Your Photography Is Worthless: This Is Why!

Your Photography Is Worthless: This Is Why!

The concept of working for “credit” is not a new one, nor is it unique to photography. Yet, it is one of the few industries that everyone thinks should work for free.

Does the title of this article upset you? If it doesn’t, it really should. At some point in a photographer’s career, the inevitable request to pay in "credit" will happen. You know the line: “we will credit your name with the work.” It is something that happens all too often, and it will continue to happen as long as we allow it.

The concept of working for “credit” is not a new one, nor is it unique to photography. However, it is more prevalent in creative industries. You can go back as far as you want in history and find that people have always asked for work to be done free of charge. The root of the problem starts and ends with the almighty dollar. As much as you want to earn a dollar, the person hiring you wants to save two.

I thought long and hard about writing this article. The catalyst for it was a rather upsetting interaction with a very large brand. I know this topic has been discussed before; however, I think the approach here is far more bold than others.

For obvious reasons, no names will be used in this article, but I promise you know these companies. The image above is the image that was requested.

Earlier this year, I was direct-messaged by a brand with an inquiry for using one of my images. They asked to use it on social media. Pretty standard practice online — in fact, this same brand asked once before in the past, and at the time, I agreed. However, this time was different. They asked me to reach out to their marketing department and provided direct emails for the contacts. “Finally,” I thought. "I am going to get a chance to license a shot with a huge brand that I have wanted to work with for as long as I can remember. Why else would I need to speak with their marketing team?" Well, turns out I was wrong.

I contacted their team and received a very quick reply outlining their interest. As it turns out, they didn’t want to pay for the use, they only wanted to provide “credit.” At this point, I was still considering it. I mean, the account has almost a million followers on the gram alone, plus millions of customers worldwide. Without giving too much away, this brand is worth billions — yes with a "B," billions. I asked to see the contract/agreement, and I’m glad I did. Regardless of if you choose to give your work out for free or not, make sure you read every word in a licensing agreement. In reading the contract they sent, I found out that they were not only using the image for social, but they also left the door wide open for advertising, marketing, print, film, television. They were looking for full use of the image worldwide perpetually with or without “credit.” That stopped me dead in my tracks.

After the initial feeling of rage passed, I replied to their email and declined the use of my image. This was a very hard decision, as I’ve wanted to work this this brand since starting in photography. But I felt betrayed. They followed up with a revised copy of the contract that now kept usage to only social media, but at this point, the damage was done. I did not respond to the follow-up email.

Now that you have the story behind this article, I want to talk about working for “credit” and knowing your worth as a photographer. This is where the article is going to get tough, so hold onto your seats.

Everyone is part of this problem. Yes, everyone, from professional photographers to the weekend shooters, students, and even that one cousin with a camera. From small mom and pop shops to the giants of industry, everyone is part of this problem. Let me explain. As long as there is another photographer out there willing to give their work away for free, no one will ever be paid properly. That is, of course, unless you are a famous world-renowned photographer with enough connections. The second you say no, companies will turn to the next person, and when they say yes, that immediately devalues everyone’s work. This is where your work becomes worthless; there is no value to something that can be obtained for free.

Let’s take a look at what “credit” earns you. In my experience “credit” is a hard metric to track. You can never fully see what credit turns into. That being said, this is what I can say. I’ve had my work displayed on many social media platforms, news outlets, websites, and blogs. Not one of them has earned me any new clients, new workshop attendees, new prints sales, or other paying gigs. In the case of Instagram, I’ve had my work on some of the biggest hubs, and at best, I gain a couple hundred followers. This did not put food on my table, and this did not pay any of my bills.

We are often fooled into thinking we have to work for “credit” first to build a name and portfolio. This outdated idea is what crippled many creatives, not just photographers. In today’s world, there are simply too many places that companies can get free content from, and until we all demand to be paid, those of us who are trying to make a living will struggle. It would take changing the entire system and everyone in it to make things improve.

Now, I don’t have all the answers, and some of you may think there is nothing wrong working for “credit.” I felt that way in the past as well. However, wait until you want to  work with big brands/businesses and move from an amateur photographer to professional. Then, you will understand. Perhaps think about your current job. Could you consistently give away your product and still make a living, hoping that one day, all this “credit” will pay off?

Ironically, as I was writing this article, I received another request, this time by one of the world's largest production and news companies. They too asked for usage for credit. I responded with an open-ended email saying I would license the image for a fee. I have not heard back from them.

It won’t take one article or one photographer to change this mindset. It will require everyone. Knowing that your images do have worth is the first step. If companies are going to make money from your image, then you should as well, bottom line. There are a number of ways to look up pricing. There are websites dedicated to showing what brands have paid in the past and others like Getty Images that help you calculate fees based on usage.

I have been using quotations around the word “credit” this entire article, because I feel like this word has been turned into a made-up payment method. Brands somehow think it is enough to compensate you for the hard work, years of honing your craft, thousands in gear, and other bills.

Here is my final thought I wish to leave you with. What was the last thing you bought? Where did you see it advertised? Where did you look for examples of it? I bet it wasn’t on TV or in a store. I’m betting most of you found it on the internet. There are over one billion users on Instagram. Do you think brands should be offering “credit” to use your work to sell to that many people, or should they be paying?

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128 Comments

I thought those locations looked familiar, neighbour.

David Cannon's picture

Agree wholeheartedly. I was more open to those inquiries when I was starting out 7-10 years ago, but the reality is that if you took the licensing component out of my annual revenue, while it would still be a good salary, it wouldn’t be good for the number of hours I put in and the risk I put on myself and my family by being a business owner.
So there’s another thought for those who are starting out and wanting that seemingly-valuable “exposure”..... Are you ok devaluing the work of full-time photographers whose families rely on that work having actual monetary value? I wish I had understood this when I started out.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I would send them my quote and pricing options. No need to communicate with them unless they make an offer. Stay on top, you are in charge. Let them go to the next guy if they have decided their option is the only one available. If they contact you, they want your images. They can work harder and waist their time finding that next image.

Deleted Account's picture

I work for credit every single working day.
I work, They credit my bank account.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

On that final thought, I think "the internet" is very generic. Do I purchase from social media ads? Probably not me, I don't see how much I may have purchased that I have seen first on social media. Do I see ads from places I have searched, yes, all day. If anything I kind of get the feeling that I have been played with when I see something show up on social media that I just looked for on very specific sites. I'll definitely spend more time looking at a magazine or newspaper ad than I pay attention to any ad on social media. Not that I purchase much print any more, but try it, go to a news stand and see if you actually read ads on publications or not. I think I can retain more ads from a print publication than most of the flashing bombardment on the net.

John Dawson's picture

Keep your eyes peeled for unauthorized use. If that happens you can get seriously PAID! ;-)

I agree that if a party is seeking free images for exposure, it can be a real possibility that it has already infringed the image and is going back for a retro-license. Or someone in the office may have presumed that the company obtained permission.

I’m assuming the company David Wilder addressed is located in the US.

Photographers need to “timely” registered their images with the US Copyright Office to have leverage to pursue American infringers in or out of court. The cost to litigate a copyright infringement dispute without the plaintiff photographer having a timely registered work is typically not economical to pursue, as the photographer’s attorney fees will likely be out-stripped by any settlement or money damages the court awards the photographer.

I searched the USCO’s Public Catalog, but didn’t see any creative works registered under David Wilder’s name.

On the positive, David Wilder’s inclusion of a watermark logo (aka “Copyright Management Information”) can permit him to pursue US-based infringers who remove, cover-up, or change CMI to hide their copyright infringements (a timely registered copyright claim is not required to pursue DMI violators).

I have to disagree. I'm an amateur photographer. I post my best stuff online using a Creative Commons attribution-only license, because I'm not in it for money. I just enjoy photography and like sharing it. My shots have ended up in newspapers, magazines, and on big websites. I've seen them for sale on posters and in mobile apps, and they've been used on TV. That's all awesome. I'm glad others can benefit in some small way from my work.

You say that I'm part of the problem and imply that I should feel bad, but I don't. The prices companies are willing to pay for art are set by the market. The fact is that there is a huge and growing supply of photographers (amateur or otherwise), and it's outpacing the demand for photography. So what? Are all of us amateur photographers supposed to stop doing what we love so that we can artificially prop up the prices that "real" photographers are paid?

That doesn't make sense and it's unsustainable. The fact is that the market sets the prices, and the supply of photographers outweighs the demand. What you're talking about is essentially price fixing -- agreeing to artificially keep prices higher than they would be with free competition. But it's never going to work in a market like this.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

What is your line of work, you know, the one that pays the bills?

Attorney. I do pro bono work from time to time, and most other attorneys also support pro bono efforts.

I used to be in IT/software development. I volunteered IT services and support open source software.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I'll keep that hook, works very well.

David Wilder's picture

So in your line of work the norm is to be paid for your services right?! Yes pro bono work exists but the ratio of pro bono vs paid I would wager is low.

So let’s say that was flipped and everyone client of yours expected you to work for free while their settlements or verdicts end up with thousands or millions of dollars in their pocket.

Yet you spent years at school, had to pass the bar, years of continued study of law, countless hours researching and preparing your case. The list goes on.

Luckily for you as a lawyer you don’t have to worry about every Tom Dick, Harry and Janet coming along saying “I know the law I will represent you for free”.

Until your very way of making ends meat is affected you won’t be able to full understand how professionals are impacted.

The idea of this article is to get people to talk and understand that every action has an affect on others. It’s to spark change and make brands understand that if they value someone’s work enough to ask for usage, then pay for it.

Something I forgot to point out is it is not price fixing that needs to be done here. It’s paying according to the usage. I’m not sure what law you practice but if you have done any contractual law then you would be familiar with ideas like usage, reach, time line, format etc. If we are talking about a window decal for a small store that sees 1000 people a year that’s different than a world wide ad with millions of of eyes for 10 years. The pay should be appropriate to the usage

Lawyers, doctors, pilots, surgeons, and many other professions are licensed because if they don't know what they are doing, their clients can be hurt -- whether it's losing their life or their life's savings.

Sometimes that's true for photographers too. If the photographer screws up at your wedding, you're going to lose some of the memories you would have had. That's why you pay the pro, rather than relying on your friend who has a camera. You usually have to pay somebody, because shooting a wedding is a grueling, thankless job that few people want to do for free.

But taking a beautiful shot of the sunrise from the top of the mountainside, and nailing it? Lots of people want to do stuff like that and, like me, they're happy to offer the results for free. And if other people use that shot? Cool! That's great, I'm not looking for money.

I just don't see why amateurs shouldn't be allowed to do what they love for free, just so that professionals can do that same job and get paid for it. The fact is that there will always be paid jobs for professionals doing the kinds of photography jobs that other people don't like to do for free.

Since you're giving your work away for free please send me an email so that I can take a look at your works, print the ones I like and hang them in my home and maybe sell a few that are exceptional at a local street fair, it will be so much fun for you! I'll need post processed high resolution jpeg images obviously.

Flickr: https://bit.ly/2Qt1q6g

Here you go. Print, sell, do as you please under the terms of the license listed for each image (mostly CC-BY 2.0).

If you want thousands and thousands of better images with even looser licenses, try here:

https://unsplash.com/

Your Flickr account includes images of you and Lauren. Is there a reason why you’ve licensed those specific images via CC’s “attribution” license (commercial use permitted)? You’re also permitting users to download full-res image files.

Though I don’t agree, I can somewhat understand why photographers license scenic and animal photographs via Creative Commons or Unsplash. I just can’t fathom how an attorney would permit his own and his friend’s (Lauren) likenesses to be exploited.

What happens if one day you and Lauren are no longer together? Will she still be agreeable seeing herself in your Flickr posted images that continue to be used freely with a near-open (commercial) license (if a CC image is pulled, previous licensees can continue to exploit your photograph if they continue to abide by the license)?

I think the author of this article and some other people need to take a big dose of Grow Up And Face Reality Pills.

You're NOT going to raise your prices for your work by persuading other people to stop giving away the images they take for fun. That's because being a photographer - except for some exceptional specialisations - is too easy. It's not the equivalent of being a lawyer or a sysadmin or other professions that require exceptional intelligence and years of expensive training. If you think it is, you're an idiot.

Photographers used to be able to charge a lot more in film days because what they did was much harder. Now digital has made it easier but people who wouldn't have had careers before still want to get paid as if there was a photographer shortage. It's not going to happen.

And the moral blackmail of "But I have a family!" is pathetic. It's your choice to work as a photographer or not. If you're not good enough so that people pay to use your work instead of free images from hobbyists, you need to find a new job. You're not going to fix the problem in your business model by crying or throwing tantrums.

Some photography is easy, some is hard. I'm a professional with a bachelor of photography degree. It wasn't easy to get to the point of being paid - from start to finish it took around 5-6 years of developing skills before I was being paid regularly and I could say goodbye to the call centre job. Andrew's photography is simple. There's far more to photography than what he is shooting. I agree that amateurs can go to pretty places and get nice shots, but the way you talk is just making photography sound far more easy than it is. I run a group on FB with tens of thousands of members and I see amateur landscape shots every day. A few of the amateurs are good, most are not very good.

Also, the market is not god, capitalism is a human construct that isn't very old, and it isn't always right. Flipping a burger is not hard, but we still expect to be paid for that work. In my books, you do work, you get paid. This attitude of expecting people to work for free isn't just in photography. We're now expecting young people to go into corporations and do work for free. No matter how you slice it, even if it's an amateur, they did work, the company wants to use the image to profit - and so the photographer should get paid. Whether it's easy or hard is irrelevant on whether they should get paid or not - where it IS relevant is how much they should get paid. We don't expect burger flippers to earn $100,000 per year - but we do expect them to be paid. I get paid good money because what I do is difficult and it serves a market need.

I actually agree with most of what you said, Edward. The only part of the article I took issue with is the idea that amateurs like me, doing simple stuff, shouldn't share our output online for free, or should somehow feel bad for doing so, because it lowers the demand for photos by pros.

I definitely don't think anyone should share their work for free if they don't want to!

> Flipping a burger is not hard, but we still expect to be paid for that work

That's because flipping a burger in McD's IS hard, despite your entitlement. It's sweaty, dirty, and boring.

But otoh, if every time someone made a burger for themselves they could give away an infinite number of free copies, then burgers probably would be free...

"...because I'm not in it for money."

Apparently you're not in it for your dignity either. The fact that a big company is using your image for free isn't a compliment to you, so it might be time to work on some self esteem issues. They're using it for the price point, plain and simple. If they were truly interested in YOUR image for the image itself, they'd be willing to pay for it, even if it's something small. Are you seriously proud that "your image" wound up on a "big website", and a mobile app, for free? That shouldn't make you smile, you should feel like a chump.

It's not "artificially propping up the prices that 'real' photographers are paid" to value your work enough to be compensated for it. Do you think any one of those brands would have their chests swell with pride if you walked into their stores and suggested that you help yourself to their products for free, just because you're an "amateur" and don't have a budget for it? Please. I get where you're coming from, it's just supremely naive.

If you truly want others to benefit in some small way from your work, put it to use where it would *actually* benefit somebody. Go shoot for a local animal shelter. Find a volunteer organization that could use some promotion. Do something with your photography in your community. But don't sit on your a** and watch your images pop up on a major brand's website and think you're helping anybody. You're not. This isn't altruism; they're being stingy and you're deluding yourself.

"Apparently you're not in it for your dignity either. The fact that a big company is using your image for free isn't a compliment to you, so it might be time to work on some self esteem issues. . . . you should feel like a chump."

Really?

Like I said, this isn't my profession. It's a hobby I picked up on a whim, then practiced for years, joining a local photography club, Flickr, and photo forums. It's fun, I've won a few minor competitions, I got to be in a little documentary, and I'd like to think I'm pretty good at it despite never asking for money.

The fact is that I am proud that I've made a few photographs over the years that people liked enough for them to go viral, and that publications, corporations and others have thought well enough of to use over the vast sea of other free content.

Yes, really.

This has nothing to do with whether you’re a professional or not, this is about confusing altruism with validation. Newsflash: the only measure of whether a publication or corporation thinks well of an image (since that’s what you seem to care about) is whether or not they’re willing to pay for it. If they lose interest at the slightest suggestion of compensation, then they don’t think well of it at all. It’s the price point they care about. Being told you’re worth exactly $0, and nothing more, is not something to be proud of. Keep in mind, I’m in no way saying that a picture can’t be good if there isn’t a dollar amount attached to it. But it is a solid measure of whether a corporation thinks it’s good.

People get in this mindset that if they’re an amateur and a company wants to use their image, some small part of them likes to believe that it means they’re good enough to be a “professional”. First of all, that whole notion is stupid anyway because “amateur vs. pro” is not necessarily linked to quality. But more important to the topic at hand, you can’t use this as a gauge in the first place (as fallible as it is anyway) if the comparison is $$ against free. If it was “pro offering image for $200 vs. amateur offering image for $200”, and they chose yours, you might have something to be proud of (if you’re using corporations as your measure of self worth). But as it stands, you can’t even do that.

I totally get the temptation to drink the “i’m good because a brand likes my image” kool-aid… it’s an appealing thought. But just go ahead and squash that idea, because it’s a lie unless they’re willing to place value on it. And the only way a business can do that is with money.

Nobody can stop you from giving your work away for free, but don’t continue to do it with the notion that it’s somehow selfless or charitable, or even that the validation you’re getting from it comes from an honest place.

"This has nothing to do with whether you’re a professional or not, this is about confusing altruism with validation."

I never said it was altruistic, I said that "I am proud that I've made a few photographs over the years that . . . publications, corporations and others have thought well enough of to use over the vast sea of other free content." And that's true. I'm not competing against pros and I don't want to. I'm competing against all the other amateurs out there offering content for free.

The bottom line is economics. If people enjoy certain kinds of creative photography and are willing to do it for free (much like fishing, hunting, gardening, and a thousand other hobbies), why should they be forced to stop doing that so that others can get paid to do it?

If your product as a pro is sufficiently better than that of the amateurs, and corporations want the better product, then they'll pay for it. If the free amateur stuff is good enough, then they won't. I don't see why that is wrong.

As I mentioned in my other posts, there are many kinds of photography -- weddings, portraits, corporate events, etc -- that people don't want to do for free. As long as that's true, those are going to be the most lucrative jobs for the pros.

"If people enjoy certain kinds of creative photography and are willing to do it for free (much like fishing, hunting, gardening, and a thousand other hobbies), why should they be forced to stop doing that so that others can get paid to do it?"

What I'm trying to figure out is why your identity as a photographer is so closely tied to whether a company wants to use your image. Not a single person has said or even implied that you shouldn't be allowed to use a camera because professionals exist. That's asinine and has no bearing on the discussion. Your inability to separate the act of taking pictures from whether those images have a chance to be used by a brand is more than a little weird, to the extent that you come across as arguing with your fingers firmly in your ears. But I think I know how to clear this up.

You mentioned below that you enjoy the validation of having other people appreciate the end result. So, by extension, the reason you allow your images to be used by brands is that you derive validation from the idea that they "appreciate" your images. Well, what if they didn't? Seriously, what if you were to find out that they literally and completely didn't give a crap about you or your picture. Would you still let them use it? If they came out and said, "This is a real piece of sh*t... it's bloody awful. We've seen pictures of kids' dirty diapers that look better than this. Can we use it anyway?" How would you feel about that? Would you want to let them use it? If so, what on earth is wrong with you? If not, you're either in denial or being naive in your current position.

It's easy enough to prove. The next time a brand wants to use your picture, instead of giving it to them for free, ask for $5. Seriously, that's basically free. For all practical purposes, when it comes to a business using content, $5 and $0 are virtually identical. And yet I'll bet if you asked for $5, they'd pass. And that should be your indication of how little they value your work. Appreciation? You're lying to yourself. They care so little about *your* images that even symbolically paying for something is too much effort. Which begs the question... if you finally, truly, let it sink in that you are not being appreciated for your images, and only for the fact that you're permanently bent over for them, would you stop doing it? You've said that you do it for appreciation. It stands to reason that if the one thing you're doing it for doesn't actually exist, you'd stop. My bet is that you won't stop, though, because you're too deep into this narrative you've created where brands love and appreciate you.

"I'm not competing against pros and I don't want to. I'm competing against all the other amateurs out there offering content for free."

Like watching lemmings compete to see who can fall off the cliff the fastest. What a strange identity you've created for yourself.

>> What I'm trying to figure out is why your identity as a photographer is so closely tied to whether a company wants to use your image <<

He hasn't said that it is: that's your stupidity. The actual fact is that a lot of photography is so easy that only a loser would make it the basis of his "identity."

>> Like watching lemmings compete to see who can fall off the cliff the fastest. <<

Your stupidity here is that he's not going to die if someone uses his images from flickr. He's not going to suffer any ill effects at all, in fact.

..The problem you have is that you won't face the fundamental problem. **Which is that you want to be paid for is so easy that it's hobby for other people and that you're not significantly better at it than they are.**

Now, wannabes here have ranted about lawyers working for free, but this is a vast stupidity that misses the point: most of what lawyers do - reading and writing contracts etc - is something that clients or their friends could do for fun. But this doesn't happen with corporate clients because 1. it isn't fun and 2. the amateur wouldn't do as good a job as the person with a decade of education and more than average intelligence.

The bottom line is simply this: if you want to get paid for something easy and fun... it's probably not going to happen and whining and throwing tantrums won't change that.

"He hasn't said that it is: that's your stupidity."

He's pretty clearly said that. 1) He flat out said that he gets validation from brands using his images, coupled with 2) Every time he tries to argue that he should be allowed to do something despite professionals existing, it's not about "taking pictures", it's always about brands being allowed to use his images.

Direct quotes:

"Are all of us amateur photographers supposed to stop doing what we love so that we can artificially prop up the prices that "real" photographers are paid? "

-Not about taking pictures

"I just don't see why amateurs shouldn't be allowed to do what they love for free, just so that professionals can do that same job and get paid for it. "

-Nobody said anybody shouldn't be allowed to be a photographer. Again, this is about letting brands use your images, not about taking pictures.

"The fact is that I am proud that I've made a few photographs over the years that people liked enough for them to go viral, and that publications, corporations and others have thought well enough of to use over the vast sea of other free content."

-It's all about people using the pictures, not the act of taking them.

But please, by all means, find a few more ways to use the word "stupid" in your responses, it really helps you sound like you know what you're talking about. I'll even help you out with a FREE resource: www.thesaurus.com. You're welcome.

"Your stupidity here is that he's not going to die if someone uses his images from flickr. He's not going to suffer any ill effects at all, in fact."

That's called "sarcasm" and you clearly focused on the wrong part of that statement in order to use the word "stupid" one more time. So, congrats to you.

> Direct quotes: "Are all of us amateur photographers supposed to stop doing what we love so that we can artificially prop up the prices that "real" photographers are paid? <

That quote doesn't prove your claim at all. No wonder you're mystified and angry...

>"I just don't see why amateurs shouldn't be allowed to do what they love for free, just so that professionals can do that same job and get paid for it. " Nobody said anybody shouldn't be allowed to be a photographer. Again, this is about letting brands use your images, not about taking pictures.<

But he didn't specify that what he loved was just taking pictures rather than **taking them and sharing them.** Again, you don't seem to be able to read very well. Or to understand why people make art - it's to communicate.

>> "Your stupidity here is that he's not going to die if someone uses his images from flickr. He's not going to suffer any ill effects at all, in fact." That's called "sarcasm" <<

Actually, no, that would be "Pointing out the obvious". Which is that your analogy was stupid. It's considered a bad thing to leap off a cliff into the sea because you will die; sharing an image on flickr is unlikely to have this effect. (That **was** sarcasm - the difference is that this time I used irony via the "unlikely" - the previous version was just a statement of fact.)

Goodness, what a rat's nest your brain must be. All aboard the crazy train.

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