What are Image Rights and Why Do I Need Them?

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We're professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry and empower other photographers to build their biz.



Getting ready for a brand photoshoot and image rights come up. You wonder, what gives?! What in the world are image rights and why in the world do I need them? Don’t worry, we know where you are coming from, friend! For most of us, our experiences with photography involve meeting up with a photographer somewhere outside and following posing instructions for an hour while working hard to make sure your spouse doesn’t get grumpy and that the kids stay clean and smile. We take the photos we are delivered, send them to grandparents, plaster them across social media and print canvases for our walls. It’s a great experience!

Commercial brand photography couldn’t be any more different. The primary reason? Your wedding or family photos are meant for you to enjoy for generations. They are important to you and your loved ones, but beyond that, they likely have no additional value. Brand photography, on the other hand, is created for a distinctly different purpose – to communicate a brand’s message to a specific client and generate SALES!

Why Image Rights?

In the United States, a photographer who produces photos owns the work, regardless of who it is created for or what products it showcases. Because the photos taken during your brand session have value beyond personal admiration, image rights are needed to account for that value. The reason your experience with traditional portraits has been to receive the images and use them freely is that there is no additional value in the images of your wedding or family to the photographer. With commercial work, the difference lies in the end goal of the images – to generate revenue – revenue that wouldn’t be generated without those images. For that reason, there is very real, objective value to the photographer with those images. Image rights can scale completely based on your needs, which is why they don’t need to sound so intimidating or scary.

Types of Image Rights

Image rights vary completely based on your end goal for your images. Some clients are looking for imagery to use solely for websites, blogs, and social media. Others want a higher level of production for images to use on billboards across the country.  And still, others want full use image rights allowing them to do as they please with the images. The options really are limitless but knowing your goals going into your shoot will help you make sure you own the rights needed to accomplish your goals.

As a general rule of thumb, digital image rights (website, blog, email marketing, social media) are usually the most affordable options while full unlimited image rights carry the larger price tag.

Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive

Exclusivity is another word you may hear revolving around the image rights conversation. Simply put, exclusive rights mean that for the duration of the image license, you alone have exclusive rights to the images – no one else – besides the photographer in their portfolio – can use the images or even purchase a license to use the images. Non-exclusive is the exact opposite – the images can be licensed elsewhere regardless of your license. In our experience, most image licenses are exclusive, especially those created specifically for a brand.

Image License Duration

One final thing to consider when discussing image rights is the duration needed for your advertising goals. Do you want to hold your license in perpetuity (it never expires) or do you only need them for a certain length of time to accomplish your goals (ie: 1-2 years)? Just like the different types of image rights, the duration of the image license is the other primary factor a photographer will take into account for the cost of the license. For example, the cost of a license with perpetuity will be far greater than a license for a specified amount of time.

When it comes to the image rights you need for your next project, ask yourself what your goals are for the shoot. Also, ask yourself what value you place on the images personally. Are they going to drive sales for your business? Are they going to expose your brand to potential clients and educate them on what you have to offer? Are they going to elevate your brand and show your desire for professionalism? Then have that conversation with your photographer about the rights you’ll need for your project!

Btw…if you’re now going – OK, great Erica + Jon…I get it not, but still where do I get an Image License Agreement? We gotchu!! Check out the contracts and agreements we just dropped in our store!

Comments +

  1. Mitch says:

    Very useful info for something that’s always been a little intimidating. Thanks for laying it all out!

  2. […] The fact that the typical brand rep is used to working on high-level projects can seem a little intimidating at first, but this is actually a great benefit for you! Reps usually know the ropes when it comes to hiring a brand photographer, so they often come to you prepared. For example, we find that the reps we work with come to the initial consult call with very detailed information about what kind of images are needed, how many images are needed and even the length of the marketing campaign they will use the images for, which helps us know how long we need to issue their image license!  […]

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