What’s The World’s Best Selling Photo?

Posted on 5/1/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

What's the most that has been paid for a single photo for editorial, product or other type of commercial use?  

For the purposes of this discussion I would like to put fine art photos in a separate category. These photos tend to be traded by investors and often command six and seven figure fees. But, virtually none of such fees go to the image creator. I’d like to get some idea of what the world’s greatest images have earned the person who created them.

The prize for most money probably has to go to the shots (in this case a series from one shoot) of  Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, the first biological child of Brad Pitt and Angelena Jolie. These first pictures of the baby were sold exclusively to People and OK magazines for $4.1 million and $3.5 million, respectively. All the cash was donated to charities benefiting African children. I'm not sure how much the photographer got, if anything, for taking the pictures.

In 2001 Microsoft paid $135,000 for Chuck O'Rear's image of a green rolling hillside and pale blue sky with puffy clouds that they used as the default opening screen of the Windows XP software. The image was also used on the product package and in a massive promotional advertising campaign. It was rumored that Microsoft spent over $1 billion in the initial promotion of that product. The sale was negotiated by Corbis so O’Rear received a percentage of the total fee.

At the time of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal Dirck Halstead had a photo of Clinton hugging Monica that was used on the cover of Time Magazine. It was rumored that Dirck was paid $150,000 for exclusive right to the photo. After Time used the picture it licensed secondary rights to other publications around the world and probably made most of its money back.

I'm sure there are other celebrity shots that resulted in a significant payday for the photographer. There are commercial shots that may have cost several hundred thousand dollars, but much of that was usually eaten up in production costs. I’d like to hear about shots where the photographer’s take home fee was significant. All you photographers and agents out there have probably got some good examples. Let’s hear about some of them. Add a comment to this story, or send a note to wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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