Do You Charge More When You Don't Have Permission to Publish a Photograph or a Video?

Do You Charge More When You Don't Have Permission to Publish a Photograph or a Video?

There are cases when a client insists that you restrain from publishing anything you've worked on with them. Would you charge them more or you have another policy?

The Apparent Truth

It might be obvious, but the way you attract new clients is not by using your name or showing off your bank account. It is by placing what you do on a display. It is unlikely that someone will hire you without knowing if you're capable of crafting beautiful imagery. This is why it is of great importance that your business is supported on those two pillars: fresh portfolio and your financial profit.

That Special Client

If you haven't worked with that kind of client, you probably will. They may require you to sign a ten-page non-disclosure agreement that you're not going to use this work in your portfolio, nor will you mention you've worked with them. Other clients are simply asking you to not publish their images or videos. It is quite an unpleasant feeling to hear such a demand in case the project turns out to be highly successful for the client or is some of your best work nobody will ever know you were the author of.

Saving Yourself Some Trouble

How would you react in this situation is up to you, but if you don't make your policy clear before confirming your participation to the project, you better accept the fact you won't publish it and pass on. It is very unprofessional to argue your right to publish your work, because you've taken it for granted. The client has rights to refrain from granting you permission to. This is where your policy has to be clear during the negotiations.

Late at the office (from my Business Friday series)

Charge More, Pass On, or Don't Care?

There is no definite answer or a formula on what's the best policy. I will give you my personal opinion on that and how I would react in such situations.

If it's a big client, I would charge more in almost all cases. I would not if I decide that they would pay me enough anyway or that working with them would bring me indirect benefit by creating new valuable connections.

If it's a client who wants to do something that I'm not that eager publish, I may not raise the price as well. Let's say you shoot headshots on a white background and you have more than enough of a variety to display in your portfolio and a new client comes demanding their headshots won't show up on your website.

Not accepting a project, because you can't publish it is not something I would consider and I've never did, but it is also an option for those who want to have everything they do published.

How Do You Tell It to the Client?

Of course, I'm talking about how you're going to tell the client that you're charging more in case they don't want their photos or videos published. People are different and it's good to stay positive and know how to ask for more without offending your potential client. Stating your charge more in case your work is not published right from the beginning is not a good option. They may have never thought they have the power to forbid you. This is why I usually ask if they are fine that I publish one or more of the final products they will receive. I am clear that this will only be from the work they purchase, because they will know if anything gets published it is what they actually like. I will also explain that this is what brings me more clients, not just the money I receive. I also tell them that by default I don't put other personal information of theirs unless they want me to (for example in the case of a business headshot, mentioning them and their company might be beneficial). Most people would gladly agree to grant you a permission to publish that work in your portfolio. In case they say "No," I would tell them I am charging extra. That wouldn't sound surprising, because they already know it is the fresh portfolio that brings me clients.

Final Thoughts

Charging more for not being allowed to publish some work should not be an exclusive policy. Although backed up by sound business facts you might lose a potential client. Let us know in the comments if you had such cases, what you did, or what is your business policy in such cases.

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18 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I always ask questions early in the process such as usage and terms before drafting an estimate. If a potential client wants exclusive use, it will be factored into my fee. If I cannot use images I've created to obtain future work, it has to be considered when quoting a fee.

M D's picture

I contract photographic work on behalf of my company. We often use models to help illustrate high-tech industrial equipment. As our product lifecycles are long and the GTM timing is slow, I pay a premium to the talent/agency for a full release in perpetuity - this is well worth the cost as I don't have to concern myself with licensing. I am fairly relaxed with my photographers and don't mind if they use some images in support of their business, however there are images they cannot use. Unreleased product, product protected under NDA, prototypes.

I don't agree with the practice you suggest that I pay 20% more if I need to restrict your use for legal/contractual reasons. Likewise it's important to note that I've paid the cost of the model release that may or may not cover your use of the image.

I'm curious if you would charge a premium if you could use the photographs, but you needed to wait until after a release date - even of that release date was 12-18 months in the future?

Steven de Vet's picture

Well, in my eyes, product and prototype photography is a little bit of a different ballpark.
I'm assuming you're specifically contracting photographers who are in that line of work?

If your line of business is product photography for companies, you will eventually be asked to photograph products that aren't released yet, prototypes and other items that a client wants to keep "secret". So it's obvious that those products are covered in an NDA and there is no reason to argue about the instant use of those photographs in your own portfolio, it comes with the job.

Especially if an agreement can be made that you will have to wait until after the release date or the product or within a reasonable time period, then I see no reason to ask for a premium.

If an agreement can't be made and a client refuses the use of photo's completely.. then.. yea.. maybe.. but even then I'd probably prefer to keep a good relationship with the client/business instead of arguing on prices and portfolio images. If you're dealing with a business, it is likely that (if you do a good job and build a good relationship) you will be asked to come in for more work. So there is less of a need to request a premium, as there is no/less potential "loss of income" if you can't use those images to show to other clients.

I guess the main post is about portrait photography. The random person that comes in for a handful of headshots but does not want them featured in your portfolio. Perhaps for privacy reasons.
Or in the case of Tony Clark, mainly food photography by the looks of it. Where I can understand the use of a premium if a restaurant or food magazine or something similar don't want the images used in his own portfolio. Fields where NDA's, prototypes and secrecy are probably less important and it comes more down to privacy reasons.

Tony Clark's picture

First off, I did not mention a 20% premium on pricing, I stated that I gather information on a potential clients needs and price accordingly. I have no problem respecting a clients wishes, I simply ask that you communicate them in advance.

M D's picture

My apologies for the 20% assumption. I blended two comments.

Scott Spellman's picture

Yes it is obvious that you should charge more. I charge +20% in cases where we negotiate price. It is not that hard to say "My portfolio is critical to my marketing and my business and the reason you hired me. I understand your privacy concerns, but I will have to charge +20% if I cannot use the images in my portfolio."

M D's picture

I'm genuinely curious to know the percentage of clients that will pay the 20% premium vs agree to the terms vs decline your services. Do you believe the 20% premium balances fairly between potential loss in revenue due to lost marketing opportunity, vs the potential loss of business for the premium?

Scott Spellman's picture

I have had this situation happen about 12 times in 10 years. In three cases they agreed to the premium price. In 5 cases they agreed to portfolio use at the same price. In the rest we didn't agree on price or the shoot didn't happen. I do believe that depending on the subject or type of shoot, that portfolio use is worth 20% to my marketing.

There are some additional commercial shoots I do where the subject is mundane, copyright is transferred, price and terms are fixed, and portfolio use is prohibited. In those cases, I still make good $$$ and don't worry about anything else.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, I also think it's best to decide on that on a case-by-case basis.

M D's picture

I appreciate the reply. Thanks.

Steven de Vet's picture

I'm just in it as a hobby, and not really in a field where charging for a specific image is something that happens. I don't go out and do photoshoots for companies or deal with these things.

But regardless, yes it makes sense to charge more if a client wants exclusive use. Think of it as a potential "loss of income" possibility if you can't use the pictures to show new clients to gain more work.

But, that's very much depending on your portfolio. Maybe you already have a great portfolio, so the "need" to add more is lower. I'd still ask for a higher price though. And that shouldn't be too difficult if you are upfront with your client.

In my case, the closest I'd get to this scenario would be if someone wants to purchase one of my photographs as a print, with the addition that they want to be the only one with that print, obviously I'd ask for a significant premium. But that goes far more into the range of "limited edition" work than actually dealing with portfolio's.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

if client say I cannot use, I not work with them

sam dasso's picture

It is very simple in my mind. If you pay a model for a shoot, you should ask your model to sign model release. If model pays you, you should respect model's privacy and ask politely after the shoot if you could use some of the images in exchange for the discount. If you do a wedding or event you should ask everybody who is in pictures for release and if there is an objection just don't use these pictures unless you want to be sued. If photographer told me that he wants more money if I want to keep my privacy, I would tell him to go pound sand.

Kirk Darling's picture

As a retail portrait artist, I have a good number of clients who don't want their images--and especially images of their children--on the Internet. Yet, most of them don't mind me using their images in hard copy public displays. What they fear is the fact that I can't control anything released to the Internet, and they're right about that.

The fact is that their images belong to them, and the law acknowledges that fact in requiring me to have permission to use them. My contract with them was to take their pictures; I am not hiring them as my models, they're hiring me as their artist.

I ask for permission. If they don't grant it, I go on with the rest of the job as contracted. I can't see a justification for charging more than my standard price if they don't want to engage in an additional agreement.

OTOH, perhaps the practice should be to give a price break if the subject agrees to a model provision.

At any rate, I ask for permission. If I get it, I get it. If I don't, that's fine too. I'll still take their money and hope to do further business with them in the future.

I didn't need their picture to get their business, I won't need their picture to get more business.

Steven de Vet's picture

Yea I kinda wondered about that one.

Is it better to ask for a premium if you can't use the images? Or is it better to offer a discount if you are allowed to use the images?

"I can do your wedding photography, it will cost you $1000. But, if I can't allow me to feature them in portfolio I will have to charge $1200'
vs.
"I can do your wedding photography, it will cost you $1200, But if you'll allow me to feature them in my portfolio I can do it for $1000"

(bit of a simple example which normally would be explained better in a face to face with a client)

But mentally a client just got a XX% discount because they learn about the bigger price first. So a client would perhaps focus more and them being offered a discount instead of being asked for a premium.
Both obviously result in the same price difference so it doesn't make any difference in revenue, but perhaps it comes across as "nicer" towards the client? And mentally it sounds like a "better" deal which they might be more inclined to agree with?

sam dasso's picture

How about giving people discount from regular price? I hate fake sale prices where merchant jacks a price up before they put an item or service on sale.

sam dasso's picture

"I didn't need their picture to get their business, I won't need their picture to get more business"
Brilliant statement!