A Man Can’t Live on Image Credit Alone

So, from time to time, I receive requests to use my images for various purposes — like on a blog or a pamphlet or a calendar or the side of a zeppelin or for a urinal cake. Typically, if they are nice and they’re not going to be making a load of cash off where they’d like to use my image then I’ll let them use it as long as they give me credit. I’m especially generous with environmental interests and non-profits and ice cream manufacturers offering vouchers for all-you-can-eat tours.

But then there are the chumps (and chumpettes) who will be making a substantial amount of money off of the use of my image and I send them packing unless they pony up a fair amount of money. The latest version of this repetitive saga really got caught all up in my craw and so I felt the need to write a bit about it.

I should say here that this is 100% legitimate, the company that contacted me exists and has a rather impressive retail footprint in the US. The emails below are word-for-word with names removed to protect the company. The underlying issue I discuss does not begin and end with this example or company, it is much larger.

So, Monday morning I awake to an inbox message on Flickr that reads:

SUBJECT: Saint of the Wildflowers

Your photos are breath taking. I work a a company called [Company Name] located in Michigan. We always produce a landscape calendar for our customers to purchase. We match up scripture with the beautiful landscape images that God has provided.

This is a very low print run and only around 20,000 calendars produced. I was wondering if you would give us permission to use some of your photographs? I would be able to give you credit for your photograph. Please look at this an opportunity for you to reach a possible customers.

I have a meeting at the end of this week to present images. I look forward to hearing from you.


Lead Graphic Designer

20,000 calendars is a low print run?! Can you see the dollar signs lighting up in my eyes? Wooooo!! Surely they must have a budget for the artwork — they have a lead graphic designer after all! So I reply after checking out the going rate at Getty Images to get an idea of what the market should bear:

SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower

Hello L,

Thank you for the kind words regarding my photography and for contacting me with this opportunity.

I would love to be a part of your calendar, but I can’t allow my work to be used without monetary compensation. (It is work after all!)

I believe that fair compensation for use like you’ve described above would be $550 per image. That would cover use of each image at full page size for a one year run of your calendar.

Thank you,

Jeff Swanson

I hear back quickly.

SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers

Thanks Jeff

Your very talented photographer and thanks for taking the time to respond. I completely understand your point of view and I do realize how much time and equipment you have into each photo.

This price is out of our budget for project.


So I’m thinking, hmm, they have a budget after all. Let’s probe a little more and see what it is.

SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflower

Hi L,

Thanks for understanding that there is indeed a lot of preparation and skill involved in landscape photography.

If you’d like to make a counter offer that will fit your budget, I might be able to work with you on the price.

Thank you,

Jeff Swanson

And again, she replied quickly and this is where the my jaw drops:

SUBJECT: Re: Saint of the Wildflowers

Hi Jeff

I have a very little budget. I don’t think we will be able to work together.

I have 100.00 for all photos. I’ve been finding some of them for free.

Thanks again

$100 for ALL THE IMAGES! WHAT!? That is HALF A CENT for all the images in each calendar. Let’s do some math here to show how painfully out of whack that is:

The calendar run is (only) 20,000. Say they can sell the calendar for $12.99 or so and have to pay $1 each for the printing of the calendars (a rough estimate from That leaves $11.99 to cover the rest of the costs associated with producing and selling a calendar and some profit for the company. That comes out to $239,800 left over to cover the rest of the costs and some profit. Of that amount they have only reserved a little more than four one hundreths of one percent for compensating the artists that produced the artwork that will actually sell their calendars (when’s the last time you bought a calendar because you liked the font?)

This is appalling and I’m sure it happens all the time.

So here’s the message: I’m not a professional landscape photographer. I’m not relying on this business to feed myself and cover my rent. So, in theory, getting credit should be plenty for me. But here’s where that doesn’t work anymore: I know many landscape photographers who ARE making a living at this and every time I (or you or ANYONE) accepts an image-credit-only offer for publication it is effectively taking food off of their plates. What happens is that more and more companies start resorting to this method all the time because they are successful at it. So I implore you to think twice about your actions the next time you are approached with a similar deal. Don’t help to erode the market for high-quality artwork just because you’re not relying on that market to feed yourself.

Next, don’t believe the schtick they feed you about exposure. When’s the last time you saw an image in a calendar or on a urinal cake and said “Gee whiz! I like that enough that I want to track that artist down and send them money!” See what I mean? They already have your image to look at (or pee on) anytime they want. Plus, you can’t take image credits to the grocery store or gas station or zeppelin store. “Sorry Bill, I can’t pay you for this gas, but I will tell anyone that asks why my car is running so well that I bought it here from you at Bill’s Gasoline and Urinal Cake Emporium, that cool?”

See how absurd that sounds when you aren’t talking about art?

About the author: Jeff Swanson is a California-based photographer who specializes in dynamic landscapes. You can check out his work by visiting his website, blog, or online gallery. This article was originally published here.

  • Draknor

    Given this additional detail, I’d say the magazine does not have smart business people behind it, if they lowball someone who has a larger audience then they do.  

    But rather than demonize the magazine, I’d just say they are making poor business decisions.  And they have a right to do that – they may not last long that way, but that’s their problem.  You made a smart business decision — the value they were offering you wasn’t enough.

    You absolutely could call up Nikon & ask for a D4 in return for your shining endorsement. Plenty of product reviewers try to do exactly that. Some are successful, many are not.  Nikon will decide if the value of your endorsement is worth more than the cost of the camera body.

    I just get really turned off by how righteous everyone gets about this.  If I want to give my work away for peanuts, that’s my business decision and no one else gets to tell me how to run my business (except the government).  If I have other income to support myself and can take a loss on the photography, yay for me!  If photography is your only income, and you can’t compete with my loss, then go cry to Netscape about it, but its not my problem (unless I’m Microsoft & a convicted monopolist, but that didn’t seem to slow them down too much anyway).

    (And as I posted in a different comment, I just started a photography business myself so no, I’m not someone offering empty promises for free service.  This is very relevant to me and I deal with this every day. But rather than get righteous I just try to make smart business decisions for myself).

  • Draknor

    Right on — if they don’t have a “budget” for photography, then they don’t value photography, and they won’t be a good customer for you.  Your choices are to educate them about how what benefits your professional, highly-paid photography can offer, or find customers that already understand this.

    The smartest piece of business advice I’ve read to date — if your customers don’t know anything else, they’ll choose based on price.  Most people don’t understand good photography, so they don’t value it (eg no budget).  Teach them, and maybe they will value it and become customers.

  • Melo

     Holy shit Seriesrover2.  “The alternative is that you neither get paid nor take a good free marketing opportunity which might yield something later on”


    The fact is these ‘opportunities’ rarely if ever show a return on exposure.  And I’m not making a stand against the machine.  I am part of the machine.  I’, a professional that sells AND contracts service.  When I hire contractors I search for the best, not the cheapest.  That’s the definitive difference in our perspectives.

    You also assume that I, or anyone else for that matter needs to consider these bullshit propositions in order to stay competitive or the market will kill us.

    You are very , very wrong.

    The angst is a result of people like you assuming that everyone must conform to these new market shifts, when in reality the problem is that this is not my nor the author’s market.  It’s like a broke college student entering a Porsche dealership and saying, “well pal, the market is a changin’.  I want your product, and I want it for the price of a Kia, cause that’s where the market is today whether you like it or not.  You’ve got to bring down your prices to stay alive.  So I’ll offer you $5000 for that there $100,000 car.”

    The company in question had champagne taste on a soda budget.  The first and only mistake was approaching someone out of their range.

    They never even asked what the photographer’s rate range was.  Which, is a failure to exercise due diligence in business, which is what this is.

    And lastly, don’t ever assume you can dictate what another person should or shouldn’t do in business.  Just because you think you have to sell your wares for peanuts doesn’t mean the rest of us do.  We’re not attracting the same clients.  I’d rather sell one photo a year for $50k than 50,000 for $1.

    You can be the 99cent store.

  • Igogosh

    The best “ego massage” ever:) Simplest form will be to watermark it accordingly so the buyer knows where to go. 
     It’s ok to say NO and make your offer. If they want a great calendar that’ll have to shell out some cash. And a great calendar needs Great images.

  • Renato Murakami

    Rant all you want on me… matter of fact is: These days, lots of people are willing to give up their work for credit alone – some of them don’t expect to make a living out of it alone, so they do other jobs.
    Not questioning the author’s reasoning… a pro photographer knows the value of his/her work, made a rational response, and didn’t close a deal so rejected the offer.At the very least, “L” there got first in contact to ask if it was possible to use the images, something that is becoming kinda rare these days, which is awful.
    BUT if “L” is ok with freebie pics, who are we to judge? Everything else is just guess work. “They have x budget, so they will spend y in this, z in that, and have all the rest as profit”. Can you really say that for shure?
    Also, the photographer who offer his/her photos in exchange for credit could be a beginner or student looking for recognition. Maybe it isn’t enough for you, but it is for him/her. Value is something that can’t be measured by one’s standard alone.
    Lots of jobs in which the process is invisible to the client are kinda like that (though Photography can be particularly difficult).For instance, designing webpages. I’d like to design a page similar to this one.
    Ok, client says, we’re not paying you much, but you can have your name in the bottom, with a link to your business.
    The process is kinda similar… some designers who are striving for more recognition and clients, and build up a name might accept. Some won’t.
    Of course, pro photographers shouldn’t be just giving up their work for free in all cases… though for some select clients it might work for them.
    But for people beginning their careers, I don’t think there’s much choice nowadays, is there?

  • Dave Keys on Pennycafe

    What’s awesome is that now you can use Chrome and Google image search to see if anyone is stealing your images, at least online. Anyone making a cool quarter mil. on my work can sure enough pay some of that bounty to the ones who made it possible.

  • Steve Watkins

    I get this all the time.  for those of you starting out, image credit isn’t worth anything to anyone but your mom.  it wont get you more work, it wont make people think you are good. 

    A photographer does have a right to be offended when a for-profit company asks for their work for free.  I’m even more offended when I run into photographers who should know better offering their work for credit only.  Our work has been devalued because of this

  • Karen McHale

    So, basically, we photographers should give our work away because companies no longer want to pay for it?  Because that is the way the “market” seems to be drifting.

  • Tony Sweet

    Not to sound like a hard ass, but if you don’t value your work, no one else will either, and they’ll tell their friends. So, good luck when you feel that it’s time to charge for your work. Can’t you hear the reply?? “So and so didn’t pay anything for their usage.” They probably won’t tell you that, but they will certainly be thinking it, and you won’t get the sale.

  • Tzctplus -

     He gets it. The market is saturated, economics 101 says that will drive the price down, in extreme situations the price is close to 0, the mistake many photographers make is to believe that their skill (and they should stop using the word “art” if they are selling, it would be really useful to frame the situation) is still so unique that deserves an imagined level of compensation.

    Photographers should understand that if they want to make a living it will be thanks to the value added on top of taking photographs, making good photographs is not enough, lots of people can now do that, and most importantly, the market is global and cruelly efficient.

    The article’s  poster talks like if the digital photography revolution hasn’t happened, people that have not managed to sell value added to potential clients should realize that the first thing in the road to charging something is recognition, which is what the guy of the calendars was offering (how many of you can boast to have had they pictures published in 20000 calendars? That would look great on a CV and would help you in the differentiation from the mass of photographers struggling to make a living from their skill).

  • Tzctplus -

     Yes if you are nobody in the field. We are saturated with good photography in a way we have never been since its invention, wishing it was otherwise is self defeating.

    But think of ways in which that will help you to charge for your work in the future, saying “my pictures have been used in a run of 20000 calendars” would mean you are in a stronger position to negotiate a fee next time somebody asks because you are a less risky proposition from a business point of view.

  • Tzctplus -

     For bunnies sakes, it is a market. You haggle, you agree a price, you move on.

    If you have managed to differentiate yourself to the point that you are making a proper living of photography, congratulations, but that does not mean companies should pay above the odds if there are people out there that would work under those conditions.

    What the company is telling you is what they think they can get away with, ignore that at your peril: it is valuable marketing information for you.

  • Tzctplus -

    You claim to understand economics and then overlook the value of loss leaders.

    Ludism, that is what I hear every time somebody dismises a free market in action.

  • Tzctplus -

     That is not true. Credit increases your reputation, you can sell that (not your photographs, very few people can do that).

    The chap claimed he had a $100 budget, so the poster could have requested some of it, and guess what? All of the sudden he has a price for his work and he can refer new clients to that, and increase little by little that price, as far as the market can bear it.

    For those of you in a position to say no to working for free, fine, don’t do it, but that high horse in which some of you are pontificating about people happy to giver their work away for free or for credit only are missing entirely how the industry functions now, but hey, wishful thinking is very soothing, but it does not fill bank accounts.

  • Billy Mocean

    Great post. I really can’t understand why people use the ‘But we’ll give you credit for the imagery” line as a way of justifying their request. “Uhhhh, hold on a minute, I took the photograph! Why are you suggesting you’ll honor me with a name credit for the imagery when that is a given anyway”? 

    A couple of buddies of mine, also pro shooters, wrote up this editorial which many people are now simply linking to when they get similar requests.


  • Tzctplus -

    Valuing your work is not a matter of you setting a price for it without consideration for the market in which you are working.

    Companies that trade in commodities (which photography now is) work a lot in brand differentiation, they don’t talk about quality, effort to produces something, etc, they build a brand one think one can trust and sell you that.

    Some of you are underestimating the wide availability of good photography to a fault. Money is there to be made, but for most people it is not the quality of the photographs alone, since that can be done by many people now, but ancillary advantages about using your photographs.

    The savy photographer will find those ancillary pluses that will sell his work and stop whining about how unfair is to be asked to work for free.

    Wedding photographers for example are not selling pictures (many people can do that proficiently enough) but a service, which happens to centre around photographs, but if you think that is the only thing you are selling you actually don’t understand what you are doing, and thus you should be worried.

  • Seriesrover2

    The problem is that so many people are playing the short game.  “I worked 5 days and bought 2 lenses for my work and I want my money, dammit.”  That thinking is in for a penny, out for a pound.

    People need to play the long game, get some recognition and market yourself.  Whether you would make any money off letting her use the images is immaterial – you might get some jobs off it, but even if not it builds ones name in the field…and photography has a double whammy going on to make it hard – first you have tons more competing _and_ you have the “I could do it myselfers” that can get good enough for close to $0.

    Thats whats education is all about – I didn’t get paid to go to college – I didn’t say “I studied 8 hours so wheres my wage?”…I said, I’m going to be poor for a few years to put myself in a much better position later on.

  • zachawry

    This is exactly right. The truth is that amazing landscape photos are, almost literally, a dime a dozen. If the author of this post were part of a small group of talented landscape photographers he could expect some money, but the fact is there are many, many landscape photographers out there, many of whom are happy to see their images printed without any financial compensation at all. To say this group of people should be protecting those photographers who don’t have a real job is preposterous. 

    And, yes, if they are trying to do for money, what other people are happy to do for free, then it is not a real job. 

  • zachawry

    Whether your want to give your photos away for free is besides the point. What IS the point, is that there are plenty of good photographers out there who WILL give stuff away for free. So why should companies pay for what they can get for free? They would be crazy. 

  • zachawry

    One thing that web page seems almost intentionally blind about is that much photography, especially landscape photography, is no longer a scarce product. When cameras were difficult and plane tickets were expensive this was not the case, but now that people can and do fly all over the world with great, cheap, easy cameras, landscape photographs just aren’t worth what they used to be, because there are so, so many of them out there. 

    Just because photographers need to make a living doesn’t magically reduce the complete glut of landscape photographs out there.  

  • wickerprints

    If YOU want to believe that by giving away your work to publishers for free is a “loss leader” marketing strategy, then by all means knock yourself out.  But experience repeatedly shows that such “credit” and “exposure” is not effective.  Loss leaders are effective only when the consumer is motivated to buy in direct relation to the discounted good or service.  The buyer of the calendar bought it from the publisher at the publisher’s price.  The publisher was the one who got the discount.  So no, YOU are the one who doesn’t understand what a loss leader means.

    Like I warned earlier, if you want to give some BS economics argument, all you end up doing is showing how ignorant and naive you really are.  By offering “discounted” (in this case, essentially free) work to the publisher, the photographer does nothing to communicate the value of their work or a sense of brand loyalty to the buyer of the publication.  Even worse, by giving it away to the publisher without any strings (unlike a true loss leader), the photographer in fact gives an incentive to the publisher to ask for more content for free–it devalues the product in the eyes of the publisher, emboldening them to ask again or ask others for such similar pricing.  And this is exactly what the evidence bears out.

    Don’t even TRY to debate this–there are many successful ways to advertise and increase an artist’s exposure, but it is NEVER through a publisher who has no interest in facilitating your goals.  If one happens to get lucky by giving away one’s work for free, that success is not because of the publisher, but IN SPITE OF them.  You should feel embarrassed by your obvious lack of understanding of basic marketing and business promotion.

    Ultimately, you’re more than welcome to ignore the facts and be the bumbling idiot who devalues his own work–it just means you’ll reach the failure point all the more quickly.  Let others decide whether they want to be equally stupid.

  • Ute

    It is just the opposite, there are only few people who are able to take a good photograph, most of the people think they make a photograph at the computer. It is time to separate photographers and photoshoppers and that will make the situation on the market more clear for everybody. It is hard work to be able to take an excellent photograph with no photoshop applied. It is hard work to learn and grow before the shutters is pressed, this is only the last split of a second of a whole process.

    And yes, photography and photoshop work is worth payment, just like every call out of a plumber or electrician.  

  • Christopher Shelton

    Yes, basically that’s it. If nobody wants to pay for your pictures you can give them away or keep them for your eyes only. Your only other option is to take pictures that people want to pay for.

  • Johnny D

    But “corporations are people too!” lol Ok in all seriousness….
    Stuff like this has to end and it get’s my goat as well. I was recently contacted by a very large publisher of a certain PC magazine who wanted to use my work in their annual Christmas issue. I was stoked, knowing that they are a huge company. It turns out they wanted 3 of my images, without giving me any compensation at all, so people could download them for wallpapers onto their PCs through the magazines special offers. Ok let me get this straight, this is a subscriber perk and you want to use MY photography to drive that? And not compensate me? Go pound sand. 

  • Elektrojan

    it’s your decision:

  • Joe Cascio

    If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the people giving away reasonable quality photography. They’re the ones devaluing your work, not the people paying for it. The buyers are entitled to seek the lowest price for the things they want to buy, just like you are. Yes, getting low-balled is annoying, but it’s something you can’t take personally. At least these people were honest and straightforward with you from the get-go. 

  • Pixtom

    Haven’t read everything here (who has the time!), but as a long term imaging professional, I have to say that I object to anyone doing any work for free or nominal. The way the market works now is a result of years of people being forced by market trends to give work away for less than it should have been. The amount of people wanting to be photographers, far outstrips the amount of professional photographers needed, and the amount of “pro-sumers” in the market today (yeah, you heard me right, doctors, moms, and lawyers with your Leicas and Canon Rebels), who are competent and giving it away is ridiculous. These types of people wreck the market, no matter how good their images may be. What’s wrong with these people anyway that they should be so flattered to give their stuff away and not think anything of it? Psychophants (sp?)… 

    Lesson one for any professional in any business is that you need to pay yourself, pay your health insurance, pay your liability insurance for what your doing, save money for retirement, etc., etc. How are you going to do that, plus replace technology in a 3-4 year ROI when the “ShutterMom” next door is giving it away? Impossible. The first time that “ShutterMom” takes her kids to the park and photographs them, and someone trips over her camera bag and sues her, we’ll see how all of this is going to pan out. Most of these “pro-sumer” types are running bareback on the expenses of actually being in business, and it does not bode well.

    What people on here should object to, is that in every media business in America, now there is a meeting where someone sits down at a table, whether a punk-assed “alt” kid out of college, or an old conservative cigar-chomper, and they formulate a plan to make a profit for their business, and get enough money to retire decently, pay for their health insurance, and send their kids to college, and the primary step for creating something of value for the market place is: “…first, we get the intellectual property for free…then…”. I don’t care how hip you think you are, screwing people isn’t hip. I was happy to see JPEG magazine go under, a thing created entirely by people trying to get the intellectual property for free so that they could make money off of it for themselves, and their “spin” was that they were creating a “community”. BS, they were trying to get intellectual property for free and monetize it! And, they were going to try that with a travel magazine as well. You go on vacation, and spend your time taking pictures and writing about it, and turn it in for free so that they can make money off it and you get nothing. How far can all of this go? How poor and needy of a society are we that we need this type of ‘reinforcement’ of our egos.

    BTW, getting credit for something you’re giving them for free, with the idea that it will somehow get you the “big-job” down the road is as old as the hills, people were trying to do it to me in the 70’s and they try it today. Let me give you a piece of advice, NOTHING I ever gave away for a credit ever got me another pay-day. NOTHING…..EVER….    

  • Richard Ford

    If I do something for free or credit “I AM NOT TAKING FOOD OUT OF THE MOUTH OF OTHERS”.  We all live in this world and we all have eyes and ears and brains and can make judgement calls about the future and take steps to fit in with it.  I get this same BS argument from people when they hear that I run off shoring.  Crikey!  get with the plan and stop blaming others for your problems.

    It is realpolitik westerners had better learn it before we become completely irrelevant in the world.

    No wonder the loonies keep sending suicide bombers our way – we all sound like such whiney little girls when it comes to a bit of adversity in life.  We look like a soft target.



  • Pietro
  • Pietro

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to just paste the link… Here is my recent experience with a “supposedly” event promoting company (and legit, I checked already…).

  • Darrstone

    Interesting post. Amazing landscape images are a dime a dozen in the digital age. The only way to make money in photography is to do assignment work.  

  • Darrstone

    Interesting post. Amazing landscape images are a dime a dozen in the digital age. The only way to make money in photography is to do assignment work.  

  • Scott

    The elitism of the pros and pro wannabes commenting is amusing.  What does it tell you when a company is able to make money selling a product to the public using photographs it doesn’t even have to pay for from amateurs who just like the idea of getting their images published?  If you want a company to pay you for your work then your work better be that much better than the amateurs whose shots you deride.  Perhaps the real problem isn’t the amateurs but too many professionals diluting the industry without enough of a difference in quality from the amateurs?

  • Donald Howson

    This article is either a bit cheap or a secret poll.

    It’s akin to a placed article on Mexicans crowding the Arizona public health system, gun control in Florida, needle exchange program, etc.: guaranteed to garner lots of the same typical debate, from a targeted market, we’ve all heard many times before.

    This subject is just old and there’s nothing new to add.  It’s become a joke, it’s own meme with comedy skits.

    But it worked here, most commented article.

  • cwage

    “I know many landscape photographers who ARE making a living at this and every time I (or you or ANYONE) accepts an image-credit-only offer for publication it is effectively taking food off of their plates”

    Sorry, but no. I’m sympathetic to those at ground zero of a changing industry but I have no patience or sympathy for this sort of protectionist whining. No one making their photos for free or cheaper is “taking food” off anyone’s plate. the market is changing. adapt or die — but please stop with the blame game and guilt-trips.

  • johneve

    The problem here is that the people making the calender have millions of images to choose from. They can get great stuff from the stock agencies for next to nothing. Just look at and the likes. Consider all the images you made outside of an assignment to be for your own educational purpose. And if you happen to sell some after the fact, well that is good luck.

    If you want to make a living in photography you should concentrate on problem solving. Shutter mom and the likes who give their work away for free will usually not perform well under a deadline. The clients that i have, are still clients because i have (almost) never failed to deliver the image they were expecting when they were expecting it.

    What this discussion is essentially about is stock photography and that is  a dying market.

  • Lee Harris

    I cannot be bothered to read all the comments, but anyone who thinks getting paid nothing for your photos is somehow to be expected (especially if you are a pro) is an idiot. And this is a calendar for bunch of God-bothers!! I am speechless, ‘they’ all too often arrogantly assume we should fall over ourselves in gratitude to fund their ‘woo’ and these guys are often loaded to boot! Sorry, whatever ‘god’ you believe in did not provide me with free cameras, or electricity,or rent, or computers, etc, etc, etc…

  • Gary Crabbe

    If you don’t value your own work, no one else will. 

  • Scott Webb

    If someone approaches you, ball is in your court.  You have images they are interested in.  Offer what you feel your image is worth and hold your own.  

    I will approach a company, person, ect if I want to do work for them for free according to beliefs and mission.

  • zachawry

    “These types of people wreck the market, no matter how good their images may be. What’s wrong with these people anyway that they should be so flattered to give their stuff away and not think anything of it?”

    Why should people NOT give their stuff away for free if it pleases them? Where is the moral obligation to support people who want to get paid for what others are happy to do for free? 

    Totally ridiculous. 

  • Crabby Umbo

    Hey, the photography market today is what is is, everyone wants to be one, and every mouth-breather with a digital Rebel can produce something better than what they could do 20 years ago with film, where the knowledge of the prevalent technology would have kept them off the playing field. I’ve heard more ad agencies and media outlets complain they can’t find a decent pro in their locality to shoot something, while buying dollar stock for their projects instead of dealing with a local pro, so what did they think was going to happen?

    The onus of working professionally also falls on the purchasers. As an art buyer at an ad agency, why would I want to look on-line for a “shutter-mom” to get some baby pictures for free. Why wouldn’t I want to deal professionally with professional people in my industry (and make them buy me lunch because they’re getting a decent pay-day from me?). This dollar stock/shutter mom thing is entirely a product of the uneducated gen-x’ers and gen-y’ers that spent their college years getting through art school stealing ideas off the internet, and nothing to do with people trying to run professional businesses. It’s unfortunate that so many of them populate the ‘creative’ media these days, because it’s these ‘types’ that are wrecking the industry. 

    Everybody who gives away work with the idea that they might eventually get the big payoff down the road is stupid. The big payoff is never down the road, and you’ve created a vast market of decent photography at cheap to no cost for the end users. You’ve decided to use your discretionary income from your “real’ coffee-shop job, to try and get into photography hopefully to some day make a living at it, by basically making it impossible for anyone to actually make a living at photography, and end up depending on their spouses income to stay in business because they can’t get any money for what they do. If you’re all giving it away, how can you eventually make money at it? Where do you think the line is that you cross over from giving it away to suddenly getting paid for it?

    It’s unfortunate that photography has become this ridiculous ‘target’ field for people of medium to marginal talent, and certainly marginal business experience, to try and focus on as a second career. I might have a 60’s English sports car in my garage, and I might like to work on rebuilding it, but that doesn’t mean I want to work on everyones English sports car in my city, and do it for free until I can somehow make them realize they might like to pay me. Why is this the business model for people who like photography?     

  • Crabby Umbo

    Where does the moral obligation lie, when you and your peers give something of value away for free that people have been making a living on for over a hundred years, knowing you will destroy that market? 

  • Adam

    This has come up a number of times for many photographers. I use this standard letter used by many other photographers out there.


    @4b75e855d99618ee0703a20281047068:disqus my ċlassmate’s sister makes $61/hour on the internet. She has been unemṗloyed for five months but laṡt month her income was $21156 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here..

  • Simon

    Unfortunately this has been fairly standard practice in all creative/freelance fields (including in my case, music) for years. The only realistic response to for-profits on the scrounge is just a flat-out (but polite) ‘no’ and move on. If they really can get the quality work they need for free elsewhere, they will (and there will always be someone at the start of their career thinking that ‘exposure’ has any value at all – it has absolute zero and will only ever lead to an endless cycle of freebies). Harlan echoes many of the points made here:

  • zachawry

    Ain’t nothing wrong with destroying markets. Landscape photographers will just have to find a less-fun way to make money. My heart bleeds for them. 

  • Cyberiad

     “Photography is a hobby and images are essentially free”?! That’s about on a par with some dude I painfully overheard standing next to me in an Arshile Gorky show actually delivering that line, “My KID could do that.”    Check out this post:

    I’m going to post some additional material on this, as I’ve been going through some similar stuff over editorial illustrations I’ve done being flagrantly reused without cash or even slightest credit. Don’t have time right now, but I’ll be back, and with an amazing new tool for this. Promise.

  • Qalam96

    Since the publisher illustrates it’s calendar with Bible verses and related photos, perhaps next year, a suitable photo could be used to illustrate Luke 10:7:

    “The worker deserves his wages.”

  • Kay

    I wonder what the response would have been if you had asked for royalties rather than a fee instead?

  • Natalija

    Great post! I’m in the business of designing hand knit hats and wraps on Etsy for use in newborn photography. I cannot tell you how many emails with similar wording I have received in the past three years. It seems as though there is some kind of instruction given to the budding photographers in workshops they attend or manuals that they read wherein they are told how to write emails to shop owners. It always starts out as “I love your work!” and then continues with a request for a trade of my high-end products that took hours for me to produce and market for credit on their blog. Almost always the quality of their work is noticeably of a beginner but there are a few well-seasoned photographers who dare to ask. I have since developed a standard reply thanking then for visiting my shop and offering them a 10% first-time buyers discount. Only a handful of people have taken advantage of the discount and the response is better than an outright “no”. Work is work, even if it’s a hobby. We all want to be compensated for our time and mere credit just isn’t enough.