Are You Offended When You Are Advertised Products and Services in Free Photography or Video Educational Material?

Are You Offended When You Are Advertised Products and Services in Free Photography or Video Educational Material?

You find priceless photography or filmmaking knowledge in online material. You start digesting it, but together with the precious free information, the author mentions a product or a service, which they obviously try to sell you. Do you feel you have been tricked?

The Average Client's Point of View Today

When you need to know something about a certain area of the photography or filmmaking industry, you go to a search engine and try to find the information you need. Most of it is already there, because someone published it. People get used to that to the point that today, there are complaints from people who are offended that together with the invaluable free knowledge, they got pitched to buy a related product or a service.

Baycho Georgiev editorial photograph - helping businesses hit the mark

Why Has Selling Become More Difficult?

The advancement of transportation and communication meant businesses went beyond the local area trying to sell their goods to a broader market. If you lived 200 years ago, the businesses you'd probably be familiar with would be the local bakery, the dairy farm, the sawyer, the huckleberry picker, and a few others. Nowadays, you are reached not only by local businesses but also by companies that are thousands of miles away. You become so overloaded with information that you tend to pay less attention to the multitude of ads you see. In order to sell their products and services. businesses decided to do something more creative that involves a certain investment: creating goods that are free of charge.

How Is Free Content Produced?

Free content, as the name suggests, does not require a payment for viewing and reading. However, it doesn't come free to the publishers. They have to invest their time and resources to write an informative article or to film a video, cut it, mix it with music, add graphics, and market it through different outlets. Sometimes, these free-of-charge materials are created by enthusiasts who don't seek any financial reward for that. Businesses don't make profit from just free content. They use it in an indirect way to attract potential buyers. That's not anything new. When you go to the farmers market, sometimes, farmers let you taste their production for free in order to buy from them a bigger quantity.

TV obsession concept

Are You Tricked as a Client?

Depends on the point of view. When the information is informative and marketed properly, it's a win-win situation. People get their free content and in return are advertised products and services. Imagine you are a photographer who does that full-time. Will you write blog posts about all your knowledge for free? Will you create online photography courses for free, including person-to-person education for free? Would you rather teach your clients how to take photographs (free of charge, of course) than asking them to pay you for the service? Imagine you are assisting a photographer who does everything free of charge. Do you think you will receive a salary? If you are an enthusiast who has a day job that's not photography or filmmaking, but enjoys publishing free content without advertising products or services, keep in mind your employer can't do that, because otherwise you won't get paid.


Whether or not free content has ads for products and services, it should be both free and informative without any trickery. If we, as clients, enjoy the published materials free of charge, we should not get turned away from a sales pitch along the way. Remember, free content is created for a mutual benefit, not just for the consumers.

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heikoknoll's picture

I am not really bothered by advertising in free content. I can decide myself if I want to take a closer look or not, and I also know if I can afford it or not. The advertising part should not distract too much from the content, though.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

The truth is that the term "distraction" is quite subjective. Some may be distracted, while others — not. For me, the way to go is to have free and valuable information that reflects the title of the content. The worst thing is to have a clickbait material that doesn't contain what it said in the title, but instead you were heavily pitched to buy stuff.

Chris Spicks's picture

I dont mind seeing "we use this product" and having a link to it.. But there have been a few posts up here positively reviewing totally random priducts. That's the stuff that would drive me out.

Eg: if there was a post for a review of the new rangerover.. That's too far regardless of how the writer tries to frame it toward photographers.

Making an informative post using products is one thing. Making a post just hyping up a product is another.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I agree that as the article stated the products and services have to be related to the free content. I advise you to go under these articles and put your comment so the writer knows about your observation.

Alex Yakimov's picture

Free content? Only cheese in the trap...

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Also expensive.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

A very important point to bring up. I think Thomas Heaton once explained it in one of his videos. I think it is totally fair I spend a few seconds listening to some advertisement in return for entertainment or knowledge :)

Exactly. Every time I hear Thomas say, "This video is sponsored by Squarespace..." ...I think to myself, yay, go Thomas! Getting paid to pursue your passion! I'm actually encouraged by the thought that he's getting supported in that way.

Of course it would be sad to find out that anyone whose content and/or imagery I greatly admire was /seretly/ sponsored by, or even working with, Canon, Nikon, Sony, or any large brand. To me, that would ruin 100% of their review / recommendation based content, and badly poison my experience of the rest of their "adventure story" and other types of content.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I’m an adult. I know when I’m being marketed to, and I can decide if I want to ignore it and learn something. If I see it’s nothing but an infomercial, I’ll go elsewhere. Sadly, that’s what a lot of fstoppers “content” has become.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Being also a reader of Fstoppers I don't find such a thing honestly. When there's a sponsored post, it clearly states it's sponsored. When it's non-sponsored (just like this article here) or we make review of produts we like it's quite normal to put links to the products that can be purchased. I find the reviews fellow writers do quite helpful for my personal purchases.

Simon Patterson's picture

Fstoppers has improved in this regard. For quite a while, the only admission Fstoppers made that a post was sponsored was a tag buried amongst a list of tags at the very bottom of the article.

See for example the comments, including by the author, at

Dana Goldstein's picture

Tihomir, if you’re only judging whether something is infomercial style based on whether it has “sponsored” slapped on it, you are reading on a very naive level. A photographer may have a relationship with a company, they may be sponsoring something else they’ve appeared at/in, but bc this particular article hasn’t been sponsored, you’re assuming it’s totally unbiased? Really?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Dana, you are trying to put words in my mouth that I've never spoken.

Prasing a product that's good (whether the article is paid by a company or not) is nothing wrong. If that's the truth, it's the truth regardless of being sponsored or not. If a product has bad sides, and the article states it, this doesn't mean it is not sponsored either.

If the reviewer is honest and doesn't compromise their dignity, the information in an article will be true whether or not a company paid for that.

Probably less than 5% (my subjective estimate) of the articles here are because a company wanted us to review their product. If you see someone writing jealously about Canon, but despising Nikons in 99% of the time it's a writer who likes Canon. Then you see another article by someone who praises Sony. That bias is because of our subjective brand preferences. I find this good, because no brand is the best brand, but it's good to have opinions on many of them. In addition, the comments section sometimes is 50% of the article, because readers help extending the information even further with their opinions on the matter.

If that's what you mean by "informercial," I find nothing wrong about such content especially if it expresses the very truth or is an honest point of view.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Tihomir, you're advocating a very specific point of view in this article. "If we, as clients, enjoy the published materials free of charge, we should not get turned away from a sales pitch along the way." Yet several of us are saying that we are, in fact, turned off by these pitches, particularly if they are less than explicit. Just accept that not everyone agrees with your conclusion.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I agree that aggressive and sometimes irrelevant advertising can turn people away. This is why I mentioned that sentence in the article:
"When the information is informative and __marketed properly__, it's a win-win situation."

But from your comment I realize that I could probably write more about that to make sure that I don't agree with any type of advertising (as you thought I was fine wtih).

David T's picture

Not sure if putting "sponsored" along the tags is enough to satisfy the FTC. Disclosure has to be clear and prominent. That's of course a matter for the courts to decide.

I noticed a lot of content is made to look like a review but is a sponsored content or an ad. if I even feel for a second they are I just close the window and Im out.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

It depends on how it's written. If it's made like an ad and it doesn't give you any useful information (in regards to the title of the content), it's clearly not well-made.

if its related to a retailer I close. if its a high traffic blogger or website, I never click. tons of click bait today, im very hesitant and very aware on what I click. the info given doesnt out way me clicking because its clickbait or a sponsored ad or it just seems like a review though its obvious the person got money to review it. if I sense its an ad or something related to money at the end of this, I close it. and when a reviewer is biased I never visit his site again

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Unfortunately that's true for many media outlets today. Many people are eager to make profit the quick way regardless of how it looks or if it's ethical.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I have no issues when it is stated in the video, article or in a group setting that it's sponsored/ad content. What annoys the heck out of me is the photographers that mask their affiliate links, and promotional/ad content behind the guise that they are helping people, when all they really are doing is reiterating old content/education to line their pockets. Trickery is a dick move, and I know a few photographers that do it that are semi-big named. Peer to peer selling in this field is insane,esp affiliate links to big ticket items, and really makes me wonder at what point are you more of a Youtuber/Educator/P2P affiliate junkie than an actual photographer.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That doesn't sound good indeed, but let's say you're a newbie and that's the first page you happen to visit you feel like it's your helping source free of charge. I think such authors rely on the fact they are visited by newbies or people who don't know a specific kind of information. In this regards I don't think that's necessarily bad. It's just nothing new, but yet free useful content.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I would semi agree, but I also feel it's preying on the ignorance of those that do not know the difference between an f-stop and a doorstop.

Let's say a certain popular YT photographer produced a video on a lens that is now known to malfunction, produce horrid CA or what have you, and chooses to keep said video up because of his reach, that it's trended in the #1 spot for said lens review, and still brings in funds from affiliate links/views.

Sure, one could say that user should look for many reviews of that lens, but in your own words if it's the first page to visit they think it's helping. I've seen it quite a bit, and no retractions on reviews.

Same goes for recycling information and bloated videos with very little helpful content, but the popularity and guise of being a 'good' photographer are what pull people in. Because newbies see views/subscribers/followers as a merit of being good, when professional photographers know that's not always the case. So, those newbies won't know if bad advice is given until after the fact.

There are plenty of photographers out there that do this. That put that they are an ambassador of a brand when they're not, that post their affiliate links to big ticket items for their masses because they know a few will buy the item. All the while they produce the same recycled content.

Sorry, going off on a tangent... I digress

If people were just honest that would be amazing, but a lot of people scheme and prey on people for money, esp in this industry where everyone and their mother has a YT, preset packs, and educational resources.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, that is the reality. If people are not honest whatever they do would lead people astray. Internet celebrities can be very misleading indeed, especially if dihonest and only envisioning people as browsing wallets.

Mark James's picture

Showing people how to use your product and then offering it for sale is basically a marketing video. They do not bother me as much as general advertising, though they are often deceptive about their goal, and that I don't like.

Advertising in general is one of the biggest evils there is. It is just a bunch of deception. We watch no TV, only commercial free streams. I've blocked so many ads on FB it's almost like when it started. I see and block maybe one or two a day. I think advertising should be outlawed. People are too gullible and the cost of all of that misinformation on our society is too high.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

That's the unfortunate time we live in. Anything you can pay for in order to be before others can be rated the same way. The same for sponsored results in search engines.

But as I mentioned, it's too much information nowadays and too much communication that made this. If you are living without any internet and transportation is limited you won't get that much advertising and then free content will be probably created only by a handful of enthusiasts.

Mark James's picture

I heard somewhere that all the money FB makes on ads could be made by changing each user a one time fee of a few bucks. People put up with more and more so they just keep piling it on.

It seems everything is an ad now days. The internet is now like a walk through the tourist part of Tijuana. So much crap in your face you can't think. Sites like Fstoppers does a good job of not going crazy, but many sites are just nuts. That is why I come here.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Thanks Mark, we do appreciate your comment.

Actually on Facebook people pay with their private information which many give wholeheartedly (and carelessly) away. So, in terms of data value, it's way more than the profit from the ads.

Mark James's picture

That is my point. All of that info and stuff they throw at us, and our info they sell nets them about $5 a person. It's crazy how much it ends up truely costing us as users.

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