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Licensing your photos

Different types of licensing can be resumed into the following categories:

Commercial Rights

Commercial rights enable the buyer to use your images for commercial purposes in communications designed to sell their products or services such as a catalog, brochure, or on some other form of advertisement.

Non-Commercial Rights

Things like personal websites, blogs, school newsletters, and other media where your image will not be explicitly used as a part of a for-profit/money-making activity come under Non-Commercial rights.

Exclusive Rights

Also known as Serial Rights, this is when you grant proprietary permission to use a specific image to a client. You may or may not want to do this since “exclusive” means you will not be able to resell that image to any other at a later time.

First Rights

First rights constitute the permission to use the image first off, and then you are free to resell your image at a later time. This image license typically applies to publications, newspapers, and magazines. When you want to sell photos to magazines, consider granting them first rights. This type of photography license will give you the maximum flexibility once the publication has used your photograph.

Non-Exclusive Rights

Non-exclusive rights mean that you can sell your images to more than one person or entity. Include a clause wherein your client cannot further resell your images and make sure you understand the difference between exclusive and non-exclusive rights, so as not to make the wrong photo licensing agreement.

One Time Use

One time use is probably the best way to go in terms of licensing from the photographer’s perspective. This photography licensing contract lets you sell the right to use your image one time only, for one specific purpose to a client.

Rights Managed or Royalty Free

“Rights managed” is a little more complicated but is probably the best way for photographers to get into an image license agreement. Most image licensing websites use this model, wherein images have particular restrictions on use and different fees associated with each use. Rights Managed Images enable both the photographer and the client to arrive that the best fit of usage and exclusivity and do a photography license agreement based on the same. Here the client can use for additional purposes but mention it in the contract. If not, then they have to negotiate with the photographer for the same.

Royalty Free

In Rights Managed, a client has to pay the agreed license fee on the expiry of the license if they want it to be renewed. But in Royalty Free license, the client can use the image for any amount of time-based on the single initial fee. So, if a client wants to use your image on a product 10 million times, he would have to pay a one time fee to do that. Although there are some restrictions on the usage, overall, the buyer gets almost unlimited usage right from this photography license.

Creative Commons

If you are looking to gain exposure or contribute your images so that anyone can use them, Creative Commons licenses let you define the level of access you give others to use your photos. A lot of photographers use Creative Commons as a marketing strategy to bring exposure to their work through platforms like Flickr as it lets a broad audience see your images.

Copyright Free License

A copyright-free license is one type of photography license where the photographer gives away the copyright of the image for free. A photographer may do so to get publicity from the image. The licensee receives high-quality work which can be used commercially as well after modifications. The copyright-free license is different from the creative commons license as the images under the copyright free license are entirely free.


An ideal license description must contain the following:

Parties—When describing the photography license, make sure to establish the names of the parties involved; the licensor, licensee, and the End User (the party that will ultimately use the image).

Permissions—The license grants permission to the client for the specified use of the image, like what category/type of media to use the image, the distribution format, placement, quantity, size, duration, region, language, and exclusivity.

Constraint—permission can also be used as a constraint. The license start and end date is one constraint that allows your client to use your image in a particular duration only and once the license is over the client would have to pay you an additional licensing fee to use your image. If applicable, you can also put media, region, or product/service constraints on your image.

Requirements—This includes all those things that do not fall under either permissions or constraints. These can be anything, such as inserting a photo credit line with your image.

Terms & Conditions—These can be additional terms and conditions which include payment and other transactional details.

Image Information—Description of the image(s) associated with the photography license is one thing that you shouldn’t skip from the license description. The license description must define the number of images that may be used under the license.