National Geographic Traveler Used My Photo for a Cover and Never Paid Me

My name is Mustafa Turgut, and I’m a professional photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey. One of my photos was published on the cover of the China edition of National Geographic Traveler magazine in November 2011… and I was never paid for it.

On October 13, 2011, I received an email from someone named Tracy Chu, then an editor for National Geographic Traveler China. She wrote that they liked a photo I took in Machu Picchu, which I uploaded to TrekEarth, and they wanted to use it as the cover photo of their magazine in China.

My original photo captured at Macchu Pichu, titled “Women at the Machu Picchu.”

They offered to pay me 2,200CN„, about $324, for using the photo on the cover. They said they knew this price was low for the European market, but said it was the highest price they could offer in the media market in China.

Dear Mustafa,

I am an editor from National Geographic Traveler China, we are the Chinese version of NGT. Now we are developing our November 2011 issue, and we found one of your pictures, which we are planning to use as the cover of this issue. I am writing to ask if you have the hi-res one of this picture, and the most important, if you are interested in cooperating with us. Besides, we have went through some of your pictures, we think there are opportunities of further cooperation, if you are interested.

The rates for pictures in RMB, for cover it is 2200 RMB. Although it is comparatively low to that in Europe, it is the highest price in China media Market, and I am sure it is a good way for you to make promotion in China medias, since we are one of the leading magazines here. For the pictures we need, is the one “Women at the Machu Picchu“. The hi-res one should be: 217wx281h, 300dpi.

Looking forward to your quick reply as soon as possible, since we need it urgently. It is better to send it to us by October 16th. While you are sending emails to me, please cc my colleague, who is the art director, her email is [redacted], since I will be on a business trip to Europe. (Please send me through my email address, then I can send you the introduction of our magazine and the reference of rates)


I responded saying that I would only allow the photograph to be used on the cover for that fee if they paid me in advance. They responded saying that due to company rules, they wouldn’t be able to pay me in advance. They would only be able to pay me after the magazine was printed, around the end of November 2011 or the beginning of December 2011 at the latest.

Dear Mustafa,

Thanks very much for your quick reply.

Here is a key issue which we came across with European photographers before, commonly, we can not pay in advance, since according to the working schedule of the whole company, we can only send you the payment after the pubilication of this issue, late November or early December, depending on the working schedule of our financial department and the international transaction. Please do understand that, which is not in the charge of my hand, it is the policy of the company. Sorry for that.

I wonder if you can accept that. If so, please send us the hi-res one of that picture before October 16th.

Acturally, my colleague, the art director found your pictures several days ago, but had difficult in contacting you. We also sent emails to the one on your website, I am afraid it is not yours, but the website company’s. We do not understand the language on the website. Finally I registered the website you post photos to send messages to you.

Attached you will find the introduction of our magazine, and the rates for reference. And our website is We belong to the biggest media group in China, Trends Group, the website is

Please CC my colleague while sending me emails. her email address is [redacted]. Since I will leave for Europe in the evening of October 15th, Beijing time. By the way, I am taking turkey airline to Venice, and transfer in Instanbul. Such a coincidence that I am contacting you before I set off.

Hope to get your reply as soon as possible.



Chu also sent a promotional document about their company and magazine to persuade me, and I was convinced by the company introduction letter they sent me.

That same day, I replied and told them that I accepted the conditions (based on trust) and asked for 5 printed copies of the issue after it was published. I also sent the photo file.

When November came around, the photo was indeed printed on the cover.

They also sent me 5 copies of the magazine, along with documents requesting my payment information (i.e. bank account, passport number, address, etc.). I promptly filled out the documents and sent it back to them.

Me and the issue that featured my photo on the cover.

After a couple of months of receiving no payment, I emailed them again asking them when they would be paying for the use of my photo on their cover.

They never responded to my email, and they have not responded to any contact attempt since then.

Frustrated, I began emailing the global National Geographic headquarters with my story. Although I have tried contacting headquarters over and over, I have yet to receive a single response.

I then began posting on National Geographic social media pages in 2013, but all of my posts were deleted shortly after I wrote them.

So that’s the story of how one of my photos was used on the cover of a well-known magazine in a giant country and how I ended up not receiving any payment in return.

Update on 6/14/17: Since this post was published, there have been many comments and offers for helping me. Then yesterday, the feature director of NGT China contacted me. They have written a letter stating their apology and have promised payment.

I sent the necessary information again. We’ll see if they make the same mistake again. I’m glad my case is being resolved, but this same issue has happened to other photographers around the world.

Update on 6/29/17: I have received payment from NGT China for my cover photo.

About the author: Mustafa Turgut is a professional photographer based in Turkey. You can find more of his work on his website and on TrekEarth.