How to save money on commercial image licensing


The three components of commercial image licensing and how to save money negotiating them for interior photography


As a photographer new to the commercial world, I remember feeling overwhelmed trying to navigate the ins and outs of licensing the content I was creating. There are so many contingencies and options for companies and photographers, but there’s surprisingly little information on how to negotiate licensing terms for interior photography.

Please note: This article specifically speaks to licensing commercial images for interior photography; product and other commercial photography will have differences in licensing terms. This is also specific to hiring a photographer to create content for you versus licensing stock images.


Commercial photography advertises or promotes your business or product. Commercial images must have copyright releases for any recognizable people in the photos and may not include other copyrighted content (e.g. someone wearing a shirt with the Nike logo on it). An example of commercial photography being used would be an ad in a magazine where you paid to have content placed or an article posted by an interior publication highlighting a home you redesigned.


Three components make up commercial photography: Advertorial content, editorial content, and publication content. All of three have different purposes and can be licensed separately or inclusively (often called a buy-out). Advertorial content applies to advertising your product or business. Anywhere you’ve paid to place content can be considered advertorial: Social media ads, billboards, commercials, ad space in magazines. If you’re using the content to promote your services, it’s advertorial. Content considered to be editorial illustrates or accompanies a story. This could be photos alongside a magazine article of a house you remodeled or a blog post about the Airbnb experience you provide. Publication content refers specifically to books and could be a book about Italian interior design that wants to include photos of a home you redesigned or a book on unique things to do in Palm Springs that wants to include photos of your business or experience there.

first step to saving money on commercial image licensing

Hire a photographer who includes full advertorial and editorial licensing in his or her image delivery. If you’re an interior designer hiring an interior photographer to shoot a home you designed, you need the images for your portfolio (advertorial), the ability to submit them to online publications like Domino and Apartment Therapy (editorial), for social media and magazine ads (advertorial), for social media and blog posts (editorial), and printing images in internal publications or to hang up in your office (advertorial). That sounds like a lot, right? And paying for separate licensing per image or image set can get expensive fast. An interior photographer who includes both advertorial and editorial licensing is going to save you money, prevent future issues with image use, and remove any unexpected budget concerns. My standard interior photography contracts include this full licensing, because it saves you money, it saves me time, and it makes our working relationship that much easier.

second step to saving money on commercial image licensing

Avoid publication licensing until you need it. Publication licensing is specific to printed materials, like books and magazines. Having a home tour featured on Apartment Therapy is covered by your editorial license, and paying for an ad in Architectural Digest is covered by your advertorial license. If you don’t have an immediate need for a publication license, don’t overpay a photographer to include that. You can always come back and negotiate a publication license with your interior photographer for a specific image or set of images.


  • Hire a photographer who includes full advertorial and editorial licensing in his or her contract.

  • Avoid publication licensing until you need it.

  • Be up-front with your budget and don’t be afraid to talk about money, contracts, and licensing terms. The more you communicate with your interior photographer, the smoother the content creation process will be for everyone.

  • One thing to note: Photographers retain copyright on content they create, so even with advertorial and editorial licensing, companies are unable to sell this content to third parties, e.g. selling the images to Architectural Digest for a feature story. That’s a violation of copyright law.


I’m a commercial, lifestyle, and interior photographer based in Denver, Colorado. I work with companies and brands of all sizes to create content highlighting who you are and what you do. I love traveling and am lucky to have a job that incorporates work with travel (most recently California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Iowa but ideally back to Europe this year!) I love using photography to show people who you are, engage your customers, and grow your business. Everyone has a story to tell, so let’s tell it well.

Anna HudsonComment