are given proper credit for the photo.

If I were you, I'd take the $50 bucks, and ask them to display credits on the photo. The advertising and potential work on something like this could be much greater than the price you could get for rights to the photo itself.

  • The OP has specified that it cannot be given proper gredit due to it's intended purpose. Nov 21 '14 at 9:41
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    Where does he say that? All I see is where he says "not sure how they would be able to give me credit". Would be worth at least asking if they'll be able to display credit. Nov 21 '14 at 14:20
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    This is what we are currently doing in the aerial video market. We send our videos, already water-marked, to TV stations for free usage, with the requirement that the water-mark not be altered or covered up, and a request to mention the name of the company. It's great free advertising.
    – Jasmine
    Nov 21 '14 at 17:43

If you are just starting out and building your portfolio then maybe it's something you want to do but no matter what you're photographing, your rates are your rates. Stick to them and it shows professionalism and gains you respect. After a while clients will cease to give you a hard time and accept your rates. Four simple words..."These are my rates". It is a business and we are all trying to make a living. Accepting lowball offers will only hurt our industry.


I would not let this opportunity escape. I would offer them a payment to use my photograph or accept their 1 dollar offer. I would see if I could add a ghost-logo to the image. Ask if I could be listed in the program credits. This is networking move. A speck on the field of potential recognition.

  • Depending upon the nature of the program, it's possible that being featured might be good or bad for the artist's reputation. If the program is generally perceived as providing a venue for artists who lacked the connections to have their work seen via other means, an artist who did in fact lack connections might benefit, but people who find that an artist appeared on the show may tend to assume the artist lacked connections or could otherwise be considered "desperate".
    – supercat
    Nov 22 '14 at 23:25

Yes, you're right to insist on being properly compensated. And since they started out with such an insulting, low-ball offer, the TV show is probably not a worthwhile place for your photo. Maybe other opportunities will come along, maybe they won't. But in the meantime, you don't want to die from "exposure" (pun fully intended).

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