This Photograph Is Not Free

So this was the first sunset I captured in 2012. It cost me $6,612 to take this photo.

$12 in gas to go from work to this spot and then home. The camera I took this with cost $2500. The lens was another $1600. The Singh Ray Reverse Neutral Density filter was $210. The Lee Wide-Angle Adapter and Foundation kit was another $200. The Slik Tripod was another $130. The shutter-release was another $60. When I got home, I uploaded it to a computer that cost me $1200, and then I used Lightroom 3 which I got for $200. I then exported it and tinkered with it in Photoshop which costs about $500.

12+2500+1600+210+200+130+60+1200+200+500= $6,612

So if you’re a magazine, website, corporation, sports team, or advertiser who wishes to use this photo, please don’t come and ask to use it for free, or in exchange for credit or “exposure”. You found my photo so obviously I have “exposure”. You have an advertising budget, and this is what it’s for. You obviously don’t expect your writers to work for free, or your secretary, or your boss. No one is going to publish it for free. Just because the picture is digital doesn’t mean it was free to make.

As someone mentioned, THIS single photo didn’t cost me $6,612, but if you wanted to create it, from scratch, that is what is involved. So I consider it the replacement value if it’s stolen, or how much my lawyer will send you a bill for if it’s found being used without my permission.

If you give your photo away for “credit” then the best possible scenario for you is someone will see your photo, contact you, and ask if they could borrow one of your photos… for credit. Try this… next time you’re at dinner, tell your waiter you’ll tell all your friends how good the service was if he gives you dinner for free.

About the author: John B. Mueller is a photographer based in Ventura County, California. Visit his website here.

Thanks for the tip, Morts!

  • angie497

    He’s not talking about the difference in selling a great photo when someone wants one that’s good enough, or having someone buy a cheaper photo instead of his. He’s talking about people expecting something for nothing – or worse, acting like they’re doing you a favor in the process.

  • angie497

    ‘There are so many people getting into photography because it is easy.’ And then you list a whole bunch of things that are far from easy, and which end up costing a whole lot of money. Just because a whole lot of people are doing it, doesn’t mean that a whole lot of people are doing it well, or at a professional level. A whole lot of people play baseball, but I don’t see all of them getting paid 7-figure incomes for it, do you?

    Owning a camera, no matter how expensive or ‘professional,’ doe snot make you a photographer. It makes you the owner of an expensive camera.

  • Nikolay Mirchev

    Well said John!!! I really wish there to be more people like you to rise awareness among the ignorant ones that photography (any art activities) doesn’t come for free. In matter of fact it is very expensive practice. By the way you forgot to mention about the insurance you are paying on your photography equipment ;)

  • Product Shot UK

    Really I honor to your thinking and salute to A great photography . Hope every people realized that beneath of every photograph has many steps to show a better performance.

  • Farrukh Zafar

    i agree with U brother… because i m also a photographer…. :)

  • Becs

    Smoly beautiful. Thank you for sharing the scene.

  • Shemus O’Toole

    You’re a bitter, jaded photographer that knows nothing about business. Do you also shoot weddings?

  • Chris Pickrell

    To all the people saying that no one would charge for this one photo, or that he doesn’t understand the industry, or depreciation, and blah blah blah, you’ve all missed the point.

    The point of this article is that there is an innate and inherent value to this photo, because of the cost that went into making it. For whatever reason it was made, it didn’t just come from nothing. Time, energy, money, etc all went into making this. So for companies to want it for free to use for their benefit are ignoring the fact that this photo did not come from nothing, and therefore costs more than nothing.

    I’m also amazed at how many “professionals” are questioning whether the author knows the business. Because if you can read this and think he doesn’t understand the “business,” then I wonder if you do in fact know the business yourself.

  • Chris Pickrell

    I do. I’m curious if you know about business.

  • Chris Pickrell

    Do you really need all that fancy equipment, if a doctor is just going to cut you open with a scalpel?

    Does a mechanic really need all that fancy equipment, if he’s just going to loosen a bolt?

    Do we need it? No. Does it aid in our job? Absolutely.

  • Sugando Pulando

    Absolutely, but I guess other people just want to piss in everyone’s cereal.

  • Arduann Gess

    correct, that means the actual cost of making this picture is $12.

  • Gatot Jaka Timur

    A VERY STUPID CALCULATION!!!. Unless after taking THAT 1 PHOTO, you threw away every equipment you’ve got so THAT ONE PHOTO COST $ 6,612. Divide that into 6000 MORE PHOTOS you took and THAT ONE PHOTO ONLY WORTH 1 DOLLAR!!!! (I dont complain about selling the picture)

  • txmama

    Mind if I borrow this to show my photography clients? You put it very well.

  • txmama

    We probably would register copyright on everything if we could afford to. Have you checked into the cost lately? It’s hard enough to make a living as a photographer these days without adding the cost to copyright everything because other people won’t respect that you own that image.

  • txmama

    Oh, and notice how I asked permission rather than just steal it?

  • freewilly

    okay thnx but i got it for free dude sry

  • Mark

    …and the expense of developing your talent in terms of both time and money. Education. Years of practice. And he probably isn’t just shooting sunsets, so he has other lenses, other filters, lighting equipment and so on.

    I also think that while he’s implying that the photo costs $6,612, that he probably would not charge you that much for that single photo. His point is simply that he cannot afford to give his work away for free.

    I’m a software developer myself. I sell a product. I have had people tell me that they shouldn’t have to pay so much for my product (at the time $40 for a perpetual license), because he can get software with much more functionality for free, like Firefox or Chrome! LOL!). I told him if he can find software that does what mine does and adds value to his life for free, then he should use that software, otherwise, he can pay be $40, because “free” doesn’t pay for my kids college education, my house, my food.

  • MontserGirl

    Love this post and this picture,breath taking,stunning,gorgeous!!! Talented:) and the explanation was effin perfect :)

  • andy ivy

    No, it didn’t cost you that much. Don’t be ridiculous. The only way that would be true is if all of the equipment you used to produce that photo as a final product was purchased specifically to take that one photograph with.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    Sorry but the BS of this post is overflowing.
    I am not going to read thru 1278 comments, but in the commercial photography worl the value of the image is not the cost of the equipment (unless it was rented) it’s a fee+usage+expenses formula. so the actual cost to client could be a lot less or a lot more than $6k depending on usage…Going to your restaurant comparison the meatloaf special should cost about $1.2 million to cover the cost of the kitchen equipment, the staff, building rent, insurance blah blah blah…Your explanation is foolish.

  • DaVolf

    i know this post is 2 years old but LOL did you just say “In business you can not always expect profit” – you need to go back and learn what business is all about haha.

  • DaVolf

    im two years late to hug you.

  • billpull

    Lol I don’t this guy has taken an economics course in his life.