This Photograph Earned One Wedding Photographer a $18,000 Payday

Texas wedding photographer Allen Ayres was recently contacted by an advertising agency that wanted to use one of his wedding photographs for one of its pharmaceutical clients. Ayres had in mind to ask for $1,000, but wisely decided to ask for advice over at Digital Wedding Forum.

His request was spotted by wedding photographer and photo business blogger John Mireles (AKA The Photographer’s Business Coach), who advised him to find out five aspects of how the agency intended to use the photo: the size of the reproduction, the nature of the publication, the geographical area, the duration of use, and the exclusivity of the use.

After learning that the image would be used in a series of medical industry ads, both in print and online, and that the agency was asking for exclusive use, Mireles advised Ayres to ask for $15,000.

Not only did the agency find that price reasonable, but they even asked to increase it for better terms. The two sides ended up agreeing on an $18,000 contract for two years of exclusive and unlimited national use in the medical industry.

Mireles’s advice for photographers?

All too often I hear photographers make excuses for why they should undervalue their work: “It only took me an hour to shoot.” “It’s only a half-day.” “I’ll do this one for cheap so that this client will give me more work later.” “It’s not my regular work so it’s not that big a deal.” “I’m not going to do anything else with the shot.”

Forget all that. It’s not about you. It’s about the value that you’re delivering to your client. There’s a lot of mediocre images out there in the world. If a client wanted one of them, they could use one for a song. If they want you, it’s because you offer something special. Don’t be afraid to charge for your specialness.

The $18,000 Wedding Photograph (via SLR Lounge)

Image credit: Photograph by Allen Ayres

  • afvp

    wow that is quite a hideous OOF on the foreground exactly in the middle… but hey if they want that picture.

  • karonf

    His wedding contract with the couple gives him the right to sell a wedding photo as advertisement?

  • Richard

    That’s the same question I had. I’m not a wedding photographer but my guess is some couples might object to this use. However, no doubt some contracts give the photographer perpetual rights to use the images as he/she likes. This seems kind of weird in that many wedding photographs are intimate. If I hired someone to shoot my wedding (I’ve been married for 20 years so too late), knowing this, I’d make sure that the photographer could not use the images for things like this without my permission.

  • Guest

    But then this is not a shot made on assignment shooting a wedding, right? I don’t know what terms weddings are usually shot under, but I guess model releases don’t come into it.. and why would a couple agree to be models in this campaign when they even had to pay the photographer for being so?

  • Scott Mains

    Image licensing is something that any commercial photographer should have a firm understanding of. Without it, as seen as an example in this article, $17k would have been lost. Obviously it’s dependant on usage, and many other factors.

    I’m pretty sure companies like Getty don’t disclose the full extent of licensing rates, but there are a few organisations that do. The AOP do, and it is incredibly helpful.

    [link] —

    Hopefully this will give people the opportunity to gain a better understanding of business, and also see that corporate and ‘stock’ jobs aren’t limited to cliché high key environments.

    Also, keyword and put as much meta data in your images on your portfolio.
    ….maybe someone should write an article on effective keywording… perhaps.

  • Scott Mains

    The photographer retains full copyright on all photographs taken. Chances are he spoke to the couple and had an arrangement (few hundred $) as compensation for extended usage.

  • Scott Mains

    model releases would be requested from all parties that are directly identifiable in the photo. This is asked for from most agencies. Chances are the photographer, once he realised what was happening, asked the couple and came to an agreement including compensation of a few hundred $. It’s not uncommon for things like this to happen.

    It is uncommon though for an esitmate of $1k to jump to a final secured $18k.

  • Richard

    We don’t know from this story if he spoke with them or not. What if he did and they were uncomfortable with their wedding image being used in that context. Does his “full copyright” trump their wishes? If it does, I’d never have that kind of contract with a wedding photographer. He could sell intimate images to Huffpost for their “sideboob” page.

  • Guest

    Model release is part of our wedding contract.

  • dave

    …and the couple saw nada.

  • Casual

    It’ll be a nice shot once it’s cropped. Kind of ironic though, because it isn’t the greatest shot in the world to begin with. But I’m not envious or anything. ;)

  • Ravioli

    Still waiting for the bit where Ashton Keutcher jumps out telling us we got punk’d

  • Casual

    Also, I don’t really see the connection for a pharma company… but I guess you never know.

  • Scott Mains

    In virtually all commercial photography situations, models are required to sign a release with full and consensual understanding that the images used will be taken out of the original context from the time in which they were taken. In return compensation that is mutually agreed upon.

    Model releases allow the photographer to sell the image on with the outright knowledge that the agreement protects the photographer from claims.

    In all my shoots, I either try to get a release signed on the day, or at the nearest convenience of the parties involved.

    I’m taking a guess that this photographer didn’t realise what would have come from the wedding shoot, and would have possibly not considered releases. I’ve shot a few weddings and never considered it as an option.

    Ultimately, owning copyright over an image does give a lot of control, but for the sake of preventing litigation measures, model releases are there to protect all parties involved within a shoot.

    He could have done it without a release, if he did though he would open a whole can of potential problems. For the sake of keeping everyone happy, and a bit of cash-back on their wedding day he would have most likely received permission to do so.

  • Samcornwell

    It may have only taken 1/200th of a second to take the photo, but it took years to learn how to take that photo. It took love, time and passion to learn to become a great photographer, learn your trade, get to know your tools, not to mention the expense of buying all the gear.

  • Guest

    Really?! I would have considered that such a ridiculous term that instead of trying to reach a sensible agreement I would have gone straight to someone else. I don’t see any reason what so ever why I should pay a photographer to do work for me (even something private like a wedding) and give him/her the right to use the result for any commercial purposes as they pleases. Most of your customers make you change this part of the contract, right? Or do they just don’t bother to read through it?

  • E

    Commercial work where a model is hired is something very different that hiring someone to shoot your wedding. If a wedding photographer asked me to sign a model release I’d consider him/her not serious and move my business elsewhere.

  • janajan

    yeah welll and what stops them to stage this photo for 3000$ ??
    18000$ onyl shows that our world is a sick place where value is just virtuell anymore….

  • 1213nothere

    maybe the pharma company has a drug against blurry face illness….

  • perceptionalreality

    I’m curious about the original cropping of the photo. I doubt he shot this square (Hasselblad or whatever) or he probably would have been more familiar with $18,000 licensing.

    Personally my wedding contract includes a model release which specifically EXCLUDES reselling the image commercially. I make a point of this with my couples, explaining that should an opportunity come up I would approach them to get specific permission to use the image for the exact intended application, and they would be compensated for it. I explain that if they ever see an image of them used commercially without their prior knowledge they should let me know and we can go get rich together. :)

    So far that hasn’t happened…

    Oh, and as for the people who are worried about the oof kid in the foreground, that would be a matter of a few minutes to remove in Photoshop. Nice, clean area around him. No trouble at all.

  • perceptionalreality

    No, it shows that the company understands that it costs A LOT of money to try to put something like this together, and you can’t be certain you’ll get something you absolutely love out of a commissioned photo shoot. Licensing an existing image is frequently a greater value, even at five figures for a single image.

    Why in the world would you be upset about a photographer being well compensated in this day and age? While I personally wouldn’t have chosen this image, I applaud Allen for his work and his wisdom in getting help with the licensing terms.

  • Richard

    I agree with E. I’ve never heard of a wedding photographer asking people at a wedding to sign model releases. And, it’s not just the couple being married, it’s everyone else that gets caught in the crossfire. Do they all sign releases? I doubt it.

    And, I’ve never heard anyone claim that all wedding photographers get clients to sign releases that state that the images will be taken and used out of the context in which they were shot.

    You’re describing wedding photography as a way to make stock images for resale to make more money from the event with or without the client’s consent. I’m amazed you don’t see the ethical overstep in this.

  • TBreg

    It is a nice deal but it is not like you will be set for life. It will depend on how often you connect with photos professionally. To make a living it has to be a regular occurance. All that said “Good for the person who connected.” He (Or she) earned it.

  • Amy

    Still trying to understand the connection between a wedding photo and a pharmaceutical company. And maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to throw away my self perceived mediocre photos…

  • Damian

    For the argument on who “owns” the photo… I’m a graphic artist, I fix the photos not take them; however I was involved in a conversation with some photographers a while ago and it was rather interestingly brought up that in the U.S. professional wedding photographers own the photos they take – it’s in their contracts. (Having a professional is way different than giving your third cousin twice removed a $100 digital camera.) However in Canada it’s the reverse, the couples own the photos unless they sign them over. I heard it’s actually the law in some areas of the country. Just an interesting note.

  • Martin

    If you look at any wedding photographer contracts, it states model release for whatever the contract states such as “marketing, advertisements, competition entry, portfolio, online usage, commercial, etc” If the clients read thoroughly and didn’t agree, then they would have to arrange another contract of course.

    Standard model releases aren’t out of the norm to be in wedding agreements/contracts at all, so don’t be surprised if you do find MODEL RELEASE statement on all wedding agreements.

  • mojo

    Any idea where/how the company found this photo to begin with?

  • Mike

    really? this photo sucks!

  • Michael Zhang

    We’ve updated the post to include this fact. Thanks John.

  • Michael

    How does a photographer retain copyright if he is paid for his work? If he was a Time photographer the corporation would own the rights, I would imagine. I would think the paying client would have last say on how images of them are used. I can’t imagine she would be happy if she became the face of some terrible medicine.

  • Bill

    “Because you want to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day”

  • diegOdariO SnapShotS

    It’s the impact that’s created by that quick snapshot of life

  • Kristina Williams
  • SunDevil

    and I bet most woulda done it for ‘attribution and link-back’ right? Good onya Ayres!

  • Bob

    I would have hit the X key after importing this.

  • John Mireles

    I’ve seen this comment a bunch – including one from someone who accused me of lying about the image because there’s no way a company would use this. I can’t comment on the pharma company’s art direction or thinking on this case. But I can share a story from earlier in my career.

    About twenty years ago, when I was younger and out to break into the business, I took a road trip through Utah. When I got back, I received a call from the agency who handles Yakima racks asking if I had any road trip photos. Well yes I did! I sent them off a bunch of pretty pictures sure that something would make the cut. The response was, “we want something more real looking.” Not sure what they meant, I sent them some of my outtakes.

    The image they chose was my stinky dirty bare feet propped up on the dash of my ’86 Toyota Celica. It was a throw away to me, but the word from the agency was that my image “saved the campaign.” All the other images they’d looked at were too pretty, too perfect. For the next six months, I’d pick up Rolling Stone or Men’s Fitness and there were my feet.

    The point is, we have an image of what an advertising image is supposed to look like. Maybe this agency didn’t want a beautiful image. Maybe they wanted something raw. Something that looked like the groom’s friend from college shot it with his Canon Rebel. Think about it – that image might be tough to find in a world where everyone is showing their perfectly composed images. Sometimes you just never know what’s gonna sell.

  • Daryl

    Full copyright is owned by the artist of any work unless he expressly releases it to someone else. The clients paid for the time and talent and for any products they purchased. If they wanted to purchase the copyrights, they would have been paying the $18,000. Photographers employed by certain companies sign a contract with the employer saying that the employer owns all copyrights for work created during the contract period. This is true in technology industries as well. As for the couple being happy about the use, as has been stated he would need to secure a model release from them. Certainly the reason for needing it was discussed and they were given compensation they felt was fair.

  • killa bee

    that photo?? wow. that pharmaceutical company got screwed. Good for the photographer though.

  • 9inchnail

    “Why in the world would you be upset about a photographer being well compensated in this day and age?”

    It’s called envy. Which I kind of understand. The photo is not very good and people are getting sick of seeing mediocre images selling for lots of money while they can be happy if more than a dozen people see their work on Flickr.

  • 9inchnail

    You don’t even know that. No one cares for your assumptions.

  • 9inchnail

    I don’t get that either. Photographers consider every image they shoot a piece of art and don’t see it as what it really is, a service. You have been paid for said service and that is it.
    What if the designer of the dress all of a sudden decided that his dress is a piece of art, too. He wants a piece of the cake because without his dress, the image wouldn’t be the same. Maybe the church wants to cash in, too. They provided the scenery, pay a lot of money to keep the building in shape. What about the florist who made that bouquet, the bride is wearing? That’s art, isn’t it? Who compensates him/her?

    You see where this is going? Should we all make our customers, no matter what profession we’re in, sign contracts before offering any kind of service or product so that we have the option to cash in later should the opportunity arise?

  • Jill

    The model release also allows you to publish their images on your website and blog. At least that’s how I use it.

  • Niek

    Why all these arguments about if someone likes the photo or not? Some people like the color red and others hate it… so what? I would have hit the delete key with this one:

  • DE

    Couldn’t you just limit the release to this use then? I understand that photographers want to be able to show their work, but a general model release also lets you sell it and in the case of a paid assignment that would be unacceptable as a default condition for me as a client.

  • Procks

    It’s so sad to see people unable to see how much emotional appeal this photograph has.
    Talking about the agency paying such a huge amount… They are smart people and obviously know the value of this picture for their advertisement campaign.

  • Scott Mains

    To both E & Richard. If you would scrutinise the photographer over the simple request for a release to be signed, the you’ll be a few hundred $ down. Your loss.

    Richard – , the release only need to be from parties immediately identifiable. The kid in the foreground doesn’t need it, nor the head centre left. … I specifically said earlier in this post all releases are obtained with consensual permission. These are to protect both parties, so don’t bring up ethics.

    The chances are, as I have said in another post on this thread. The wedding photographer may have realised after the wedding when the initial interest was picked up on the photograph, in which he would have got the releases signed. This is a way I would use if the opportunity came up, and I’m guessing how other photographers would too.

    I am not describing weddings as a way to make stock. But if you have the opportunity to make 18,000 and the couple are happy with it… then what is the problem?

  • Scott Mains

    Wouldn’t have a clue, sorry.

  • Bua

    One word; HOOHA!

  • capppppppist

    Yeah, we could try justifying the cost based on the inputs. Honestly the best way to price it would be use supply and demand. As long as photographers who have the photos people want hold out, companies will pay more.

  • Scott Mains

    But typically some of the companies that I have worked with have/or outsource artworking mock ups to designers. These folks usually have a database of photographers. But it could be as simple as doing a google search for wedding photographers in [city] and being lucky enough to hit the first page. Unfortunately this is speculative and I couldn’t give a concrete answer as there are many ways in which it could have been sourced.