The $18,000 Wedding Photograph

If you’re doing your job of marketing your work properly, you’re going to get not only the specific clients you’re looking for, be they wedding or portrait clients, but others as well. As I’ve written about in my other Business Coach articles, there are commercial art buyers out there looking for new and different work in the various social media that’s out there.

These art buyers (art buyer is a generic term for anyone who licenses photography for commercial use) are often folks from companies and ad agencies who need unique images for their advertising layouts and catalogs. Even though there may be seemingly countless stock images available through companies like Getty Images or iStockphoto, often times the photos for any specific subject are trite and overused.

The client may be looking for an image that another competitor can’t use or that the rest of the world hasn’t already seen a million times. Again, though there may seem to be a million images of the same thing out there, in reality, there’s only a handful of really good images within any specific category. Those tend to get used over and over again – which does little to help a client that wishes to appear different.

An Agency Comes Calling
Such was the case when Texas wedding photographer Allen Ayres got an email from an advertising agency that liked one of his photos on his blog and wished to use it in an ad for one of their pharmaceautical clients. Since Allen is a wedding photographer not used to the licensing of commercial images, he wasn’t sure how to price it.

His first thought was that it would be nice to pick up some extra money. Maybe in the $1,000 range – which is not a bad payday for not having to do any extra work. Just to get some feedback however, he (wisely) decided to post the question of how much to charge on the Digital Wedding Forum where I’m an active participant.

Before a price can be quoted for any image, it’s important to understand:

How the image will be reproduced in the final layout, i.e. will it be small within the ad (or published page) or will it be the “hero” as in full page or close to it.

1 – Size of the image to be reproduced in the final layout – i.e. will it be small within the ad (or published page) or will it be the “hero” as in full page or close to it.

2 – Nature of publications – Will the client be using the image one time in a marketing brochure or multiple times in newspapers and magazines? Images that are used in a consumer magazine or billboard ad campaign are worth much more to the client than one used in a 1/4 page inhouse brochure.

3 – Geographical area of publication – Will the image be used in a local publication like a neighborhood newspaper? Or a regional magazine? Or a series of national magazines? An image can be used throughout North American or even worldwide. Obviously, the greater the geographic distribution, the greater the value of the image to the client.

4 – Duration of use – Does the client need the image for six months? One year? Or even unlimited time?

5 – Exclusivity – Does the client not want competitors to use the image? Do they want exclusivity within their product category, a given country or worldwide.

Taken together these five criteria are what are known as usage rights. They’re the basis for profitably pricing commercial stock and assignment photography.

In Allen’s case, the client intended to use the image as the hero in a series of medical industry print ads and brochures as well as online. They also wanted exclusivity within the industry and country. Because the agency in question was no stranger to licensing photography, they provided all the information necessary to receive a quote.

So, my suggestion for a starting price: $15,000.

Now, many folks may think that’s crazy. Perhaps. But that’s also the going rate for unique images with the level of use requested by the client.

In fact, the client not only found that price acceptable, they came back with a request for an alternate (and higher) quote based upon worldwide usage over a longer period of time. After a couple of weeks of back and forth, the client and photographer (with consulting help from myself) finally settled upon $18,000 for two years of exclusive and unlimited national (as opposed to worldwide) usage to the medical trade.

Not a bad payday.

One of the points I’ve made many times over the years is that we, the photographers, don’t set the value of our work. Just because an image may not have a lot of value to us doesn’t mean that it may not have tremendous value to a potential client.<p>

“What’s It Worth to You?”
The client sets the value, however we set the price. It’s our job to translate the value we’re generating into a dollar figure that accurately reflects that value.

All too often I hear photographers make excuses for why they should undervalue their work: “It only took me an hour to shoot.” “It’s only a half-day.” “I’ll do this one for cheap so that this client will give me more work later.” “It’s not my regular work so it’s not that big a deal.” “I’m not going to do anything else with the shot.”

Forget all that. It’s not about you. It’s about the value that you’re delivering to your client. There’s a lot of mediocre images out there in the world. If a client wanted one of them, they could use one for a song. If they want you, it’s because you offer something special. Don’t be afraid to charge for your specialness.

And, finally, here’s the $18,000 photograph as promised.

John Mireles

About johnmireles

Photographer, writer, thinker, climber, outrigger canoeist, bad guitar player and even worse singer.
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40 Responses to The $18,000 Wedding Photograph

  1. Joe Gunawan says:

    Excellent article John! May I repost this on

    Joe Gunawan
    SLR Lounge Editor

  2. Bryan Bui says:

    Great post John! With so many photographers out there and everyone trying to make it, it’s so easy for someone to discount their work and undervalue ourselves. This is a great reminder that it’s not always about what we think, as we are usually our worst critics, but what value we can bring to someone else and recognize that. Thanks for this post.


    wow, such a simple image. did you have to pay 18k to use it here on your blog?

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  5. BigD says:

    He should feel extremely lucky to license that image at all. That photo wouldn’t have even made my final cut. The first thing I see is that horribly out of focus floating head. Less than stellar composition. The art buyer must be a rather unsophisticated. He should thank god that the art buyer chose that photograph. (This comment has been edited to remove harsh language.)

  6. Thanks so much for this great article! It really helps me to hear this, because it’s something I struggle with. See, I’ve only been shooting for about five years. I’ve been involved in some sort of artistic discipline basically from the time I could hold a crayon, but I’m still a photography noob. So when someone wants to buy more work, I tend to start in with the “well, they really could get something better…I’m not using great gear, I could have framed/exposed/edited it better than that…I don’t really deserve the money for that because it’s not really top of the line.” My dad said some of the things you said…that it’s not about me, it’s about what they want. This article really hammers that home, so again, thanks. Also, so wonderful seeing someone talking about pricing for this sort of thing! I’ve had to research some of this, and there really isn’t much info out there to give first timers advice on how to approach this type of pricing.

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  8. So how did Allen Ayres handle the bride and her family? While it’s great to see that Allen got such a high value deal for his work… I have to wonder how the families that were paying him to shoot their daughter/son’s wedding might react to hearing that an image from their wedding (usually a private and treasured moment) was sold/licensed to a drug company for who knows what? Heart Meds? Cancer Medication? Or who knows, Viagra?

  9. Ronan P. says:

    John – do you know if the photographer involved consulted with his clients. I understand it may be in his contract that he has the right to use the images as he sees fits, but I’m just wondering did he, for instance, give them a heads-up? After all most brides and grooms would not expect to see one of their wedding images appearing in an ad for a pharmaceautical company, nor might they be comfortable with it.

    On a side note, I see BigD commenting above me linked to his own portfolio of stunning images to show the photographer involved how it should be done. Oh wait… funny that.

    • BigD says:

      I’m not in the business of showing photographers how it should be done. I’m also wary of posting on the internet because there are always intelligent people like you ready and willing to start a debate with other photographers. All I did was post MY opinion on the image in question. I have two degrees in photography and one in fine art, I’m a member of the PPA, and I’ve judged dozens of photo exhibitions.

      In any case MY work isn’t the subject of the article so I feel no need to include it for critique.

    • ciscoheat says:

      I too wonder what he said to the client, although I’m sure he had the right to use it. I once had a video clip make a TV show. Even though I had the rights in my contract, the producer of the show still contacted my clients as well for permission. I should state I didn’t not get $15,000 for it! ; )

      BTW…I also agree with your assessment of BigD. That’s the greatest thing about the internet…my 10 year old nephew can all of a sudden become the world’s foremost expert on photography if he simply says he is. Why shouldn’t we believe him…I mean…the internet says its true…so it must be! lol

  10. Stephen says:

    Just another reminder that I priced an assignment this week too low.

  11. Susie says:

    As a graphic designer and photographer, I’m curious to see how it was used in their final designs. I’m sure the composition and floating head could be fixed with cropping and text additions.

  12. johnmireles says:

    While I wasn’t involved in the part of the sale dealing with the client, it’s my understanding that the photographer received permission from the bride and was compensated as well. I would never recommend using a photo in this capacity without the express permission of the subject. It’s been awhile since this sale so I don’t remember all of the details however my advice is always to go back to the subject and pay him/her for his/her signature on a model release specific to this use. Avoiding problems is always better than trying to figure out how to solve them afterward.

  13. Regina says:

    I’d love to hear about your opinion on Ronan P’s question. Thank you.

  14. johnmireles says:

    The other thing I’ll add to this discussion is that even if your wedding contract has a model release clause, I wouldn’t rely on it for any sort of stock sale or use by commercial clients. It’s one thing to use the image on your website or blog, but quite another when some random commercial client pastes it on the side of a billboard. Better to be safe than sorry. In fact, when I run a wedding image in a magazine ad, I always check with my client just to be sure that they’re okay with it. The last thing I want is my client to see their image in Martha Steward Weddings and then be mad about it. Can’t exactly recall MSW and I’d rather not have to defend my contract’s model release in court.

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  16. Jackie says:

    Great article. Having a difficult time buying into that photo for ANY amount though. Pharma companies are very particular and would likely stage the desired scene before paying for that”snapshot.” I’m thinking the story may be more of an ADVERTISEMENT for the Photography coach, than Reality. I mean at least post a believable photo OR SUBSTANTIATE where the ad is used – ADS ARE for public viewing! I’m not believing this one, although article is ACCURATE. I was going to ‘RE-tweet it until I saw the photo – 0
    Oh well!

    • johnmireles says:

      Well, this is a new one… someone calling me a liar. Hmmm… look I’ve been in this business for far too long and have worked far too hard to advocate for photographers to even think to make something like this up. After 22 years in the business, I don’t need to make stuff up. The real world is ludicrous enough.

      • John I found your story intriguing, inspiring… and since I was one who at first was surprised at the simple photo also but then drawn in by the specific expression on the lit up face of the happy bride hugging what might be her father I am totally understanding why a pharm company would choose a reminder like this that staying healthy by presumably using their meds will allow you to stick around to walk your daughter down the isle and watch the grandkids grow up. Pricing is a challenge for me also… you made some good points here.

  17. RJP says:

    Wow wow I’m so encouraged

    Thank you for boosting my confidence now as a photographer

  18. Matt V says:

    I can already imagine the cheesy pharma tagline, “So you can be there”. Lol… In other words, be there on her special day (rather than dead) thanks to X drugs keeping an aging man healthy.

    Also, although that blurry head in the foreground is brutal for the photo it allows for another potential spin on an advertisement in big pharma’s mind. There’s the boy, the young adult, and the old man provide 3 Generations of men in one photo, and all there on a girl’s special day. There’s some emotional impact to be played with for an advertisement geared towards men’s health and important life milestones. Even though the image looks terrible from a photography perspective, it has these important elements that could prove useful in an ad campaign.

  19. Santhosh says:

    Thats fantastic news for photographers! $18000 for a single image is awesome..

  20. Pingback: The $18000 Wedding Photograph | The Photographer's Business … | Curtis Wallis - Commercial Photographer - Columbus, Ohio

  21. Pingback: Charging for your work | Nick Potter Photography

  22. Withheld says:

    I love the photo… I think the little boy in the foreground adds depth as well as emotion. The composition is spot on… And the bride’s face pulls you right into the image. Guess it goes to show you; you can have all the education in the world, but there is no accounting for personal taste… I hope I never have my photos judged by “bigD”, we have very different opinions. (jealous maybe?) May I say, without prejudice, no-one was really asking for a critique of this photo, and if you haven’t got anything nice to say… Don’t say anything at all. Great article. Thanks for reminding us all what we are truly worth, in a world where many photographers sell themselves and the industry short.

  23. Pingback: The Photograph That Made $18,000 For It's Photographer - Photographerr

  24. Well, I’m a UK based wedding photographer and looking at the photo it WOULD make my final cut. Why? It’s a bloody fantastic example of the emotion that wedding photographers capture. Heads not in focus? They shouldn’t be! They are not on the same plane as the bride and who ever she is hugging!

    As for being paid $18k for it. Bloody well done to the photographer. Great article by the way!

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  28. Rik says:

    Thanks for posting the good advice on things to consider when pricing photos. As for BigD, sounds like sour grapes to me.

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  30. JLSclarity says:

    Encouraging post! I appreciate it!

  31. Brooklynite says:

    I appreciated this article. Especially answering my questions about whether to contact the subjects within the photos. Better safe than sorry, as you said.

    And why is it on photography forums that there’s always the ones who feel the need to poo poo things and be mean? I find this on all photography forums. Says more about the Negative Nelly than anything else.

    Photo is perfectly good. And I 100% believe that a pharmaceutical company could find a photo they could just buy, rather than spend thousands of dollars setting up the “perfect” reality shot. Saved time and money. Especially if it suited their needs already. Plus, time is money.

    Please keep writing good, informative posts, and ignore the crazies.

  32. Daiv Russell says:

    I know this is an old post, but as I’m looking at the post now, the image no longer appears.

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