Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cost of Free Photography

“I would love to have the picture on our site, unfortunately we couldn't offer any sort of payment as it is not part of our budget.”

I get these messages all the time. Most photographers do. Most of the time, I say “no,” and here’s why you should say “no,” too.

When you give your work away you’re telling people your work is not worth anything. If it was worth something, why would you give it away?

Images can be incredibly valuable. They can catch someone’s eye, prompting them to buy a book or magazine – or car. They can inspire people to travel to a particular destination, generating sales for businesses there. A good image generates results like nothing else. That’s why they want your images.

Before you call me greedy, I frequently donate images for educational and environmental causes that I personally believe in. Sometimes I donate cash as well.

But there are many, many companies and groups that can afford to pay for our hard work, but refuse to. The reason I’m upset is that photography is hard and expensive work to produce. I think that most of those who benefit from our work should pay us for it.

The quote at the top of this post is from an e-mail I got this week. It came from a federal group that has a paid administrative staff, a paid web development staff, and a team of paid researchers who scour the Internet for free content to harvest.

If you’ve ever dreamed of going pro, this should scare the living daylight out of you. So many photographers give their work away that this group would rather pay people to find free images than to pay for the images themselves.

(By the way, whenever you fill up your car to drive to some scenic location to take these pictures, you are paying to fund this group. Mad yet?)

There are many reasons photographers give their work away. Some think that because they aren’t paying for film, there's no actual cost involved in producing the images. In reality, depending on how many pictures you take and how often you upgrade your camera, your digital pictures may cost more per click. And that doesn't even count your time and travel costs.

Others think that giving away photography is part of some initiation process necessary to earn paying jobs. Remember that group that I told you about that has a paid staff searching the Internet for free photos? Their “researchers” will just find someone else to work for free.

And if so many photographers continue to give their images away, economics will only prompt more organizations to pay vultures than to pay photographers.

The next time someone asks you for a free image, ask yourself if you would make a cash donation to their cause. If you wouldn’t, then why are you supporting them financially with your time and investments in equipment and travel?

P.S. If you use photography rather than produce it, consider that free photography doesn't really help you either. The image at the top of this post exists only because I thought someone would pay for it. It's not something I would hang in my home. If the only people left creating images are volunteers, it's going to become increasingly difficult to find concept images like this.

No comments: