Many times I get requests for usage of my photos or even complete articles. Often, no payment is offered, as ‘the budget is low‘, ‘we are non-profit‘, ‘we will give a credit in return, which will be good for you!‘ and other, similar motivations.

Photography is a profession, we need to make a living and websites and cameras cannot be bought with ‘credits’. Photographers are often helping out people who need it, but any charity or non-profit that pays thousands of dollars in salary to each member of their management team (would they agree to work for ‘credit’?), can also afford to pay for photography.

Tony Wu has written a standard answer down that can be sent by photographers, which covers everything:

Text by Tony Wu, under CC license (images are all rights reserved and cannot be copied). See original and undersigned photographers here.

Dear potential photo buyer,

Wedding photographer on the beach in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Wedding photographer on the beach in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images for free or minimal compensation.

As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us 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, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.

Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.

Russian woman selling fruit on the street © Images, all rights reserved

Russian woman selling fruit on the street. Would she accept a 'credit'?

Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we 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. We 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 Our Livelihood

Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.

We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images

Tibetan butcher selling yak meat. © Images, all rights reserved

Tibetan butcher selling yak meat.

Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes.

In many cases, we may have participated directly in projects that we support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned.

In other words, each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.

We Have Time Constraints

Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we 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 our 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

Hellomoney! Begging kids in Tibet. © Images, all rights reserved

Hellomoney! Begging kids in Tibet.

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 organisations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs.

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 we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.

We Have Real Budget Constraints

Artist in Pakistan finishing the interior of a truck. © Images, all rights reserved

Artist in Pakistan finishing the interior of a truck. He also has no time for unpaid work.

With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.

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

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.

Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis.

Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work.

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

Girl selling goods in train, India © Images, all rights reserved

Girl selling goods in train, India. Some people need to invest in travel to make some money.

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

And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks we 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 we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we 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.

Paulo calling from his beach office in Zanzibar. © Images, all rights reserved

Paulo calling from his beach office in Zanzibar. He's not making his art for just a credit, either.

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

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.

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

“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”

Woman cleaning fish, Rio Napo, Peru. © Images, all rights reserved

Woman cleaning fish, Rio Napo, Peru.

When we 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 us, 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, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.

We know that is not true.

We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We 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.”

Please Follow-Up

Nepali girl selling souvenirs at Kathmandu market © Images, all rights reserved

Nepali girl selling souvenirs at Kathmandu market

One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs for free, we often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting us know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) our photos did.

All too often, we don’t even get responses to emails we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.

In instances where we do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us know how things went.

A little consideration will go a long way in making us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.


Wrap Up

We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

Creative Commons License (text only, images are all rights reserved).

Note to photographers: You can use the above text (not the images) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please ensure that you include a link to this page and the original page. Text by Tony Wu.

The photos above are to illustrate that there are hard-working and underpaid people all over the world, that everybody is trying to get by in their own way. Of course the situation of even the poorest western photographer is incomparable to that of any of the people above, as they normally have no choice whether to work for free or to do what they want.

Click the photos to read & learn more about their lives, work & home on the ExposedPlanet photoblog.

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3 Comments for this entry

  1. Charles Lupica:

    Great piece Harry. The images really bring home the point. I had a request just today from a woman that wanted to copy my image from G+ to facebook to share with a sick child. I felt bad in saying no but you have to give it away or make a stand.

    • admin:

      Hi Charles, thanks for dropping by and for your comment. There are no fixed rules to this; I have given permission to use my images for free many times, but I also had unauthorised images taken down from organisations that would have gotten permission if they only would have asked before stealing…

      As mentioned in the article: we do try to help many times but there is a limit. Somehow the taxi driver, cable company, pharmacy and other people involved in the child’s illness are never asked to provide their work for free.

  2. Joana:

    I completely agree. This kind of behavior is “self-destructing”. Unfortunately, it is difficult to solve…
    Thanks for your text and regards