If you have arrived at this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images of mine for free or for the offer of other forms of compensation - or you are just curious.
As a professional photographer, I receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world - one in which I hadn’t any bills to pay - I would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, hobbies or other issues close to my heart. It is fair to say that in many cases I wish I had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.
Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that I am often unable to respond, or that when I do, my replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying my response.
Circumstances vary for each situation, but I have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which I have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.
Please take the following points in the constructive manner in which they are intended. I 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 My Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way I make my living. If I give away my images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, I am unable to make a living.
I Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Many photographers do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases I may have participated directly in projects that I support with images, or I may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, I can and do provide images without compensation on a selective basis.
I Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request I get for free photographs 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 my 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 usually originate from wealthy organisations, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies. Usually the company 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 appear to be the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid.
Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why I feel slighted when I am told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals. Would you have the gall to go into a high street boutique, select some new clothes and expect the owner of the shop to give you the items in return for a promise to tell all your friends how great the shop was?
We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is no longer a highly remunerative profession. I have chosen this path in large part due to the passion I have for visual communication and the subject matters in which I specialise. The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that my already meagre income has come under additional strain. Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant investment. My profession is by nature equipment-intensive. I need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. I need back-ups of all my data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. Investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of pounds a year as I need to stay current with new technology and best practices. In addition, travel is a big part of many of our businesses. I have to spend a lot of money on transport, accommodation and other travel-related costs.
And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience I have invested to become proficient at what I do, as well as the personal risks I often take. Taking ‘snaps’ may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, and judgement.
So the bottom line is that although I certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, I simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.
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” or “exposure” or to “showcase your images” as a form of compensation somehow in lieu of commercial remuneration.
There are two major problems with this. First, getting credit isn’t compensation. I did create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that I hope a third party will be kind enough to grant me.
Secondly, credit or exposure doesn’t pay my bills. As I hopefully made clear above, I work very hard to make the money required to reinvest in my photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, I need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food and a mortgage for example. In short, receiving credit for an image I created is a legal right, not compensation; credit is no substitute for payment.
“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When I do have time to correspond with people and companies who request free photos, the conversation sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward me, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or company has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow I am “the only photographer being unreasonable”.
I know that this is just not true
I know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. I do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the popular wisdom goes, “You get what you pay for.”
One other experience I have is that on the rare occasions when I am persuaded to provide free photographs, I often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting me know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved and what good (if any) my photos did.
All too often, I don’t even get responses to emails I send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.
In instances where I do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let me know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making me feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.
As John Ruskin, a leading Victorian art critic pointed out, "It is unwise to pay too much but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money - that is all. When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the job it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot - it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder it is as well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for the something better."
A Photographer's Response To Free