The differences between commercial and portrait photography

May 27, 2014

Topic: Contracts
Time Investment: 9 Minutes
Suggested Product:  Photography Contract Bundles


Commercial photography vs. Portrait Photography 

We are talking two different animals here.

Completely different species altogether – with varying benefits and drawbacks to each.

Each also come with their own host of legal implications if not handled properly.  Commercial photography can include portrait photographers who are requested to do head-shots, vendor shots, and other marketing related set ups.


What’s the difference?

Commercial photography involves the taking of photographs for commercial uses (product shots, head-shots, etc).  These photographs are often used for the promotional marketing of a business including website placement, product previews, and business card/marketing material images.    Typically, the contract is between a company and the photography business and are seeking for a commercial usage license (discussed more below).

Portrait photography is for personal use by a private individual – these are typically to document a time in their life – not for high-traffic viewing – unless they happen to be a celebrity which in that case you may want to consider a higher rate!

Further, another huge difference is that a photographer may have more restrictions on personal art versus commercial work.  Typically, images taken for marketing uses will be subject to cropping and altering (within the confines of the release).


Usage License Vs Print License

Commercial licenses are typically for usage – as businesses are seeking to have high-resolution digital files for use in marketing where as private clients are typically wanting to print for personal use.  This idea alone, ignoring the amount of work for commercial, demands a higher compensation number.

It is not uncommon for commercial work to request copyright release. You, as the business owner, get the all-important job of determining if you’ll accept these terms.  Most photographers insist on keeping ownership of images, and that is okay.  Just consider that some jobs may not budge on selling of copyright – and if you DO decide to sell copyright ownership, you have no claims to the image whatsoever (unless the purchaser licenses you back a license of usage- such as for inclusion in your portfolio) – so price wisely!!


Pricing Commercial Usage Licenses

Pricing for each person depends so much on their business model.  When you know your costs of business, desired profits, and all that the job entails, you are better able to provide an estimate.

First, always research what the market is demanding right now.

Second, figure up your price for shooting and then per use.  A commonly used formula for a portrait photographer who has been asked for commercial usage license can take their portrait print license rate times 3 or 4 PER USE.

Portrait licenses are typically a one time fee for personal print use – whether they want to just print wallets or put their face on a sweatshirt for Great Aunt Sally in Seattle.  Commercial usage work gets a bit more in depth – as the photographer you can demand a price per usage.


Keys to a Personal Print License


Keys to a Commercial Use License

  • Always use a Commercial Use Contract – NOT a personal portrait contract
  • Charge per license use
  • Ensure company does not utilize photographs in any way that can destroy the reputation of the photography business (i.e. pornographic, illegal, libelous, etc). 


Barters for Commercial Photographs

Many times barters will arise between prop vendors or local businesses for vendor shots/head shots.  Barters have a tendency to leave some unequal expectations.  Always make sure you have a contract outlining who will receive what, when and how.  I’m not a fan of barters because of the potential for unequal expectations – but if you do it, then make sure you keep the lines straight with a photography barter contract as though it were a standard session.



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