Everyone Expects Photos to Be Free

My search engine optimization seems to be working well, as I’m getting unsolicited inquiries about my photography. Here’s a recent one that reinforces one of my issues about why the photography marketplace is so difficult lately: With the proliferation of high-quality, low-cost consumer cameras, many people expect photographs to be free. In lots of cases, non-professionals are, in fact, giving their images away, and this is wrecking the market for the professionals. I tried to explain this politely, and I hope the person who inquired will understand and offer to license some of my photos. Here is our exchange:

Inquiry: I’m starting a travel website. We’re featuring Asbury Park and would love to include your photography. We’d give you credit. Can you send me some of your images?

My response: Thanks for your interest in my work. Photography is how I make my living, and unfortunately photo credits never pay the bills. I sometimes offer my photos to nonprofits who support causes I believe in, but as a professional photographer, I feel that commercial enterprises that make a profit should pay for photography just as they pay for their office supplies, web hosting, etc. If you do decide that you have a budget for top-quality, professional images for your website, please contact me about licensing them. My rates are pretty reasonable, and I’m sure we can work something out.

The photo above is of the Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park boardwalk. It could be one of the images the website owner is interested in.

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6 thoughts on “Everyone Expects Photos to Be Free

  1. I sense your disappointment. I tell folks that photography as a profession is quite different than that as a hobby. One explanation I’ve provided that has helped [but not all of the time] is that the photo [my photo] is NOT the end product. The brochure/web page/poster/direct mail piece etc. is the product or deliverable and that my photo is but one of many ingredients that comprises that end product. Depending on the reaction, it progresses or crash lands.

    • That’s good advice. My clients who hire copywriters, designers, printers, etc. understand, as many seasoned professionals in the business community do. Everyone else needs to be educated. I try to stand my ground hoping it will be some small benefit to all artists.

    • Yes, Anne, I’ll post a follow-up, but I don’t really expect to hear more on the subject. Usually the person, informed or not, will get photos he likes from another photographer who WILL offer them for free. There are a lot of amateur photographers out there who are as good as professionals, but since they do it for love and not money, they’re willing to trade their art for a photo credit. Worse yet, there are budding professionals with the delusion that they have to give their work away for free at first in order to get paying work in the future. Once they work a low cost, they will be perceived by the market as low-cost photographers, and it’s difficult to get out of that rut. It brings down the market for everyone.

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