Looking For Something For Free?

Dear potential photo buyer or photography service client,

If you are reading this page, you are either curious about getting something for free; who isn't, we all like free stuff.  It is also possible you were directed to this page because you have requested the use of an image or images, or requested photography services, for free or minimal compensation.

As a professional photographer, I receive requests for free images on a regular basis.  In a perfect world, 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, social issues, and conservation of natural resources.  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, and 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 our living.  If I give away my images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, I cannot make a living.

I Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
I often contribute photographs, photography services, and 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 do provide images or services 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, 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 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 frequently originate from organizations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even non-profit organizations.  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 I frequently 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.

I Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession.  I have chosen this path in large part due to the passion I have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which I specialize.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that my already meager income have come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.

Our 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.  For all of me, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as I need to stay current with new technology and best practices.

In addition, travel is a big part of many of my businesses.  I must spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging and other travel-related costs.

Being a registered business, I also pay town, state, and federal taxes on my equipment, services, and income.  Not to mention sales tax on all photographs and services also taking a cut from my income.

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 snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience 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” 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.

There are two major problems with this.

First, getting credit isn’t compensation.  I did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic.  It is not something that I hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills.  As I hopefully made clear above, I work 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, housing, transportation, etc.

In short, receiving credit for an image I created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.

“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When I 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 me and professional photographers in general, 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,  am “the only photographer being unreasonable”.

I know that is not true.

I also 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 folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”  Live and learn, feel free to call me next time.

Please Follow-Up
One other experience I have in common is that when I do provide photographs for free, 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.

Wrap Up
I hope that the above points help elucidate why you may have been directed to this page.  As a dedicated professional, I would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

Most text above by Tony Wu, slightly revised to serve my individual needs.  Used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.  This information on his page can be found here.