Hey Photographers – When You Give it Away You Diminish All of Our Work

I don’t think I’m a particularly brilliant photographer. Sure, I’ve carved out a little niche here in a small part of the world and my landscape photography is relatively well known amongst the local community, but I’m no big-shot Instagram influencer, I haven’t got a nationally or internationally recognisable name and I sure as shit do not earn a living from photography.

I only started selling my photographs because there was a demand for them. Some local businesses contacted me and wanted to use my images and then my Facebook page grew popular and there was some demand for prints. So I set up an online store with Zenfolio and that pays for a new lens every now and then. I’m not going to get rich doing photography but that was never my intention when I started going out into the landscape and photographing it. However none of that means that I do not place a value – a personal or a monetary value – on my photographs.

Shoalhaven Heads

Here’s the photo that a small local non-profit offered to pay me for, but for which a multi-national financial services company with 189,000 employees wanted for free.

Like many photographers I am approached – fairly regularly – by organisations of one kind or another with a view to using my photographs for free. The communication always follows a similar pattern. They start by buttering me up, telling me how much they love my photography. Then they move on to this incredible opportunity that exists. Then they suggest a coming together of their opportunity and my photograph and, in return, they will give me a credit and perhaps the promise of ‘exposure’. Or sometimes they will just talk about the opportunity and ask for the use of my photograph and when I say – sure thing, that’ll be $myveryreasonablefee – they say – oh sorry, we have no budget – but think of all of that ‘free’ ‘exposure’.

Now the kicker, from my point of view, is that the organisations that ask to use photographs for free are nearly always businesses of one kind or another. I’ve been contacted by various non-profit groups or charities over the years and they have always offered to pay for my photographs. And in many of those cases, having looked at their organisations, I have thanked them for offering to pay and then given them the image for free. Compare and contrast these two situations.

I was emailed by a local non-profit Aboriginal Child and Family Centre. They reached out to me with a view to purchasing a high resolution digital image from me. They didn’t quibble about it – they just offered to pay. So I had a look at their website and immediately offered them the image for nothing – they’re doing a great job and I’d rather they spent their money on their mission.

Then there’s the massive real estate company. They produce a glossy magazine every quarter and they like to stick a photograph of a local scene on the cover. They emailed me and said how much they liked my photographs and asked to use an image for ‘credit’ on the cover. Just to qualify this – we’re not talking about a lifestyle magazine or a regional guide – this is a commercial brochure full of nothing but real estate listings. So I declined the offer.

An organisation with a $26.4bn turnover asked a bloke with a beat-up three year old Canon camera and one decent lens to give up a photograph for free.

It’s all very depressing. And while, in my example above, it’s a successful regional real estate franchise that thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to use people’s property for nothing, all sorts of commercial entities try it on. Perhaps the most staggering example I’ve personally experienced was from KPMG – a company that employs 189,000 people and had a turnover of US$26.40 billion last year. One of their employees emailed me from an address with a Sydney 2000 postcode asking “if you would be happy for me to use some of these images provided that I credit you.” What, the actual, fuck? An organisation with a $26.4bn turnover asked a bloke with a beat-up three year old Canon camera and one decent lens to give up a photograph for free. Fuck you, KPMG. Fuck you very much.

Of course the reason that companies try it on, is because they keep getting away with it. For every photographer that makes a stand there are twenty more who don’t. In the case of the real estate company I mentioned above, I was intrigued to find their quarterly brochure bundled in amongst the supermarket flyers that came in my post this week and wondered what would be on the cover. Turns out they had secured an image by a young local lad who takes landscape photographs round here and he had given up his image for the sake of a tiny credit in about 8 point text on the bottom of the cover that nobody (save his family – and me) will ever read.

One of the reasons this problem persists is that people like having smoke blown up their arse. If someone emails you and tells you how awesome you are and how excellent your photographs are – it feels great. This after all is what sits at the very core of social media – strangers telling you how great you are. And if someone pays you a compliment you’re going to be open to the idea of reciprocating in some way. They also tell you that you’ll get great exposure from the opportunity, which is of course a complete lie. The zero sum outcome of you giving your photograph away to a company is that they save money at your expense. That’s it.

The other reason that ‘for a credit’ situations persist is that photographers do not value their own work. They might be a hobby photographer, an amateur, or someone who just goes out occasionally with a camera and takes photos. And if some swanky company approaches them and flatters them and offers them ‘exposure’ and ‘a credit’ then of course they’re going to say yes. Even if they did want paying for their photograph they might be too embarrassed to ask for payment and they would almost certainly have no idea what to charge. If they ask for payment then this amazing opportunity might go away and they’d miss out on all that amazing exposure and a microfiche sized credit line. As far as the hobby photographer is concerned they’re doing nobody any harm and, besides, it’s their photograph and they can do what they want with it.

So here’s my plea – photographers, please stop giving it away. When you let a company use your photograph free of charge you devalue everyone else’s photography along with your own. Just because photography is not how you pay the bills, does not mean that your photograph does not have a monetary value. The only winners in the ‘for a credit’ scam are the companies, who get a nice photograph that they don’t have to spend a single cent on. So don’t be a dummy, ask for some money.

By |2018-10-29T09:22:24+00:00October 3rd, 2018|Articles, The Low-Down|22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Paul Warren October 3, 2018 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I agree with your sentiments. We love our Art but there is time, energy, getting to a site, poring over all those shots for the few best.

    A labourer is worthy of their hire.

    Paul Warren

    • Andy Hutchinson October 4, 2018 at 8:12 am - Reply

      Thanks Paul – totally – we need to properly price the time, energy, experience and equipment costs associated with our photos. 🙂

  2. audreyshankles October 3, 2018 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Hi! I really appreciated your ideas on this. I am in the boat of I don’t really know what to charge, so I use a small “by the picture” fee for friends and perhaps in a few months, with a nice portfolio built up, I will feel more confident in charging more. But you are totally right about valuing one’s own work. I had a lightbulb moment when I read that; I keep taking pictures and offering to take pictures because I genuinely like the challenge and outcome of taking pictures. Therefore, I do value it, and now I have to learn to make it monetary (if I want some new lenses in the future).

    • Andy Hutchinson October 4, 2018 at 8:03 am - Reply

      It’s difficult for sure. We all feel embarrassed about attaching a dollar price to our photos and we often seriously under-value them. These days I have a scale of prices to deal with it – one price for local start-up companies (which will probably turn into good repeat customers), one price for the local tourist authority (who have supported me plenty over the years and are good repeat customers), one price for existing local companies (with one-use and on-going licence options) and a Getty sized fee for national companies. I think the main thing is to state your fee and not stress about it – of all the licence inquiries I’ve received over the years I’d say 90% of them paid up when presented with the pricing.

  3. Dan October 3, 2018 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    So what would you say we should charge?

    • Andy Hutchinson October 4, 2018 at 7:59 am - Reply

      Not sure which country you’re in, but I used the big stock photo libraries (Getty etc) as a starting point for my pricing, along with research from other local photographers. These days I charge $180 for a one-use licence for one of my photos for local companies. If that local company wants a continuing licence then I charge $240. If it’s some mom and pop affair that’s just getting going and they offered to pay for my photo then I offer them a discount. If it’s a national company then I charge the straight Getty $price.

  4. VDMSR October 4, 2018 at 1:31 am - Reply

    100%

    The only reason to “give” your photo is in a business exchange for money or another bartered item of worth. That’s it. Period.

  5. Steve Squall October 4, 2018 at 1:43 am - Reply

    This is spot on, man. I’m a small potatoes photographer myself. I just recently picked up a part time bartending gig to help make the ends meet because I’m constantly being undercut by this exact scenario. So, thank you for being responsible and for sharing this!

  6. Hans van der Post October 4, 2018 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Awesome article!

  7. Rowan Sims October 4, 2018 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Well said Andy. I’ve been battling this for years. It feels like a losing battle sometimes, to be honest. Still, I think we need to keep making a stand and encouraging other photographers to do the same. Thanks for writing this dude.

  8. Perry B October 5, 2018 at 2:56 am - Reply

    I’d love to share this post on Facebook, but the attached photo that comes up when I share the link is of a prostate exam… so I have to share the petapixel version, which doesnt drive people to your site (directly) very well. Sorry mate. I’m sure you have a reason, but I would much rather send traffic to your site than PetaPixel. Spot-on with the blog post though. Been preaching this to all my local aspiring photographers who give things away and it drives me nuts.

    • Andy Hutchinson October 5, 2018 at 8:58 am - Reply

      Thanks Perry. Lots of comments about the featured image – so I’ve swapped it out for one of my own images. Just my weird British sense of humour. 🙂

  9. bob cooley October 5, 2018 at 3:17 am - Reply

    Andy, Sorry man, but I have to point out the fact that your site uses a lot of photography from others who are giving away their work. And you also give away your work on the same site (unsplash). Seems like this is a practice you would not partake of (or end) before telling others not to do it themselves. 🙂

    • Andy Hutchinson October 5, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Hey Bob, thanks for taking the time to comment. I was actually expecting the ‘You have photos on Unsplash’ comment a lot sooner, but anyway! There are a couple of reasons I’m on Unsplash – but primarily it’s part of an article I’m writing about promotional tools for photographers – I’m uploading a new batch there shortly and will be writing up my experiences later this year. However it’s worth pointing out that there is a world of difference between me releasing a very specific selection of photos into the public domain – and a large company asking me directly to give away specific items of my property. In the first instance I am fully in control, in the second I am giving away control.

      I have about half a million photographs in my Lightroom catalog and the majority of them have no commercial value to me – no tourism agency will buy them, no company will use them, no stock photo site will accept them. This is because they are very generic images – good, but generic. The shots of mine that you can see on Unsplash could be anywhere – any beach, any river, any sand dune. I also have a number of photographs on DeviantArt for free download by anyone as desktop wallpaper for the same reason – they’re very generic, but quite nice images, that I want people to see. And I (not a company) decided to share them. I also see the sharing of photos in this way (at my discretion) as a charitable process – the correspondence I’ve received from people who’ve used my Unsplash images supports that.

      Also, I’d take issue with the statement that my site uses others photography. I’d say that 99% of the images here were my own – I did include a couple of generic images for some generalised articles (such as the one about Instagram) – but it’s overwhelmingly my own stuff on here. But again – you’ve missed the point – I did not approach the people whose images I downloaded from Unsplash and ask them to give away their property to me – they chose to share some photos, they chose which ones, they were in control. As photographers when we are in control, we have the power. 🙂

  10. bob cooley October 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    HI Andy. You may want to clarify this in your title and article. Because as it stands, the title of your article is literally “When You Give it Away You Diminish All of Our Work” , which is repeated at the end of the article, but you make no caveats as using images as loss-leaders.

    For those of us who do this full-time for a living, this is always a topic of constant debate and consternation. When the article says one thing, but the site does the opposite without any explanation, it may send a mixed message to newer photographer.

    Nice work, by the by 🙂

    Cheers!

    /Bob

    • Andy Hutchinson October 5, 2018 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Hey Bob. Well, an accurate title would be something like, “Hey photographers, don’t let businesses (particularly multinationals) take advantage of you by giving them your photographs for free, but there are some cases when it’s okay to let your images get used without payment such as when you’re doing it for charitable causes or as a loss-leader”. And that doesn’t exactly skip off the tongue. I do agree that it’s all something of a grey area. For instance I see from your comments on PetaPixel that you’re happy to barter your services – and that’s something that I would never do – in fact I’ve walked away from several ‘opportunities’ where a contra deal was offered because I felt it set a bad precedent – getting a healing sport massage won’t pay my bills.

      It has to be said – the Unsplash stuff – which you refer to several times on PetaPixel in reference to my dubious principles – has been something of an education to me. I’ve been enjoying reading the experiences of other photographers who’ve used the site and once a decent amount of time has passed I’ll write up my experiences too. Ultimately I think that the amount of utility a photographer gets out of a site like Unsplash is a bit of a lottery – worst case is you give away your IP and get nothing but some internet likes in return – best case is you get paid work, a global reputation and sponsorships. Pretty sure I know which way it’ll go for me, but we’ll see!

  11. Peter J Colema November 9, 2018 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    2007, after a touring trip through England, I sat down and started processing thousands of images. I came across a series of images I took at Shakespear’s house. A young lady dressed in period costume was wandering through the rose gardens at the back of the house. We chatted, and with her permission, took around 30 images, sitting walking , smelling roses and so on. I managed to find an address via google, and sent a few shots off to a tourist company in Statford-on-Avon. They assured me, they knew the lady, and she would get the photos. A week later , the company. e-mailed me requesting permission to use my images on an advertising flyer, with my name credited. I agreed, was stoked actually that someone thought enough of my work, to want to use it. Advertising flyer???? Was used in a magazine with European circulation. Received not a cracker, and to add insult, spelt my name wrong.

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