no-free-photographyDear potential photo customer,

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 — or perhaps you’ve requested a free photographer.

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. I have given a lot of time to the arts, particularly to arts events, museums, and galleries of all kinds.

So when we see …

“I’m looking for a free photographer (or writer, or videographer, or web designer)”

… we typically run like hell (not always, but more on that in a moment). No one understands how much work goes into these labors.

For instance, one single photograph can take 15-60 minutes to color correct, crop, and make perfect for you. Multiply that by however many photographs we take for you. The result can be five to 10 hours of Photoshopping, or more. Photoshopping is a highly specialized skill. Add to that the hours we spent shooting your event plus the wear and tear on our cameras (yes, cameras and flashes have a lifespan of a certain number of photos), and you can imagine what you’re asking of us.

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 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

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

The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requester 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 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Some requests do originate from really great organizations with limited funds. Respectfully, if you know you’re going to need marketing, there are many options to pay for photography, good writing, and other necessary elements of marketing. Making a budget is a good start. There is money out there. Write a grant for it, if you don’t have any other way to fundraise.

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 (and sometimes writers and other content volunteers) 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. You can also, perhaps, understand that we feel that your organization, especially if well established, might try harder to bring in additional funds for marketing.

We Have Real Budget Constraints

As professionals, we have a passion for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialize. 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. Every time we take a photo, that’s one less photo we can take in the future. Equipment has a life.

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. 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. And some of you ask for us to come for multiple nights, each requiring several hours. You may not realize how much time we spend culling through these photos, color correcting, Photoshopping, and cropping them, and then uploading them for your use, often in both high-res and web-ready formats. Several jobs need to happen after the photos are “snapped.”

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 subsidize 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. 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”

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.” Also, some very experienced photographers may agree to shoot, cull, PhotoShop, and create different sets of images for you. Bravo. Please, please take care of these people.

Please Follow Up

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 followup 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

If you’re looking for a free photographer (or anyone else with mad skills), we hope that the above points help elucidate why I sent you to this link. I am a dedicated professional, and I would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

I offer deeply discounted rates to nonprofits to cover my time and wear-and-tear on my equipment (not to mention insuring the equipment and the computer the images are edited on). Please contact Basecamp Productions for more details.

Thanks to PhotoProfessionals for starting this conversation.

"I’m looking for a free photographer"

by susan time to read: 7 min
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