Image credit? Would you work for no money then?

A man walks into a restaurant and orders a fabulous meal. At the end, when the bill arrives, he looks at it and says, “Tell you what, instead of paying for this meal, I’m just going to tell everyone how great it was. How’s that?”

… sound ridiculous? Of course it does. The restaurant supplying the meal has overheads and is operating as a business, so why would they simply give the food away to someone who walks in off the street. And yet …

… mention this to photographers, and you may well get either eyes glancing upwards, or a rapid stream of profanities. I fall into the latter category these days. OK, I can see the attraction; you’re trying to make a name for yourself as a photographer (the fame! the glamour! the money!), and the thought of seeing your work in print is a definite attraction. And they will come back to you the next time they need photos, right? Well, they probably will, but if you then decide to ask for actual payment in return for your efforts, one of two things will happen. They may, in fact, decide that you are worth it, or they may go and look for someone else eager to work for image-credit only. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword for sure. And I have done the same in the past, but now …. well, yes, now I believe that my work is worth paying for: I can deliver great images under a wide range of conditions, consistently: Anyone can take the odd great photo, but if you want to consider yourself a serious photog, you have to deliver come what may. I do.

I do make exceptions: Certain causes which I am involved with, environmental-related ones, and wolves in particular; I will do all I can to help out, provided that I know the person or organisation, and what it will be used for. Otherwise, I would quite like to be paid. So I can live. And buy new bits of gear occasionally. But not often; my wish-list is not really that significant!

Of course, having images on the Internet opens you up to another rip-off: Having them stolen (let’s not mince words here). I even saw a posting on an unrelated forum once where a guy maintained that anything on the internet was fair game. So, of course, I reduce in size and watermark them. But software is now apparently capable of removing watermarking with very little effort, and if you make it too intrusive, it ruins the image, so it is a chance we all take, posting on the web. However, there is now a tool on Google image-search to allow you to look for a photo, either by dragging an image onto the search-box or providing a URL for it. Try it with some of your own images, and see how well it works! Yes, a useful tool to have.

A painting done from this made nice money for someone else. Am I bitter? Hell yeah!

Whilst on the subject of being ripped off, I have to mention an artist who contacted me about using one of my wolf images (see above) as a basis for a painting, just ‘for her own use’. Fine, I said yes, asked her to let me see a photo of the finished work. As you would. Checking back on her website some time later, I found a note next to a photo of it which basically said that her friends thought the painting was so good that she should sell it. The price was in four figures. Yes, shafted big-style. If only I still had her details, I would have no problem naming-and-shaming her here. But I deleted them at the time, as I did not trust myself not to send an abusive email off to her. Well done me! So, if anyone who I do not know asks me now, they will find permission is denied. All it takes is one ass-hole.

A friend who is a wildlife artist has used another of my images for some of her work, and I have no problem at all with that; she asked me first, told me exactly what it was for, and I love the results. From this photo to this pencil-drawing … very nice, isn’t it?

There have been other instances, oh yes! Many and varied are the ways people would like to actually not pay you any money but still use your lovely images (they are always so flattering, these free-loaders!). But instead of moaning about that, lets have a look at a way of seeing what your images could be worth commercially  This is a very useful site for UK freelance rates, with some important points to consider too. As they stress, the rates given are a basis for negotiating only, and I would say that the following points from that page are paramount:

  1. Successful negotiation is not possible unless both photographers and their clients clearly understand what is actually being bought and sold. This is neither time nor the photographs themselves. As the authors of their work, photographers own the copyright in it, and issue licences to clients to reproduce them as mutually agreed. See Copyright.
  2. The terms of these licences are best put in writing for the benefit of both sides. This is the best way of clarifying exactly what rights are sold on accepting a commission or supplying stock. This may seem obvious, but it becomes vital if there is any dispute or misunderstanding. Standard photographers’ terms and conditions are set out on the Delivery Notes available from the NUJ. See Contracts + paperwork
  3. Photographers (and their clients) have to recognise that there is a base rate below which they will lose money if they accept the work. The day rates specified in this guide are intended to both cover costs and provide for a professional income. This is both the minimum commission rate and the starting point for negotiating extended licences. See Day/base rates

Text © Mike Holderness & Andrew Wiard

Why it is that people seem reluctant to pay for photographs is beyond me. Maybe because the actual image may be taken in a fraction of a second, they assume that it is not worth anything. Apart from photographic equipment, maintenance and repairs, insurance, travel to the location, time spent exploring, waiting for the best light, repeat visits when the light is not what is needed, computer gear for photo-editing, software, time spent post-processing, invoicing, promoting the business, tax returns, roof over your head, food to eat, etc.

Let’s finish with a smile. From this site. As it would indeed be ironic to steal an image to illustrate this post!

The life of a photographer?

Update: There is a website called Photo Stealers where you can report  people who have stolen your work. Please do! Let’s expose the rip-off merchants and fraudsters publicly.

Update 2: A wonderful article on this selfsame subject from Petapixel here.

About Chris Senior

Photographer, wit, travel-junkie, MSc student and practising eccentric! Prog rock nut and baker of tasty cakes.
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One Response to Image credit? Would you work for no money then?

  1. sara p-h says:

    I think part of the problem is with the advent of digital everyone thinks he’s a photographer. So why pay for someone else’s? I had a problem with non-payees when working as a jobbing painter – of the artistic variety, not the wallpapering variety. Folk didn’t want to pay for your hours, they only wanted to pay for the materials (if you were lucky). I got a really good gig providing themed paintings for a working mens’ club. The first few paintings were paid for without argument, but after that the commissioner wanted to pay less for each consecutive painting, as if he expected me to do some kind of deal because he’d been ‘kind’ enough to give me the gig. The final straw was when he wanted a painting for a space about 4’x6′ for £20. £20??? That wouldn’t even pay for the frame. If you want a ‘picture’, not a painting, then go to a ‘picture’ shop and buy a mass produced pile of crap.

    Then you’d get people who would argue about the price, not wanting to pay £50, say, for an A4 sized painting. Well just cost up the frame, you’ll see why its £50 (these were 1990s prices btw). And what about the hours taken to paint? It didn’t just magic itself onto the canvas, you know. And then there were the thieves. Those who’d commission a portrait and then refuse to pay, thinking you’d let them have it, because, well, who else will want it? And the gallery with whom I left six paintings on a commission basis. On collecting them a couple of months later, the gallery owner had hidden two of them up a chimney hoping I wouldn’t realise they were missing. Fortunately, I’d made him sign for six paintings so there was no argument.

    But photography, in a way, is a harder gig as far as getting people to pay is concerned. Even those for whom you’re doing a favour don’t mind ripping you off, as the post made clear. Yes, I myself have asked favours of fellow photographers when wanting to use one of their images, and not felt all that comfortable about doing it. But I would return the favour if asked, like for like. Photography’s mean enough as it is without ripping each other off.

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