What Happened to Photo Credits?

What Happened to Photo Credits?

Back in my college days, when I first started taking photographs, I pursued magazine photography because I loved seeing my name printed in the magazine. Often, I wasn’t being paid for my services and the photo credit was payment enough for me. When I incorporated my business some 20+ years ago, I named my company "photo: John Ricard, LLC" because it resembled a photo credit. 

Over the years, I understood that it was important that I be paid for my services and that having my name appear in a magazine wasn’t sufficient compensation for the art I was providing to a magazine. These days, I am paid for the use of my photographs. But despite the passing of decades, I have never lost the love of seeing my name listed in print next to one of my photographs.

Tear-sheet from Mountain Outlaw magazine featuring photography by Daniel J. Cox. Note the prominently displayed photo credit.

For a working professional, having your name shown in a magazine or on a website alongside your work is more than just a guilty pleasure. If you work in a specific genre where the audience may see your name repeatedly over the course of a year, it can lead to paid jobs from those people. If there is a popular photographer in your area who is more known than you for covering events, the photo credit can help ensure that people don’t assume your photos were taken by that other photographer. Photographers want to be recognized for their work, and some take to watermarking their images. Many shooters like myself, however, feel these watermarks detract from the final image, and we refuse to use them on our work. Depending on how an image is being used, the photographer may not have the option of adding a watermark. But the fact that so many photographers do choose to watermark their images shows that the desire to be credited for your work is as valid a concern for photographers today as it was when I began shooting in the early 90s. 

Unfortunately, there seems to be a movement among certain media outlets to not credit photographers when their images are published. I spoke to wildlife photographer Daniel J Cox to get the perspective of another working, professional photographer on this matter. 

The trend for magazines to not give photographers their photo credits is something Dan has been outspoken about for over a decade.

I was looking through Digital Camera World magazine recently and saw an interesting photograph of a lightning storm. I was wondering who took the photograph because I wanted to see more of the photographer’s work. When I checked the credit, it credited only to Getty Images. It’s ironic that the magazine’s website states, ‘The Digital Camera World team is made up of professional journalists, lifelong camera enthusiasts, and former and current professional photographers. It sounds trite, but DCW is written by photographers for photographers…’ It’s a disconnect when a magazine dedicated to educating its readers about photography doesn’t give the photographers credit who are supplying their images. I checked other articles on their website; many have the photographer’s credit done properly. I suppose they may try to get it right and sometimes fail. But whatever their policy, they need to get it right all the time.

Tear-sheet from Big Sky Journal featuring photography by Daniel J. Cox. Note the prominently displayed photo credit.

This article is not meant to condemn any one publication or outlet. DCW is only mentioned here because the image in question was so striking that one can’t help but feel the photographer was wronged by not having their name accompany that image. It is a shame the creator of the image wasn’t given credit. The situation with omitted photo credits is especially objectionable when the writer of an accompanying article is prominently credited. Text and images are of equal importance in storytelling, and there is no logical reason to acknowledge one creator by name rather than crediting both artists.

Dan’s work was licensed by Getty Images for over two decades, and he has worked with a variety of magazines, book publishers, calendar companies, card companies, and poster publishers during that time as well. He remembers when stock photos syndicated by an agency sold for an average of $250-$400. “I never got rich, but I paid for my photo shoots to places like Africa, Antarctica, Alaska, and other exotic locations. I also paid for my college, health insurance, a house payment, a truck payment, and put some aside for retirement. All things any normal person trying to make an actual living is required to do.”

Today, the rate for stock photos is as low as a single dollar. One platform, Unsplash, has allowed the use of user-submitted photographs at no charge. An individual, or even a corporation like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, or Tesla could download and use images in a commercial campaign at no cost. Decades ago, these same images might have been licensed for $40,000-$80,000. If there is any benefit to the photographer for this type of usage, surely it pales in comparison to the benefits of receiving a large sum of money from a company using the photographer’s images. 

Being credited for the use of an image is in no way compensation for the use of an image commercially or even editorially. Still, when images are being licensed for low amounts of money, or being given away for free, it is understandable that photographers are offended by statements such as this one on the Unsplash website: “No permission needed (to use the photograph in any way) though attribution is appreciated!”

Tear-sheet from Astound magazine featuring photography by John Ricard. Note the prominently displayed photo credit.

It bears repeating that this article isn’t suggesting that a small photo credit on a website or in the spine of a magazine is sufficient compensation for the use of an image. For many years, however, it was understood that a photo credit served as a form of advertising for photographers. Whether the photographer was a staffer or freelancer, the small acknowledgment of the photographer’s work was always appreciated and beneficial to the photographer’s career.

Dan is fortunate to have been in the business long enough to have established himself. He still makes a living traveling and taking photographs for a variety of clients. He offers the following advice for newer photographers:

If you have the experience of not being credited for your work, you need to speak up. What do you have to lose? With such paltry sales in stock and editorial photography, one way that you are rewarded is to get a proper credit line. This is part of your brand building, and it may help you leverage your work in ways you would never have thought possible. It did for me, and it can still do the same for you.

John Ricard's picture

John Ricard is a NYC based portrait photographer. You can find more of Ricard’s work on his Instagram. accounts, www.instagram.com/JohnRicard and www.instagram.com/RicInAction

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It is odd that in a lot of magazines / weba and IRL there will be a credit for the words but not the pictures. Even in stories that have alot of photos.
It might be becasue the photos are supplied by a manufacturer or other third party.
In a few years 90% of image will be AI so no need for credits.

Well, let's hope you're not right about that last part ;)

I disagree with Mike Ditz. There will always be REAL magazines that want REAL photography. Yes, there will be AI exceptions, but specifically nature publications will require reality. As far as your comment about writers getting credit, that's because writers have the confidence to mandate a credit line. Photographers need to stand up for their work and do the same. This never used to be an issue. Lets change that!

There will pubs that continue to use photos like nature, sports, news. But I think fashion, lifestyle, travel, features, entertainment, porn, will have a lot of AI maybe not all, but AI enhanced.
When I used to do editorial I always got credit lines as did my cohorts. But that was like 100 years ago lol.

I think we'll start seeing AI mostly in advertising and PSAs. Especially generic stuff like "eat healthy" or "don't forget to check for breast cancer regularly" type of stuff.

You're probably right but I think we will be surprised as to where and how AI will be or is already being used.

Thanks for your help with this article, Dan!

Thank you John for helping to get the word out and photographers thinking about what they're missing. I greatly appreciate your support on this matter.

In some genres, I think we'll see a resurgence in photo crediting as a means to establish that it's the real deal and NOT AI. Some fashion may probably use it, but not all. Fashion like eCommerce; you know, your Gaps, Banana Republic, etc. will be all over AI, but the higher end fashion campaigns will likely not rely heavily on AI. In that kind of fashion there's much more to the "fashion" than the clothes or product that may or may not actually be in the photo.

But we'll see.

Dan, I bow to your experience, but the notion that "writers have the confidence to mandate a credit line" isn't really how it goes. To be clear, I fully agree photographers deserve credit. After all – it costs nothing to give it.

Nonetheless, the 'privilege' of a credit, a byline, for authors comes from their cachet with the audience. Readers remember the author. Readers look at photos as being in support of the author's work, illustrating the author's point. So it's the author that is remembered by name, while the photo is... merely appreciated. If it's an exceptional photo, it's admired. But readers tell their friends about the column they read, by Author X – not the photo that accompanied it, captured by Photographer X. Obviously *some* readers will come to know the photographer's name and reveal in spotting their work, but most think of the author's words as the memorable piece.

That, of course, motivates a publisher to ensure the author is given their byline, lest they be lost to a rival.

Photographers? 🤷‍♂️ It might be a good idea to commission an article be written about you...

John Ricard wrote:

" I have never lost the love of seeing my name listed in print next to one of my photographs."

I have never had a love of seeing my name in print. I've had a hundred and some magazine covers and countless images used inside magazines and on calendars, etc. But I honestly couldn't care less if they put my name there next to the photo. It's not about me; it's about the image itself. People enjoying the image I made, or finding it useful to illustrate a point they are making in an article, is all the fulfillment I need.

As far as compensation goes, monetary compensation means everything, but "credit" means nothing.

If an editor called me and said, "we selected your image for the January cover. Would you like to be paid $395 and your name listed prominently as the cover image photographer, or would you like to be paid $400 but not have us print your name at all?" Of course I would jump on the $400 option because contrary to popular misinformation, printed credits do NOT lead to more work or more opportunities.

John Ricard also wrote:

"Photographers want to be recognized for their work, and some take to watermarking their images. Many shooters like myself, however, feel these watermarks detract from the final image, and we refuse to use them on our work."

I hate the look of watermarks. The gallery that asks me to submit large prints always wants me to sign the print, and I balk at that. I compromise by signing my name on the back of the print, so it will never be seen when it is hung. Again, it ain't about me, it is about the image itself. At galleries there's always a little plaque on the wall under each piece that says who the artist is, anyway, so I don't know why they want my name on the actual print itself. It ruins the aesthetic, in my opinion.

I like an artist signature on a framed print. As long as it is on that outlining white frame cardboard inner frame rather than the print itself.

One morning i got a message from my parents: they had opened their local newspaper and discovered, on the front of the entertainment section, two photos that were credited to me. I had not been informed where those photos were being published, so it was a total surprise for them and me - and a very pleasant one indeed!

They were done under a "work for hire" contract so i never expected to get any credit, but it was really nice that the company i worked for had preserved my name, and the newspaper had chosen to print it. It's also possible the company i was under contract to had not passed my name along, but simply failed to strip the EXIF data where my name is added in by all my cameras, but the newspaper saw it and used it!

My father picked up a magazine in Europe that had my name in it. I live in NYC. This was about 20 years ago, and I still remember how cool that was.

In the old days not only did you get a photo credit but you got paid for your photo usage. In the new world of many nature and outdoor magazines, not only don’t you get prominent credit you are likely not to be paid. Those “contests” that many publications run are merely a way to to get usages, and often all rights, for photography, without compensation to the creator, although many give credit and recognition to the creator in lieu of payment. I saw things radically change back in the 90’s when I talked to an amateur photographer who PAID the magazine to run his photo! I remember telling him that they were supposed to pay us, not vice versa. Add the move to royalty free, made by Getty Images and others, and the value of photography plunged to new lows, along with appropriate credit. For some publishers, crediting the agency was good enough. No pay, no credit, no problem! Right.

I saw everything you mentioned as well. Frustrating beyond belief. Is that you Watashi?

I used to shoot for a swimsuit magazine that didn’t pay the models for being in the magazine. After I stopped shooting for them, they moved to a practice where the models paid to finance the shoot in order to be in the magazine. I guess that is what is next for us photographers ;)

I bet if you pay enough you can be on the cover!

I've had so many times throughout my career where friends, colleagues, or people that simply follow my photography on Instagram send me a picture and say "Is this your photo? It looks very you". Over and over the answer is yes. It's beyond frustrating. Sometimes I shoot for the client (let's say a makeup line) then Cosmo reaches out to the line for a feature and the beauty line sends my work. The magazine doesn't always credit the photographer. I make a POINT to have my name and copyright information embedded in the file and also save the file names with it. "Kreyol Essence Spring Line Michelle VanTine Photography 001" and so on. Completely no excuse for magazines or any media to not credit the work. I used to fight it but it put me in such a bad mood all the time that I finally just gave up. About 2 weeks ago my friend was at the dentist's office and said "Is this yours?" It was my work photographing the USA polo team. No credit. I rolled my eyes and kept editing. It feels pointless.

No way to fight it unless we get together as a group. Then only maybe. I've reached out to ASMP and NANPA to try and get their support to make this a big deal. So damn unfair in this day and age where nobody wants to pay for photo usage. Credits the least they could do.

I agree completely Daniel J. Cox . And look at what a beautiful portfolio you have! Please let us know how we can continue to support any endeavor you push forward. I know that PPA has a legal/copyright resource for members. Are you a member? I have never used it but I spoke with them at Imaging USA and it seemed like a great resource.

A lot of my work is for manufacturers and they will release images to third parties and if there is a credit, it will more often than not be the manufacturer not me, even though my info is imbedded in the metadata. Once in a while it will me Photo: MikeD / XYZ Company

A lot of people don’t know how to access the caption information, unfortunately.

A lot of people, including photographers don’t know how to access the caption information. Most of the time when I get images from photographers for my FStoppers articles, there is nothing in the IPTC caption fields.

Thanks so much for this great article John. Photo credits, I must laugh, certainly no not at you, John or the article. I see many of my images out there with not even a single line, in print in magazines or online! Sometimes it bothers me a lot, sometimes I think, hell heck weck, why bother, it makes me only angry. However, when I get angry I jump on the website and contact them, asking for credit. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't! Most what bothers me is, I am female! Many editors think they just can do as they wish with female photographers. When they contact me, let's say 50/50% do not want to pay for the license, the other will pay, but a "female" price! That, honestly, p.... me most off.
Anyway, here it is about credit line. Of course I would like to see always my name under or beside or wherever on the page on which my image/s is/are. Sadly, that gets somehow lost in the world. I think, I do hope that I do not step on anyones feet with that, many give away their images for nearly nothing or free, they also do not much care if their image gets credit. What they like to have is, where it is published that I can share on social media...etc. Just my 5 cents IMHO.

Love the article, so on the dot. :D
Cheers Anette