What price a portrait?

corporate portrait of businessman in Bristol

A corporate portrait can be more than a mugshot.

I should start by explaining that this article isn’t talking about family portraits or photos for the mantelpiece. What I’m talking about here is the business portrait. The corporate headshot for the profile page of a commercial website, newsletter or chairman’s statement in the annual report.

Why is this distinction important? Mainly for licensing reasons. If you go to a high street photographic studio and have photos taken you will probably pay about £30 for a sitting, and £100 for a print to hang on the wall. And personal use is all you’ll be allowed of that photo. Commercial use would require payment of an extra fee, and I suspect most studios wouldn’t be happy handing over an original digital file for that use as you could then get your own reprints done, which would of course breach the photographer’s copyright.

When you have a photographer visit your offices to take portraits for the company website/brochure etc, you’re not paying for prints for personal use (though you can probably buy those if you want), instead you’re paying a licence fee to use the images for corporate use. This is a different kind of agreement with the photographer and the pricing structure is different.

Of course if you book a photographer and then just have a single headhsot done, it can work out relatively expensive. Perhaps £250 to get a small selection of images for use across various media. But if you line up a few headshots to be taken at the same time, the cost will rise but the individual price for each headshot will drop quite dramatically.

It’s often quite difficult to explain this concept to clients who will say “well it’s only some portraits, they shouldn’t take long.” The thing is, in commercial and corporate photography, it isn’t just the time taken to get the shots that you’re being charged for, but also the commercial (as opposed to domestic) value of the photos. Remember, these photos are part of your marketing, and hopefully will help your business make more money. They may not be used as prominently as your product shots, or general photos of your business operation, but they’re all part of the mix and to have any value to your business, they have to be good. Which requires skill, time and equipment to achieve.

In short, you need to give the humble head and shoulders photo some respect and also understand that what you’re paying for is a combination of the photographer’s skill, experience and time on the commission, as well as a fee for the commercial exploitation of the results.

And what is that worth? As I said earlier, if you hire a photographer to take just one headshot you could easily pay £250 for that, maybe more. Get a batch of portraits done in half a day and the rate might rise to around £500, but if 10 portraits are done, that works out at £50 per head. That’s less than you’d pay for a 10-inch print to hang on your wall at home, and your clients can’t even see that photo. Unless they’ve broken into your house.

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  • dannyspltd July 17, 2010  

    Very interesting article.
    Very informative.
    Serenity Photography Limited

    • Glass Eye July 17, 2010  

      Thank you, and feel free to pass it on to anyone who might benefit from it.

  • Bob July 17, 2010  

    One of my biggest problems with commercial photography is explaining to a customer why they have to pay this licensine fee. They assume that since they’re paying me to shoot something, they have use of it. Afterall, they’re paying me to take photos of their product or their face, they should be able to use it.

    What is a good way to explain this to customers that is a) easy for them to understand and 2) can compare to another real world example that they can relate to?

    I’d love to be able to say something to them quickly and have them say, “ah, that makes sense, I understand completely”.

    • Glass Eye July 18, 2010  

      Hi Bob, well there are some websites which help explain this in simple terms. If you go to http://www.copyright4clients.com/ and look at the information there, it’s a very useful resource.

      I tend to avoid talking to clients about licensing unless they’re a design agency, ad agency etc. For the rest I simply explain that when thy book me, they are paying for a combination of my time, expertise and the right to use the images to promote their business. If they have partner businesses also wishing to use the images, they need to ask permission and negotiate a separate deal for that.

      Everyday examples that clients will understand are things like software licensing, where the client is not allowed to duplicate, pass on or modify software sold to them for their use, even if they commissioned the design of that software.

      Of course it’s always best to have terms and conditions to present to clients upon booking and a Licence to Use agreement agreed before the shoot begins. Many clients will appreciate these things as they remove the element of doubt created when less than professional photographers do a job for a client, then start complaining that they hadn’t realised all the things the client wanted to do with the images.

      I hope this goes some way to help, though I have been quite brief here.

  • Chris Barton July 17, 2010  

    That’s all very well Tim, but why would a company bother getting a pro photographer to do headshots of their own staff, when it is much cheaper and quicker to get a microstock photo of some (probably much prettier) office staff for just a few dollars?


    • Glass Eye July 18, 2010  

      Hi Chris, I can see you’re being provocative here because you understand the damage that sterile stock images are doing to our industry as well as the negative effect (no pun intended) these images have on the businesses that use them.

      But for anyone else who reads your comment, here are a couple of reasons not to use headshots of anonymous stock models:

      1) Stock images from the likes of Corbis, Photolia, iStockphoto and their ilk are (and have to be) meaningless, sterile and dull in order to fit as many scenarios as possible. They will add nothing to your website or brochure apart from break up text.
      2) Stock images will be described as Royalty Free, but the terms and conditions of their use will have you tied up in legal knots for years, where commissioned work tends to have more flexible terms which can be negotiated with the photographer – a real human being!
      3) Use a local commercial/corporate photographer because even if they aren’t a reciprocal client of yours, they might be a client of one of your clients. Do business with your best regional photographers and their spending may well filter back to your business.

      Often when I get to do a job for a good client, I’m straight onto Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook talking about it and mentioning the client. When did Getty ever do that for your business? Saving a few dollars? At what cost?