Dear potential photo buyer,
If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images for free or minimal compensation.
As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. It is fair to say that in many cases, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.
Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.
Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, and hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.
Please take the following points in the constructive manner in which they are intended. We certainly hope that after you have had a chance to read this, we will be able to talk again and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.
Photographs Are Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.
We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, we may have participated directly in projects that we support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.
We Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we get for free photographs, however, is impractical, if for no other reason than the substantial amount of time required to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how our images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. It takes a lot of time to respond to requests, and time is always in short supply.
Pleas of “We Have No Money” Are Often Difficult to Fathom
The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requestor pleads a lack of funds.
Such requests frequently originate from organisations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs. Often, it is a simple matter of taking a look at a public filing or other similar disclosure document to see that the entity concerned has access to significant funding, certainly more than enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee should they choose to do so.
To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid.
Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.
We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.
The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.
Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.
Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.
In addition, travel is a big part of many of our businesses. We must spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging and other travel-related costs.
And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks we often take. Taking snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience and judgement.
So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.
Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much
Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.
There are two major problems with this.
First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.
Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.
In short, receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.
“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When we do have time to engage in correspondence with people and entities who request free photos, the dialogue sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward us, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or entity has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.
We know that is not true.
We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”
One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs for free, we often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting us know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) our photos did.
All too often, we don’t even get responses to emails we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.
In instances where we do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.
We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.
Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free
Note to photographers: You can use the above text under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Text by Tony Wu.
Andy Nix says
So eloquently, but more importantly, so gently yet firmly phrased. Thank you for this wonderful service to photographers! Much appreciated!
You’ve sais it all :-)
Cedric Jacquet says
Spot on. Thank you !
todd huffman says
I will work for free for a non profit, or on a project that I have creative direction over, but free isn’t a business model. There will always be a fresh face that will work for free or take a loss on a project thinking that it will be a good investment / “foot in the door” in hopes of getting paid on the next job by the same client. My 15 years of experience says the free client will only call you for the free work. If it’s a big job they will go to the established or “more desirable” creative. The first job you do for someone sets a precedent. It’s very hard to ask for more $ later to do the same sort of job for the same client. Also, that other, more desirable creative got 2 times the day rate that the client nickeled and dimed you over, and they didn’t have to negotiate.
Global Nomads says
After reading your post we feel lucky to be not professionals photographers. The lack of our professional identity allows us to give away all our photos for free with any restrictions with NO copyright. Sharing is caring.
Ken Kaminesky says
@Global Nomads: I agree sharing can be constituted as caring. However, photography is how I earn my living and yet I still do a fair amount of work for free but not for nothing. I will choose the causes I want to support and will happily donate time and work towards those causes. Companies, corporations and even nonprofits all have employees that earn substantially more money than any photographer that I know. For them to ask us creatives to give our work away for free is shameful and disrespectful. One thing we can agree upon is your lack of professional identity. If you were professional in any sense of the word, you would understand how your comment could be considered insulting and inflammatory to people who work very hard at their craft.
This is a very ridiculous statement, we should offer our support when we feel it is needed and warranted but this obviously is not sustainable unless you have other means of income, therefore not a professional photographer. Respect please!
Global Nomads says
The comment was not meant to be inflammatory or insulting, but an opening for a discussion to better understand your views in our frame of reference. We share your pain of struggling with making money, or earning living like in our case. Some of our books have been published and we receive money from our publishers. Those books we can not share freely even if we wanted.
Why is professional identity so important for you? Do you measure your success in the amount of money you make? How would you feel about a world without money?
Ask the client if they offer their services for free? 10 times out of 10, they’ll say no.
Brilliant Post Ken! ANDY NIX is right, this article was beautifully done. :)
Correct in all aspects.
Jeff Brislane says
Dear Global Nomads, my family is in regular need of food and money for such meanial things as rent and petrol etc etc. You guys sound like you have plenty of money seeing as you give away most of your photos and you sound very generous so could you please send me some cash? $10,000 should keep my family going for the next two months. Pretty please, I will gladly give you credit everytime i purchase something.
Global Nomads says
Hello Jeff, thanks a lot for your comment. We chose another strategy: no car so no need for petrol, no house so no need for rent, no job so no need for a lot of other extra costs, etc. etc. We don’t have much money and we do not want much money.
For us less is more. With $10,000 we could live 2 years and over half of the earths population could live with it that 30 years. Don’t you think there is something wrong with that?
The problem with money is that every dollar we spend ends up polluting our planet, creating poverty, and increasing misery of all living beings. We do not want to be part of that so we give away our stuff for free.
Jeff Brislane says
Hi Global Nomads, I appreciate your desire to live a self-sacrificing lifestyle and to reject all tenets of capitalism & modernity. Monks have been doing that for century’s and that is entirely up to you to chose.
But this blog post was precisely for us professional photographers who chose to participate in modern society so I really don’t understand why you are even posting?
But to answer your question about the amount of money I consume, I live in a modern society in which it costs a lot of money to survive. To compare that to a third world society which can live on 10% of that is like comparing apples and oranges. They are not even the same and any comparison is pointless. Cheers.
Jeff Brislane says
Global Nomads, there is more thing I need to say and I will be finished.
By giving away your photography for free who do think will use it? Fellow nomads like yourself? Probably not as people who live such a lifestyle as yours don’t really have any need for photography do they?
No the ones who have need of photography are the businesses, companies and corporations in the world I live in. By giving your photography away for free your are actually feeding a great evil in my world where some of these said businesses, companies and corporations think that they can exploit small guys like myself by taking as much as they can for free while at the same making massive profits at the expense of as many as they can.
I would prefer it if you would take your rejection of society & capitalism even further to a rejection of technology as well so you would feel compelled to reject even the use of cameras and so stop feeding the great evil that exists in my world. You may be helping your own conscience but you are not helping much else.
Global Nomads says
we did not know that this discussion is off-limits to non-professional photographers, sorry for the intrusion. We were just curious about the logic behind this blog post and got the understanding thanks to this discussion and your patience.
From our point of view you are living a self-sacrificing life, where people are forced to compromise and give up their principles for the sake of common good and other imaginary things.
> By giving away your photography for free who do think will use it?
For example media, more precisely web magazines, TV programs, and some newspapers have been very happy to use them as well as many web sites. We don’t require any credits or mentioning the source, so it is impossible to estimate how widely they are being used. Anyway, seeing a photo here and there every now and then gives a nice feeling that our efforts have not in vain.
We don’t feel exploited because we are not suffering from professional identity (or ego?) in that sense; we are not important, our time is not money, and we are stupid idiots who don’t measure their success or happiness with the amount of money they make and/or spend.
Feel free to sell our photos as yours, we don’t mind. Thank you for this discussion and we wish you peace, love, and happiness in life.
Anthony Dezenzio says
Thank you for posting this article. I had the same discussion this morning with a group of writers looking to use photos for free. Their way of thinking is that as long as they give credit to the photographer, they can just swipe off the site. If you don’t mind, I’ll be sending them a link to this article.
Agree 100%, writers have never written for FREE, a photographer is as good as a writer, the photographer uses image to tell a story, the writer use words to tell a story. They should be treated equally fairly, imho :D
I accidentally stumbled upon this article. I follow Ken on Twitter and Facebook.
I must say I absolutely love what you’ve written. I am not a photographer, but a writer, web editor and online marketer, but I can still relate to what you wrote.
I’ve started my own company just over a year ago and and I am getter better and better in negotiating with companies who want to work with me. This article helps me getting things clearer. So thank you for sharing this & keep up the great photography work.
Very well said! As soon as I decided to turn my passion for photography into a business, friends were coming out of the woodwork wanting me to take pictures for them. “Think of all the experience and referrals you’ll get,” they’d say. While all that is great, I still invest a huge part of my personal time editing photos, scouting locations etc. As much as I love it, I can’t do photography for free if it’s how I choose to make a living.
I’ve had people see my travel photos and then offer me $20 for the digital image, so they can print it (probably at Walmart) and do with it as they wish. If we photographers are ever going to be taken seriously and valued for our work, then we need to stop doing our work for free/cheap. Every single one of us. I can’t think of any other profession that works for nothing, and we shouldn’t either.
Edwin van der Veer says
Agree on Ken’s article totally.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with doing some (socially engaged) work for free, but the photographer should be the one to choose when and how, not the client.
Somebody who wants to make a living with photography these days, has to invest a great deal in terms of money, gear, marketing, website hosting, etc. Therefore it’s not very exceptional to try and earn some of those investments back, by charging money for them.
And as far as exposure is concerned…It’s something that will (or will not) come in the end, if you have the patience and really enjoy what you’re doing and tell everyone about it. Your enthusiasm will carry your business. Not the fact that you do things for free. You might end up as the laughing stock of your profession and harm others, that are in the same line of work. Any business that works for free, might as well file for bankruptcy immediately. Basically it’s a contradiction anyway: Business vs. Free (unless they’re subsidized of course)
Look at Ken. He earned his exposure through hard labor, enthusiasm, traveling the world AND writing about it. We get to enjoy his stories and in return, we ‘award’ him by sharing these stories all over the Internet. THAT’S organic and well deserved exposure!
Lotus Buccola says
Yes. Yes and just…. YES! I’m so happy someone wrote an in depth version of this without coming off sarcastic.
I certainly agree with what is being said here. I am not a professional photographer which leaves me free to do something for free or not. Instead, I use images to create computer art work. I use mostly my own photographs along with a sprinkling of public domain images. I do not use any photographs that require a fee or I pay the fee if I can not find one suitable. In my case, it’s the artwork I want recognition for, not the photograph per se. I also alter the work or expand upon it so that it does not resemble the original just as any artist does when appropriating an image from another source. Many times the photo used has very little resemblance to the original image.
While I do sell the occasional photo, I am fully aware that the seller may choose to exploit the shot. It seems to go with the territory. As an artist who formerly produced original work on paper, I have had my share of being used and it isn’t fun. I’m not sure there is any way to really protect one’s self from exploitation. That doesn’t make it right, but it is just a burden anyone who produces photographic work bears.
I think this “open letter” is timely and important. It needs to be said and it needs to be said to artists like myself who use other’s work product. If a work is not public domain, then it needs to be purchased and there are no excuses not to purchase it as I or another artist is likely to be making some sort of profit from its use.
Jamie C. says
You have truly and eloquently brought to light the all too often situation that Professional Photographers deal with. Add to that with not only other Professionals and Businesses offering you those fabulous you’ll get photo credit deals
(Gee Thanks! And sometimes they ask you not to use your watermark..lol),
but the ever so often “invitation” to everything from Family celebrations, Formal events and much more, which had you not been a Photographer you likely wouldn’t even make the guest list lol. How often do you get a friend request etc.. from people who their sole motive is to friend you to get free photos? At times it’s really just baffling and laughable. I want to say if your boss asked you to come in this week and work for free but hey- I’ll tell everyone you did it! Or could you walk into the gas station, grocery store, Doctors office… on and on and say hey if you give it to me for free I’ll give you a shout-out (credit).
There are just so many points in your article that I could elaborate on that I so relate with, because you did such a wonderful job at describing one aspect of a Professional Photographers Life that is sadly a downside.
When i was newbie years back I made that mistake of doing it for free to show what I could do and all I did was set myself up for future disappointment and people expecting it for free. A very valuable lesson that I always try to pass along to newbies I meet so they can avoid that disaster.
Thank you for sharing this this and allowing us to share it as well.
Thanks Ken! Great post!