by Wonderful Machine CEO Bill Cramer.

For about six years now, I’ve been shooting assignments for AARP. I’ve mostly worked for their member newsletter, AARP Bulletin. And more recently, I’ve shot a few things for their website. They also have a nice magazine called AARP The Magazine, which has a paid circulation of over 22 million according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. The subjects they have me shoot tend to be senior citizens (as you might imagine) and the stories cover just about anything, from nursing home romances to social security swindlers.

Recently, photo editor Bronwen Latimer hired me to do an environmental portrait of a guy named Bob Dunn, who each year flies from his home in Delaware to play Santa Claus at a mall in Oklahoma. (Interestingly, I learned from him that there are three main companies who are in the business of representing professional Santas, and until recently Kodak was one of them.) The photo was for a story on seasonal workers and Bronwen asked me to make a picture of him at home in his Santa suit. I’m not sure how many photographers would think to put AARP on their list of dream clients, but I’ve always enjoyed working for them. Everyone there is really nice, they pay pretty well, they have a pretty reasonable contract and they have a massive audience.

I’ve found that a small percentage of magazines I’ve worked with over the years have no contract at all. In those cases, I send them mine. Of the rest, about half have a contract that governs assignments into the indefinite future, while others, like AARP, send out a contract for each assignment. When I do get contracts with no time limit, I tend to add an expiration date. Here’s the contract (click to enlarge):

Here’s how it breaks down:

1) Assignment. Who my assigning editor is and how the pictures will be used.

2) Description and Logistics. Who the subject is and when the shoot is scheduled. I can’t recall if it was the case here, but I frequently get calls for shoots that have already been scheduled. I find that some clients like to lock down the subject first, then find a photographer who’s available on that date. In cases where I’m already booked for that date, I’ll ask the client if I can check the subject’s availability for another available date rather than turning down the shoot, and often that works out.

3) Due Date. Strictly speaking, my normal schedule to turn around a web gallery is 48 hours. But as a practical matter, I deliver it as soon as I can. I don’t necessarily charge a rush fee even if the client asks to see it sooner than that. My normal turnaround time for reproduction file preps is another 48 hours and I frequently do charge rush fees (usually 75.00 additional for 24 hour delivery).

4) Compensation. I normally get 600.00 or 650.00/day plus expenses (assistant, digital fee, mileage, parking, tolls and meals (when appropriate) for assignments for The Bulletin and Many publications pay based on the actual space the photos occupy in the magazine in addition to or instead of a day rate. But space has never been a consideration because the pictures tend to be small in the Bulletin and on their website. They’re capping the expenses at 700.00, which I think is reasonable for web assignments. They seem to have a bit more latitude on Bulletin assignments (and I suspect even more for the magazine). Most contracts will establish that the photographer is an independent contractor rather than an employee, which is fine. However, there may be situations for some photographers who work at the client’s office/studio and with the client’s equipment, that then should be paid as an employee, with the client matching the payroll taxes.

5) Use. Even though the Assignment paragraph says that the picture is for “online and other digital media,” the Use paragraph says that AARP can use it “in any media provided that the photographs remain associated with the Assignment Article.” It’s vague to me whether that means any AARP publication or whether they’re referring just to They can use it for promotional purposes. Third party use is extra. Even though I think it could be more clearly written, I chose not to try to correct it. However, I’ve seen many cases where magazines offer very low budgets and ask for lots of use beyond the basic first print use and I’ll usually strike most of those extras.

6) Recording. Not sure if this applies to “behind the scenes videos.”

7) Deliverables. They ask that the photographer add metadata to the images. That’s unusual, but perfectly reasonable. (Now I just have to get into the habit of doing it.)

8) Representations and Warranties. Fine.

9) Miscellaneous. The agreement lasts as long as the term of the copyright to the photographs. I’ve never seen that before. It’s fine though, and I don’t know that it makes any difference. We will all be long gone. AARP returned a signed copy of the contract to me, which is really nice. Typically, whoever sends the contract signs it last. In cases where the photographer sends a client their contract, the photographer shouldn’t sign it first, because if the recipient makes revisions, it looks like the photographer agreed to those revisions.

Santa was a good sport, as you can see:

Here’s how they used it:

Here’s the invoice and model release (click to enlarge):

Invoice comments: I always refer to the date of the contract on the invoice so it’s clear which contract applies to that job. I have a full-time assistant, but I find most magazine accounting departments want to see an assistant invoice anyway, so I just create one. I usually charge magazines 300.00 for a web gallery and 25.00 for basic file prep. I normally only charge the client for meals if it’s a full day shoot. This one was just a few hours, so even though we had lunch on the way, I didn’t bill it to the client (though I did pay for my assistant’s meal.)

Release comments: I’m not sure what the “good and valuable consideration” would be in an editorial situation like this, but I don’t normally pay subjects for magazine shoots unless they’re hired as professional models. The release says that the model “understand(s) that AARP owns the copyright to the photos.” Not sure why it would matter why the subject would need to understand that. It contradicts the photographer contract.

Interview: When I cornered Bronwen for an interview, she deferred to MaryAnne Golon who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. MaryAnne is Consulting Director of Photography & Multimedia for AARP. And for those of you who don’t know, she has had a very accomplished career as a photo editor, including running Time Magazine’s photo department for a while and winning lots of awards along the way. She will be on the POYi jury this year for the University of Missouri and she is an advisory board member for Facing Change: Documenting America (, “a group of seriously talented photojournalists and writers creating a historical look at America during these turbulent times.” You can read more about MaryAnne at

I know that AARP hires photographers for AARP: The Magazine, AARP Bulletin and Does AARP use photography in other ways or for other products?

AARP assigns original photography for the magazine, the Bulletin, and the website based on established industry editorial rates and licensing.  Other areas of AARP may assign photography for advertising, marketing, and promotional uses across all platforms including print, broadcast, and the web.  The Brand area of the Association handles celebrity ambassadors and experts and assigns accordingly either for specific uses or as work for hire.

I’ve read that AARP has over 50 million members. Roughly how many people see the magazine, the bulletin and the website?

All 50 million members of AARP receive AARP, the magazine, and AARP The Bulletin by mail.  Web usage by members has been on the rise.  Here are some interesting factoids from 2011: has 5.5 million unique visitors every month with 825 million individual page views.

How frequently do the Bulletin and the magazine come out?

The Bulletin publishes 10 times a year and the magazine 6 times a year.

How do you describe the Bulletin in terms of the format/paper, compared to the magazine (tabloid, newsletter?)

The Bulletin is AARP’s nimblest print vehicle and is intended to be newsy.  It is printed on a high grade newsprint and can very much be seen as a newsletter.  The magazine is bi-monthly and is printed on high quality stock and is a glossier lifestyle publication.

How much does the Day Rate vary from photographer to photographer or from project to project?

There is little variation of the day rate unless rights beyond editorial are negotiated up front.  The magazine day rate is $800 per day and the Bulletin and website pay $600 per day.

Space has never come up for The Bulletin because it tends to use photographs fairly small. Does the magazine pay space over the day rate when they use a lot of pictures from an assignment or large pictures?

There is no space over day rate at AARP. The rates are comparable or above industry standards and include non-exclusive online and one-time print rights for the publications.

Do you have any thoughts about how editorial photographers are going to have to adapt generally, to the changing marketplace?

Freelance editorial photographers will need to develop multiple client bases if they have not already done so. The editorial market is shrinking in the journalism realm, but growing in other areas including lifestyle, fashion, and portraiture. I think social media is a great tool for freelance editorial photographers to link out to their websites and highlight their recent work. Twitter and Facebook are the giants of the social platforms.  LinkedIn is a more serious business-oriented site for posting. There are available platforms, such as Tweetdeck, that freelancers can use to post simultaneously to several sites at once to market their work.


If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating or producing one of your projects, contact Wonderful Machine.

Recommended Posts


  1. Great post Bill.

  2. Looked at that invoice…..def leaving about $700 on the table.

    no billing for digital package or lighting? and why wouldn’t you bill for lunch?

    • you missed the part where he said expenses were capped at $700…

      • Doh!

  3. Also, I regular bill $75-$100 per final file for prep on editorial. $25 seems pretty low.

  4. Incredibly transparent Bill. Contract terms can be baffling. They start with boilerplate then the photo editor, legal and CFO/owner fight over the terms and the result is a mess.

  5. Thanks for the info!

    I’m surprised at the $700 budget cap. That seems low for such a prominent publication…

    • probably b/c it’s for web….I’ve shot for the mag in the past and they had a pretty solid budget.

      • Ah, I see.

        That’s something I haven’t come across much in assignments — web exclusive imagery. Do you think that will be more and more prominent in the future?
        Also, what about the possibility of ‘tablet’ exclusive imagery (i.e. – magazine creating content specifically for digital publications). It seems like calculating budgeting and rates could become murky in the near future….

      • See section 5) b. – “…right to publish the photos in any media…”
        Not just for web.

        • Oh, and section 5) c. where they can use it for publicity/advertising/promotion.

        • Yo. did you read the story: It’s vague to me whether that means any AARP publication or whether they’re referring just to


          They can use it for promotional purposes

          • I did.
            …assume you mean @David Strohl/@Experienced Editorial Photog
            I’ve shot for a number of fitness mags and they do the whole “full rights now and forever in perpetuity we own you, your photographs and if you leave it sitting around your camera, wife and kids and can publish it in any means currently available or new media invented by 6 generations from now”
            This isn’t bad, just like you say a bit murky. I don’t like a lot of legal jargon and stuff filling up a contract, but better to be concise and over-worded than leave it to “interpretation”!

        • true, but I mean initially commissioned by digital/online dept… my experience those departments usually have smaller budgets for assignment work. not always though..

  6. aPhotoEditor = Best.Resource²

    Great post! Thanks for taking the time to write it up!!

  7. Thanks for sharing Bill/WM. Always nice to see what’s going on w/other photogs.

  8. Thank you so much for your posts, Bill. Incredibly helpful and illuminating. I appreciate your transparency.

  9. Very informative – thank you. I find pricing the most difficult part of running a photography business. With the AARP Model release attached to your final invoice, does that release you to use the images in any way as well? Are you attached to that release as an assignee?

    • No, not the way I read it. My rights are the same as if there was no release at all. That is, I could license the picture for editorial use, but I’d need specific permission from the subject to use the picture commercially.

  10. Bottom line, great shots Bill!

  11. I was reading about the subscription statistics for AARP somewhere recently, they have either the third or four largest number of subscribers, mainly due to who every subscribes to the services gets the Magazine and bulletin. Lots of people 50+, at least I think that is the age threshold. Thanks Rob & Bill. Very interesting.

    • “who every” should read “who ever”

  12. Hi Bill, thank you for this post, very instructive !!
    I want to know, you say that you sell 300$ the web gallery. But what’s the goal of this Web gallery ? Is it just a web gallery where your client can choose the photos that you will clean and format for print or press ? Thank you for your answer !
    A french photographer

    • Christophe, the web gallery fee (some call it a capture fee) compensates the photographer for the equipment, software, internet connection, time and expertise required to provide digital images to the client for editing (which is generally separate from the creative fee). For most editorial assignments, I charge 300.00 per shoot day (plus 25.00 per reproduction file prep), for corporate, I charge 400.00 – 500.00 per shoot day (plus 50.00 per reproduction file prep).

  13. Awesome transparency, thanks Bill.

    Nice shots too, although I thought a professional Santa would have a more authentic looking suit. Maybe it’s the belt that’s throwing me off ;-)

  14. I love these posts.

    One thing i want to point out. Bill you under quoted your mileage rate. 2012 IRS rating for mileage are 55.5 cents or .56 cents.,,id=250882,00.html

    Also a curious question. Your rate says 650 a day. How many hours of that are you actually working? So what i’m getting at are you pricing based on hourly rate, day rate, or per project based on what the client has to offer for a photographic budget?


    • Yes Ryan, you’re right about the mileage rate. That was just an oversight on my part. As for charging by the day, that’s customary for most magazines (and for many commercial projects too). Charging by the hour is splitting hairs for most projects, though it can be appropriate in some situations, like this: A “day” is normally up to 9 hours (door to door). It’s good to have an understanding ahead of time whether you’re going to get paid extra beyond that.

      • Thanks for the response and link.

        I ask this because I do wedding/portrait work which i book based on hourly rates. I haven’t done any editorial in my career, but i’m hoping (looking) forward to being able to do so in the future. And if so, your posts will certainly help in guiding me through some of the business practices.

  15. Hi Bill, thank you for your answers !! it’s more clear for me now! i think “capture fee” is more appropriate than “Web gallery” :-)
    Great Post !! thanks

Comments are closed for this article!