Why I do not give away photos for free

Every now and then, I get inquiries from potential customers some morons about the use of a photo, just like this:

We are contacting you from (name withheld – Ed.), a global online magazine that profiles cultural destinations, attractions, events and personalities. In our upcoming issue, we will be featuring a story on Mexico city and its many cultural, historic, social, and artistic attractions. We saw your beautiful photos on your website and would be very interested in featuring one or two of them to run along with our story. You would receive full photo credit for any image used.

Please let us know if you are interested by contacting us at …

or this:

I would like to use one of your gorgeous photos. I am just starting an Italian cabinetry import business and want to include a photo in my first display ad. Something like the coloseum with the concept of “Timeless Italian Design”. I will run the ad once and will email you a copy. I would like to use it the first time without charge as I am spending so much on the ad and if it does well I will rerun it and pay you for any future use. I will give you a small credit for the photo in the ad if you like. Please reply ASAP as the deadline is tomorrow.

In each and every case I write back politely, indicating that I would be more than happy to licence any image according to our pricelist that should answer most, if not all, questions.

I think the term “any commercial use” is pretty clear and can not be mistaken. So, the guys who wrote the mails above, are trying to earn money, right? That’s commercial use, isn’t it? And if they earn money using my photos, it’s just fair that I get a share of this. Having been published by several leading publishers (e.g. National Geographic Society), I am well beyond the point where I give away photos just for the credits.

Also, giving away valuable content for free is not going to pay your bills. You see, photography is expensive. First, you have to have the equipment. Back in the old days that meant: a suitable camera, suitable lenses, lots of film, and some accessories like tripod, filters and so on. This is still unchanged today. You need a suitable camera, suitable lenses, plenty of memory, and some accessories. Then you have to get on location: you need to book a flight and a rental car, you have to buy gasoline, you need a hotel room. A travel guide. Entry fees. Sometimes you have to pay for licence fees. And you need plenty of time to catch the right moment. So why in the world should a photograph be free?

Just try that with your local bakery. Walk in and offer to shoot some great photos of the bakery in return for a month of free rolls. Won’t work – they usually prefer to see the cash.

So do I.

Comments are closed.