Your photos have value, STOP GIVING THEM AWAY!

early morning light on Dover, NH city hall.

Recently I was contacted by a design company working for the Chamber Of Commerce for -insert name of city here-,  putting together a “digest style brochure for tourists and people relocating to -insert name of city here, again-.

Would you be willing to “donate a few of your  –same city– themed images?”

Followed by the infamous, “Of course we will provide photo credit.”

Care to guess how many gear, software, computer system upgrades, not to mention travel expenses I can pay for with “photo credit?”

I’ll give you a hint: The number I’m looking for could be mistaken for an upper case letter “O”

I politely declined, stating that every one of the images created showcasing this town are commissioned photographs, and that it would be extremely unfair to give them away when a client has paid good money for several large prints of these images. I did however mention that I would be willing to discuss reasonable licensing fees for their use.

This was over a month ago and I haven’t heard back since. I honestly don’t expect to.

To me “Donate” implies some sort of charitable cause or organization. For example, if a local conservation organization I support contacted me seeking the use of one or more of my photos, I would gladly provide them. That IS a charitable organization. A local municipality trying to attract tourist dollars doesn’t quite fit that definition, no matter how loosely you apply it. Even less so since I don’t even live in that town. I’m also sure every single business, restaurant, etc. featured in this “digest” is paying to be included. It should come as no surprise to them that I expect to be paid as well.

Digital Is Killing The Professional Photographer.

Pretty strong statement, huh? Read on.

When I decided to try to make my photography more than just a hobby, there was one overriding consideration when it came to pricing and selling my images. Though I may never become a full-time Pro, I would never price my photos low just to make a sale. There are full-time Pro photographers that keep the roof over their heads with their photography, I was not about to grossly undercut their pricing. That cheapens my work, and hurts them.

When deciding on pricing I spent a lot of time looking at the work and pricing of other big named photographers in the nature and landscape genre. Both to compare my images to and to get an idea on their pricing. Granted, I took into account that I’m a “nobody” in the world of nature and landscape photography, so to a degree my print prices reflect that. Should I become the next William Neill, or Jerry Monkman, to name two Pros whose work I admire, my pricing will reflect that too. So if you’ve been thinking of visiting, now’s the time while the pricing is great! (How’s that for shameless self promotion? 😀 )

In the mean time I won’t cut their throats and blow my photos out at discount store prices. I’m not that selfish.

Unfortunately in these days of digital there are far too many photographers out there that are willing to give their images away for the brief boost to their ego and the bragging rights “photo credit” gives them.

I have recently found out from a friend that he too was contacted about “donating” images for the above mentioned project. He too declined. Sadly, they will eventually find the free images they want. Though rather than pay a fair price for high quality, professional level images, they will likely not be the best quality images available to showcase the area.

You’re Hurting Someone.

In your area I bet you’ve seen the studios of several Professional Photographers. Or passed by a gallery featuring the work of full-time Pros. Some of them might even be friends of yours. Would you still be willing to give your photos away if you knew that it was taking income away from that working professional, your friend, making it harder for them to pay their bills? What if they told you they lost out on a big sale and couldn’t make their rent this month because someone was willing to provide an image for free? What if that “someone” was you? I know I’d feel like crap.

Is that fleeting, soon forgotten boost to your ego worth it to you?

Think of it this way, how would you feel if someone equally as good at what you do came into your office and told your boss that they would do your job for free?

Win, Win For Everyone.

My art has value, yours should too.

If you’re ever asked for the use of one of your images for “photo credit,” ask yourself what you can buy with that?

If people stop giving it away, we as photographers all benefit. Whether or not you want to actively sell your photographs, wouldn’t it be an even bigger ego boost to know someone is willing to pay for them?

Get The Word Out.

I would like to urge each and every one of the subscribers to my blog who are photographers hoping to sell their work, to share this. Re-blog it, share it on Facebook, twitter, whatever social media outlets you use, we can all benefit.

67 thoughts on “Just Say No To Photo Credit!

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you agree. I’m somewhat afraid this will fall on deaf ears. Especially with new photographers who really want to get their names out there.

      1. It’s a tough world, especially in photography, but I would never do that. It’s with posts like your’s and sharing this message that we can hope to change things one day.

        1. Very true. I think this applies to all art and not just photography. I could very easily have fallen into the “photo credit trap” early on in my efforts to turn my photography into more than just a hobby. Looking back it’s probably a good thing that I was never “lucky” enough to have been asked.

          To the aspiring artist I can most certainly see the allure.

  1. Nicely said Jeff. I completely agree. “Photo credit” is great for beginners and students. It does not help professionals pay the bills.

    Kudos my good man!

    1. Thanks Mike. And I almost agree with you. I say almost, because if a beginner or student creates an image good enough for someone who wants to use it, they should be paid as well.

      If they give it away once, even as a new photographer, it might be very difficult in the future to get the people who got it for free to actually pay for their images down the road.

    1. True. If every hobbyist, amateur, or wanna-be-pro-some-day realized just how little good photo credit does them, and stopped giving their hard earned images away for free, we would all benefit.

      I’m actually editing the post to include a statement urging any of my subscribers who wish to earn at least part of their income from photography to either re-blog this or share it in some other way such as on their Facebook pages. If we as a group can get the word out we might be able to do some good.

  2. If their not willing to pay for it, then they are saying your work/art has no value. Glad you didn’t give them it; I wouldn’t have either.

    1. What galls me Jim is when a company or organization hires a top notch, high priced, graphic design or advertising firm, but then claims poverty when it comes to paying for the artwork they need to complete the job.

    1. It is heartening to see so many people agreeing with this. I’d like to think that if more people actually thought of the consequences of giving away their photos they’d think twice about it. That is probably very naive of me though.

  3. Thank you for this post. I see people “give away” their talent, skills and very hard work all over the blogging community and in this country with all its volunteerism. (I’ve been an avid community volunteer (hundreds of hours monthly for several years), but have pulled back from it because is the same affect you are writing about. I don’t blog for part of the same reason. If I were selling my work, I would likely blog though.) I find “too much give away” de-valuing…both of the person giving it away and the community-at-large.
    Love your work and things you share. I’m a fairly new subscriber.

    1. Thank you for the compliments and for becoming a subscriber Terri. I think there is a right place and time for volunteering. There will always be people in need. But when a company or organization is willing to pay for a high priced ad or graphic design firm for their ad campaign, and then plead poverty when it comes time to pay for the artwork they need, I certainly won’t be “volunteering” my photographs.

  4. Fully agree, Jeff. Many of us have been asked for freebies in exchange for “credit”. But I’ve yet to see a single example where the supposed “credit” leads anywhere. No contacts. No sales. Nada. I just had a request from a Chinese phone manufacturer for a freebie to use as their background photo on their Android phones. I suggested a license fee and never heard from them again. REALLY?

    1. But Mike, that would have been a sweet deal for you. The new owner of their phone would have been able to see your photo for the 2 seconds it took them to add one of their own photos. I can’t believe you don’t see the benefit to you 😉

    1. That is a great idea Debby. There are a lot of factors that go into licensing prices. Is it a local, regional, national market? Size the image will appear (full, half, quarter page) duration of use. Also, will you be licensing exclusive rights to the photo? Which means no sales of any kind for that image for the duration of the license.

      There is a great software program called fotoQuote that allows you to plug in all of that information to get a price to start the negotiations. It’s a real eye opener the prices the software comes up with. You may not get even close to what they recommend, but it’s a good place to start.

      1. Thanks, Jeff, I will check it out. I would not give exclusive rights to a photo unless commissioned by a client. Have you done that under other circumstances?

  5. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for posting on this topic.
    I have been contacted as well about some of my photos and declined. I wish all photographers out there would stop this credit given thing as it devalues our work as photographers. Photography is an art and a photographer is no different from say a painter.

    – Steve

    1. I disagree! Your avatar-photo is far away from art. And people who are so much involved in money-making are usually far away from art.

      1. Assuming you’re referring to the photo of me holding the camera to my eye, it’s not meant to be art. If you’re referring to the green abstract photo, the number of people who’ve purchased prints of it might beg to differ with you. The beauty of art is that it is so many things to so many people. Whether you or anyone else considers any of my photos art is not my concern and not why I make them. I would also continue to photograph if I never sold another print. If my photography was motivated solely by money there are a lot of other things I would photograph just to earn a buck. Would I like to earn my living with my camera? Hell yes. Will I give my photos away to for-profit businesses that are too cheap to pay for the same photos others have paid me very well for? Hell no!

        1. I thought, I optically and clearly referred to Steve’s comment “a photographer is no different from a … painter.”
          It’s a popular misunderstanding that buying expensive equipment and pushing a button is the same like being creative on a canvas. But no one needs labels like “This is art!”. And the success of selling things doesn’t indicate quality.

          1. Tom, I apologize if I misunderstood your initial comment. Had I seen in the notification email that is was in response to Steve’s comment its context would have made it clear.

            You are so right. If the artist, regardless of medium, has to tell people “this is art” there is something wrong. As for the difference between photograph and a painting, I think the tools are different, but the end result comes down to the skill of the person wielding the tools. The best camera in the world doesn’t make anyone a good photographer any more than the best brushes and paints make a person a good painter. And success at selling is definitely not an indication of quality to anyone other than the buyer. I think beauty really is “in the eye of the beholder.” For what it’s worth, as much skill as I feel it takes to create a good photograph, I don’t think it compares to the talent of a skilled painter when putting brush to canvas.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for describing this situation so eloquently. Being asked to provide images for free (with a credit) has been happening ever since I first started licensing my photos 20 years ago. I understand how tempting it can be when you are first starting out and trying to build a portfolio of published work. As you say, photo credits can’t pay the bills, but I’ve found it goes even deeper than that. In my experience, giving your work away for free doesn’t lead to paying jobs, just more requests for freebies. It’s very hard to start asking clients for money when they’re used to getting it for free

    Early on in my career, I was encouraged to have a policy of requiring a minimum fee for my images ($100). It was sometimes hard to stick to my guns with this because no no one likes losing a sale, but you know what happened? I started making more money. When you spend time servicing clients for no money or low fees, you have less time to shoot new images and less time to find those clients that can pay a fair wage for what you are doing. Shooting for free (or for small amounts) also creates a reputation of being the cheap photographer, which creates the perception that you’re images aren’t of the same quality as those who charge more. Competing in the photography business on price is never going to lead to a profitable business.

    All of that said, I do donate images from time to time, but only to smaller non-profits who have also paid for my work in the past. I don’t expect the photo credit to help my career – I only do it because I believe in the organization and want to help out and I’m confident I’m not taking money out of some other photographer’s pocket. I never give away work to for-profit businesses or organizations promoting businesses – they should have the marketing budget to pay for photos just like they’re paying the printers, ad agencies, etc.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post!


    1. Hey Jerry,

      As one of the photographers who most I admire, both for your body of work and the charitable work you do for conservation organizations, I’m really glad to hear your point of view on this topic.

      You mentioned something I only briefly touched on, and that is once the image for credit precedent has been set it could possibly be tough to ever get that same organization to pay in the future.

      I also know exactly how you felt losing out on a “sale.” But like you I place a high value on the images I create and have no desire to cheapen my or anyone else’s work by by bargain bin pricing it.

      I too would be willing to donate the occasional photo to small charitable organizations whose cause I believe in.

      Again, thank you for adding your thoughts. Having someone of your stature in the photographic community stepping in in agreement lets me know I’m on the right track with this.

  7. Definitely agree! Whatever your job is, it’s always very frustrating when you hear that someone else was hired for the job because they underpriced the service (besides the other problem of quality…).

    Besides, your photos should be recognized for what they are, the work of an artist (even if he’s not as famous as others, they started there too!) and should be used as such with value.

    1. Thank you Julie. It certainly seems I’ve struck a chord with this post. I sincerely hope it does some good for aspiring photographers and artists of all kinds.

  8. Great and very important piece of writing and statements Jeff, not only for photographers but artist in general, I believe, are often facing exactly this question. Some might buy into it, not only as an ego-boost as you suggest, but perhaps out of fear of missing a chance that might lead to their dream come true (could have been myself years ago in a different area than photography and it wouldn’t have occurred to me I was hurting someone) You made a great point (several actually) and I absolutely agree all the way through!

    1. You’re right, it does apply to artists of all types, not just photographers. And for all the reasons you mention it is very alluring to the artist beginning their career.

      As far as hurting other working artists, I felt it was a point that needed to be made, one that I’ve never seen directly addressed. It’s something that you or me as an aspiring artist looking for our “big break” more than likely wouldn’t even consider. In the end, giving your art away hurts you as the aspiring artist just as much as it hurts the established one. Perhaps the affect won’t be felt in the short term, but in the long run, when you’re fighting against the next generation of artists looking to make a living with their art who are tempted by “photo credit,” it’ll come to you.

      1. You are so very right and I truly appreciate particularly that part of your post, kindness and consideration for other artists, including oneself. I find each ones gifts are here to be honored, not exploited by oneself or others, and the only one to guard this, is the artist him/herself. I’m at the cusp of turning more professional with photography somehow, listening to the kind ‘pressure’ from people that apparently finds value in me playing around with a camera, so I am slowly and quietly looking into this, so your post came in perfect timing and is much appreciated! Thank you for your thorough reply.

        1. It sounds like you are about to succumb to the same pressures I did about two years ago. Countless family and friends telling me how great my photographs are, and that I should try to sell them. 🙂

          1. phhuyyiii…’s a possibility yes, so far my photos are the cover of a new cd being launched end June with Lismorahaun Singers, an Irish choir 🙂 Good friends and family you have!

    1. Thank you Valentina. As much as I’d like to become a full time professional photographer, I’m pretty suer giving my photos away for free isn’t the best way to achieve that goal.

  9. Interesting thoughts here. I get equally annoyed when people photocopy from books without paying their dues. I would like to know how to protect my own photos with a watermark or similar even though I am not a professional. It seems harder to do on a Mac!

    1. Thank you. I just did a quick search on watermarking on a Mac, depending on the image editing software you’re using you’re right, it isn’t easy. That being said, I’m a Mac user and a Lightroom 4 user. In LR it’s very easy to watermark your photos. I did find this plugin for iPhoto / Aperture that looks promising, but its $14.99 U.S. If you’re a casual photographer not interested in purchasing something like Lightroom, content with the image editing capabilities of iPhoto, while still wanting to protect your online photos, that plugin might be just the ticket.

  10. Would a bank donate a loan-would a supermarket donate a product-of course not- if someone likes your photo they can pay for it-if they don´t want topay for it why are they looking at it! 🙂

    1. It has become my mission to make amateur photographers everywhere realize that even if they have absolutely no interest in selling their photos that they have value and shouldn’t be given away so freely.

  11. Reblogged! And you must be eaves dropping in on me. A photog buddy and me were having this exact conversation yesterday. When I first started putting together prints or doing a session with someone, I didn’t plug for money…mainly because I was an amateur at best and didn’t think I should charge a pro rate for an amateur job. Just the ethics of it (although I have seen many who do not have this problem whatsoever 😉 ) But like you said, photography is still a profession and puts well deserved roofs over many families. Unless it is close family or a friend, I turn people away to not poach the field. I once received an offer to include a photo in a “children’s science” book and was all giddy about getting something published…until I found out it was just for credit and the book was for profit! These publishers are really not that interested in great photography and are looking to circumvent the stock photography industry. If they can get an “OK” photo for free, they will. And it’s probably true that the advent of affordable DSLRs are sapping the pro-photography industry, but only if the hobbyist let that happen. For me, once I became passionate about photography I simultaneously became respectful (and inspired) of the professional work. And I don’t see how any one else who is passionate about the craft wouldn’t carry the same respect.

    1. Brandon, I have spies everywhere! Like you, close friends and relatives occasionally get freebies. But even that is rare, usually whoever’s name I draw on my wife’s side at Christmas time.

      I do think the affordable DSLR, heck even the latest P&S cameras, along with such easy methods of sharing photos as Flickr, Facebook, etc., have contributed to the problem.

      I also completely understand the allure to the hobbyist photographer. Who wouldn’t want their picture in a publication? I hope to get my hands on a copy of the brochure mentioned in my post. I have a sneaking suspicion the photos will be less than spectacular.

      Now just be careful, I’m always listening 🙂

  12. I “donated” an image for credit once. It was for a quarterly newsletter from a neighbour stockbroker, circulation very limited. He indicated he was going to buy some prints for his office. Still waiting.

  13. True you can’t buy anything with a photo credit but it is not worthless, in fact, it can lead to other paid business.

    Whether you are willing to contribute a photo or other art depends on your business model. If I like what the requestor is doing I have no problem contributing a photo.

    Each photographer should have the right to price himself the way he wants. True if he undercuts someone else it might be damaging to the higher seller but everyone sets their own price.

    I have thousands of photographs that I’ve taken because I enjoy taking photographs. These photographs have no intrinsic value until someone is interested in one, they weren’t taken at someone’s request.

    like to get paid for my photos and sometimes I do but there are cases where there is no budget or consciousness to buy a photo – if I don’t contribute a photo the requestor will find another image, that’s the way it is in 2013, no point deluding ourselves. No one is forced to contribute their photos.

    1. I couldn’t disagree more with your take on photo credit.

      Would you continue to go to work if instead of a paycheck, on each product you worked you got credit? “This product was made by Shmuel Browns” on every box? I, along with every other photographer I know, looks at giving their photos away in just that way.

      With the exception of charitable organizations, it doesn’t matter one bit whether I “like” what they are doing or not. When everyone along the line is getting paid, and often paid well, it isn’t my problem when they realize they forgot to budget for the photography.

      In the last year I’ve provided the artwork for two new dental offices in the area. During the construction process one budgeted for art, the other didn’t. Should I have given my photos to the one that didn’t just because it wasn’t “in the budget?”

      In the case that prompted my article, I found out recently they right up until deadline they were still running around looking for decent photos to use, and were likely going to settle on some way over done HDR photos, that by all accounts were pretty bad, because not one self respecting local photographer with good images was willing to give their work away. ( I found all this out by the way, because a good friend, also a photographer unwilling to provide free images, had a friend working on the project)

      For a worthwhile, charitable organization or cause I believe in, I would gladly consider donating images. But when dealing with a for-profit company, I’ll either be paid or they can look elsewhere.

      You’re right, my photos as well have no intrinsic value until someone is willing to pay my asking price for them. But that in no way means they will get them for free if what they’re wiling to pay is zero. I also agree that each photographer should be willing to price their work how they see fit. But when that same photographer, who’s been giving away their photos for “photo credit,” or blowing them out at super low prices just to make a sale, and get their name out there, wants to finally turn full time pro, only to find out they can’t make a living at it because nobody will pay the price they now need to charge in order to pay their bills, they need only look in the mirror to find where they should place the blame.

      To answer the last part of your comment, if the people working on any given project that requires artwork of some kind, are too stupid, too short-sighted, or too relying on someone willing to give away their photos, to complete the project, that isn’t even close to a good reason for me to give them mine. I have to ask, if as you say you like to be paid for your photos, why in the world would you give them away to cover their stupidity or cheapness? I strongly believe that the reason there “is no budget” for art is because they are banking on some sucker giving them away for nothing.

      Sadly, you’re right about it being “the way it is.” And as long as people continue to place so little value on their art that they will give it away, those of us who do take it seriously in hopes of making a living from it, and place a high value on it, are screwed.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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