Contributor Photos Of Writers

- - Working

Question from a reader:

Is there an “industry standard” for compensating photographers when their photographs of contributor writers (journalists) are printed in a magazine?


The writer is a friend, whom I cheerfully and with pleasure photographed a few years ago, seeking to provide him with publicity photographs, etc. At the time, I worked pro bono for him–my choice–with the understanding that, as far as he knew, I should be compensated each time my photograph gets used in a publication. Sure enough, a few months later, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a large and very well regarded publishing house with a request for payment delivery details, etc. for a single use in a monthly magazine. Very nice.

Soon after, though, a different large publishing house sent a request for the writer’s photo. I submitted the file digitally, and then when I had heard nothing more (received no compensation) a few weeks later, I sent a polite inquiry, which was rebuffed with the explanation that the magazine understood I had submitted the photograph as a courtesy. A subsequent, more forceful request was similarly denied, and I let the matter drop.

I was e-mailed yesterday by another magazine in that same (latter) publishing house, this time with a form attached for me to return “at [my] convenience, within a week”. The form granted the publisher my permission to use my photograph of one of their contributors (my writer-friend) without cost to the publisher. I have not responded.

Apart from the detail that the writer is a friend with whom I’m keen to maintain good relations, and whom I happy to promote in any way I can, I’m sure the general situation is fairly common, although I have searched in vain for anything online that addresses general standards with an industry-wide viewpoint. I guess that magazines have independent policies on whether and how much they compensate photographers in all situations, but I would also guess that any self-respecting publisher should at least put a coin in the tip jar.


It’s actually quite simple. Some publications will pay for contributor photos some will not. Why the difference? Some publications place zero value on that image. You will see them publishing crappy snapshots of a writer taken on a fishing trip where everyone else had to be cut out of the image. I would argue that every image in the magazine deserves careful consideration if you are serious about the photography and design of your magazine but, convincing them that professionally created contributor images, a laVanity Fair, add value, can be impossible.

So, how do you deal with giving your buddy publicity images? All but the very densest individuals will understand that when the writer says “contact this photographer for an image,” they will be paying for the use. When they contact you be proactive about the price and ask what their rate is for contributor photos. Be prepared to counter with your minimum, because there’s a good chance it will be below that. Finally, set it up with your buddy what he can use the image for and when he should send them calling for the high res. Lastly, understand that some people will place no value on this image, walk away from it, they’ll be calling him for fishing trip photos no matter what the price.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. Steve Hlavac

    Well, I’m no expert on these types of issues, but my long-time experience as a photographer has been: head shots and/or other types of portraits of “creative” types such as authors, musicians, and actors are generally considered “press kit” type of material, and generally provided license or royalty-free to a publication. And so, as a shooter, your compensation is almost always from the “client”, i.e. the subject of the photo. So, an actor or author would pay me to do the shoot and provide the images, then they would be free to distribute the work as they see fit to promote themselves (obviously photo credit would go along). Seems to me if you agree to shoot the images for free, that’s kind of the end of it…

    • I agree. If it’s a PR shot then it’s definitely not the magazine’s job to pay the photographer.

  2. Food & Wine tried the same thing with some work I did of a wine merchant and this was no simple thumbnail, it was a quarter page, if I remember right. I found it reprehensible that a publication like that holds it hand out with tin cup.

    Let’s see how much a quarter page ad costs ( ): 1/3rd page at $41,900.

    • Rather striking disparity between what is charged for placing an image in an editorial context versus what they’re willing to pay for one.

  3. Lisa Corson

    As a photo editor, I’ve never worked at a publication that paid for contributor photos. They’re considered free advertising of a sort for the contributors (a place to plug their new projects, books, etc.), so it’s general practice to request a publicity image. It’s up to the contributors to pay someone to shoot those, or ask someone to provide one as a favor.

    That said, if anyone ever sent a photo to me with the stipulation that it be used only if a fee is paid, I would not use it unless I was able to pay up. It is up to you to request compensation, though, in advance. Never assume.

    • This is spot on. It is not an issue with the publication, but rather an issue between the photographer and their friend/client. I learned this lesson early in my career, the hard way, of course. No matter how good a friend they are, you should treat the transaction as business. Get the usage in writing. A verbal agreement holds no water.

  4. I would have to agree with Steve and Lisa. I’ve done many free shoots for friends that are close to me to use in promotions. I have never gone to the publication for money, I willing gave up the money for the friend.

  5. Andre Friedmann

    “Pro bono” is most often a short-hand for “pro bono publico,” for the good of the public. It’s charity and citizenship combined. “Pro bono” here is for the sake of friendship or for the sake of advancing one’s own career, and it clearly backfired.
    The photographer and his friend agreed that the photographs were not worth any money exchanging hands between them. The publisher guessed there was no registered copyright and thought to get in on the same deal, no money changing hands. This is a valuable lesson.