Understanding Architectural Photography Fees

A Guide for A/E/C Photography Buyers by Alan Blakely, AIAP

For most photography buyers, there seems to be little commonality among photographers in the way that they charge for their work. The truth is however that most photographers at the top level of the architectural photography industry price their work in much the same way.  The most common approach is the Creative Fee method.  This is the method that I've used for years, and the most common approach among my fellow architectural photographers.  For me it's the simplest and easiest approach for calculating architectural photography fees.  Please allow me to explain:

1. The Basic Creative Fee.

The idea behind the Creative Fee approach is to present you, the client, with a single figure that includes all of the costs related to your particular project.  No endless line items, no nonsensical "per-shot" costs, just a single fee.  The Creative Fee typically includes the following:

Photography + Location Scouting + Assistants + Stylists + Props + Travel Costs + Rentals + Incidental Costs + File Fees + Preview Images + Basic Retouch + Image Delivery + Image Licensing (Single Party) = CREATIVE FEE.

2. Contingencies and Add-Ons.

There are a few items that are not customarily included in the basic Creative Fee.  The most common among them is custom retouch.  It's virtually impossible to predict the custom retouch needs of a project beforehand, so this item is quoted and added after the client has previewed the images.  Additional add-ons may include changes in the image licensing.

3. Image Licensing Terms.

Generally speaking, the Creative Fee quoted by an architectural photographer reflects the following licensing terms: "A single-party, non-transferable image license for all media with no expiration, is granted upon payment in full. No authorized image usage until paid in full. Third-party image usage or transfer is strictly prohibited. Photographer retains copyright ownership."

Simply put, these terms allow for use of the photography by the company commissioning the photography and no one else.  The commissioning party may not "share" the photographs with any other individual or company without violating the terms of the original licensing contract.  If a third party wishes to use the photographs in any way, a license for use must be purchased from the photographer.

The reason for these licensing restrictions is very simple:  The original Creative Fee is based on the number of licenses granted under the licensing contract.  The greater the number of licensees, the higher the Creative Fee.  If the images are being created for the benefit of multiple parties rather than a single business entity, the Creative Fee will reflect that broader image value.  However, the fee charged for multiple licensees is rarely if ever a simple multiple of the base Creative Fee.  Most, if not all photographers offer a substantial discount for multi-party licensing.

4. Multi-Party Image Licensing.

As mentioned above, photographers generally offer substantial discounts when multiple parties wish to license the images from a single project.  Ordinarily the multi-party licensing discounts come with certain restrictions.  The most common restriction is that all parties must make a firm commitment to the purchase of the photographs either prior to the photoshoot, or upon viewing the image previews.  Personally I offer multi-party licensing discounts for only one two week following a photoshoot.  After that time, my customary (and significantly higher) image licensing fees apply.

Below is an example of my own personal formula for calculating multi-party licensing discounts.  Most photographers use a formula very close to mine.  In this example, I'll use a basic Creative Fee of $2000.

Single Party Image License = $2000

Two Party Image License = $2000 x 1.4 ÷ 2 = $1400 Per Party (30% Discount Per Party)

Three Party Image License = $2000 x 1.8 ÷ 3 = $1200 Per Party (40% Discount Per Party)

Four Party Image License = $2000 x 2 ÷ 4 = $1000 Per Party (50% Discount Per Party)

Five Party Image License = $2000 x 2.25 ÷ 5 = $900 Per Party (60% Discount Per Party)

5. Copyright Ownership.

As a general rule, the photographer retains copyright ownership of all of the photographs they create.  Under current United States Copyright Law, photographs are considered to be copyrighted when they are created and are the property of the photographer.  This is true even if the photographs are not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Photographs with copyright registration are granted a higher damage recovery when they are infringed when compared with unregistered photographs.

If a company commissioning photography wishes to own the copyright for the subsequent photographs, there must be a contract stipulating that the photographer is transferring all rights, including copyright.  While uncommon, some companies require all rights to photography that they commission.  In these cases the photographer's fee is significantly higher--typically at least 300% of the normal fee.

Additionally, if the photographer is an employee of a company and not an independent contractor or freelancer, the company is regarded as the copyright owner and the photographs are considered to have been created on a "work for hire" basis.

5. More On Licensing.

Copyright infringement has historically been a serious and often unsolvable problem for professional photographers.  However, with the advent of digital media it's possible to find an identify un-licensed and un-authorized image usage quite easily.  Once identified, the infringing party faces significant legal and financial consequences for copyright infringement.

My advice: avoid sharing any photograph that you have been licensed to use.  And when in doubt, contact the photographer.  A simple Instagram or Facebook post of a "shared" photograph could have significant financial consequences.  There are now a number of firms whose sole business is to scour the web in behalf of their photographer clients and identify infringements.  The resulting legal recoveries are generally substantial.  Just don't do it!

5. Final Thoughts

As with most professional services, when it comes to architectural photography you generally "get what you pay for."  A less expensive and less experienced photographer may appear to be a bargain, but in the end may cost you significantly in terms of brand image, customer service and market position.  My advice: hire a photographer who will showcase your work with excellent photographs and provide superior service throughout the entire process. 

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© 2022 Alan Blakely Photography, All Rights Reserved.

Alan Blakely is an award-winning architectural photographer who shoots for many of America's top architectural firms, builders, designers, developers, magazines and manufacturers. He is also the founder and current director of The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers™, Real Estate Photographers of America & International™ and Aerial Drone Photographers of America™.

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