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From Editorial to Advertising


I often work with photographers who are making the transition from editorial to advertising assignments. One of the biggest challenges for them is navigating the process of estimating the photo and licensing fees.

The world of advertising is very different than the world of editorial. Editorial photography’s sole purpose is to effectively tell a visual story or an idea and commonly has set fees for photography. These fees are typically pre-budgeted and relate to a one-time placement within the publication and/or limited online usage. Conversely, advertising photography’s purpose is to generate awareness of a service or product to promote sales. These budgets can vary widely, as can their usage needs.

For those stepping into this new world, this can be daunting at first. The scope of the jobs is likely more involved, they tend to have larger budgets, and not to mention, there are generally more people involved in the process.

When I am asked to provide an advertising estimate, I first make sure I get all my questions answered upfront. I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding the details of the project. Having all of the details allows you to provide a more appropriate estimate for the client’s needs. Here are a few I find to be most crucial:

Confirm the nature of the shoot.

What exactly is the client expecting the final product to be? This will help you gauge the complexity of the shoot as well as the time needed. Is it logistically complex, is it stylized, is the content unique? The more specialized the imagery, the more likely a larger fee is warranted.

How many images do they want to license?

Is each image a new setup or just a variation of the same scenario? Sometimes this piece of the puzzle needs clarification and will make a difference in how you value the use. For example, if the variations are slight, I will not charge as much per image or maybe I will allow for 1-2 variations of each set up within the fee.

Usage rights.

Customarily the usage rights the client wants to purchase are in the initial brief. Make sure it includes the duration as well as the type of use. I like to ask for the initial intent of the imagery. Are we shooting for national billboard use and print ads? Or is the purpose of this project to generate content for use in a one-time regional direct mail piece. These factors can help your flexibility with the rates.

Should I lump the photo and usage fees together?

This is an important concern and truthfully, it’s hard to have a definitive answer on this, but a few factors come into play when I am working through the numbers. If I feel the costs are going to come off intimidating or confusing to a particular client, I will lump the photo and usage fees together. I also consider combining the two fees if there is an unlikely chance for additional usage rights to be purchased at a later date or if the usage is very minimal, such as the web and social only.

If I feel there might be some doubt from the client on the final usage or if the usage is more extensive, I tend to break out the usage fees separately. I will also keep the fees separate if there are several unique hero images with extensive usage. In this case, I will do a per-image usage rate. In the likelihood of additional images being purchased at a later date, I will make sure to add an optional cost for the use of additional images over and beyond the initial buy at a per image rate.

Note: If I am splitting up the fees, I don’t like to go too low on the photo fees to where it seems unbalanced with the usage rate. If the client needs a revised estimate with a lesser usage, I want to be able to accommodate them and reduce their costs without jeopardizing the photographer getting a fair rate for the shoot in general. I feel the photo fee is more about the expertise of the shooter, the time, and the content, which is not to be devalued.


Lastly, you can certainly ask if the client and or agency has a budget in mind. They might just indicate that they are on a tight budget or, if they feel it would be helpful, they might provide you with the budget or a range. In some cases, the budget might not be relayed, so leave it open-ended to allow for your interpretation. This could be because they are not sure if the project is going to be approved or they could be triple bidding and want to see how you would approach the shoot logistically and financially. Either way, you will still need to come up with your evaluation of appropriate fees.

Estimating advertising rates is always a bit of a balancing act and requires a little give and take. Having a better understanding of the client’s needs can help you to evaluate the value of the project more effectively and give you the insight to provide a more appropriate estimate that you both can agree on to deliver that final product.

Happy Estimating!

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