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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129 Comments

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Edward Blake's picture

My comment seems to have disappeared so will restate.

Your impotent outrage will not alter market evolution. Evolve or die.

If you don't like it then get an office job.

David Wilder's picture

It was removed due to that hateful content, and encouragement to die.

Your comment is irrelevant to the conversation and unwelcome.

You and the comment have been reported and will be reviewed.

Edward Blake's picture

"Evolve or die" is a well known maxim in business. Thank you for demonstrating your ignorance and seeing what you want to see. You are pathetic.

There was nothing "hateful" or non-factual in my post.

But as always, just because you can press a shutter button doesn't mean you know the first thing about business - as evidenced by your mewling article.

David Wilder's picture

Hurling insults only proves my point. It appears you are simply here to “stir the pot” and not actually contribute anything remotely valuable to the conversation.

This is the last I will say on your point. If “mewling articles” or conversations like this are not had then where would we be on equality conversation. As an example equal pay for equal work, woman’s rights for equal pay, hell even equal pay between races? It no one says anything than companies will gladly keep Do the same things and people will keep giving away images for free.

There is value in a photograph and everyone should receive that value. When we don’t it hurts the industry as a whole.

Edward Blake's picture

Waah the free market is unfair.

You disgust me.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Wow, you're a real a-hole, congratulations... Hope the mods ban you.

Edward Blake's picture

You're also pathetic.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Impotent outrage? The OP makes many valid observations, many of which I have had to deal with personally, and that's all you wish to say?

Do us a favour, save that sort of trash talk for yourself and leave.

Edward Blake's picture

My bad, I'm sure this article will make all the difference.

impotent

/ˈɪmpət(ə)nt/

adjective

1.

unable to take effective action; helpless or powerless.

However, again, if you can't handle it then go get a normal job.

Douglas White's picture

As a semi-retired concert and sports photographer, I run into a form of this ALL the time. These days any kid with a cell phone that has a good camera will take pix at a concert and be thrilled when the band allows them to be posted on their FB page. In the meantime, the shots that I took and used in my concert review are pretty much useless for any sales.
Between performers requiring photographers to sign away all rights and kids with cell phones it almost makes it more profitable to sell all my gear and go back to retirement. (Which I've done twice in the past ten years. lol)
Until photographers join together and refuse to work for free the abuse of professionals will continue.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Earlier this month I was not allowed to bring my camera at my daughter's recital. Note, they only offered video, no stills. So I asked why are cell phone allowed and the guy looked at me clearly failing to understand the meaning of my question. I was delighted to see all these parents recording their kids entire act on their phones. I just wanted to shoot stills in the hallway by the exotic plants... Yeah, the lack of common sense is becoming ridiculous.

John Adams's picture

Why placing name-logos on your images? Kinda ruins them.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I think it's nice to see who shot them. In fact it makes it easier to contact the guy and congratulate him for his work if you like it. Have you only considered how you could use his images? That could be a problem.

John Adams's picture

Nah can't agree.

Watermarks/Logos can be discreet; they just need to be readable. The people who hate seeing watermarked photographs are other photographers! I’ve yet to license an image to a photographer.

If a Target/Macy buyer likes one of my web-posted images, s/he will reach out to me (even if it includes a watermark) to negotiate a licensing deal.

Aside from Benoit Pigeon’s prudent remarks: By affixing a watermark, logo, copyright attribution, metadata, and other Copyright Management Information (CMI) to their images, photographers can pursue US-based infringers who knowingly remove, cover-up, or change CMI to hide their copyright infringing actions and/or encourage others to infringe.

CMI violators can be subject from $2,500 to $25,000 in statutory damages, plus attorney fees, legal costs and other remedies the court determines; a timely registered copyright claim is not require to pursue CMI infringers.

Photographers who choose not to timely register their images with the US Copyright Office should, at the very least, affix them with CMI to give their IP attorney litigator a chance to recover money damages against infringers.

My comments also apply to Yavor Kapitanov. Even though he’s located in Bulgaria, he and other international photographers can benefit greatly by including a watermark and other CMI to their posted photographs when pursuing US-based copyright infringers.

In addition, including robust CMI to your images, helps keep them from being “orphaned”.

Fred Teifeld's picture

This reminds me of a hilarious encounter I had early in my professional career. A guy who wanted to hire me to shoot a decent sized event received a quote from me and proceeded to explain that he shouldn't have to pay because of all the people I'd meet and the referrals I'd get from him.

I responded with the most positive sounding F.U. I could come up with. I acknowledged his "legitimacy" and told him that I had a much better idea that would really work out for both of us. He would pay me my full rate for shooting the event and for every paying client he sent me, I would pay him a fair commission. Even after he got all his money back from me, I would continue to pay him a fair percentage for every referral that resulted in positive cash flow for me.

He got very angry and declined.Why? Because he was full of sh*t.

Shocking, I know.

Bodkin's Best Photography's picture

It's odd. I get normal people requesting prints, tours or lessons for money, but the corporations worth billions refuse to pay for services rendered.

Something is very wrong with our society.

Great photos. What did this publication pay you for this content?

Mark Rowe's picture

This is a great article, David, thank you for posting.
I'm fortunate enough that I don't rely on photography for my main income. However, I would eventually (when I feel confident enough and it's requested) like to sell/license my imagery.
I own a business and obviously have strong opinions on the financial worth of peoples time and skill level/creativeness and that they should be compensated accordingly. It's such a shame that a creative field such as photography has been financially impacted an I think you're right. We all need to start realising that collectively it would make a difference if we all knew our own self worth and stood our ground.

Kreyg Scott's picture

BRILLIANT. 200% SPOT ON. I couldn't have said this any better. A must share on every social media platform. I encourage, NO I urge everyone to get this article out to as many persons possible. The line must be drawn HERE!
Thanks David.

Mike Benninger's picture

As a chef, I get calls to cook in exchange for “exposure” all the time. I did a few when I started, but none in the past 10 years, it doesn’t pay my rent or build my brand.

....and I bet all those people making contact with you and asking to use your images for free are getting paid! I have asked people making the call are they also working for free? Gets the point across every time. BTW love those images in your article.

Marcelo Tapia's picture

Hi David, i am a professional photographer based in Chile, South America (www.marcelotapia.cl) and i completely agree with you. Here the photo market is being every day as hard as possible, with the growing amateur and new photographers offer, and also all the immigrants looking for a job, that the prices for a photo service as been falling. I have been thinking about all these people who needs to work, but for that reason they charge so low fees and i realized that for them will be almost impossible to rise those prices in the future, and due this, impossible living of photography... but the most hard part of this is the prices fall for all of us, who have 20+ years of experience and try to keep doing our jobs as professional as possible. Here also is common companies offer credits as "payment", but here the real problem is the low charges the new photographers in the market are doing... hard years to came, i think! (sorry for my basic english).

I guess the OP hasn't heard the expression "Pissing in the wind", or if he has has not understood it.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I guess you don’t realize your comment is quite tone deaf...

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Your attitude is counter productive. Many invest a lot of money in photography equipment on a impulse and never end up doing anything with it. On my end of things, I see this as pissing in the wind and waist a lot of $. There is no real incentive in giving your photography for free, in fact, it's extremely easy to get your stuff published for free. There is quickly no incentive to it, and it's quite different than getting assignments and challenge yourself to success and start getting clients send you not only work, but give your name out. Of course if you don't understand how the industry works, then your post can make some sense, but then it's also like pissing in the wind.

I'm not sure what you call industry. If it is beautiful landscape pictures for social media, then price of the image is a dime a dozen. If you include wedding or event photography, then there are thousands of dollars to be made. If it includes sports or wildlife photography then we are talking real professionals who are on paycheck form news outlets and NATGEO. Perhaps to you it is a lot of money wasted if you don't make money with photography equipment, except if you have a real job or successful business $15-20K for cameras and lenses are peanuts if you love photography as a hobby.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

"except if you have a real job or successful business $15-20..." Hey, what's a real job, can you clarify?

Any professional job that pays well for education and professional training and license. Example doctor, lawyer, engineer, plumber or electrician. Some pro photographers have real job too but most are business owners. Successful ones don't complain about not being paid for their work and need to feed the family because they make more than enough in whatever specialty they are in. People who have good paying job or successful business of any kind do not mind to spend money for their hobby being it photography or hunting or golf. My dentist has a shooting range in a basement and hundreds of thousands worth of firearms. By your standards it is a waste, buy my standards it is money well spent for a hobby he enjoys.

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