November 2020 // The Business Edition

The Business of Food Photography | Chelsea Kyle


Food photography shot for a client’s story, idea, or product all have immense re-licensing opportunities outside of the existing client and for future uses of that client. Knowing how and when you can re-license an image to another client and planning properly to do so in tandem with contract agreements can offer photographers a second vital stream of revenue. Arguably, the path to success in food photography is through editorial and lower-paid creative work while developing a unique style that you can leverage into greater and more lucrative contracts. As I mentioned earlier, this is a great way for photographers to get their names out there and to gain publicity for that special style. Understanding which images have additional usage beyond just what you want to show the world is a big must for anyone trying to create a sustainable photography business. It is extremely important to know how to negotiate usage. It is common knowledge that industry standards for editorial photography and commercial photography yield vastly different budgets and pay for single images or projects.

Below is a fictitious example that can help you see how usage is negotiated.

A small name-brand client comes to you with a small budget for acquiring commercial imagery for their brand. They cannot afford a standard day rate for advertising but need basic marketing usage. Standard rates for different commercial and advertising photographs are dictated by the size of the company, so the amount of time you extend that usage to them and where they can use it can vary. By negotiating a lower fee for a shorter period of use and limiting the outlets where the image can be displayed (e.g. billboards, social media, subway ads, etc.), you encourage the client to use the imagery for their immediate need while retaining the rights that require re-licensing if and when their budget and scope expands. In any case (editorial, commercial, fine art, etc.), a buyout or work for hire (WFH) contract is when you give full usage and copyright to a client or company and, with few exceptions, it is one you often want to avoid at all costs. Personally, I’d rather work for a lower fee and maintain copyright before giving away sole ownership of an image. Those few exceptions include advertising work that is inherently negotiated from the beginning for the sole purpose of a buyout and cases when there is no reason you’d want to maintain copyright. There are many situations that do not follow industry standard protocols for usage and contracts but being armed with the right knowledge of how usage works, how to budget properly, and what to ask for will allow you to make smart business decisions and protect you financially and artistically.

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