Why I don’t give my photos away for free. (A harsh lesson in the business side of photography)
*Edit #2* So in less than 24 hours this story has been seen, commented on and shared by about 10,000 people. I received what seemed to be a genuine apology from the person that wrote me originally, and a personal apology from the owner of the magazine. I accepted both and felt like they meant it. I’m definitely not getting hired by them in the future… But even so, this seems to have made a small difference. Thank you all so much for the incredible support, kind words and for standing up for not only me but all artists. I believe this is an important issue that we need to stay vigilant about.
*Edit* I have gotten a ton of very supportive kind and thoughtful responses to this post. THANK YOU! As it turns out this is a universal experience for artists of all kinds… I have also had quite a few people asking me to publish the name, email address and publication that I am referring to. But I’m not going to do that, I don’t want to hurt the publication, or get anyone fired, I DO want to take this experience and use it to make a positive instead. Please share this blog post around on social media. I have already had many thousands of people see it. Wouldn’t it be something if this message could reach 150,000 people? This is the number that they were using to try to make me give up my work for free, in order to be exposed to… Let’s use the power of the internet to spread this message around. Maybe just maybe we can do it!
As a photographer I get TONS of requests for free work. It is an unfortunate part of doing what I do. Today after the 3rd email of its type this week (and its thursday),
I snapped… It is SO HARD to be a small business owner. Some days it feels like I am floating in the sea by myself on a small life-raft constructed from only my ability to create nice photos.
I got approached by a large local magazine for free work, and according to their website, the publication goes out to 150,000 people a year. Now the back story here is that I already do work for a number of publications and they pay me well for my work. Here is a link to some of the covers I have made
And for those of you that don’t already know, a magazine works like this: They create interesting things for folks to look at and read, this is called “content” and then hopefully people will want to look at the magazine and read it. The tourism publication in question was asking for “content” from me. That means the actual magazine part, because without “content” all they have to print is Ads and who wants to read a magazine of only Ads? Depending on how many people it gets distributed to the magazine then sells ad space with varying prices. So in short they are willing to accept payment for the ad space but not pay the content creators of the substance for what the magazine actually is.
If you are a photographer and are reading this now, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t give away your photos for free. No one can eat “exposure” you can’t pay your rent with “exposure” it undermines not only you, but the other professional photographers out there. They stated in an email to me that they have some “extraordinarily talented photographers who are willing to let us use their work for free” and when I said that I wouldn’t give them my photos for free, they responded like this.
“I will happily oblige your request to bow out.And I will be sure to pass along this response to the other three art directors on our staff, not including myself, to let them know—paid or unpaid—your attitude does not warrant consideration for any future work here. They will be copied on this email.Further more, if someone ever asks me for a reference of a local photographer—which surprise, surprise, happens in a small state with a burgeoning art community—who shoots anything related to people, landscapes, still-lifes, editorial, or any other form of photography, I’ll make sure to let them know the same. There’s your long e-mail explanation on how we do things here at this large organization.“
Now to be clear, I understand when an organization like The Matty Fund or The Domestic Violence Resource Center, or The Jimmy Fund, or Camp Carefree, or Butler Hospital come to me and ask for donations. I have, over the years donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of photography to these very organizations, and will continue to do so. But this organization in question is a for profit (and doing quite well I might add) business.
I will end by saying this. While I do get discouraged by interactions like this, I have had the opportunity to photograph thousands of grateful, kind and generous people who have kept me in business since 1999. THANK YOU to these folks. Tomorrow is another day.