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!

  • Steve

    Oops, sensitive enter and no delete… nice.  anyway, as i was saying, as a photographer myself, i think he’s a dick.  By his logic, we should reimburse his parents for their hospital bills when he was born, all of his optician bills over the years, and the rest of his medical bills for that matter.  I’ve made great money as a photographer over the years, and if someone grabs one here and there to use on a site, I’d ask for a credit or a donation, but to pay for every cost that ever led up to that moment is just self righteous bullshit.  ESPECIALLY when talking about a digital copy of a photo. i hope he pokes himself in both eyes and gets arthritis in his shutter finger for this post.

  • Sheesh

    This picture is worth exactly what people would pay for it, nothing less, and nothing more.
    The more it happens that people give away photos for free, suggest photographers to give away their work for free, think of photography as a hobby only, think that images online are fair game, the less people would pay for it, which means that any picture slowly does worth nothing. This 1000 comments back and forth about how a picture should or should not be free proves that there are a lot of people who would pay nothing for a picture. Even when they go to work right after posting, and expect to be paid by the hour.

    THE AUTHOR NEVER SAID HE WAS CHARGING 6000 DOLLARS for the picture – he said it costs him 6000 dollars to get to the point of taking that picture. So please expect it to be free. Comprehension skills should be mandatory for all paying jobs.

  • sheesh

     Please *dont expect it to be free. Typing skills should also be mandatory to typing a post. Sigh.

  • slugmandrew

    This comment is not free. The computer I am using to write it on cost £550. The monitor cost £120. The other peripherals cost another £100. The desk it stands on was £80. The chair I am sitting in was £35. The internet connection costs £25 per month. The office I am in is £700 per month to rent. My tube fare costs £4.60 a day.
    So that’s 550 + 120 + 100 + 80 + 35 +25 + 700 + 4.60 = £1,614.60.
    Converted into US dollars at the time of writing that works out at $2,492.29.

    Please reply below with your contact details so I can send you an invoice.

    OR as many people have said, this comment is worth exactly what people will pay for it. NOTHING.

    Yes, this comment is my intellectual property, but I happily allow people to reproduce it all over the web just because I believe my input to the world is important, and I would rather it be read 1000 times for nothing which would in the end probably make me money indirectly, than never be seen and enjoyed by anyone.

    If you had been giving half of your photos away for the last 10 years like a lot of photographers you would have gained so much exposure by now that you could charge the larger companies who found you through seeing your work advertised all over the web. They would and could pay a lot for your photos. Most website owners and bloggers can’t. Stop being a baby, roll with the times and get on with it.

  • Guido

    Great photo! I dream of being able to get images and scenes like that. I don’t want to invest that much money so I reckon it’ll never happen for me.
    I think if the image is being shared for free we can enjoy it for free. MUCH different than using the image for your own sake, especially if you want to use it to advertise a business or otherwise use it in any way to receive ‘gain’. It’s like someone ‘borrowing’ your truck for free, then make money hauling things around and/or transporting people for hire. The right answer is to rent the truck, and tell folks who ask about the owner. Seems fairly simple to me.I am glad, however, that it is becoming more popular with photographers that they offer 2 fees, one price if they keep the negatives/originals, and another if the customer retains all. When we got married, we couldn’t get the negatives from the photographer of OUR wedding, stating it’s his property. But alas, many years later, the photographer passed away and we have no way to reprint anything. Tragic and senseless. I get it if you’re shooting Elvis (especially live shots today – LOL) or  Obama, but otherwise it is useless for the customer NOT to also get control of the originals/negatives, especially these days. I refuse to work with a photographer who won’t give me the option of inclusive and exclusive pricing.

  • Noemail

    *downloaded* Your check is in the mail, …not not

  • Jimm150

    I am not going to get into cost, right, copyrights, etc…….. I only want to sat that it is a beautiful photograph and I have  great respect for your work. It takes more than a camera to capture  something like this, it is a gift that few have. GREAT JOB!!!!

  • David Barr

    John I like your photographer and find no fault with how you express the value of the picture.  However this picture is an orphan work in the making.  Why did you put a picture on line with no iptc data.  If a person downloaded this picture and in a few months decided they would like to use it it would be useful to have the XMP data attached to the file so they could contact you.

  • Rockyousilly

    I copied it for free, printed it out at costco for $14 got a sweet frame from a garage sale and its now on my wall…. thanks for the pic!!

  • TKliner – fellow photographer

    Wow! I
    read two, maybe three comments from people that actually ‘got it’.

    The point
    was not how much it cost exactly nor how much its worth but that it does cost
    and the photo has a value.

    If you
    walk into a bakery and there’s a bin full of buns that aren’t individually
    priced, they’re not free. The baker will charge based on business costs, time,
    equipment and supply and demand as well as quality of goods.

    If you
    make a profit on what you do then it is very wrong to ask someone else to
    provide their product or service for free. Obviously you understand that there
    is a cost, you’re just greedy and want to profit from someone else’s work as
    well as your own.

    It is
    illegal and immoral to take anything that doesn’t belong to you no matter what
    you perceive the value of the item or service.

    line – If you didn’t create it or cause it to happen you have no right to take
    it nor ask to use it for your own gain. It’s not for you to take just because
    you can.

  • Guest

    The simple solution would be to avoid publishing an image that you would like to sell. You could pay an agent to shop your work around to big budget publications. Many pros go that route. It is a cost of doing business. An alternative would be to use a stock photo place that pays you for your work and protects the copyright. 

    As a professional, you should be aware that by publishing your photo – online or off – you use some of the rights which a client would probably expect to purchase.

    If you post it, they will ask. You might try watermarking your photo to make it perfectly clear that you expect your rights to be respected and your work to be paid for.

    Many of the people who ask to use a published photo such as the one you have displayed are not evil thieves. Plenty of online publications work on bare bones budgets that don’t provide for much more than the costs of running the site. If someone asks for use of your professional output without compensation, either ignore them or explain that your expect to be paid for what you do for a living. 

  • Guest

    I feel your pain. I’m working in the Entertainment Industry (Actor/Producer)–and see *ALL THE TIME* calls for audition. The last few kinds that say. “This is a great way to gain “Exposure” and you get credit on IMDB and Free Food.

  • Hunter Weatherford

    Cannon DSLR- $2500. 35mm lens – $1600. Singh Ray Reverse Neutral Density filter- $210. Lee Wide-Angle Adapter and Foundation kit- $200. Dropping your camera and package into the thick mist…priceless. For everything else, there’s Mastercard. 

  • Normhead

    There are photographers who have made 30,000 off a single image, just not this type of image. I live near a huge park, and I make my money with scenes from that park. So I know exactly what this guy is talking about. I post exactly where each image is taken… and I see lots of people writing down the names of places. But I tell them, that picture was taken at a certain time of year, on at a certain time of day, the light was unique, if you want that picture, you have to buy it. But you can go there and get a picture you might like more, you might not. Or maybe you find something that’s not as good but will do. It makes no difference to me. The people I sell to obviously want the image on the wall of my booth. Many others would like the image but don’t want to pay me for my work. It’s all good, unless they want to steal my image. My images sell for around $200 each, that is based on me making enough money to continue doing what I’m doing, but as someone pointed out, if you steal my image I’m going to sue for a lot more than that. If you’re going to use my image to sell you magazine, your website, your product, whatever, I want a cut. And when I ask for my cut in court, I’m going to highball the cost, first because you pissed me off by stealing from me, and second because the court may give me less than what I ask, and I have to make sure I’m covered. So I’m going to come in to court with magazine ad with that $30,000 image and say to the judge, here’s an image, not much different than mine and it’s made it’s creator $30,000. And let him decide how much mine is worth. $6,000 pfffft. Not worth going to court for.

  • Guest

    Just my opinion: 

    1. If you think the author truly is convinced he can quote $6000 for that picture, you missed the point.

    2. That said, he definitely COULD have avoided a lot of contention by phrasing it differently. A lot people have chosen to be angry about that price rather than to focus on the main point.

    3. To me, what the author was trying to get across was that: It is an INVESTMENT of money and time to photograph. (Hence the greatly misunderstood “this photo cost $6000 comment). 

    It’s obnoxious and wrong of people to expect photography for free because “my grandmother could click a button too” or because “I will give you exposure”.Would you accept a waitressing position for a salary of $0 just because “my grandmother could hold some plates too” or because “I will give you waitressing exposure”?

    I agree that most people have grandmothers/little sisters/whoever who are perfectly capable of picking up a camera and pressing a button. So if you’re looking for free pictures, you have to look no further than them!Employ their (free) services and pity the poor sod who wrote this.But IF, IF you want someone who has invested time and money developing his craft, expect to pay him or her. Any skill/trade should be compensated. And NOT with ‘exposure’ (refer to the waitressing analogy above).


  • dp

    You know, the guy who photographed the film God Father was paid 35,000 dollars a week ( 5days, 10 hour days). You want to get there? Do just buy a camera, cause you can even pay for the lens mount on that camera. You go to work for others and get experience. That’s what the photographer guy was talking about, labor yourself to “death” and reach excellence. I know an American actress, was in 007 who worked on a film I did, she got 350,000 usd in cash for 3 days of work plus expense and all. Easy job? I am not so sure…haha…

  • Corey Andersen

    Yes you should be paid for your work but your logic is very faulty in my opinion.  By the cost you said you put under the assumption that you bought that specific camera, lens, software and other expensive just for this picture and will never use them on another picture again.  Every time a shipping company makes a delivery they don’t charge you for the cost of the truck.  That is a base increase over hundreds or thousands of jobs.  Equipment isn’t a one and done thing I’m sure you will be using your camera for other photos as well and I doubt you will buy a new Photoshop license for every photo either.  It’s ok to be proud of your work and want to get royalties back but be reasonable.  Take all your photos and divide your equipment expense amongst all of them and then tell us how much they cost.


    Totally agree with you.
    Those Microstock sites that sell your hard work, royalty free for a wopping $1 are a great example of just how well thought of photographers are today. Microstock sites are a complete ‘cancer’ to the individual Stock Photographer.

    Great picture by the way.
    All the best, Dan.

  • Mr Fnortner

    1. Something cannot be sold for more than another is willing to pay for it. In other words, the customer sets the value of the object so therefore the customer sets the price.
    2. Intellectual property is nonsense; anything that can be copied can’t be owned.

  • Bob

    Fuck off, now I’m going to take all your photos.

  • Elinor

    you are so right, i support you a 100%, please in the
    industry should have this knowledge and understanding. thanks you fro posting

  • Boysb53

    If you don’t want anyone to use your photos without permission, watermark them or don’t post them on line.  Dumbass!

  • VoiceOfReason

    Reading comprehension… I guess they just don’t teach it anymore…

    I didn’t ever say that you didn’t read the entire article, as you seem to believe based on your reply to me.  I said that I don’t think you actually COMPREHENDED the article.

    I am not ASSUMING that you thought he was going to try sell the photo for $6,612… I am just responding to exactly what you wrote – because by your own words you clearly appear to think that he’s trying to sell the image for $6,612 when you say “… By the same logic, each publisher would load it’s entire business costs on to every edition of every publication…”  With this statement it’s obvious that you are drawing the comparison to the sale of the item, because you definitely didn’t mention anything about the publisher seeking retribution for any sort of loss or theft.

    Your original comparison was between a single photograph and an edition of a publication, yet you come back with a little more thought put into your second response as though you actually took my reply to you into consideration.  Bravo!  Now we both agree that the article never said that he’s seeking $6,612 for sale of the photograph.

    The problem with your comeback argument is that you are talking about a transaction based on the theft of a car and the ensuing insurance claim, and you extend that to “… adding all overheads to the sale price of any product…” which are 2 very different things themselves.  On top of that, neither is comparable to the reimbursement of an artist (photographer in this case) for his time, craft, and materials, let alone the actual issue up for discussion which is simply the perceived value for such a photograph, whether it’s an initial sale or an attempt to recoup losses from theft.

    And yes… Photography CAN be different, and it usually IS different than most things you might be familiar with.  Don’t even get started discussing a sale with restricted rights
    attached, because it would probably make even more heads spin and/or

    I own print done by a fairly famous artist, and I paid the artist $250 for it… does the cost of the ink & paper total anywhere close to $250?  No.  Is the item worth that much?  Yes.  I paid that much for it, and so did 249 other people, and many more would have paid that much but couldn’t because it was a limited run.  It would easily sell for more even if a thief stole it and re-sold it.  So $250 is an easily agreeable value for the item, despite your ideas of how much the paper and ink might cost, and the value of the time spent by an individual to create a mere “copy” even if it wasn’t the artist himself making the print.

    I bought a car for $25,000 dollars, and it was “worth” that much by many different measures.  Today I cannot expect to get that much for it if it were stolen, nor could the thief, and I wouldn’t expect to recover that much from my insurance company.

    A while back a friend of mine was billed in excess of $100 for not returning a rented VHS tape.  The tape itself cost nowhere near that much money to produce, and it could easily have been replaced for less than half that amount at any retail store.  Was the tape really worth that much?  Yes, according the accepted practices of that industry.  He was liable for the replacement cost as well as the loss of rental income over the remaining time the tape was expected to sit on their shelf.

    My point is this, there are different measures of an item’s value depending on exactly what the item might be.  You cannot simply say that since you are familiar with one (or more) sort of business practice(s) that all others must follow suit.  Just because YOU “… cannot think of a business situation where, in assessing a loss or
    theft, the total overheads are added to the unit costs of production…” doesn’t eliminate the fact that such business situations may exist.  Especially when you are talking about a product such as this, where there is just as much, if not more, “intellectual property” involved than most people are accustomed to dealing with.  Add the fact that it is art which is always subjective, and an item that could very well be used to earn the purchaser a huge profit on the investment in the photograph… and the whole thing gets even harder to quantify, but easier for the photographer to name his price.

    On top of all that, I could go on about how I also challenged whether or not you read any of the responses to the original article… because I can’t see how any reasonable person with half a brain could do so and not realize that there is more to this than they might have assumed to start with… no matter how smart they think they are.

  • xpirex

    What are people talking about registering copyright of each photo?!! I have taken over 150,000 in the last year and a half.. how do I register all those?

  • Dankmedia

    put a water mark on this or it will be jacked. probably already is! 

  • Maine4me2

    If someone likes one of your photos, they should do what every other person does it——–BUY IT !!!!!!!!!  Having come from New York City, I was able to visit some of the best Art Galleries and NOT ONE of their paintings, photos or prints were for FREE.  I suggest if you are too cheap to buy it……….then go on your own and try to re-create what Maine Imaging has done.

  • Johannes

    drop the pic onto google images search … lol.

  • Emanual

    Well said. People NEVER give photographers the respect they deserve. 

  • Fair Use

    Exactly. Watermark. Anyone with that mindset needs to defend his/her work on the interwebs.

  • Ruan Niemann

    Has some

  • ProAds

    I sell ads for a living. We often need to use specific pieces, aka the clients says, “put an apple in it”. (yes, that happens). Our designers use Shutterstock almost exclusively. Most photographs we use are royalty free. If we need a rights managed image, we will more than likely hire a photographer to shoot that specific image and purchase both the image and the rights. (…albeit, I have never paid $6k+ for a photo.) I understand this photo is amazing, but I have yet to meet a  photograph is the “only option” when designing for any media. And if it were, it would be worth paying for. News images, of course, are another story as they often cannot be recreated. However, there are many sources to legally acquire a picture of an apple. ;)

  • Copypastcompanies

    copy paste

  • Jwolbergphoto

    Has everyone forgotten the cost of a good art school education as well? These numbers don’t even cover two classes.

  • MakeItCopyRight!

    Huh… it’s totally beyond me why some people just don’t get what’s being said here by the photographer/author.  I can only think these random, disrespectful comments are from incredibly closed minded youths who have grown up in a world where piracy and violation of copyright is the norm.  References to shutterstock, Royalty Free and owning rights to photographs have only existed in the past decade, mostly because ‘clients’ put pressure on the photographer to own all rights.  The real pros will resist that, of course, and then lose that business because another, less experienced photographer is just around the corner waiting to accept it.  Royalty Free is there to flood the market with images, to get everyone hooked on paying very little for image rights and allowing multiple uses (although I would check the extent of the rights you really have bought to those ‘apple’ pictures – does it include massive product packaging, for example…?).  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting sick and tired of seeing the same old shots used time and time again. If you want to stimulate an audience with visuals, make it original, stimulating and give us a WOW factor… then see the interest in your client’s product explode!  To the photographer, I thank you for putting it out there … So interesting to read these comments.

  • John

    Pretentious nob jockey.

  • Yuriy Sklyar

    The only reason you think this way is because this world is based on money. Doesn’t it feel goo to share your stuff with entire world, regardless of whether you get paid for it or not? I don’t understand people…

  • Doctorkesl

    Ummm, i could do it for 600. Maybe 650.00 if i rode my bike. Lets see, nikon f with a 21 3.5. 200.00 used. Cokin split neutral density filter. 100.00. Roll of 160 portra 6.95. Tripod, gitzo with pan tilt head 200.00. Processing 20.00 develop and contact. Rent a darkroom for a couple of hours 20.00. Paper, 60.00. My ancient 10 speed, 50 bucks.
    Really? Must be the crack habit that makes you think that picture is actually worth. WORTH. 6 thousand and some odd dollars.

  • PoopyFaceJr

    so… can I have this image for free or what? 

  • Anonymous

    any professional photographer would have taken the extra expense to watermark this photo.

  • cheechiro

    ….and then I right clicked.

  • Sandymclea

    Should of taken a few more pictures, then each one would cost less, Basic math. lol. But point taken. well done.

  • IBrake4Morons

    The inanity of most of the comments on this thread just confirms how many morons there are with an internet connection and a keyboard in the world.

  • Bizsmithy

    Really cool picture. How much it’s worth is only related to how much it costs in the photographer’s mind, or in someone else who is going to recreate the same photo. Problem for Mueller is that his creative talent for capturing a great scene can be mimicked by a technically adept moron who has no gift for generating new ideas on their own – he discounted his talent in his $6K estimate of value. I’m currently looking for images for a book cover. I am willing to pay for someone’s work, but my budget is about $200, which is better than nothing, which is what most images end up making for a photographer. Mueller has every right and reason to hold out this image for $50K, since some applications of it would definitaly make it that valuable. Putting it on a niche guidebook like mine, it would not be worth anywhere near this.

  • Kevin-Lyle William Parker

    Taking this photo just out of spite now, what an ass… Makes other artists look bad. 

  • marion

    I understand totally what this is saying but, as an artist myself, I simply don’t agree. Yes, you want to get paid what you think your craft is worth. Believe me, if I could sell my work for 10K per piece I would. but sometimes that just not how the world works. If I turned down every opportunity I had to “get exposure” instead of money, I’d have far less money, exposure, sales and interest. If I denied everyone’s offer because I didn’t feel it was enough, I’d sell almost nothing. If I charged as this guy did and had the attitude that this post has, I’d never get the long relationships with clients that I do. I’d never get repeat customers who WANT to buy things from me. I’d never get my foot in some of the doors that have been so important for me. 

    Part of why I am doing alright as an artist is that I act in the opposite way of this post. I am open to those interested in my work, I am reasonable with getting people images that they are interested in, and I enjoy working with those that don’t fully understand what it is that I do. I don’t assume I’m something that other people should be impressed by.

    I don’t know exactly what my point is…I suppose, this is a good “ideal” to have. You should stand up for yourself, your work, and make sure that you are not getting used, disrespected, or cheated…However, if you’re starting out and this is the attitude you take, I think you’ll be sorely disappointed with where it gets you. Not only will people assume you’re arrogant and egotistical, but simply put, they’ll find something else. As good as that photo may be, there are a million other photographers battling for the same client, and they’ll find the photographer that works best with them. 

    Should you always do free events, accept trades, or “get exposure”? No. But taking the stance of “I’m worth more and if you don’t realize that, it’s your fault and your loss” isn’t going to help you either. 

  • Greg

    great point have been a photographer for over forty years am amazed at how people want things for free. try getting your car repaired for free I just want to rive for a while after you fix it if I still like it I will tell everyone you are a good mechanic

  • Mike

    The sheer mathematical logic is as rubbish as the picture is good. The use of the figures as they stand suggest you only take one picture with the gear. The actual cost of this picture is the cost of the gear divided by the number of pictures the gear has taken. So if you have spent $6,000 on the gear and taken 60,000 pictures, the cost per picture is 10 cents. If you have shot 600,000 pictures on the gear it is 1 cent.

  • Chris Utano

    Well spoken 

  • Nkoober

    shame you have to bore everyone to death…. nice picture though, I think I’ll stick it on t-shirts….

  • Juttahearne

    one does not get what one wants-but what one needs-in front of god,who alone is the almighty- he shall never hurt-he shall either say: yes, maybe,or i have something better in mind-even a snail has its tempo before becoming a bird-but for some it will be the black hole if they dont think pink