Commercial photography is much more than point and shoot

Anyone can take a picture, but a photograph of commercial quality requires far more than an image capturing device and an opportunity. Commercial photographers are light-smiths, capturing, manipulating and even creating light in order to achieve the desired result. They have experience, training, state of the art equipment and single minded dedication to their craft. A picture can speak a thousand words and the work of an experienced commercial photographer can translate those words into visual poetry.

In a world where everyone carries a camera-equipped smartphone around in their pocket, it’s all too easy to view a photographic work as a disposable image to be captured, used, edited and deleted at a whim. If the picture is your own, you will, of course, be fully entitled to do with it as you please. However, the same cannot be the said of any other picture.

The work of any photographer, whether professional or hobbyist, belongs to them. They automatically own the copyright.  Use by anyone else should be done with their permission only (commonly referred to as a license). Given everything which goes into producing a commercial image, it’s use and re-use will almost always require a fee to be paid in recognition of the skills used in the production of the picture and also due to the intrinsic commercial value of the image in question.

There are many types of license. Each granting the potential user permission to use an image in a particular way and for a particular purpose.


Rights managed license

A rights managed license grants the user permission to use an image in a specific place and for a specific reason. Further use outside of the license terms will require additional permission and usually an additional fee.

For example, a half page photograph to be used in 1000 magazines would require a license for just that purpose. If the size subsequently needed to be bigger, or the magazine needed to be reprinted, a separate license would probably need to be obtained. This would normally attract an additional fee as the scope of that pictures’ proposed use has changed.


Royalty free licensing

Royalty free doesn’t mean free of cost. It merely means that once you’ve paid an agreed fee for the copyrighted image or images, you can use them as often as you like, forever, without paying a further fee.

You may, however, have to abide by certain other usage parameters which must be agreed with the copyright owner. In the example above, the magazine reprint would not attract an additional licensing fee. However, with Royalty Free licensing, the images are often priced on image size. A half page image may not look great if scaled up to a full page, so a larger version may be needed. For a higher resolution image suitable for a larger publication size, it may be necessary to obtain another license.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licensing allows end users access to free photography. Content creators can publish their imagery and decide to grant permission for this to be downloaded and used without the user having to pay a fee. The copyright owner can, however, define the type of CC license they grant. For example, specifying free use apart from commercial use, free use but with attribution, completely free for any use with no attribution required etc.


Given that the ownership of any photographic work remains with the photographer, it’s important to be clear about the licensing arrangement before you use it. Using an image without a license or beyond the terms of a license that’s already been agreed can be regarded as the theft of the photographers’ intellectual property. There are a specialised set of laws which can be brought to bear against those who do so.