Pricing: An Editorial Assignment Becomes Personal Use

Pricing: An Editorial Assignment Becomes Personal Use

This post is a part of our on-going look at pricing photography.

The Brief:

A photographer recently asked the following in a Facebook group:

“What do you guys do when someone asks for photos for personal use? I took portraits and documentary photos of someone for an editorial in a new publication, and the subject wants them for personal use. Do any of you have a pricing standard you use for this?”

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

Photo by Allen Murabayashi

How would you price it?

We asked four photographers how they would handle it.

Stanley Leary, Roswell, GA

I would create a boilerplate menu for “personal use”. Prints for walls were at one time a huge way people appreciated photos, but today I believe most want a copy to, in essence, put on their virtual reality wall: social media.

The biggest problem is monitoring the usage of your images. I believe there is a trust but verify mentality to use. Just be sure your communication that is in writing [contract] states the usage that is allowed.

You may want to do something like this (pricing is for illustration purposes only)

  • Original file (5568×3712) $250 [no watermark]
  • JPEG – x-large (4800 px)$70 [includes watermark]
  • JPEG – large (2400 px) $50 [includes watermark]
  • JPEG – medium (1200 px) $35 [includes watermark]
  • JPEG – small (600 px) $25 [includes watermark]

Todd Rosenberg, Chicago, IL

Social media such as Instagram and Facebook are today’s “house.” And depending on the person who is getting the image, their posting it can be also be beneficial to you. I can only give you my situation, but I will use the Lyric Opera of Chicago as an example. Any performer who is general cast or chorus can have access to the images for “personal use” which includes their FB and Instagram pages. I have priced it into the fee for the Opera because that is one of the ways the performance is promoted. But there is a mandatory credit. They can order prints, but they cannot use them on their personal websites. They must credit and failure to credit results in fees. Any performer who is listed in cast order can have one image 2500px wide for personal social media. the rest they pay for at a structured fee. Dancers for the dance companies I work with are able to have the images for personal use, because they cannot afford it, and usually their followers will eventually follow me. Social media isn’t going to make you rich, but it can get you work.

Preston Mack, Orlando, FL

I usually give away a few photos for personal use. I make sure I am clear about that.

I think that time is a person’s most valuable asset. When someone gives me their time so I can take their photo, I am truly grateful. When the subject is a regular person (i.e. a person being featured in a magazine story) I usually offer them a photo for their personal use. It is my way of thanking them for their time –  but I am explicit that it is only for personal use. These days, people just want it for their personal Facebook page or Instagram.

Noah Berger, San Francisco, CA

As long as I somewhat liked the subject, I always send the file stipulating no professional use (linked, professional fb page etc.) but allowing posting to purely personal fb. I figure if someone worked with me to produce the shot I wanted, it’s a nice thank you.


A photographer’s definition of “personal use” and a consumer’s definition likely don’t align. There is nothing inherently wrong with giving photos to a subject for free, but photographers do need to be explicit in what constitutes personal use and what usages would require a licensing fee. And even then, there is nuance. Does Facebook constitute personal use? What if it’s a Facebook page promoting a business? What if it’s a Facebook page for an actor in regional theatre? What if it’s for a law firm?

It also isn’t unusual for people with large social media followings (e.g. celebrities, musicians, et al) to simply steal photos and use them in their feed, while showing a profound ignorance on the subject of copyright.

What did the photographer do?

After weighing the pros and cons, the photographer told us:

“I still don’t have a blanket policy for handling these requests, I handle each one on a case-by-case basis. When I have a lot of time with subject and develop a good deal of rapport, I may send a print or two, typically 5×7. I always wait until after the story has printed and then choose something to send, many times it’s different than what published.

“I try not to send digital files, but if I do, I always send a low resolution, like 72dpi @ 1500 pixels on the long edge. And whether it’s a print or file, I tell them that it’s for personal use only, which means making a print for their home or posting to social media.  

“In other instances, where I get the feeling they are looking for a LinkedIn profile photo (like when taking a portrait of a businessperson) or something for business promotion, I tell them that I can license the photo if they are interested. They rarely are.

“I recently had a case where an athlete from a college I did some work for several years ago wanted a file. I told him I don’t sell files (which I don’t) and that he could purchase a print if he wanted. I probably could come up with a pricing plan for purchasing downloads, but that’s just not something I’m interested in.

“My main concern, like I’m sure most photographers are, is to not be taken advantage of. There’s nothing foolproof, so I just use my best judgement in each instance.”

Responses have been edited and condensed.

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Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Craig Ferguson at 9:13 am

    One thing I often do with regular people who want a personal use photo for their social media is give it to them at no charge but have them make a donation to charity. There’ve been a few times when they’ve later come to me or recommended me when they need photography for their business.

  2. david tedman at 3:45 am

    It’s a difficult one to get right especially if you are just starting out. If you are already established it’s easy to be mean, but, if you’re not it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.
    The questions you have to ask are “What’s in it for me as the photographer?” The second is “Can I be bothered to argue over a picture for somebodies FB page when I could be spending my time getting that assignment that’ll mean I never have to think about this stuff again?”

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