Images are not free, people!

Over the years, I have received numerous requests to use my images in publications.

This morning I received another.

As usual, the person wanted the image for zero cost, offering only to provide credit if I waived my fee.

Naturally, I declined.

I really wish the general public would divorce itself of the notion that photographic images should be provided at no cost to anyone who asks.

I also wish the general public would understand that providing merely a credit in some obscure publication is not even slightly commensurate with what goes into my images.

A few years ago, an architectural firm, which had contracts with major, well-known sites, was interested in licensing up to six of my architectural images for use on its Web site and in printed media.

I provided a per-image price, with a bulk discount if the firm purchased a licence for all six images; and granted a non-exclusive, perpetual licence to use the image(s) in the company’s advertising/promotional material and other literature.

The only conditions were that copyright was to remain with me; that the images could not be modified beyond resizing, cropping and text/graphical overlays (eg, Web site); and that I was to be credited.

The rep responded as follows:

“That is ridiculous.  Earlier this year I had a photo shoot with an reputable architectural photographer and received 15 photos for the price of one of your photos.  Not to mention half of the restrictions.”

I responded as follows:

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but like quality architecture, quality imagery is not cheap, especially when the licence allows you to use it forever in your company’s materials.

If you can find a photographer who is willing to give you everything for next to nothing, then my advice is to do that.”

If I had contacted this architectural firm and asked it to redesign the interior of our home for a few hundred dollars, I would have been told to go and jump into a lake.

Another person who contacted me wanted to use one of my images on the cover of his book.  I was offered a two-digit sum.

Really?  Come on!

People and companies are so willing to under-value photography, offering only these dangling apples:

  1. “you will receive credit”;
  2. “it’s a great opportunity to establish yourself in this field of photography”; and
  3. “you’ll have the opportunity to make a name for yourself”.

And yes, the architectural firm did dangle these apples.

Unfortunately for people who want free images:

  1. credit is an unequivocally insufficient form of currency;
  2. I’m not trying to establish myself in this field of photography; and
  3. I don’t want to make a name for myself.

If content publishers or large commercial organisations want to use my images to generate revenue and publicity, then I want my slice.  The only form of acceptable currency is proper money.

Some of the people who have contacted me are from non-profit organisations, or otherwise by their admission do not have budgets for photography.  Sorry, but even NPOs have running costs, and using images as revenue-generation devices is an operational cost.

It incenses me that photography has become so de-valued these days.

While there are photographers out there who will bite the cheap dangling apples, I will not.

I place value on my work, and I will not give it away to anyone who asks.

People asking for free images should consider their own responses if the tables were turned.  How would they respond if someone asked them to provide their products and services for zero cost, or the promise to tell the world what nice people/companies they were?


6 thoughts on “Images are not free, people!

  1. Glenn Crouch

    Great post mate and I completely agree with everything you’ve written. While I will never make much coin out of my photography, that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to give it away to anyone who asks. It’s sad that the photography world is so undervalued, even in the arts world where many don’t consider it to be “real art” and thus don’t think you should have to pay much for it.


    1. Xenedis Post author

      I completely agree.

      Like you, I don’t make money out of my photography — I don’t particularly wish to do so, and specifically don’t and won’t do any sort of event-based gig, be there money involved or otherwise. I also don’t bother selling images. It’s just not something I’m interested in doing.

      However, all of that doesn’t mean that others can make money out of my photography!


  2. Malcolm Katon

    Well said John! I’m not sure when the devaluing of a photograph started to happen but it is getting ridiculous now. I have had people ask for photo that I took of an artist and they baulked at the price and said that someone else took a similar shot. I didn’t back down and got paid for it which means that the other person’s similar shot (which they could have gotten for nothing) was not the same quality. It seems that everyone is a photographer these days and the general public still think it is a simple as point and click. I don’t make a lot out of my photography but enough to cover insurance and a little bit of reinvestment into gear. If something is good enough for a person to use to make money then it is good enough for someone to pay something for it.


    1. Xenedis Post author

      My view is the the devaluing of photographic images is due to the exponential proliferation of digital imaging devices which have put very capable cameras in the hands of many people who would never have bothered owning a camera if film was the medium and the instantaneousness of imagery didn’t exist as it now does.

      There also seems to be a mistaken belief amongst rookies that owning an SLR and having taken a “nice shot” (according to Aunty Maude) makes one a professional photographer.

      I also think that the number of Johnny-come-latelys running around promoting themselves on Twitface and taking very mediocre shots of people’s weddings has created an incorrect perception in the minds of the non-photographer public that a few hundred dollars is all it takes for someone to capture life-long events of what is generally a once-only event, and a very substantial one at that, in people’s lives.


  3. markshimazuphotography

    Great post and I agree (and have experienced) what you write about. With everyone having a camera in their pockets now-a-days, images have become severely devalued. But really, those photographers willing to give their work away for “photo credit” are the ones doing the most to devalue the art.


    1. Xenedis Post author

      I’d have to agree there.

      Rookies undercutting professionals by substantial amounts of money distorts the general public’s view of what quality imagery is.

      “What? You want $7K to shoot my wedding? I know someone who can do it for $500!”

      A fool and his money is easily parted.



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