Understanding Our Architectural Photography Fees

A Guide for Architectural Photography Buyers by Jordan Horn, MAP

Many photography buyers may notice that there is a lack of consistency in how photographers charge for their services. However, in the architectural photography industry, the truth is that most top-level photographers follow a similar pricing approach known as the Creative Fee method. This is the method I have personally used for years, and it is also widely adopted by my fellow architectural photographers. In my opinion, it is the simplest and most straightforward way to calculate fees for architectural photography. Allow me to explain further:

1. The Creative Fee

The concept behind the Creative Fee approach is to provide you, as the client, with a comprehensive and all-inclusive figure that encompasses all the costs associated with your specific project. There are no complicated itemized charges or confusing “per-shot” fees, but rather a single fee. The Creative Fee generally covers 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 & Add-Ons

While the Creative Fee typically covers most aspects of a project, there are a few items that are typically not included. One of the most common exclusions is custom retouching. Since the extent of retouching needed for a project is difficult to predict in advance, this cost is usually quoted and added after the client has reviewed the images. Other potential add-ons may include changes to image licensing or any additional services requested by the client.

3. Image Licensing Terms

In general, the Creative Fee quoted by an architectural photographer includes specific licensing terms. These terms typically grant a single-party, non-transferable image license for all media without expiration upon full payment. However, this license cannot be assigned or transferred to any third party, including clients, contractors, consultants, retailers, or social media connections, among others, as the photographer retains the copyright.

In simple terms, these licensing terms allow the company commissioning the photography to use the images exclusively, and sharing the photographs with any other individual or company would violate the original licensing contract. If a third party wishes to use the photographs, a separate license must be purchased from the photographer.

The reason for these licensing restrictions is straightforward: the original Creative Fee is based on the number of licenses granted under the licensing contract. The more licensees, the higher the Creative Fee, as it reflects the broader value of the images being created for multiple parties rather than a single business entity. However, the fee charged for multiple licensees is usually discounted by most photographers, as it is not simply a multiple of the base Creative Fee.

4. Multi-Party Image Licensing

As mentioned earlier, photographers often provide substantial discounts when multiple parties express interest in licensing images from a single project. However, such multi-party licensing discounts typically come with certain restrictions. The most common restriction is that all parties must commit to purchasing the photographs either before the photoshoot or upon reviewing the image previews. In my case, I offer multi-party licensing discounts for a limited period of two weeks following the photoshoot, after which my standard (and higher) image licensing fees apply.

Here’s an example of my personal formula for calculating multi-party licensing discounts, which is similar to what most photographers use. For instance, let’s consider a basic Creative Fee of $2000:

Single Party Image License = $2000

Two Party Image License = $2000 x 1.5 / 2 = $1500 Per Party (25% Discount Per Party)

Three Party Image License = $2000 x 1.95 / 3 = $1300 Per Party (35% Discount)

Four Party Image License = $2000 x 2.2 / 4 = $1100 Per Party (45% Discount)

Five+ Party Image License = $2000 x 2.25 / 5 = $900 Per Party (55% Discount)

5. Copyright Ownership

As a general practice, photographers retain copyright ownership of all the photographs they create. According to current United States Copyright Law, photographs are considered copyrighted from the moment they are created, and are the property of the photographer, even if they are not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, registering photographs with the Copyright Office provides additional benefits, as registered photographs are eligible for higher damage recovery in case of infringement compared to unregistered photographs.

If a company commissioning photography wishes to own the copyright for the resulting photographs, a contract must be in place that explicitly transfers all rights, including copyright, to the company. While this is relatively uncommon, some companies may require complete ownership of the rights to the commissioned photographs. In such cases, the photographer’s fee is usually significantly higher, typically at least 300% of the normal fee.

It’s worth noting that if the photographer is an employee of a company, rather than an independent contractor or freelancer, the company is considered the copyright owner and the photographs are considered to have been created as a “work for hire”.

5.1 More on Licensing

Copyright infringement has long been a serious challenge for professional photographers. However, with the rise of digital media, it has become easier to detect and identify unlicensed and unauthorized use of images. Once identified, those who commit copyright infringement can face significant legal and financial repercussions.

My advice is to avoid sharing any photograph that you have not been properly licensed to use. When in doubt, it’s best to contact the photographer for permission. Even a seemingly harmless Instagram or Facebook post of a “shared” photograph could result in significant financial consequences. There are now specialized firms that actively search the web on behalf of photographers to identify infringements, and the resulting legal recoveries are often substantial. It’s important to be cautious and respect the copyright of photographers. Don’t do it!

6. Ending Thoughts

Just like with any other professional service, in the realm of architectural photography, you often get what you pay for. While a less expensive and less experienced photographer may initially seem like a bargain, it can end up costing you dearly in terms of your brand image, customer service, and market position. My advice is to invest in a photographer who will skillfully capture and showcase your work with excellent photographs, and provide superior service throughout the entire process. It’s worth prioritizing quality and expertise to ensure the best possible outcome for your project.