Business 101: Buying vs. Licensing / by Pat Kane

The Difference Between Buying and Licensing Photos: A Guide for NWT Residents

Photographers are notorious sucky-babies. We hold our work in high regard and we treat photos as precious, rare and fragile gifts to the gods. I admit that this can come off as eye-rolling nonsense. People all around the world take pictures every second of every day. Really, the ones who call themselves professional photographers should get over themselves, right? Well, yes and no. Some photographers are insufferable weinerheads - that is true - but there are laws and rules that everyone has to play by despite some unfortunate personalities in this industry.  That said, let’s cut through the crap and figure out why buying a photo is different from licensing one.


Digital Files for Business = photos that appear in annual reports, ads, trade show displays, posters, banners, websites, etc, etc.

Here’s an analogy: A 2014 Ford F-150 costs about $60,000. But you can rent one for the weekend for roughly $300 (I’m guessing). This is the difference between buying a photo and licensing a photo. Read on.

Suppose you purchase a digital photo to use in an advertisement in News North. What you are doing is LICENSING that photo for a particular usage. Using that photo once will cost a few dollars, let’s say $100 for sake of argument. It’s like renting the F-150 for the weekend.

You are not allowed to use that image again (for a different use, ie a Trade Show background). You will need to re-license that image for that (new) particular usage. Why? Because you don’t OWN that photo. Using the truck analogy again: You can’t go back to car rental place a month later, hop into the F-150 again and say “What? I rented this like a month ago!” Same deal with photo licensing.

But what if you want to BUY that photo and use forever and ever and ever? Well, that really doesn’t happen anymore. Photographers aren’t as willing to sell their work for unlimited usage because in the past, clients have bought photos and then given them away to every Tom, Dick and Harry they met. Next thing you know, that one image popped up all over the place, which resulted in a huge loss of income for that photographer. So ya, buying an image to use forever is kind of unheard of nowadays.

That said, some photographers ARE willing to sell unlimited usage terms but it will cost A LOT more. Remember how licensing a one-time use for an ad was $100? Well, buying a photo for unlimited use will increase that price to offset any potential lost earnings of that image being re-used and misused. Ballpark figure for buying a photo for unlimited use? You’re looking at upwards of $500-$2000 PER IMAGE depending on the image and the photographer's price point. Yes, that sounds nuts but now you're buying the Ford F-150, not just renting it for the weekend.

So, what is a fair licensing price?

Have a look at our stock site True North Photos. There are all kinds of usage types in there - try it yourself. Simply click an image, add it to the cart and follow the prompts until you get a price quote. We priced our images by looking at the rates of Getty Images, Alamy, Firstlight and other stock agencies. THEN WE TOOK 60%. OFF. That's a fair deal for everyone.

Buying vs. Licensing: PRINTS FOR WALL ART

Wall Art = canvas or framed prints that you hang on your wall.

Now, suppose I sell you a print. Yes, you are BUYING that particular print but you are not the copyright holder of that image - meaning you can't copy the image and resell it. Put it this way, if you buy a copy of Charlie’s Angels 2 (a terrible movie, by the way) then yes, you own that copy but you can't copy that video and resell it to your friends. Not that you would want to.

Make sense?