Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free
Dear potential photo buyer,
If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image, a license restricted image or images for free or minimal compensation. The cost for the website, photographic tools and the creation of images is entirely paid for by watsonphotography.ca and no commercial sponsorship or advertising compensation is received.
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. If you don't have a budget this year, then indicate when your fiscal year starts so that a budget item for photographic services can be created. Alternatively, is there a department in your organization where there is a current budget for these expenses.
If you are a start-up company and don’t truly don't have any money then try to think creatively on a solution. This could entail post-pone the work for a few months or providing an option for company stock in lieu of payment. Payment can also be in other forms such as barter, as long as the provided service/product is of equal value and the deal is put into writing.
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. What exactly is the nature of the exposure? How many forms of media? How will my name and description of my photography business be used? Will you have a link to my photography website and/or social media? Also, in implying that the image would look good in your portfolio?
There are three 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. Providing photographic credit has to be worth at least as much as the photographic services provided.
Three, photographers spend an inordinate amount of time and resources to create portfolio images. This is an on-going effort. Unless your work or subject is truly exceptional it will not make its way to my portfolio. I can’t pay you, but you’ll get great exposure
“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. So by all means contact another photographer. We also know that no reasonable and competent member of the photographic community would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do foresee that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may work for free, but as proverbial wisdom tells us: “You get what you pay for.”
If we have made the decision to provide provide photographic services for free we will be sending you an invoice with words stating that “Fee Voluntarily Waived.” If your organization can provide a registered charitable tax receipt this would also be beneficial to helping sustain our photographic business.
Follow-up to Your Request
One experience that photographers have in common is that when photographic services are provided for free, we often find the other party has not fulfilled their part of the obligation; such as providing updates, feedback or other forms of communication to let us how the event or project unfolded, what goals were achieved, and what role or influence our photos did.
All too often, we don’t even get responses to our follow-up requests. Accordingly, in the future if we do not receive any follow-up communication we will document the issue and communicate it to the public and other photographers.
We hope that the above points help communicate 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.
Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Text by Tony Wu, additional edits by Peter Watson.