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Commercial Photography vs Portrait Photography – Major Differences and Legal Hacks

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There’s a world of difference between commercial photography and portrait photography. If you’re in the business, it’s important that you know which is which to avoid hassles and unnecessary legal battles. Commercial photography and portrait photography come from opposite spectrums and fall under very different legal provisions and implications. The two should be treated and handled differently when it comes to legal technicalities.

It can get tricky as commercial photography can include headshots, so where does one draw the line? To fully equip yourself on the ultimate differences that you need to be aware of in order to protect your rights and avoid legal troubles, do read on our comprehensive take on the matter. We will discuss the essential differences between commercial photography and portrait photography and give solid legal hacks in handling both. This article is perfect for you if you’re a beginner in the industry. Experts in the industry would also benefit from this as it will clearly delineate differences and essential industry practices that require focus and may require recalibration.

Commercial Photography vs Portrait Photography: What is?

Commercial photography is any form of photographic activity where produced photos are used for commercial purposes. It does not matter if it is a portrait, a headshot, or a product shot – the very moment that it is made clear that a photo or group of photos will be used for commercial purposes, any photographer involved will be then practising commercial photography. Photographs taken for commercial purposes are usually used for marketing. They can be utilized for websites, calling cards, and even product reviews. In such a case, a business contract will be between the photographer or photography business and a company who will be needing a commercial usage license. A commercial photography gig always involves a product photographer that aims to sell not just goods but ideas, concepts, and brands.

On the other hand, portrait photography is not used for commercial purposes. It is for personal use by an individual or group of individuals. Such is usually taken to document a moment, event, or time in an individual’s life. It is not taken to be viewed by the public. 

Main Differences

There are three main differences to consider and remember when determining if a project or gig entails parameters in commercial photography or portrait photography: licensing, pricing, and restriction. 

1. License

There are primarily two kinds of licenses to take note of, usage license and print license.

In commercial photography, businesses need to acquire a usage license to have copies of files in high-resolution. Copyright release also becomes a point of discussion in commercial photography dealings. When you’re a photographer and you sell your copyright ownership, you will have no right whatsoever over the photos that you took. You may have been its creator but you will have no right whatsoever to use it without the company’s approval, consent, and license. Upon selling, you will cease to be its owner. Always remember this when you’re selling your copyright ownership. Ensure that you price ever so wisely.

For private clients that are not in the commercial industry, a basic print license is required when a photo, like a portrait, is set to be for personal use. There are no complicated licensing parameters to consider in non-commercial portrait photography.

2. Pricing

When comparing the two, commercial photography is always priced higher.

Portrait photography work is always priced lower than commercial photography gigs. However, when a portrait photo is to used for commercial purposes, a print license is priced 3x – 4x of its original price PER USE. Remember that pricing is not per print but per use.

Print licenses for portraits are only priced once for the actual printing. On the other hand, photos for commercial usage are priced every single time that they are used. In commercial photography, separate pricing is required for every single use, not in printing.

3. Restriction

Portrait photographs have more restrictions if be compared to commercial photographs. As portrait photographs are personal art, photographers have full control over the treatment, usage, and editing of such photos. On the other hand, commercial photographs have less to zero restrictions from photographers. Once sold, businesses can edit it by cropping and altering according to their liking. Parameters can be set upon copyright release, but restrictions are significantly lesser if be compared to portrait photographs.

Legal Hacks and Tips 

To get the most out of your business and art, always take note of the following in all your contracts and dealings.

1. For Personal Print License

– Have a ready Personal Portrait Contract at all times. All portrait photography transactions must be governed by it.

– In your Personal Portrait Contract, always include a professional print release that cites copyright laws and explains your ownership of the images.

– Have leaflets and materials that educate your clients on allowable usages and copyright laws.

2. For Commercial Use License

– Have a ready Commercial Use Contract at all times. You should never use a Personal Portrait Contract in commercial dealings because such a contract will fail to protect your rights.

– You should charge for every licensed use.

– Set parameters for the use of your photographs to secure your reputation as a professional artist. Ensure that all photographs will not be used for illegal, pornographic, or libelous materials.

3. Barters

– You should have a Photography Barter Contract.

– In barter dealings, always provide solid parameters for product and service quantity.

– Always outline what you are expected to deliver and what you are expected to receive. In setting parameters, clearly settle the what, when, where, and how of the barter.