Over the past several months, I have received a growing number of unsolicited commercial photography requests.  I’m not naive enough to think I’m alone in getting these requests and I worry that large companies are now preying on portrait photographers who are inexperienced when it comes to commercial photography.  I hate to think that these companies are doing this intentionally, but in the end these companies want to obtain the images they need at the lowest possible price and I’m pretty sure they are using the powerful tool of flattery to get it.

The first time I was approached, I was naturally excited.  Wow, I thought.  I’ve really made it!  Then reality set in and I quickly realized what was most likely happening.  I know my work is good, but I also know that there are a ton of pet photographers whose work is even better than mine.  So why were they coming to me?  I could only assume it was because they were contacting multiple pet photographers and seeing which ones would be willing to do the job for the least amount of money.  I knew I needed to quickly find some resources on commercial pet photography… or just commercial photography in general since I had no experience with commercial work before and I knew how important it was to demand fair prices for my work.  Offering my work for cheap only devalues our industry and that’s the last thing I wanted to do.

I emailed a few pet photography colleagues who have experience with commercial work, as well as a local commercial photographer here in Charleston that I knew through a mutual friend.  I also emailed a friend of mine in Baltimore who is an art director for an advertising agency, to see if she could give me any insight.  Suffice it to say, I was ill-prepared to have that first conversation with this company about the commercial project.  Despite that, I went ahead, armed with all of the information I could gather, and ended up coming to an agreement that I felt was fair at the time.  From that point on, I made a decision to start digging into as much commercial photography information as I could, so I would be better prepared next time it happened.

I’ve been contacted several times now, by different companies, for different things.  All of them want to either license some of my existing images or they want me conduct a shoot for a specific project.  So I thought I’d share my experience with you all in hopes that it helps someone else out, since I know from experience that there isn’t much out there that really helps when you’re looking for a quick answer.  Below are some of my tips + resource recommendations for you to reference if and when you’re ever put in a similar situation.  Enjoy!

  • Ask a lot of questions about the project when you are first approached, so that you can truly understand their intentions and provide them with a fair quote.  When I get a commercial inquiry, the first thing I do is send an email back to them asking for more information including: media, distribution format, placement, image size, reproductions/quantity, duration, region, language + exclusivity.
  • Once you have a good idea about the scope of the project, you can research what fair market value is for your work.  I do this by going to Getty Images and searching for an image similar to the one they are asking for*.  Then, I input all of the specs I acquired from them about the terms of the license (above) and see what Getty would charge them.  That’s a good place to start as far as giving them a quote for non-exclusive licensing.  If the company wants to license your image exclusively (meaning no one else can use it during the time of your contract) then the rate could be anywhere from 2-4 times the rate that Getty quotes.  Please note that this will only give you a ballpark estimate for what you should charge and there are other software programs out there that can give you a more accurate quote.
  • Which brings me to Cradoc’s fotoQuote, a software program that costs around $150 that will give you commercial quotes and tips to help you understand the terminology and issues associated with licensing your work commercially.  I haven’t used this software personally, but I’ve heard good things from other photographers who have more experience with commercial work.
  • Another good online resource is the Stock Photo Price Calculator.  While not nearly as in depth as fotoQuote or Getty’s spec system, this gives you a ballpark figure based on usage, size, and distribution.
  • If you’ve been asked to conduct a shoot for a specific purpose, not only do you need to consider the licensing fee for the resulting images, but also your day rate for the project.  As a portrait photographer, it’s easy to assume that we should just charge them what we’d charge a typical client.  That’s what I did my first time and it’s my only regret about the project.  Realistically, commercial assignments should be priced 5-6 times higher than a portrait session, so be sure you are charging appropriately for your time + talent… not just the resulting images.
  • Read the fine print when it comes to your contracts.  Be sure you’re not giving away the copyright to your images unless you are being justly compensated for that privilege.  Remember that you are (typically) licensing the usage of your images for a set amount of time, not giving away your rights to them entirely.
  • Always have your commercial clients sign your Model Release, just like you would have a portrait client sign one.  If they want to license an existing photo, ensure that you have a Model Release signed that allows you to use the image commercially.

My favorite pet photography resource is this post on the Beautiful Beasties blog:  Commercial Photography Tips and Resources for Pet Photographers.  It has been so helpful for me and there are links to a ton of other resources in this post, so definitely check it out!

Always remember that despite your tenure in the pet photography industry, your work is valuable.  You should never be willing to give away your work for free, especially to large companies who will be making a TON of money off of your images down the road.  If we stick together as an industry and demand fair prices for our work, it will only help us all out in the long run.  So please don’t let yourself be blinded by the sheer flattery of being approached for a commercial assignment.  Flattery doesn’t pay the bills.  Do your research, ask for help, and be sure your work is being valued fairly.

I hope this post is helpful and if you have any other resources or tips to add, please feel free to leave a comment below.  Thanks!

*When searching Getty for images, you should un-check “Royalty-free (RF)” in your search and just look at “Rights-managed (RM)” images since most commercial licensing + assignments will be done on a right-managed basis