By Suzanne Sease, creative consultant

Many photographers and photo editors have asked me to look into rates for social media use. I reached out to Suzanne Sease for the first of what will be a series of articles looking into the pricing and usage. – rob

When Rob asked me to reach out to Art Directors and Art Producers to get an idea of what photographers are charging for social media, I got a surprising lesson. Since I was an Art Producer for over 20 years, I am very fortunate to be able to reach out to those currently in the field. To get a more complete understanding of pricing I spoke with people from traditional advertising agencies to social media ad agencies to in house corporate ad agencies. These businesses were all over the country from large to small cities.

I found quite a range in pricing with free use from amateurs to inexpensive stock to photographers shooting original content making the best rates. Several articles I found mentioned clients taking the ad budget for TV and allocating it to social media to use the free venues (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube to name a few) to promote their brand. Because these venues are free, clients sometimes put little value in paying for images. Many have social media marketing rolled into use by asking for unlimited. Some said they spell it out like consumer print, social and internet because they don’t need trade. If they don’t have a great budget they will not ask for unlimited because it is print where the money is spent and social is thrown in.


Many clients doing social media only are looking for stock and a Senior Art Producer at large top agency I talked to said they pay as little as $50.00 to $65.00 per image for use with top brands. The images were anything from a scuba diver, grandfather and grandson fishing, a campfire, sandcastle on the beach, and cows grazing that were shot well. These images came from Getty, Masterfile, Corbis and Shutterstock.

One Creative Director at a social media advertising agency said they felt that places like Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram were going to make a photographers business harder while another Senior Art Producer said that Flickr was a dangerous alternative, because releases are not filed and determining if the person who posted the image is actually the true owner of the copyright can be difficult. They said they will only work with known stock companies because their contracts protect as well as indemnify their client. Another Senior Art Producer at another large International ad agency said they recommend clients purchase royalty free images from $300 to $500 each so they can use it forever. They also said that banner ads would price between $500 and $700 for year with a rights managed image. If they used rights managed images for social media, the range is $300 to $500 for the year.

There are some photographers who have positioned themselves to work on social media campaigns. I interviewed one photographer who has been asked to do many social media only campaigns and the fees have a huge disparity because of different client budgets. On the high end, they got around $8,000 for 6 shots in 1 day of shooting.On the low end was $650 for one image/unlimited usage. They said that most clients are looking for quick images that do not have the detail and production value of a print shoot. On the average shoot, the client wants up to 25 images with social media use only for around $5,000.

The best way to position yourself is to be on a retainer for a client so you can shoot when the client has an immediate need (sometimes in real time). This goes for about $10,000 a month for social media use only.

A Creative Director at a social media ad agency said they would pay $500.00 for a one image shoot with lasting 2-3 hours total (pre-pro, shoot and edit). This is how fast clients want to get their social media marketing up. And for shoots when they need 15-25 images in one day, their client pays $2,000 max. Some clients will have usage based on time but more and more are asking for unlimited.

An example of the speed of the images needed, if you remember during the 2013 Super Bowl when the power went out, it was the ad agency for Oreo (360i) who sent this tweet out and it was advertising gold. It was because usage had been covered in the original negotiation that allowed them to tweet it.


Kit Kat just surpassed Oreo at Apple’s expense with the “bending” iPhone 6 plus.


And then there is Real Time, where someone is hired to shoot and send images out as they are shot. The fashion industry likes to do this as well as brands holding an event to get more people to the event. In this situation they will pay about $1,000 to $2,000.00 per day plus expenses for a full buyout.

Finally and unfortunately in some cases advertisers are starting to use everyday people to add to their social media marketing to give their brand more attention. They are not paying for the rights to use those image.


Here are some interesting articles I found:

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be brand driven and not specialty. Follow her at SuzanneSease.

She is presenting with Kat Dalager Market Right 2014 in NYC on Wednesday, October 29th

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  1. The problem with the IP based license model is that, for many years, it seemed to encourage a lower day rate in relation to the license fee. For a LONG time, the license fees were the true profit center for commercial photographers. Entire books were written years ago espousing license fees as the true road to wealth for a photographer and, before electronic usage came along, they were.

    This has caused a VERY BAD side effect: a devaluation of the photographers skills.

    Read that over and over and over. Then do it again.

    Look at it from the perspective of a high paying client over time. Back before the interenet became so prevelant, they were probably used to paying maybe a max of $5K a day for a high end, well established photographers skills and possibly $50-100K+ for license fees depending on the number of images and their useage. The clients were essentially trained, after years of shoots with this model, that the real value is in the image usage, not the skill of the photographer. Now fast forward to present day. We have stock agencies and clients that have decided, for what reason I have no idea, that any use which is electronic or online simply isn’t worth much – as low as $1 per image.

    We live in a world with increasing electronic image usage. If your a photographer who used to depend on large print (or even broadcast) license fees to keep the doors open and staff paid; you better start reversing the old model to $50K a day for labor and $500 for the unlimited license fee. Should we bundle the fees into a generic “creative fee”? I’ve seen this become more and more common place. It is, in my opinion a halfway point to reversing the damage. Ultimately we need to get to a point where we can just openly state on an invoice line item that all the value is in the photographers skills and that value is going to be high, even if it’s just a one off shot for the instagram feed.

    Bottom line: we need a new business model, and it needs to NOT devalue my skill and talent, because at the end of the day, that’s really the only thing we can truly control the sale of.

    • A “day rate” – if the term is used at all in a given transaction – should have little to no relationship to the license fee charged. None. Compare: 4 hours spent shooting a table top ad for a single POP ad, one year term, at Joe’s Pottery Shop on Main Street only to 4 hours spent shooting essentially the same table top ad for Bed Bath & Beyond’s retail stores, on-line shopping and co-op ads for a 4 year usage term. The former may have a licensing fee of $X the later ought have a licensing fee of at least $50X. Compare the assignments which reflect the same skill/reputation, same amount of time spent in prep and shooting but understandably wildly different fees.

      Chris’ point above about charging is well taken but remember that photographers have permitted their work and the attendant licensing fees, to be de-valued. Their failure to properly negotiate licensing fees and/or simply being outsmarted by professionals from ad agencies who are better negotiators, resulted in “cheap to free” web use for many years. To paraphrase Toyota, “The client’s asked for it and they got it”. They received cheap/free usage because creatives and their reps gave it away for the asking.

      Now with the changing digital landscape photographers (and some reps) have awaken from their slumber to find they need to battle decades of (now) “historically low fees for web use”. The “suits” at the ad agencies call this, “loser’s remorse”.

  2. Thanks for the info. Very interesting stuff! Pricing can be so difficult sometimes…

  3. I strongly urge photographers not to fall into the trap of giving the number of viewers (or hits) too much consideration. New media prides itself on hitting precise demographics, “likely buyers”, “inclined consumers” and so on. The ad agencies have been wise enough to employ these considerations rather than just numbers of eye balls in making their media buys. Who is viewing is more important than how many people are viewing.

    Our favorite example comes from the world of radio. In 1987 the first all sports radio station WFAN was started in NYC. It never achieved the highest ratings in its market but was nevertheless near or at the top in ad revenues, billings and profits. Why? Because A. it delivered an incredibly high proportion of narrow demographic – 16 to 34 year old, male listeners and B. those who did listen tended to be passionate sports nuts and thus listened for hours. Classic all news radio in drive time had much higher ratings but also a very diverse audience whose members tended to switch the dial after having had the news, sports, traffic and weather delivered to them 20 minutes. No sense in hearing it again.

    The same bogus arguments about views or hits are made by copyright infringers and their attorneys when caught red handed. The damages arising from the infringement of a registered image of say a 2015 Corvette Sting Ray would be greater is the offending use was sent by a Chevy dealer via post card to say 500 classic Corvette owners with large disposable incomes, than if broadcast in a single local TV commercial seen by 50,000 viewers watching re-runs of “The Golden Girls” at 4AM in an economically depressed economic of the country. Of those 50,000 viewers few would be in the market for a brand new Corvette and even fewer could fit into the driver’s seat.

    An obvious and logical analysis? Yes. Often ignored by photographers and their reps? Yes.

    • That’s a point I think very few actually realise.

      As for the article, it’s about time we had a discussion of how commercial photography is priced for social media use – I think many people think of it as “communal sharing” and forget that the brand is benefiting heavily from it.

  4. In general, I like the way photography is tiding up with online medias, specially Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. But, from a photographer point of view, new platforms for publishing pictures are becoming more challenging when it comes to invoice clients.

  5. Thank you Suzanne for your thorough research and informative article. Thank you Rob for addressing the issue.

    I just shot my first social media specific campaign and was very confused regarding the pricing. I have found this article to be very helpful as I look to shoot more social media specific content for brands. In my experience, the social media world mimics the print world in the fact that editorial brands expect free to very low rates and the commercial brands are willing to pay the premium depending on their size/ reputation. I am very interested in exploring this subject further, especially since social media marketing is fairly new to a lot of brands (new and established).

  6. Great timing to read this article. I attended a photo seminar recently where one of the photo speakers was stating the importance of licensing one’s own images for income. When this speaker asked if anyone in the audience license their work less then a 5 hands were raised.The speaker was surprised to see this!

    My thinking is that many don’t know about image licensing or that photographers are no longer finding
    this to be an option with their clients.

    Granted image licensing for social online media is going to be much less than for a print campaign, I still hope to see changes in how pricing photography in a professional market will be in the next 5 years +

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